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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.

In a 1982 interview, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour alluded to a wealth of unused material.

“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.”

In a 1984 interview for Guitar Player magazine, Gilmour talked about removing sections of songs.

“The only problem we had was reducing it down from a triple-album to a double-album [laughs] — the length of songs and all that. Toward the end we were actually cutting chunks out of songs to fit the time. It’s a long double-album.”

 

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.”

One of the original Producers Workshop reels used on The Wall. Photo courtesy Boulevard Recording

 

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 revealed more specifics aboutsome of the cuts made.

“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.”

Without 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. This doesn’t even take into account the additional tracks which were cut earlier in production such as “When The Tigers Broke Free”“Teacher, Teacher” and “Your Possible Pasts” which 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 removed 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.

 

Next: The Story of The Wall Complete and How One Fan Rebuilt The Wall

 

11 Comments

  1. Travis

    It’s a shame that they didn’t split this into 2 different double l.p. sets…
    Maybe release pt.1 in 1979 and then pt.2 in1980 or even 1981.

    Reply
    • M

      Hi, Travis. I think The Wall was a recording that was perfect for the CD format. When CDs were first released, you could put about 64 minutes of uninterrupted music per disc, as opposed to about 42 minutes of music (20-21 per side) on an LP. Unfortunately, the CD was still a few years away when The Wall was released.

      They produced and sequenced this album early on for about 21 min per side, whether it was going to ultimately be a 2 or 3 LP set. I think it was always planned as a 2-LP set, but because of the amount of music, I think 3 LPs were seriously considered.

      If they could have waited about 4 years, The Wall would have made an awesome double CD. But, too many things were keeping it from being made then. The band would have gone bankrupt in 1980 due to tax liabilities. The band would have imploded long before 1984. An unedited version of The Wall was not in the cards for us. We still got a classic album, though.

      Reply
  2. Mike

    Thank goodness that they didn’t wait……..A well produced vinyl will always sound so much better than a cd!

    Reply
    • M

      Hi, Mike,

      Have you listened to the recent Wall vinyl remaster on heavy virgin vinyl? If so, how does it sound?

      I remember the old, original US Columbia pressings. They were mostly good except “Comfortably Numb” suffered a bit from being the track closest to the label.

      Reply
  3. Chase Justice

    I don’t even have the words to express how gobsmacked I am by this site, and what follows will likely be rambling and incoherent. In short…this site is the ultimate expression of something I’ve wanted and wished I could do for (literally) 30 years, when the Wall captured my teenage psyche and held on fast and tight. The minutiae, ephemera and variations of the Wall in its assorted forms and formats has ALWAYS made me feel that it is, as you so deftly describe it, “an incomplete masterpiece”. I’ve done my own “edits” including the extended “Show Must Go On” (using the Nassua boot “And the Walls Came Down”) which I had on vinyl in 1988…and I’ve longed to make my own “Ultimate” Wall using not only the studio and film versions but also the various live and solo versions as they have become available. (I think “Nobody Home”, for example, is much better with the rhythm section as performed by Roger Waters live). The film version of “Outside the Wall” is one of my favorite pieces of music and it’s a crime that it’s not officially available in its own right (though the latest Berlin CD has it as an uncredited bonus track after “The Tide Is Turning”. And the deep and vital interrelationship between The Wall, The Final Cut and The Pros & Cons of Hitch-Hiking is something else that’s gone under-remarked over the years. As for “What Shall We Do Now?” and its constant mis-indentification with “Empty Spaces”, don’t even get me started. Let me put it this way: this caveat, more than almost anything else, has bugged me beyond description from the very beginning, so much some of the original Wikipedia entry for the song was written by me in 2005 (and some of it is still there: the words “slow dark progression” and how the band themselves have contributed to the confusion over it? That’s all me. Though I think I may have a new insight into why the later versions break the “Empty Spaces” and “Shall we…” portions in two: that’s an extra publishing credit, and royalties! Anyway, I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop myself. Bottom line: you’re doing God’s (or Reg’s) work here, and my hat is off to you. I shall continue to watch this site (and the analysis one) with great interest, as we all sit and wish for the day that the unedited studio versions of these tracks someday make their official debut…I would offer to contribute, but I’m honestly not sure I can really add anything: your absolute mastery of the subject in all its component parts is, I say with a tinge of envy (but utmost respect anyway), at least the equal and probably the superior of mine. And that’s not a compliment given lightly. Keep up the AMAZING work!

    Reply
  4. Ryan

    Is there any chance that an extended cut of “The Wall” will be released sometime in the future? Perhaps November 30, 2019, the albums 40th anniversary would be a good time! Fingers crossed…

    Reply
    • M

      I have not heard of such a project in the pipeline, but you never know. I hope so and the album’s 40th Anniversary would be the perfect time to do so. James Guthrie has had a digital transfer of the original studio tapes for years. Hopefully, Roger Waters and David Gilmour can work out a few differences and clear a bit of their schedule to make this happen. I’d drop $$$ for it.

      Reply
  5. Ken Devine

    Great article. Maybe in some alternate universe somewhere, an unabridged version of The Wall exists. Maybe doing an online petition would galvanize fan support and garner Roger’s attention to take on this initiative in a more official manner? With the 40th anniversary on the horizon, you’d think that either he or the record company would be planning some kind of release to commemorate and/or expand it.

    Reply
  6. Ken

    Also, while all we can do is wonder about what The Wall might’ve been, I would argue that some things worked out well by having to cut the album short. For example, while I like What Shall We Do Now?, the transition from Empty Spaces to Young Lust is still pretty cool and catchy. The same goes for the Mother solo. Even though I’d prefer having the full solo included, the end of the studio version flows really well into the next verse. And while the entry of the first lyrics on Run Like Hell feels a little rushed, I actually prefer the shorter ending it has after coming out of the keyboard solo and interlude.

    The silver lining with The Wall that we got is that some moments still work in a less-is-more manner. So, not all is “lost.”

    Reply
  7. Smokey

    I feel that the live versions offer a little window into how an extended Wall would sound. The beautiful keys at the end of “Goodbye Blue Sky” as well as the haunting runs Rick Wright plays live during “Another Brick pt.1”

    Reply
  8. oscar lugo

    so release it now… full time….5 hours who cares.. make some more moneeeeyyy I would buy it for sure….

    Reply

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