Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (2023)

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (1)

Throughout the 20th century, London’s Battersea Power Station symbolized modern energy efficiency. The Battersea provided as much as 20 percent of the city’s electrical needs. But in January 1977, the massive brick cathedral structure became something else: an oppressive symbol of a dystopian society depicted on the cover of Animals, the 10th album from Pink Floyd. More than 40 years later, the album cover art for Animals continues to demonstrate how powerful design can take something from the everyday world and present it in an entirely new context.

Animals hit record stores like a toxic bomb on January 23, 1977. Composed largely by principal Floyd songwriter and bassist Roger Waters, the album depicted a brutal society in which greedy pigs and vicious dogs rule over docile sheep. Animals was based loosely on George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. But whereas Animal Farm was a rebuke of communism, Animals was an angry indictment of capitalism.

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (2)

For example, the sprawling song “Dogs” described a ruthless corporate climber betraying and cheating his way to success, only to end up as “just another sad old man, all alone and dying of cancer.”

David Gilmour would later tell Guitar World that the reference to the sad old man dying of cancer was the song’s best lyric, and he certainly sang it with conviction. As he said, “This is sung to the dog, in an almost frustrating last resort to try and tell the dog off. He’s saying that no matter how successful and powerful the dog may become, he will end up like all the rest.”

Another epic, “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” opened with a spooky keyboard part that sounded like a demonic riff from The Exorcist. Waters sang of pigs with pig stains on their fat chins, “all tight lips and cold feet” while they keep a tight grip on society.

In an unusual move for Pink Floyd, “Pigs” name-checked a real person: Mary Whitehouse, a censorial British moralist, whom Waters denounced as a charade. (In the process, he made many American mistakenly believe he was taking aim at the U.S. White House — something he would do decades later.)

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (3)

“Sheep” portrayed everyday people in society as followers (“Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away”). The song took a violent turn when the sheep rose up against their oppressors. Waters would comment,

“Sheep” was my sense of what was to come down in England, and it did last summer with the riots in England, in Brixton and Toxeth, and it will happen again. It will always happen. There are too many of us in the world and we treat each other badly. We get obsessed with things, and there aren’t enough of things, products, to go ’round. If we’re persuaded it’s important to have them, that we’re nothing without them, and there aren’t enough of them to go ’round, the people without them are going to get angry. Content and discontent follow very closely the rise and fall on the graph of world recession and expansion.

And yet, Animals contained rays of hope in the two-part song, “Pigs on the Wing,” which opened and closed the album. In “Pigs on the Wing,” Waters sang of caring for one another and seeking shelter from pigs. The point of view was made even more poignant when Waters suggested that the song’s protagonist was actually a dog who was capable of warmth and love when offered the same.

To Pink Floyd fans, Animals felt like a departure from the Floyd’s two most recent albums, Wish You Were Here (1975) and The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). Both those albums were largely reflective and inward looking. The Dark Side of the Moon famously explored themes of madness, aging, and the pressures of modern-day life. Wish You Were Here was a melancholy meditation on loss and regret. With Animals, it was if Roger Waters took all the fears and neuroses from the previous two albums and pointed them outward toward the forces of society that had caused them. (Little did anyone know at the time, but in two years, the interplay between self-loathing and society’s ills would reach its apex with the release of The Wall.)

(Video) How Pink Floyd Made Animals - The Album & Tour | Vinyl Rewind

It wasn’t just the finger-pointing in the lyrics that made Animals so harsh. The music and singing were equally corrosive. David Gilmour’s guitars bit like the dogs portrayed in the title track, and his use of a talk box (a first for a Pink Floyd album) added a nasty sting to “Pigs.” Nick Mason’s pounding drums carried the entire album forward with a propulsive energy. Richard Wright’s keyboard solos and moody introductions to “Pigs” and “Sheep” set the tone for both songs in completely different ways (frightening on “Pigs” and foreboding on “Sheep”). Roger Waters came into his own as a vocalist. He complemented Gilmour’s biting guitar with a whining voice that dripped with sarcasm. He spit out word-bullets (“You radiate cold shafts of broken glass”).

The album was also a prog-rock masterpiece at a time when punk rockers were bashing prog rockers for bloated excesses. The Floyd responded to the challenge of punk rock by dialing up everything that punk rockers hated, including long synth solos and complicated song structures, although ultimately the album’s themes would win over the punk rockers. It was as if Pink Floyd said, “You hate prog rock? Well, check this out.”

