Chart Week: May 24, 1980
Song: “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” – Pink Floyd
Chart Position: #17, 19th week on the chart. Peaked at #1 for four weeks in March/April.
Each week Casey would read letters from his listeners, generally either Long Distance Dedications or general music questions that his crack staff of researchers would answer. Occasionally he would get a letter regarding a song that was in the countdown.
In late May, 1980, Casey read a letter from a guidance counselor at a New York high school. In her letter, she quoted a few lines from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” complaining that the song’s critique of the educational system was “a slap in the face to teachers everywhere.” She said that the song undermined the efforts of teachers by turning kids against them. “We need students on our side if we want to help them be successful. Kids should be happy to know that there are a lot of teachers out there who want to help them succeed.”
She continued by posing two questions. She wondered if Pink Floyd had bad experiences during their/his time in school. And she asked if they/he had visited a school recently. (I couldn’t tell if she thought Pink was a person or understood it to be a band.)
She closed by saying, “I hope you can find the answers to my questions.”
She poses some legitimate concerns here. But, to me, this is a hilarious example of an out-of-touch adult who gives pop culture far too much credit for determining how kids think and behave. I doubt that children around the world suddenly became dissatisfied with their educational experiences after hearing “ABITWP2” on the radio. Most kids dislike school plenty on their own.
I remember gleefully singing “We don’t need no education,” on the last day of third grade in Jackson, Missouri. I didn’t really know what it meant or where it came from. I just heard older kids singing it and decided to chant along with them. I was more excited about the coming days to explore my neighborhood, ride my bike, go to the pool, and not do anything school-related for three months than airing complaints about the quality of education I was receiving.
However, if you know anything about The Wall, you can’t help but laugh at this woman’s comments. OF COURSE Roger Waters had a bad educational experience! That, along with his father dying in World War II, were the two traumatic building blocks from his childhood that had massive impacts on the adult he became and the music he created.
The Wall’s narrative arc has its roots in Waters’ horrific years in the dour post-war British educational system. He wrote about how English teachers tried to drive the independence out of students and turn them into mindless, interchangeable drones who would fill their pre-determined roles in society upon graduation. Famously, this is depicted in the 1982 film version of The Wall by children marching along a corridor, falling into a vat, and spilling out of a meat grinder like fresh hamburger.
Had this guidance counselor shown some empathy and done a little research rather than just getting upset about a song on the radio, she might have learned the details of Waters’ childhood, about the society he grew up in, and realize the good work she was defending was exactly the kind of teaching he craved.
This is one of those songs that has carved out such a niche in pop culture that it can be difficult to rate. I would imagine every spring another group of students discovers it for the first time and begins singing it as they celebrate the end of their school year.
It is also difficult to separate this song from those around it on the album, and then from the visuals added in the movie. I, for example, never think of the single edit. Rather, I think of how the album/movie were structured, with the shriek of a bird of prey bridging the transition from “The Happiest Days of Their Lives” into “ABITWP2.” The radio version seems to lack important context without that lead-in. I remember a lot of classic rock stations in the ‘90s playing the entire, three-song sequence of “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1,” “The Happiest Days of Their Lives,” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” That always feels right to me. (The video below is the single edit. You can watch the scene from the movie here.)
The song has a strident, near-disco beat that immediately grabs your attention. David Gilmour’s central guitar riff is also heavily indebted to disco, sounding not too far removed from something you might hear on a Bee Gees, Saturday Night Fever track. The lyrics and their delivery are ominous and suggest a darkness deeper than just complaining about school. Students from the Islington Green School provide an unforgettable delivery of the second chorus. And then Gilmour comes in with a bluesy solo before Waters shouts the famous “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” line.
It is iconic, unforgettable, and the most culturally relevant Pink Floyd ever was or ever would be.
And yet it isn’t a 10.
There’s the matter of it being an element – a very important element, granted – of a larger piece of art.
The song is also…a lot. It is oppressive, as if that pressure Waters received from his teachers is settling onto your shoulders and physically pushing you down. The stomping beat feels like an approaching thunderstorm. There is never a moment of release for all that tension.
Bigger, though, is the song’s structure. It is two choruses, a guitar solo, and a spoken-word outro. It is awkward and a little unsettling. It’s fun to chant along to with the other shitheads at your bus stop, but it doesn’t scream pop hit to me, or sound like a song you would choose to play on repeat. It’s kind of amazing that this made it to number one given all the weirdness about it.
There is a 10 on The Wall, but it isn’t “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”. 7/10
(I tend to avoid writing about songs that hit number one. But the guidance counselor letter was too good to not share. I did not go back and read Tom Breihan’s Number Ones write up of this song until I had completed this piece. He gave it a 6/10.)
Oh, the 10 on The Wall?