It is a monumental record that is fascinating in every respect: a concept work comprising 26 numbers and about eighty minutes long, which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide to date – a lonely record for a double album. Pink Floyd’s The Wall was released on November 30, 1979.
The basic idea for the concept came from bassist Roger Waters on the In The Flesh tour in the summer of 1977. The Briton felt that the audience wasn’t really listening to the band and that many people were standing too far from the stage because of the sheer size of the concerts. The climax of this alienation is the last concert of the tour in the Olympic Stadium in the Canadian city of Montreal, when a group of celebrating fans near the stage irritates Waters so much that he spits at them.
Together with Canadian producer Bob Ezrin, Waters works out the story of the musician Pink, which bears biographical traits of both himself and the tragic fate of former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett.
The time of creation of this monumental work becomes a crucial test for the successful art rockers. Financial problems caused by failed financial speculations promptly demand a new album and also lead to the band members leaving England to save taxes. The band structure is also seething: there are differences between Waters and the singing guitarist David Gilmour about the musical direction of the band. The strict regiment of the bassist during the recordings creates additional tension. Keyboardist Richard Wright and Ezrin are the main targets of the opinionated musician. While the young producer manages to channel the conflicts into creative paths, the criticism and lack of recognition from Wright, together with personal problems, lead to his further alienation from the band and ultimately to his having to leave the band the same year. On the tour for the album he is no longer a member of Pink Floyd, but only an employed musician.
Despite the tensions and the personnel and logistical effort of the recording process (besides Ezrin, Waters and Gilmour are named as producers, James Guthrie as co-producer and a total of five sound engineers on the record sleeve; in addition to the studios in Miravel, France, and Los Angeles, Los Angeles, London and New York are also working on details of the record), the quartet succeeds in releasing The Wall in November 1979, as requested by the record company.
The initially mixed reviews could not stop the success of the album: In December of that year, it reaches platinum status in the United Kingdom, in the USA the platinum mark of one million units sold is reached three months later. In Germany, the record has been sold over two million times to date.
Just as monumental as the album itself is the stage show of the overall performance, which Pink Floyd performed in 1980 and 1981 in Los Angeles, New York, London and Dortmund: In the first part of the concert, a wall is built across the podium, the second part is played by the band behind it. Only at the finale of the penultimate number ‘The Trial’ will the wall be torn down and the musicians reappear.
The elaborate production will not return to the stage until nine years later: After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, The Wall will be performed on July 21, 1990 at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin under the direction of Waters, who has been a solo musician since 1985. For the star-studded show – among others, the Scorpions, Cyndy Lauper, Bryan Adams and Van Morrison will perform – 200,000 tickets are sold, but as more people crowd the area, the gates are finally opened. The proceeds of six million D-Mark will be donated to the World War Memorial Fund For Disaster Relief.
The story of a musician who is alienated and isolated from the world becomes one of the images of the fall of the Berlin Wall with the powerful metaphor of the wall collapsing at the end, and the concert becomes the first major event in two nation states at the same time. If The Wall was not part of the collective memory before: with this concert, the double album has irrevocably entered it.