Back in the day, I did not discover Animals as an album, strictly speaking. It was one of many works of its time that I first heard in bits and pieces through the forbidden walls of my older brother’s bedroom. His room was strictly off-limits. You never entered unless invited. Later, I realized the secrecy gave him free rein to do drugs, but there was something more to it: a need to create a world he could control, where he could shut out my parents, high school teachers, and every other perceived threat to his stoner life.

Music was essential to that world, and Pink Floyd especially so. I probably discovered the entire Pink Floyd catalog, as I did high school homework in the basement and heard fragments of “Money,” “Have a Cigar,” and the powerful wail of “The Great Gig in the Sky” blasting in my brother’s room. My first impressions of Animals through this filter were David Gilmour’s explosive guitars, Richard Wright’s synthesizers that wormed their way through the entire album, and the chilling repetition of the words, “Dragged down by the stone,” morphing into a creepy drone on “Dogs.”

On rare occasions, my brother allowed me into his room. I’d just hang awkwardly while he sat alone on his bed either reading a book (usually about World War II aircraft) or doing nothing. I think he sensed I was curious to learn more about the music that shaped his life, because one day he invited me to explore his album collection, which consisted of a row of LPs on the floor. I pawed through them all. They unfolded like a tidy library of rock classics, each exuding their own vibe: bright (Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy), surreal (Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans), and heavy (Rush’s 2112).

I knew immediately which album cover belonged to the darkest of all the songs my brother played the moment I gazed at the image of a monolithic structure that looked like it had been built during the Industrial Revolution. The pink pig floating in the air between two phallic stacks removed any doubt that I was holding a copy of Animals in my hands. The bleakness of that world literally unfolded when I opened the album. The industrial landscape, which spilled over into the back cover, formed a more panoramic view.

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (4)

It was easy to imagine the sheep of Animals inside this oppressive-looking building toiling away for hours in dark rooms full of dangerous machines, while a pig in the sky ruled their lives. In reality, the building on the cover was a near-derelict power plant built in 1933. But I was experiencing the image in the context of Pink Floyd’s creation (or, more accurately, Roger Waters’s).

The inside of the cover was equally evocative of a dark vision, with 11 monochrome photos laid out for maximum impact. The pig from the album cover appeared in three of the photos. In black and white, the pig looked more menacing, like a Macy’s parade float that had gone rogue. The photos suggested a vacant industrial mill, perhaps after the sheep of Animals had risen up against the dogs and pigs. But the pictures certainly did not offer encouragement that the uprising would result in anything hopeful.

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (5)

I also saw on this album cover the anger and bitterness that emanated from my brother’s room. I felt the alienation that had somehow taken hold of him when we were kids and our family was uprooted by several relocations. I understood my brother just a little bit better.

Years later, I would learn about the history behind the making of the album cover, thanks to books such as For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis. As many Floyd fans know, the creation of the Animals album cover has a curious, even comical history. The cover was produced by Hipgnosis, the design company responsible for epic Pink Floyd album designs, such as The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. But the Animals cover was conceived not by Hipgnosis, but by Roger Waters, who is credited as the original sleeve designer.

Hipgnosis cofounder Storm Thorgerson had proposed to Pink Floyd a cover design with the following image of a child accidentally witnessing his parents copulating:

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (6)
(Video) Pink Floyd - Animals Album Cover

The image seems wildly out of place with the music inside. But Thorgerson had his reasons at the time. Here’s how he described his rationale in For the Love of Vinyl:

Animals? What is suggested by the word? We knew that the music and lyrics were fueled and characterized by anger, so was it an angry animal? A dull thought. Perhaps it was more like human behaviour of an animal nature which gets described as animal-like, as in ‘Get your hands off me, you’re being an animal’ etc., all of which have a degree of double meaning. What came to mind was a child, a three- or four-year-old boy, accidentally witnessing his parents having sex. Does he see it as a loving, though passionate, act or as a violent act? Does it excite, confuse, or traumatize him? Are they suddenly animals in his eyes and no longer his loving parents?

The Floyd rejected the idea. As recounted in Mark Blake’s Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd:

[Roger] Waters was unimpressed. “I don’t think the rest of the boys thought those ideas were that brilliant either,” he said. “So there was this feeling of ‘Well, if you don’t like it, do something better.’ So I said, ‘OK, I will.’ And then I pedalled around South London on my bicycle with my camera and took some photos of Battersea Power Station.”

