Some things to consider if you're coming to this new:
It took another eighteen months for 'Animals' to appear; in the meantime, Pink Floyd (who already had a substantial amount of material ready for it) set about becoming corporations. This seemed, at the time, a perfectly logical way of dealing with the burdensome UK tax situation; the top rate of tax was about 83%, and the corporation taxes were even higher. Being successful at selling records all of a sudden had led to all kinds of discussions about how to keep the income coming in without alerting the tax authorities. The results included setting up four corporations under the name of each band member, investing in all kinds of dubious schemes which stayed only just this side of money laundering, and building their own recording studio.
Britannia Row was a great idea, poorly executed. There was to be a fully kitted out studio, built to the latest specifications, and two floors of storage for all the touring gear and assorted bits of junk which accumulate around a successful band. Both the studio and the storage space could be rented out for other bands to use, bringing in even more income (which would no doubt have to be parked in ever more obscure wheezes to avoid all that tax). The only issue with all that was that, for reasons of, frankly, lunacy, the studio was built on the ground floor, with all the storage above; the net result being that various hoists and fork lifts were needed to actually get anything in or out of the storage area. The studio was nicely soundproofed, though.
OK, so what's the one thing everyone knows about the cover of 'Animals'? The whole saga of the pig floating away during the shoot, interfering with inbound flights to Heathrow, and having to be shot down, right? Well, it didn't quite happen that way. There was a marksman, but he wasn't there when the pig (called 'Algy' for some reason) slipped its moorings. There's no record of any aircraft having reported Algy soaring past, although there was a police helicopter in attendance - Algy easily gave that the slip, though. The flying pig came down without any assistance somewhere in Kent, and - sadly, but inevitably - the photo used on the cover is a composite - there are shots of Algy hovering over Battersea Power Station, but the one used on the cover of the album isn't one of them; that was done in the photographer's studio after the fact.
I mentioned that some of the 'Animals' material had been around for a while - 'Sheep' started life as a track called 'Raving and Drooling', which had been in the live set for a couple of years:
'Dogs', similarly, used to be called 'You've Got To Be Crazy':
For me - and I appreciate that other opinions are available - this album marks the beginning of the 'Roger Waters' Pink Floyd' era; Waters has found his voice, and the lyrical considerations on 'Animals' are sharply different from what came before. On top of that, he used the splitting up of 'Pigs on the Wing' into two separate pieces to scoop up significantly more royalties than the rest of the band (royalties were assigned by number of tracks, something to avoid if you want your band to remain on civil terms after the money starts rolling in). As he gradually assumed control of the enterprise, Rick Wright in particular, and Dave Gilmour to a degree, found themselves turning up to play whatever Roger had written, a significant shift from the previous setup. Having said that, because so much of 'Animals' already existed, this is less evident than it might otherwise have been. What is clear, however, is the sharp change in tone - this is an engaged, overtly political album.
I should clear up one thing about 'Pigs (three different ones)' - while the first two pigs are archetypes, the third section is clearly and deliberately written about the odious and officious Mary Whitehouse. It's entirely possible that there are people reading this who have no idea who she was and what she stood for; for a time in the late seventies, just as yours truly was becoming politically aware, she represented the enemy; the other side in the Generation War. History records her as having been on the losing side, but she had a Farage-like knack for publicity, and a legion of loyal followers whose attitude to pretty much everything could be summed up as 'the whole thing is going to rack and ruin, and tutting loudly doesn't seem to be doing anything; it's time to break out the placards and write threatening letters to the BBC.'
One more surprise - I'm willing to bet that no more than a handful of you have ever heard the full version of 'Animals'. If you were one of the rapidly shrinking number who bought their albums on eight-track (hang on, I'd better explain that, too - eight-track cartridges were usually found in cars, before the advent of cassette tapes; they ran on a continuous loop, but consisted of four sets of stereo tracks, with the heads jumping from track to track after each quarter of the album had been played. This led to all sorts of issues, with eight-track versions of albums being butchered in various ingenious ways to avoid long silences or jumping tracks in the middle of a song), you got an unexpected bonus if you bought a copy of 'Animals'. Truly, eight-track was awful, but it did occasionally lead to extra music being made available to fill in gaps. On the eight-track version of 'Animals', the two halves of 'Pigs on the Wing' are reunited, and in between the two is a guitar solo. A guitar solo by Snowy White, better known for being in Thin Lizzy, and making his own records, but at this point, just another session musician who was being auditioned for a spot on the touring team - Gilmour liked overdubs so much that it generally took two guitarists to recreate the sound live.
What? Yes, of course there's a YouTube link:
There's some debate about whether this version was a replacement for a Gilmour solo which had been accidentally (or otherwise) erased, an actual audition piece, or never intended for release, but there it is. It's interesting, at least.
So, is it any good?
'Animals' came out in a musical landscape quite different to the one 'Wish You Were Here' had done - assorted members of the Sex Pistols could be seen wandering around in the 'I Hate Pink Floyd' t-shirt; it was no longer cool to like the Floyd, and all over the UK, teenage boys rushed to hide their prog albums under the bed. In that context, a new Pink Floyd album was just a musical footnote to a great many of us who were busy cutting our hair off and having our jeans strategically ripped, safety-pinned and taken in to remove any trace of flare. It took me a year or so to get round to it, and then it was a poorly recorded tape from a friend who no more wanted to be seen with a Pink Floyd album than I did.
I overlooked it, dismissed it as short and unmemorable; possibly even the last gasp of a band on their way out.
Boy, did I get that wrong. It's actually a blistering masterpiece; a picture of society in chaos and upheaval every bit as relevant and thrilling as anything The Clash were doing at the same time. You can clearly see the direction Waters is taking them, and that he was actually some way ahead of a lot of people - lyrically, I think it stands up today, possibly even more so than it did forty years ago. Yes, the band were now on the wrong side of a generational divide, but many of those (myself included) who dismissed it at the time have come to understand that perhaps some of the dinosaurs had something to tell us; we just didn't care to listen at that moment.
You can't compare it with the two albums which came before; they stand on their own, timeless and complete; you have to see it as the opening of a new chapter - one which doesn't, perhaps, go in the direction you expect, but one which is different enough to feel like it's been performed by another band altogether. Pink Floyd pulled this trick off more than once in their career - producing something which, while it's clearly a Pink Floyd album, sounds different enough from what came before to make you properly sit up and take notice.
Eventually, in my case - I didn't hear it until shortly before 'The Wall' came out, and I didn't appreciate it for a while after that, but now it's probably the Floyd album I listen to most; it's the first one I bought on vinyl when I went back to that format last year, and it's the one album I wouldn't change a thing about (not even to put Snowy's solo back in).
It might be controversial to say it, but I think it's their best album and I love it unconditionally.