15 April 2008
Rock epic of the month: "Sheep" (Pink Floyd) 1977
Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.
Like a lot of Australian males, I went through a Pink Floyd phase during my high school years. This is something that Australian females completely misunderstand.
The Floyd thing usually manifests itself during the lower years of high school, possibly even during primary school, when it gets rebellious and "cool" to sing at the top of your voice in the playground, or possibly even during class, "Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!"
Why the bridge from Alice Cooper's "School's Out" doesn't get quite the same attention is a mystery to me, but I'll continue. ("No more pencils/No more books/No more teacher's dirty looks")
Anyway, later on during high school, someone inevitably passes around a copy of The Wall. Kids love themes of alienation, and it's not long before the movie gets a viewing as well ("Whoa! Check out this bit where Bob Geldof shaves his nipple off!")
Before long, an older brother will suggest that they should give The Dark Side Of The Moon a look. The kids love this, particularly the odd time signature changes of "Money" and the rocking out of "Time". The fact that "Brain Damage" has the word "lunatic" in it is greeted with much hilarity, kinda like what would happen if you said "boobs" in front of Beavis and Butt-head.
Eventually, other Pink Floyd work gets a going over. When I was at high school, the album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason was released which got a few more fans. For the casual fans, it tends to fizzle out after getting into Wish You Were Here.
I stuck it out a little bit longer than this. And I'm glad that I did. Animals was, to me, their best album, and it had a rocking selection of tunes on it. All five of them.
Three of them were extremely long rock epics.
Animals came after they'd finished exercising the collective guilt that they had built up over the missing-in-action guitarist and vocalist Syd Barrett, who had left the band early on in their careers, with the album Wish You Were Here. Animals was a concept album of sorts, inspired by George Orwell's book, Animal Farm. It was also probably the last Pink Floyd album created on group consultation, although the nascent dictatorship of bassplayer Roger Waters was starting to display itself covertly here, even if the only evidence of this was the writing credits - all Waters except "Dogs" which is credited jointly to Waters and guitarist David Gilmour.
"Sheep" was my favourite from this long player. Ten minutes and twenty one seconds of rock.
"Sheep" starts innocently enough, with some baa-ing and some initially cheesy work on the Fender Rhodes by keyboardist Rick Wright. Waters bass starts hinting at things to come, shortly followed by the drums, albeit in an exploratory capacity. Before too long, it launches straight into the main riff and the first verse together. It actually, unlike a lot of Floyd's work, nestles into a groove early on and refuses to leave, right up until the end of the end of the song. Even through the bits where it breaks down to bass and some keyboards.
Waters' vocals sound quite urgent and pained during this song. He wasn't the best vocalist in Pink Floyd - Gilmour was - but his delivery matches the song rather nicely.
Gilmour, on the other hand, lets rip on the guitar in a way that hadn't been heard since Floyd's 1970 album, Meddle. This was probably some of the more aggressive work that he had done.
This song really had everything thrown at it - recorded baa-ing, unusual keyboard textures, highly aggressive guitar, even drummer Nick Mason chimes in with a reading of "The Lord is my shepherd" (Psalm 23) via a vocoder - yet none of it seems out of place. Mainly due to the fact that Waters bass is just point blank refusing to give up the groove it is milking.
And this is another example of a rock epic that builds and builds. In fact it nearly explodes halfway through, before the breakdown. It does finally, before the end, when Gilmour goes bananas with some frenzied strumming which signifies both the climax of the tune, and the start of the final fade-out.
Floyd would go on to record The Wall, and The Final Cut - both of which were dominated more and more by Waters' megalomania. The Final Cut is really, for all intents and purposes, Waters' first solo album.
Floyd split after this. Waters refused to participate when Gilmour and Mason reformed Floyd in the mid eighties to record under the Pink Floyd name, and Wright joined them full time, not long after. Waters sued, lost and then didn't speak to anyone other than Mason for a long time afterwards.
Pink Floyd still record occasionally, sans Waters.
Here's a video someone made for this, starring that sheep screensaver. But that's not all...
Pink Floyd worked on this tune for many years. It was originally called, "Raving and Drooling".
Here's a 1974 bootleg of "Raving and Drooling".
Part 1; and
By 1975, that had changed a bit closer to what appeared on Animals.
Part 1; and
It's worth listening to hear how this little tune evolved. Enjoy.