Thorgerson’s memory of events differs a bit from Waters’s. In For the Love of Vinyl, he recalls that Hipgnosis was already aware of Waters’s idea for an album cover depicting a floating pig when Hipgnosis pitched its own design.

“. . . I thought Roger’s idea of the pig was a tad silly, not to mention low on mystery and meaning,” he wrote. “We asked if we might submit alternatives which they could take or leave, for they could always return to the pig if necessary. ‘OK,’ they said, ‘Try your luck . . .’”

But no one disagrees on one key point: the cover that we know today was the brainchild of Roger Waters. Waters was drawn to the “doomy, inhuman” building. He proposed the idea of a flying pig — not as an oppressive image as I had interpreted it, but as a symbol of hope suggested by the song “Pigs on the Wing.”

What happened next became part of Pink Floyd legend. To bring Waters’s idea to life, on a December day in 1976, Hipgnosis arranged for a photo shoot featuring a 40-foot long inflatable pig floating in the sky above the Battersea plant. The moody sky was full of billowing clouds that made for a dramatic backdrop, which Hipgnosis cofounder Aubrey Powell captured on film. The pig was attached to the ground by a cable. Sharpshooters were positioned to take it down should the pig break free from its moorings. But the pig malfunctioned and never took flight. So the shoot was rescheduled for another day.

The Higpnosis crew returned the next day for Take Two, but Higpnosis had forgotten to ask the police sharpshooters to come back. Big mistake. This time around, the pig successfully took flight. And as Powell remembers in For the Love of Vinyl, “Suddenly there was a communal gasp. The cable had snapped in a fierce gust of wind and the Pig drifted up and away into the flight path to Heathrow airport. It finally disappeared from view at 30,000 feet.”

A scene worthy of Monty Python ensued. Flights were canceled. RAF fighter pilots were dispatched to find the pig. But because it was made out of plastic, it was undetectable by radar. Here’s how Powell describes the ensuing comedy:

Fearful of a midair disaster for which we would be partly responsible, the Hipgnosis team went back to our studio under strict instructions from the Police to remain there until the Pig had been located . . . We were threatened with every Act available to the Police and Air Traffic Control . . .That night Hipgnosis received a call from an irate Kent farmer who complained that a large pink pig was in his field frightening the cows.

The pig was retrieved amid heavy press coverage that created unplanned PR for the album.

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (7)

Hipgnosis tried a third time (with sharpshooters reinstated) and succeeded. But the image of the pig floating in the sky was a disappointment. Alas, the sky was clear blue, and not at all depressing — totally wrong for the vibe of Animals. So Hipgnosis ended up using one of the photos Powell had taken on the first day of the shoot, when the sky had been far more interesting. The image of the pig from the third day of the shoot was superimposed on a photo from Day One.

(Video) Pink Floyd - Animals 2018 Remix Documentary (Album Cover Shoot)

Consider the irony. If you had to pick the one Pink Floyd album whose creation would involve a comical story with a runaway balloon, frightened cows, and a disgruntled farmer, would you have chosen the unrelentingly bleak Animals? Maybe an album from the Syd Barrett Floyd. But not Animals.

And yet, depending on how you accept sarcasm as a form of humor, perhaps the story of the runaway pig is not so ironic. Animals did have its funny moments, especially in “Sheep,” with its weirdly amusing adaptation of “The Lord’s Prayer,” and in “Pigs,” with Roger Waters spitting out lines such as “You’re hot stuff with a hatpin” over the funky beat of a cowbell.

EMI, the record label responsible for distributing Animals, capitalized on the attention that the album received after the goofy shoot. In January 1977, EMI conducted the official launch of Animals with a press conference at the Battersea Power Station. In typical Floyd fashion, no members of the band attended.

In the history of Pink Floyd, Animals is considered to be something of a transitional piece, a pre-curser to The Wall, which followed in 1979. This made an immediate impact, although not a completely positive one. Reviewers quickly took note of Animals’s overwhelmingly grim themes — how could they not? For example, Angus Mackinnon of New Musical Express wrote that Animals was “one of the most extreme, relentless, harrowing, and downright iconoclastic hunks of music to have been made available this side of the sun.” Melody Maker’s Karl Dallas was struck by the album’s “uncomfortable taste of reality.”

