Remember When: Pink Floyd’s Flying Pig Breaks Free During a Concert (1977)

What images pop into your head when someone mentions the band Pink Floyd? The prism on the cover of Dark Side of the Moon? Perhaps a giant wall constructed on stage? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a giant balloon shaped as a pig flying over their concerts?

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That last one shows that the band had a fanciful side to contrast the oft-dire subject matter of their music. But it wasn’t so funny (or maybe it was) when that pig got loose of its tethers one fateful day back in the mid-’70s and caused a bit of a stir in Great Britain. You’ve heard of the Pink Floyd song “When the Tigers Broke Free?” Well, let’s look back at the time when the pig broke free.

What’s It All About, Algie?

To get to the bottom of this strange-but-true classic rock tale, we need to go back to why Pink Floyd felt it necessary to include a floating porcine as part of its stage show. After Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, Floyd was struggling to compose their next record circa 1976. They ended up relying on a few long musical pieces that they’d been trotting out in concerts for years.

Roger Waters, the band’s lyricist, found a way to hang a concept on those pieces in keeping with the thematic bent of Floyd’s previous records. Animals, released in 1977, would borrow some from George Orwell’s animal farm, but it was also Waters’ way of looking out at society and classifying the groups that he saw comprising the world, each of which would occupy one of the long songs on the album. There were “Dogs” who did whatever they could to get to the top, and there were “Sheep” who blindly followed whatever they were told by the powers that be.

And then there were “Pigs,” uppity, moralistic types who looked down their snouts at everyone below them. Since they were known for their innovative, evocative album covers, Floyd decided that the pigs should factor into the Animals artwork. Waters was also intrigued by the architecture of Battersea Power Station, with its spires rising somewhat ominously into the sky.

Thus, the idea was to have a 40-foot inflatable pig named Algie, designed by Waters and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis (who worked on many Floyd covers), fly over the towers. As they would find out the hard way, you just can’t trust balloon animals sometimes.

Pigs Really Can Fly

The first day’s attempts to take photos of the pig were ruined by bad weather. Floyd had hired a marksman to shoot down the pig in case it became unmoored. (Can you imagine the record company seeing that on the expense report?) Unfortunately, no one told him he would be needed the next day when they tried to get the photos once again.

So it was on a blustery December day that Algie, the inflatable pig, shook free from its surly bonds when one of its moorings rubbed up against the Battersea chimneys, and she took off across the London sky. While this all might seem comical, the consequences could have been dire when the pig popped into the flight paths of planes coming into Heathrow Airport.

Flights were grounded, the British Air Force was alerted, and Powell was taken into custody. Later that evening, the pig was found on a nearby farm, thus ending the drama. When the principals returned to try it all again, the sky’s colors just weren’t conducive to the photo. As a result, the final cover image was a doctored shot, with a studio picture of the pig superimposed alongside one of the towers from when the lighting was just right.

It should be noted that there are many who contend that the entire thing was planned by the members of Pink Floyd as a massive publicity stunt. Considering that Animals didn’t do quite the business of the records that preceded it, maybe that would have been money better spent elsewhere.

The Pig That Wouldn’t Die

Algie, or at least versions of her, has enjoyed a long history with the band that created her, even as the members of that band went their separate ways as the years progressed. The pig flew over stadiums on the 1977 In The Flesh Tour that supported the Animals album. When Waters made an acrimonious split from Pink Floyd in the ‘80s, he kept the rights to use the pig. David Gilmour and the rest of the reunited Floyd got around the copyright by adding testicles to their version of the pig for concerts in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

As it turns out, Algie just likes to go for a jaunt every once in a while. When Waters played Coachella in 2008, the inflatable pig once again cut loose, and there was even a reward offered for her safe return. That rebellious spirit is just what we’ve come to expect from rock and roll’s most famous farm animal.

Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

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