The final show of Pink Floyd’s 1977 tour was a chaotic mess. The crowd at Olympic Stadium in Montreal was aggressively disruptive, which led bassist Roger Waters to a regrettable act of hostility.
“The front sixty rows seemed to be screaming and shouting and rocking and swaying and not really listening to anything,” he told Radio Times in 1990. “I was singing ‘Pigs on the Wing,’ an acoustic number, and this kid was screaming and climbing up the front of the stage and to my eternal shame I spat at this kid because I was so angry.”
After the show, Waters was ashamed at what he had done, and shaken by the buildup of bitterness that had led him to that point. He reflected on the great duality of his life – he was a rich rock star in one of the world’s biggest bands, yet he felt estranged from everyone, from his bandmates to his audience. Hanging over it all were a number of unresolved issues from his childhood, stemming from the death of his father in World War II, a mere five months after Waters was born.
Waters channeled his angst into his songwriting, coming up with about 90 minutes of material on a demo tape he presented to the band.
“Although the spitting incident was unnerving at the time,” drummer Nick Mason wrote in his memoir Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, “it did serve to set Roger’s creative wheels spinning, and he developed an outline for a show based around a concept of an audience both physically and mentally separated from their idols.”
The Wall, as the project became known, spanned two jam-packed LPs and eventually grew in execution to include a stadium-sized performance concept (played out on the band’s 1980 tour) and a film (starring Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof, which arrived in 1982). And though it would take until 1985 to become official, the recording of the album splintered the band, particularly the creative nexus of Waters and Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.
“We had grown in different ways,” Waters said of their partnership in Rolling Stone in 2010. “I didn’t want to argue with him about things anymore, and just because we had different opinions about things – musically and politically and philosophically – it became inevitable that it would become combative.”
Keyboardist Rick Wright also raised Waters’ ire, to the point that he was ousted from the band.
“Then there was this band meeting in which Roger told me he wanted me to leave the band,” Wright told Mojo in 1994. “At first I refused. So Roger stood up and said that if I didn't agree to leave after the album was finished, he would walk out then and there and take the tapes with him. There would be no album, and no money to pay off our huge debts. So I agreed to go.”
For all the enmity within Pink Floyd, the record was a classic, featuring some of their finest and best-known songs, like the majestic “Comfortably Numb.”
The Wall also yielded the anomaly of all anomalies in the Pink Floyd discography – a No. 1 single in “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2.”
The Wall hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart on January 19, 1980, beginning a 15-week run at the top. It has been certified 23x multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, reflecting 23 million copies sold in the United States since its release.