When hearing the name Pink Floyd, what pictures come to mind? The prism depicted on Dark Side of the Moon’s cover? Maybe a huge wall built on the stage? Or perhaps, just perhaps, it’s a huge pig-shaped balloon soaring over one of their concerts? The band had a whimsical side to balance the frequently dark subject matter of their songs, as evidenced by the last song. But when that pig broke free of its restraints one fateful day in the middle of the 1970s and caused a bit of a fuss in Great Britain, it wasn’t that hilarious (or maybe it was). You’re familiar with When the Tigers Broke Free by Pink Floyd, right? Let’s recall the incident when the pig managed to escape.
What’s the matter, Algie?
We need to return to the original reason Pink Floyd felt it necessary to add a flying swine as part of its stage spectacle in order to fully understand this bizarre but true classic rock narrative. Floyd struggled to write their next album after Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here in 1976. They ultimately turned to a couple lengthy songs that they had been performing in concerts for years.
The band’s lyricist, Roger Waters, was able to attach an idea to those lyrics in line with the conceptual focus of Floyd’s earlier releases. The 1977 album Animals included some references to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but it was mainly Waters’ means of classifying the social groups that he believed made up the world and taking up one of the album’s lengthy songs for each. There were “Dogs” who would do anything to advance, and there were “Sheep” who would just do as the ruling class instructed. Then there were the “Pigs,” haughty, moralistic individuals who regarded everyone below them with contempt. Floyd thought that the pigs should be incorporated into the Animals artwork because they were renowned for their inventive, evocative album covers. Waters was particularly drawn to the Battersea Power Station’s architecture, with its spires soaring menacingly into the sky. In order to do this, Waters and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis (who worked on many Floyd covers) created a 40-foot inflatable pig named Algie that would soar over the towers. They would learn the hard way that sometimes you just can’t trust balloon creatures.
Pigs Really Can Fly
Poor weather prevented attempts to photograph the pig on the first day. In case the pig became unmoored, Floyd had hired a marksman to shoot it down. (Can you picture that appearing on the cost report for the record label?) Unfortunately, when they went to obtain the images again the next day, no one informed him that he would be required.
Algie the inflatable pig broke free from her stern bindings on a blustery December day when one of her moorings scraped up against the Battersea chimneys, and she flew off across the London sky. Even while it may appear absurd, when the pig popped into the flight paths of aircraft heading toward Heathrow Airport, the results could have been disastrous. Powell was arrested, flights were halted, and the British Air Force was informed. The story ended later that evening when the pig was discovered on a neighbouring farm. The sky’s colors simply weren’t suitable for the photo when the principals tried again. The outcome was a doctored cover photo that included a studio image of the pig overlaid next to one of the towers from when the lighting was ideal. It should be emphasized that a lot of people believe that Pink Floyd members organized the entire event as a huge publicity gimmick. Perhaps the money would have been better used elsewhere given that Animals didn’t quite do as well commercially as the records that came before it.
The Pig That Wouldn’t Die
Despite the fact that the band’s original members eventually went their separate ways, Algie, or at least variations of her, had a long history with them. On the 1977 In The Flesh Tour in promotion of the Animals album, the pig flew over stadiums. Waters held the rights to use the pig after an ugly breakup with Pink Floyd in the 1980s. By appending testicles to their rendition of the pig for performances in the ’80s and ’90s, David Gilmour and the rest of the reformed Floyd were able to get around copyright laws. Algie merely likes to go for a stroll occasionally, it turns out. The inflatable pig again ran amok during Waters’ 2008 Coachella performance, and a reward was even given for her safe return. What we’ve come to anticipate from the most iconic farm animal in rock and roll is that rebellious attitude.