Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Four). “Hey Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone”

The Wall is a 1979 rock opera by Pink Floyd exploring abandonment and isolation, symbolised by a metaphorical wall.  The songs which make up The Wall form an approximate storyline of events in the life of protagonist, Pink.  The character of Pink is based upon former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd multi-instrumentalist Roger Waters, whose father was killed during the Second World War.  Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers.  These traumas become metaphorical “bricks in the wall”.  He eventually becomes a rock star and due to these past traumas, his relationships are impaired by infidelity, drug use and outbursts of violence.  His marriage begins to crumble and he finishes building his wall, thus completely cutting himself off from human contact.  Here, hidden behind his wall, Pink’s crisis escalates, culminating in an hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes he is a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to Neo-Nazi rallies, at which he sets brownshirts-like men on fans whom he considers to be unworthy.  He is tormented by guilt and places himself on trial with his inner judge ordering him to “tear down the wall”, thus opening himself up to the outside world.

In the canon of education inspired songs, Another Brick in the Wall is probably the best known.   Another Brick in the Wall is split into three parts on the album, with each section taking on a different part of the story.  With its catchy refrain of “Hey teacher, leave those kids alone” sung by the  Islington Green School Fourth Form Music Class, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) is the most widely recognised.  When released as a single, the song became a number one single in fifteen countries, including the band’s native United Kingdom.

On The Wall album, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) segues from previous song, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, with Roger Waters’ signature scream.

In the song, Waters speaks out against the cruel teachers from his childhood whom he blames for contributing to the bricks in the wall of his mental detachment.  Waters attended The Perse School in Cambridge.  Though he was a keen sportsman and highly regarded member of the high school’s cricket and rugby teams, he disliked his educational experience immensely.  In the 2008 book Comfortably Numb:  The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake, Waters recalls his school days, saying:

“I hated every second of it, apart from games.  The regime at school was a very oppressive one … the same kids who are susceptible to bullying by the other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers”.

Lyrically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 begins with the rallying call of “We don’t need no education”.  Firstly, this statement is a double negative, with “don’t” and “no” cancelling” each other out, producing an affirmative, as in ‘We do need education’, perhaps suggesting that education can be a good thing in developing well-rounded individuals and also suggesting that education is needed to stop the bullying of pupils by teachers.  Additionally, the double negative acts as rhetorical litotes in this context, used especially to emphasise the point being made, therefore Waters is saying “We don’t need this type of education”.  Taken in this context, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is an anthem about reclaiming one’s individuality rather than being one of complete revolution.  Another Brick in the Wall is a criticism of teachers and systems that, as in Pink’s case, ridicule an imaginative child for writing poetry.

The second line of the song, “We don’t need no thought control” further bashes the oppressiveness of the teachers being criticised.  On the 21st June 2006, Waters spray-painted this line on the Israeli apartheid wall whilst visiting the West Bank City of Bethlehem, the day before he performed in the Arab / Israeli Peace Village.  The concert was originally scheduled for Hayarkon Park outside Tel Aviv.  However, it was moved after discussions with Palestinian artist and Israeli refuseniks about the Palestinian call for an international cultural boycott against Israel’s inhumane and illegal policies.  Two years prior to this incident, Waters had helped launch a campaign against the wall run by the social justice organisation War or Want.  The following line, “No dark sarcasm in the classroom”, refers to the ways in which bad teachers find to ridicule the weaknesses of their students in order to crush their souls and dreams.

Following this, we find the chorus of “Teachers leave them kids alone, Hey teachers leave them kids alone, All in all it’s just another brick in the wall, All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”.  On The Wall album, walls are a metaphor for the narrator, Pink’s isolation from the outside world and from other people.  The lines also refer to the fact that the bullying incurred in the school has contributed to Pink building up a metaphorical wall around himself.  The ‘bricks’ also refer to the other students.

In the final section of the song, “Wrong!  Do it Again!  If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding, How can have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?  You!  Yes!  You behind the bike sheds!  Stand still laddie!”, we find the teachers’ ritual humiliation of the students in full effect.  The teacher was portrayed by David Gilmour.

Musically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2’s disco beat was an idea that came from producer Bob Ezrin.  Gilmour explained this in an interview with Guitar World in 2009:

“It wasn’t my idea to do disco music.  It was Bob’s.  He said to me, “Go to a couple of clubs and listen to what’s happening with disco music”, so I forced myself out and listened to loud, four-to-the bar bass drums and stuff and I thought, Gawd, awful!  Then we went back and tried to turn one of the [song’s] parts into one of those so it would be catchy”.

Ezrin immediately recognised the hit potential of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.  It was Ezrin’s idea to use the school choir for the song, as he explained to Guitar World in 2009:

“The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it.  When we played it with a disco drumbeat I said:  “Man, this is a hit!  But it’s one minute 20.  We need two verses and two choruses”.  And they said, “Well, you’re not bloody getting them.  We don’t do singles, so fuck you”.  So I said, “Okay, fine”, and they left.  And because of our two [tape recorder] set up, while they weren’t around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.

Then the question is what do you do with the second verse, which is the same?  And having been the guy who made Alice Cooper’s School’s Out [album, 1972], I’ve got this thing about kids on record, and it is about kids after all.  So while we were in America, we sent [recording engineer] Nick Griffiths to a school near the Floyd Studios [in Islington, North London].  I said, “Give me 24 tracks of kids singing this thing.  I want cockney, I want posh, fill ‘em up”, and I put them on the song.  I called Roger into the room, and when the kids came in on the second verse, there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record”.