By: Ben Sapet
In the 1970s, the United Kingdom felt distinct growing pains as the previous decade’s progressive and loosening cultural norms rubbed against a growing reactionary trend of government conservatism and fierce traditionalist social activists. By 1977, British art-rock group Pink Floyd had snapped. That year, they released Animals, a concept album filled to the brim with equal measures of disdain, disgust, and despair. On Animals, Pink Floyd casts a scathing critique over contemporary Britain with a heightened dystopian vision of a society reduced to dogs, pigs, and sheep.
The album is made up of three 10+ minute songs: one dedicated to the vicious dogs biting, barking, and backstabbing their way through corporate, capitalist culture; one dedicated to the pigs sitting at the top of society pushing their callous agenda down on those below; and the last dedicated to the placid, unquestioning sheep who follow their leaders and misplace their frustrations. The album begins with the acoustic, uncharacteristically tender “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1.” In this song, the band wonders aloud what would happen “If you didn’t care what happened to me, and I didn’t care for you” and does not know “which of the buggers to blame” for the world becoming so uncaring (Pink Floyd, “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1”).
The guitar fades back in and the next song, “Dogs,” begins the album in earnest by examining the first of the culprits for creating this world: the dogs. These dogs are the cutthroat businessmen who feel they “have to be trusted by the people that [they] lie to / So that when they turn their backs on [the dogs] / [they]’ll get the chance to put the knife in” (Pink Floyd, “Dogs”). A splitting peel of electric guitar follows this thought and wordlessly echoes the cathartic energy of the dogs tearing through life. The narrator describes the dogs feeling like they are “just being used,” but continue through life “Deaf, dumb and blind, [they] just keep on pretending / That everyone’s expendable, and no one has a real friend” (Pink Floyd, “Dogs”). Between the sense of devalued human life, and a new social class of fierce businessmen, the lyrics reflect Britain’s shift toward a post-industrial society throughout the 1970s and 80s. The dystopia of Animals, then, aims its acidic criticism toward a world changing for the worse, as labor is no longer a matter of creation, but a constant, all-consuming hunt that makes people act like vicious dogs starved by their masters and set loose to sink their teeth into each other and the rest of the world.
When the final words of “Dogs” echo out, we hear a wandering synth line and, underneath, the husky snorts of pigs. The next song, “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” looks to the masters steering this broken society. Each of the three verses addresses a different one of the pigs. The first verse is directed toward the pigs at the top of the corporate ladder who keep their “head down in the pig bin” to supervise the work that feeds their gluttony (Pink Floyd, “Pigs”). The second verse attacks the looming conservative government and, specifically, Margaret Thatcher, a conservative politician often considered Ronald Reagan’s British counterpart. In the song she is called a “bus stop rat bag” who “radiate[s] cold shafts of broken glass” in reference to her unfeeling, uncaring social policies that placed austerity above human well-being (Pink Floyd, “Pigs”).
The final verse of “Pigs” lashes out at Mary Whitehouse, a prominent activist who responded to the sexual revolution of the 1960s with a disgusted crusade to bring back the traditional stigmas about sexuality in the public sphere. In the song they address her by name and describe her mission as trying to “stem the evil tide / And keep it all on the inside,” thus, blaming her for the emerging sense of repression and detachment the band senses in British society (Pink Floyd, “Pigs”). Pink Floyd is at their most venomous in “Pigs” with their rage and bitter heartbreak almost palpable in the song’s instrumentals. At the end of “Pigs,” we see that the album’s dystopian opening question – what if we did not care for each other – is not hypothetical, but realistic.
The third song, “Sheep,” begins with an understated, almost hymnal, piano melody and the bleating of a field full of sheep. The song targets the passive religious majority who “Meek and obedient […] follow the leader” and are content with the will of the pigs (Pink Floyd, “Sheep”). Like its subject matter, “Sheep” is the most placid song on Animals. Unlike the pigs and dogs, the sheep do not actively unravel society’s fabric with their wrongs, they just watch. That is, until the end of the song when the sheep, goaded by the pigs, reach a fear-driven frenzy in which they rise up and slaughter the dogs. The album’s dystopian reflection of the clashing social forces in 1970s Britain culminate in this moment of one pawn being set against another by the callous pigs and their senseless agenda.
The album ends with “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 2” answering the question from “Pt.1” with “You know that I care what happens to you / And I know that you care for me too” (Pink Floyd, “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 2”). With the album’s final breaths, we are left with the impression that as the dogs, pigs, and sheep tear society apart, we can simply take comfort in whatever care we can find in a world starved for compassion.
Pink Floyd. “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 1.” Animals, Harvest Records, 1977.
Pink Floyd. “Dogs.” Animals, Harvest Records, 1977.
Pink Floyd. “Pigs.” Animals, Harvest Records, 1977.
Pink Floyd. “Sheep.” Animals, Harvest Records, 1977.
Pink Floyd. “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 2.” Animals, Harvest Records, 1977.
Album Cover attributed to Harvest Records in the United Kingdom and Columbia Records in the United States.