40 Years Ago: ‘Another Brick in The Wall (Part II)’ Hits No.1
In 1979, while the members of Pink Floyd were busy building walls between each other, producer Bob Ezrin was trying to remain focused on the making of The Wall. He believed the band’s 11th album was worth fighting for – and, despite the tension, worth pushing for.
Amid all the doubts, there was one thing Roger Waters was certain of – that Pink Floyd were not a band who released singles, and any attempt to dress up a song with the idea of making it to No.1 was “silly stuff.” However, when it came to the second movement in the three-part composition “Another Brick in the Wall,” Ezrin strongly disagreed.
On the surface, it’s easy to follow Waters’ logic: The Wall was his masterwork of self-exploration, a deep dive into how one’s personality can be subverted by negative influence, and even finding success on one’s own terms isn’t the cure-all it first seemed. In “Another Brick in the Wall,” the lead character, Pink, begins to see everyone around him as objects of his own containment; in the second part, he recalls how the education system nearly destroyed him.
Nevertheless, Ezrin was certain he heard something in the piece. “The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it,” he told Guitar World in 2009. “I said, ‘Man, this is a hit! But it’s one minute 20. We need two verses and two choruses.’ And they said, ‘Well, you’re not bloody getting them. We don’t do singles, so fuck you.’ So I said, ‘Okay fine,’ and they left. … While they weren’t around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.”
Before David Gilmour recorded his guitar solo, the producer sent him to visit some night clubs and listen to the disco music that was popular at the time. Funny as it is to imagine Gilmour among the groovers (he said the experience was "awful"), he was inspired enough to return and lay down his solo in one take. Meanwhile, Ezrin ensured that Nick Mason included an element of disco – four on the floor with a swinging hi-hat – to reinforce his belief.
Next came his moment of real genius. He sent engineer Nick Griffiths to a nearby school and had some of the students record the now-famous chorus vocals. Alun Renshaw, head of music at Islington Green School, had to hide the lyrics from his boss for fear of her rejecting the idea. “I wanted to make music relevant to the kids – not just sitting around listening to Tchaikovsky," he explained to author Mark Blake in a 2008 interview. "I just thought it would be a wonderful experience for the kids.”
“Having been the guy who made [Alice Cooper’s] ‘School’s Out,’ I’ve got this thing about kids on record, and it is about kids after all,” Ezrin recalled. “I said, ‘Give me 24 tracks of kids singing this thing. I want Cockney, I want posh, fill ’em up,’ and I put them on the song. I called Roger into the room, and when the kids came in on the second verse there was a total softening of his face… he knew it was going to be an important record.”
“It was great – exactly the thing I expected from a collaborator,” Waters said later, while Gilmour admitted that "it doesn’t, in the end, not sound like Pink Floyd.” With that, the scene was set – after, of course, the band settled their differences with their record company, in a situation that had become so tense that Ezrin used to take the tapes home at night in case they were taken by the label.
Despite delivering the impression that the Bee Gees could start “aah-aah-ahhing” into the chorus, the disco overtones did little damage to a powerful song. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” was released in November 1979, and hit the No.1 spot on Mar. 22, 1980. It spent a total of 25 weeks on the chart and, along with “Run Like Hell” and “Comfortably Numb,” helped propel The Wall to sales of around 30 million copies. It remains one of the most definitive concept albums of all time – and “Another Brick” remains Pink Floyd’s only No.1 single.
Looking back, Gilmour said the album came out of “the last embers of Roger and my ability to work collaboratively together,” admitting he didn’t like the work as much as he had at the time. Ezrin, however labelled it “arguably the best work of that decade. Maybe one of the most important rock albums ever.”
Pink Floyd - ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part II’