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(Credit: Press)

Music

The Cover Uncovered: Pink Floyd and the flying pig used for their album 'Animals'

It is perhaps one of the greatest plaudits to receive in the world of music if you or your band are described as eclectic. Pink Floyd most certainly fall into the pigeonhole of being almost impossible to pigeonhole. From their humble but stellar beginnings as a 1960s psychedelic rock band, they moved into the 1970s always making concerted efforts to adapt their sound into something organic. After a run of uneven albums in the late ’60s, the group arrived at the sound that would boost them into superstardom with the release of Meddle in 1971 which was swiftly usurped by the power of The Dark Side of the Moon, undoubtedly Pink Floyd’s masterpiece. By this point, the band had crafted their own strange blend of genres from blues to jazz and most of the in-between. 

After Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd stuck with this winning combination of musical genetics over the mid-1970s with the release of Wish You Were Here, which was highlighted by the nine-part epic ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’, written about estranged founding member Syd Barrett who had left the band amidst trouble with mental illness some seven years before, and also the exceedingly accessible acoustic title track ‘Wish You Were Here’. By the time they were set to work on their tenth studio album, the band returned to the drawing board, not for musical composition, but for subject matter, where the previous two albums had been rather inwardly focussed on exploring themes of madness, ageing and addiction, this next album was set to point a finger at society and the status quo. 

Animals was released in 1977 and performed well on the charts reaching number two in the UK and number three in the US despite the uncommercially sympathetic runtimes of the tracks, a trademark feature of much of the Pink Floyd discography. The album consists of only five songs: ‘Dogs’, ‘Sheep’, ‘Pigs on the Wing (parts one and two) and ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones). These song titles point toward the concept of the album before one even listens to the revealing lyrics within. Pink Floyd had taken a punt at a George Orwell inspired concept album basing the content on the political satire of Animal Farm, where Orwel shrewdly presented the unavoidable ails of the western world where pigs control the power with the dogs working for them to keep the sheep in line. 

The album presents themes of political coercion and anxiety amongst the dark soundscape carved by some impressive rhythm sections. It is undoubtedly a very impressive addition to Pink Floyd’s endless river of beautiful and erudite concepts, but what stands out to me the most about this album, in particular, is the cover artwork. The image shows Battersea Power Station, the ultimate symbol of industrial dominance with its prison-like substructure and menacing chimneys perched on each corner. Above the station is a flying pig which I assumed, in my naive youth, must have been added by the magical forces of pre-computer-age graphic design methods. 

Alas, I was wrong. Pink Floyd thought they would instead make a day of it and set out to West London in December 1976 to inflate a 40-foot long model pig designed by Roger Waters named ‘Algie’. On the first attempt, the band and supporting artistic crew from London design troupe, Hipgnosis, had hired a trained gunman poised ready to shoot and take the mighty swine down should the cable moorings fail and set it free to the winds. Unfortunately, after a few attempts at inflating the giant pig, it failed to take flight. Tired in defeat, they decided to reschedule for the following day. 

Come the next day, the pig finally departed the ground rising into the sky a few hundred feet in the air allowing the photographers to take the famous shot ready to be seared into history. However, the drama did not stop here; the winds were high this second day of shooting and the Hipgnosis team had ironically neglected to hire the marksman again in the case of emergency. Lo and behold, the pig strained against its cable tethers and broke free into the London airspace soaring into the double-taken view of airline pilots at 30,000 feet.

The commotion spread as flights out of Heathrow and Gatwick were cancelled and The Royal Airforce sent out a squad of fighter pilots in search of a giant flying pig. They were unsuccessful as the radar on their aircraft failed to detect the plastic consistency of the pig. Fortunately, later on, as dusk set in, the Hipgnosis team received a call from a perplexed farmer in Kent who had found a giant pig bobbing around in one of his fields alarming his livestock – whom I imagine were made to feel rather inadequate. After such a stressful day, the crew and the band alike were filled with relief. This rather ridiculous story, I think, makes this already remarkable album artwork all the more memorable as it sits proudly on the shelf of prog-rock history. 

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(Credit: Press)