It’s time again for What’s the Concept?! This week, we’re taking a look at Pink Floyd’s timeless and ever relevant classic from 1977, Animals.
What’s the Concept?!
This one is loosely based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, only instead of focusing on Stalinism like in the novel, it focuses on unbridled capitalism. The animals are all different classes of society. The dogs are the combative, conniving people who bully the masses; the pigs are the people on the tippy top, like politicians; the sheep are the blind masses and followers.
Animals doesn’t have any. You are very unlikely to hear this album on classic rock radio, outside of Sirius/XM’s station Deep Tracks. There are five songs on the album, and three of the songs are more than ten minutes long. There are no singles edits of the songs, as there shouldn’t be, because each one is a journey.
Since there are five tracks on the album, all of them are notable. Pigs on the Wing Pts. 1 & 2 bookend the album, and offer a faint glimmer of hope that people will stick together when the chips are down. Acoustic numbers sung and played on guitar by Roger Waters, they are the appetizer and dessert on what is Pink Floyd’s angriest, and arguably most powerful, album.
Dogs is one of Pink Floyd’s longest songs, and one of their very best. It started out as a song called You’ve Gotta Be Crazy, which is the first lyric, and was performed in 1974 as they toured Europe for Dark Side of the Moon. David Gilmour and Roger Waters share vocals on this track, and it’s both of them at the top of their game. Waters’ manic derision is at its most palpable when he takes over the vocals, singing some of the most stinging lines in rock history:
And it seems to you the thing to do would be to isolate the winner
And everything’s done under the sun
And you believe at heart everyone’s a killer
Pigs (Three Different Ones) is a song that symbolizes three different political leaders in the U.K. at the time, but only Mary Whitehouse, a morality crusader, was specifically identified. This track is the first time that David Gilmour will use the talk box guitar pedal, made insanely popular by Peter Frampton, in order to make those squealing pig noises you hear during that intense guitar solo. This song is absolutely bananas, and despite it being about leaders in the U.K., it’s one that’s found a new life during the rise of Trump and his election. On inauguration day, Roger Waters released this video on YouTube from a concert he played in Mexico City in October 2016, welcoming us to the resistance. The visuals from this performance in Mexico City were reused when he did his Us + Them tour in 2017.
Sheep is a phenomenal track to cap off the dirtbags we’ve been hearing about. It contains a rewritten version of Psalm 23 that goes from “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” to “He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places”, with the distorted voice saying that the lowly ones will “master the art of karate” and when they rise up they will “make the bugger’s eyes water”. The sheep then kill the dogs, but state you need to stay home and do as you’re told, to “get out of the road if you want to grow old”. The song has the triumph of overthrowing the dogs, with reservations because you’re still fearful and don’t know what to do next. And musically, it’s just fantastic. This song also originated as something else in 1974, and was performed as Raving and Drooling before being cleaned up into this version.
While most critics at the time loved this album, and Pink Floyd’s earlier work and name recognition was enough to get this album to kick ABBA’s ass for a few weeks on the charts despite the lack of singles or radio play, The Rolling Stone was not at all impressed. They claimed that Pink Floyd has grown “bitter and morose”, to which I must say Screw You, Rolling Stone! To me, this is not only Pink Floyd’s best album, this is my favorite album period. It is not only pure, unrelenting prog, it is their most powerful lyrically. It is an album that, four decades later, has as much punch and relevance as it did the day it was released, if not more. It is an album that is technically perfect, absolutely stunning in every imaginable way, and solidified Pink Floyd as my favorite band of all time. Yes, yes, The Wall and Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon are their most successful and popular works, and all three of them are moving and brilliant, but this album is their very best. It’s a political statement, a call to action, and Roger Waters at his most acerbic. Commercial success does not rival technical brilliance and heart, and this album has it all.
The flying pigs that Pink Floyd and Roger Waters are famous for touring with originated with the In the Flesh tour that accompanied the release of this album.
This album was also a bit of a response to the punk movement, as Pink Floyd had become a bit of a target for people like Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, who would wear a Pink Floyd t-shirt that had “I Hate” scrawled on it. Gone are the long, spacey detours and present is the notable anger that will follow Pink Floyd for the rest of the time Waters is in the band, and for the rest of Waters’ solo career.
The flying pig on the cover of the album caused a bit of a stir. Bad weather caused a delay in shooting, and the band’s manager failed to rebook a marksman tasked with shooting down the flying pig if it escaped. Well, it did, and it ended up in the back yard of some farmer in Kent, who was angry that it scared his cows. They ended up superimposing the image of the flying pig onto the album cover in the end.
South Park would use a line from Pigs (Three Different Ones) as a catchphrase for a few episodes, with Eric Cartman sometimes saying “Haha, charade you are” in the first couple seasons.