Pink Floyd The Wall: An Incomplete Masterpiece
At least 8 and half minutes of music were cut from the album. With a final running time of 81 minutes, that’s at least 10% of The Wall that’s missing.
Pink Floyd The Wall is an incomplete masterpiece.
In most cases, a band with the cachet of Pink Floyd releases the album that they want, as it was intended to be heard. There is a lot of evidence — written, verbal, and musical — that this was not the case with one of rock music’s most spectacular works. This project explores that evidence.
In a 2013 interview for Grammy.com, co-producer Bob Ezrin recalled the early days of The Wall and sorting out Roger’s demo,
“In the beginning we had a very long demo that Roger had written. We started to separate out the pieces, and when we looked at the storyline we realized what we needed was a through line, something to get us from start to finish.
“I started writing, and in the process of doing that I began to realize, “I’m writing a script.” It took one night in my flat in London. I closed my eyes and wrote out the movie that would become The Wall.
“The next day in the studio, we made copies of the script and handed them out, and we all sat down for a table read.
“We laid down the bits of music we had from the demo, and obviously there were songs missing, bits of the script where we didn’t yet have a song. We’d mark those “TBW” — “to be written.” “Comfortably Numb” was a TBW song. With the screenplay, we had a real framework for how things would go, and it proved crucial.”
From the beginning, The Wall was edited, trimmed, refined and cut — a normal process in the creative workflow. Bricks In The Wall, Roger Waters’ original demo for the project, while rough, contained enough material for over two albums. Although it was widely assumed early on that The Wall was to be a double album, as late as June 16, 1979 — well into recording and production, New Musical Express magazine was still reporting that it was expected to be released as a double or triple set.
Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour recalled in a 1982 interview,
“The idea of The Wall was so big and there was such a lot of stuff that Roger wanted to get across lyrically that there was no other way to do it, really. As it was, we had to struggle to get it on a double album.”
In the liner notes for the excellent Immersion edition, The Wall Co-producer and Engineer James Guthrie recalled,
“Roger, David, Nick, Rick and I had been living with Roger’s original demo recording of The Wall during the summer of 1978. We began work in the studio that October and, as Roger had written about 3 albums’ worth of material. The first order of the day was to determine how best to tell his story in a more manageable, double-album format.”
So immediately, they began to chip away at The Wall. Right away, tracks were sorted, prioritized, and approved to help build The Wall narrative. Material that was not fully fleshed out at the time and that wasn’t deemed essential to the story was cut or put aside in order to focus on a streamlined story line.
Guthrie explained, “[We] began by arranging and recording the most complete songs. That way we could start to get our heads around the shape of the story.”
Cut To Fit
Throughout production, tracks were added, removed, and shifted to not only better fit the story line, but to shave time from the length of the album.
By October 31, 1979, the final track list as released had been set, but each side of the album was still a little long. Even after the album was completed, additional edits were made throughout the finished work in order to better fit the entire album into one double-LP. In a massive two-day session at The Producers Workshop on November 3rd and 4th, 1979, last-minute edits were made to prepare the album for release. On November 6th, the final masters were passed to The Mastering Lab, Inc to create the master lacquers of the LP.
In a 1993 interview for Goldmine magazine, David Gilmour explained,
“It’s always a shame when you have to chop things down and lose stuff, and we had to lose some stuff. We lost one whole track out of it. It didn’t matter too much to me ’cause it was the same track as one of the other tracks; it was a virtually identical track with different lyrics. A vehicle for Roger to say something was lost, but nothing particularly musically important went out.
“The whole side three bit with the orchestra all got shortened radically. Other songs — ‘Run Like Hell’ was chopped to bits, really. Whole chunks. One was concentrating then on vinyl. It wouldn’t matter so much today, but with vinyl, there was a finite limit of about 21 minutes a side. Every extra minute, you lost a db, one db of level when it’s being played on the radio. Not so much here, where they compress the shit out of it, but also [the] signal-to-noise level gets worse and over 25 minutes you’re beginning to suffer quite distinctly. So, our objective was to get it short enough to be able to get it onto two albums, and some things suffered for that.”
Not even considering all of the changes and cuts made before and during production, based on comparisons to the original live shows, at least 8 minutes 33 seconds of music were cut from the album. With a final running time of 81 minutes, that’s 10% of The Wall that’s missing. That’s doesn’t even take into account the additional tracks which were cut earlier in production like “When The Tigers Broke Free”, “Teacher, Teacher” and “Your Possible Pasts” that would have added even more length to the album and the story.
There is no denying that The Wall is an important work and an amazing piece of music. Unfortunately, a lot of “bricks” had to be cut before the album’s release in an effort to compromise the running time without sacrificing sound quality.
The version of The Wall that was released might not have been the album that the band ultimately had in mind. It’s just the version that we got.