On the other hand, Rolling Stone’s Frank Rose hated the album, citing its “bleak defeatism.” He wrote of the Floyd, “They complain about the duplicity of human behavior (and then title their songs after animals — get it?). They sound like they’ve just discovered this — their message has become pointless and tedious.” And according to a Playboy review, “The trite lyrical execution punctuated by oinks and barks, is for the birds. ‘Dogs’ unleashes the best melody in an album otherwise devoid of sustaining substance.”

The album sold well, charting at Number 2 in the United Kingdom and Number 3 in the United States. Animals would sell four million copies in the United States, and, depending on which source you read, as many as 12 million copies globally into the 21st century. Those sales figures would be a highwater for just about any band, but Animals never quite reached the heady numbers of The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall. As David Gilmour later said, with typical understatement, “I never expected Animals to sell as many as Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon. There’s not a lot of sweet, sing-along stuff on it.”

Animals would become one of those deep catalog classics — the kind of album you explore after you’ve become familiar with a band’s more accessible works. As Henry Yates would write years later in a Pink Floyd retrospective in Musical Milestones,

Doomy and nihilistic, Animals is not an easy album to fall in love with, and perhaps there are other releases from Pink Floyd around the period that you’d take off the shelf more readily. And yet, at a stroke, it proved that the band were still angry, eloquent, relevant, and attuned to the thoughts of the man in the dole queue. No wonder it won them the grudging respect of the punk scene.

The band went on a grueling tour to support the album, with the flying pig used prominently as a concert prop. During the tour, Roger Waters became so disenchanted and alienated from the trappings of rock star life that he lashed out. At one concert, he spat on a fan (an oft-told story). The incident helped inspire the writing of The Wall, the album that catapulted the Floyd to a new level of global stardom. After The Wall, Pink Floyd would release one more album with Roger Waters, The Final Cut, in which Waters condemned politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, perhaps emboldened by “Pigs.”

As a solo artist, Waters would amplify political themes in his music. During a 2017 tour, he incorporated songs from Animals into the act while a pig floated through the stadium and a digital image of the Battersea Power Plant appeared above the crowd.

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (8)
Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (9)

Animals would become ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 50 greatest prog rock albums of all time, and the cover art itself become subject of widespread study. I was partly inspired to write about Animals after I commented on the oppressive vibe of the album’s design in a Facebook group for lovers of vinyl records. A group member who grew up near the Battersea Power Station took issue with my post, citing the plant’s noble history surviving Nazi bombs during World War II and powering London for years. How could I possibly find anything oppressive about such a building?

He was correct. When you see photos of the building out of context of Animals, it does not look particularly gloomy. But here is where context comes into play. Great album covers can re-contextualize artifacts that mean something different in their natural setting. Hipgnosis’s most famous album cover design for Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, depicts the dispersion of light by a prism, a pedestrian image in any physics textbook. But on the cover of The Dark Side of the Moon, the prism assumes a different and profound meaning.

(Video) Pink Floyd "Animals" Cover Artwork Explained!

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (10)

The cover of Led Zeppelin’s first album from 1969 uses (with perhaps questionable taste) a well-known image of the 1937 Hindenberg explosion — and in doing so forever associates that historic photo with the loud, explosive arrival of hard rock.

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Or consider how photographer Iain MacMillan turned an ordinary crossing near Abbey Road studio in London into an instant tourist sensation for decades to come when he photographed the cover of the Beatles’s Abbey Road.

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (12)

This is one of the things I love about album covers: their power to change our frame of reference — to give us a new perspective of the world around us, whether Pink Floyd is turning a power plant into a social statement or Led Zeppelin is boldly introducing a new kind of powerful rock and roll through the image of a disaster of historic proportions. These images will forever shape how future generations of listeners learn about music. Great visual stories never die.

Today the Battersea Power Station is the center of a mixed-use neighborhood on the banks of the Thames. In a supreme act of irony, the Battersea Power Station website describes Battersea as, “A legendary landmark that’s a symbol of hope and positivity. Uniting people from far away and just around the corner to create a new community that’s already thriving. This is a place to work, live, shop, eat and enjoy. Here life doesn’t feel ordinary, it feels extraordinary.”

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (13)
Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (14)

An image of the building is superimposed with the words “Live Positive.”

