500 Miles High, by Chick Corea. Performed by Mark Snyder on acoustic bass guitar with accompaniment provided by Gary Burton.
Completed for Assignment #3 for the Introduction to Improvisation course at Coursera.org.
We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers, leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it was just a brick in the wall
All in all it was just a brick in the wall
This iconic song is likely familiar to most readers, having been a #1 single in both the US and UK. Long before I ever heard the album, I heard part if not all of the song as a confused but curious 8-year-old.
The song flows directly from “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives,” with the same form as in Part 1. This time, however, rather than a quiet building of tension as in Part 1, we hear a grim disco march with an ostinato bass (D-C-D) and rhythm guitar playing syncopated Dm7 chords. The harmony doesn’t change until the fifth line (“Hey! Teachers!”), when the rhythm guitar changes to G major (the IV chord), then resolving back to D minor7 at the end of the line (“alone!”). The verse ends with two repetitions of a III-VII-i cadence (F-C-Dm7). After two measures of a simple drum pattern (offbeats), the verse repeats, this time sung by the children of the Islington Green school affecting an exaggerated accent. After this repetition, the verse structure is maintained with David Gilmour playing a funk guitar solo- an interesting contrast given the grim march over which he’s soloing. The piece ends on the album with the sound of children shouting and playing while the schoolmaster (introduced in the previous piece) berates a child (“How can you have some pudding if you don’t eat your meat? Stand still, laddie!”). The last hound heard is a loud pursed-lip exhale, as if expressing relief.
There is no significant use of rhyme. The only possible rhyme is a (very) approximate rhyme at the end of lines 2 and 4 (control/alone). This appears to be coincidence rather an a deliberate use of rhyme, as it doesn’t seem to add significantly to the structure of the song. The lyrics use deliberate grammatical errors (“we don’t need no education;” “leave them kids alone”) to emphasize the (imagined) rebellion against the teachers.
In the last piece, the audience was introduced to the schoolmaster and shown by Pink looking back (as an unreliable narrator) the unpleasant recollection of his school days. (It is not presumed that his presentation of his distorted recollection bears any resemblance at all to what the experience was really like). At the end of “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” we see the young Pink engaging in a revenge fantasy (a passive one- as a child Pink was in a powerless position, but he could imagine someone else punishing his tormentor for him). Here the rebellion is more active- Pink imagines himself and the other children standing up in defiance, refusing to give in to “thought control” and the “dark sarcasm” of the classroom. Pink doesn’t make clear what he saw as thought control or sarcasm; the only indication of the schoolmaster’s behavior seems quite appropriate, if harsh in tone (“How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”), yet the children rebel in his imagination. It’s clear this rebellion is only imagined, as at the end of the song nothing has changed, the schoolmaster is still in control, and the kids are still noisily carrying on as always.
The lyrics end with the clear statement that Pink looks back on his school experiences as contributing to his isolation (but again, we don’t see what’s happened in school that was all that traumatic).
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