Pink Floyd’s “Animals”: The Story Behind the Album Cover (15)
(Video) How Pink Floyd Made Animals - Part One - The Album | Vinyl Rewind

But for millions of people who own a copy of Animals, the Battersea Power Station will forever symbolize Pink Floyd’s violent and dark world.


What is the story behind Pink Floyd Animals cover? ›

The idea came from bassist Roger Waters. He was inspired by George Orwell's book "Animal Farm" in which pigs take over the farm. The book is a metaphor for the human society in which rulers oppress the common folk, who, in spite of everything, follow the dominant creatures like sheep.

Why is the atom heart mother cover a cow? ›

They thus requested that their new album had "something plain" on the cover, which ended up being the image of a cow. Storm Thorgerson, inspired by Andy Warhol's famous "cow wallpaper", has said that he simply drove out into a rural area near Potters Bar and photographed the first cow he saw.

What do dogs represent in animals album? ›

Supposedly, each animal represents a part of the Cold War. The dogs are the Russians, the three Pigs are the United States, Great Britain and France (Might not be France, been awhile.). The sheep are everyone else who are forced to watch the superpowers duke it out.

What does the cover of Dark Side of the Moon represent? ›

The design depicts a glass prism dispersing light into colour and represents three elements: the band's stage lighting, the album lyrics, and Wright's request for a "simple and bold" design. At Waters' suggestion, the spectrum of light continues through to the gatefold.

What does the cover of Animal Farm represent? ›

Animal Farm represents the Russian Revolution of 1917. Old Major represents Karl Marx, Snowball represents Leon Trotsky, Napoleon represents Josef Stalin, Squealer represents propaganda, and Boxer is a representation for all the Russian laborers and workers.

What is the secret message in Pink Floyd's The Wall? ›

Inserting a hidden message, Roger Waters can be heard speaking when the track is played backwards: “Congratulations.

Why are pregnant cows slaughtered? ›

Reasons for sending pregnant cows for slaughter include presumed infertility (cattle erroneously considered to be non-pregnant), low production, and mastitis [7,20].

Why do mama cows hide their calves? ›

Newborn calves are separated from their mother at birth to hide from predators, so a connection must be established right away. Sound, smell and touch are what a cow recognizes when identifying her calf. It begins with the first lick after birth, which is repeated to strengthen the bond.

Why are pregnant cows separated from the rest of the herd? ›

In commercial units, pregnant cows will be separated from the milking herd about 2 months before they are due to give birth (classed as 'dry cows'). When a cow is ready to give birth she will try to find a clean and dry area away from other cows.

What do the pigs represent in animals Pink Floyd? ›

In the album's three parts, "Dogs", "Pigs" and "Sheep", pigs represent the people whom Roger Waters considers to be at the top of the social ladder, the ones with wealth and power; they also manipulate the rest of society and encourage them to be viciously competitive and cut-throat, so the pigs can remain powerful.

What does the puppy symbolize in the story? ›

Lennie's puppy is one of several symbols that represent the victory of the strong over the weak. Lennie kills the puppy accidentally, as he has killed many mice before, by virtue of his failure to recognize his own strength.

What did Pink Floyd mean by pigs on the wing? ›

The title comes from an expression used by British pilots during World War II to describe enemy fighters in a plane's blindspot.

What do the pigs represent in Pink Floyd? ›

In the album's three parts, "Dogs", "Pigs" and "Sheep", pigs represent the people whom Roger Waters considers to be at the top of the social ladder, the ones with wealth and power; they also manipulate the rest of society and encourage them to be viciously competitive and cut-throat, so the pigs can remain powerful.

What is on the Pink Floyd album cover? ›

Designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, this cover image is actually a photograph of a man sitting in a tree. The slide jammed on a 35mm projector while the band was deciding which photo to use for the cover, and everybody liked the way it completely distorted.

What was the song Old Major taught the Animals about? ›

Old Major teaches the animals the song "Beasts of England" to inspire a rebellion and give them hope for a human-free farm. The song is about a future in which animals overthrow humans and take over farms, leaving the animals to reap the fruits of their own hard labor.

What is the triangle on the Pink Floyd album cover? ›

The first idea he had, taking a photograph that mimicked Marvel's Silver Surfer, was dismissed by the band. Thorgerson then decided to hone in on Pink Floyd's light show as inspiration. He enacted the image of a triangle as a symbol of thought and ambition. These themes were prominent in the lyricism of the album.


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