As they had done on every record since 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets, Pink Floyd turned to Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of the design firm Hipgnosis. Thorgerson’s original Animals concept featured a child opening the door to his parents’ bedroom, only to find them in the midst of a lovemaking session.
“We knew that the music and lyrics were fueled and characterized by anger,” Thorgerson explained in the 2008 Hipgnosis book For the Love of Vinyl. “So was it an angry animal? A dull thought. Perhaps it was more like human behavior 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?”
But Pink Floyd bassist and principal songwriter Roger Waters rejected that idea. Instead, he came up with the concept featuring a photograph of London’s Battersea Power Station – an Art Deco complex of two joined buildings near where he lived – with a pig floating between its chimneys.
Thorgerson felt it was too obvious.
“I thought Roger’s idea of the pig was a tad silly, not to mention low on mystery and meaning,” he noted. “We asked if we might submit alternatives which they could take or leave, for they could always return to the pig if necessary. ‘Okay,’ they said. ‘Try your luck.’”
To create the 40-foot helium-filled pig, which Waters named Algie, Pink Floyd hired Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw and German company Ballon Fabrik. Then came the difficult process of getting everything to work as planned. On the first day, Powell arrived with some marksmen with the intention of shooting down the pig in the event it broke from the cable securing it. But a problem with the cable prevented the pig from moving from its spot on one of Battersea’s southern smokestacks.
They returned on Dec. 3, 1976, but without the sharpshooters this time. Murphy’s Law will tell you what happened next: The pig went airborne, but wind caused the cable to snap, and Algie found himself midair and in the path of flights landing at London’s Heathrow Airport. All flights then had to be grounded, and Powell was forced to return to the studio and stay there until the pig was located. Later that night, Powell got a phone call from a farmer in Kent saying that Algie had landed in his field and was scaring his cows.
A third attempt – again with gunmen – finally succeeded. But even then there was a problem: The weather was too sunny. Powell found a more ominous-looking photo from the first day’s shoot and superimposed the pig from the third day to come up with the cover.
The flying pig worked its way into stage show, on Pink Floyd tours with and without Waters and during Waters’ solo concerts. In 2011, the band recreated the cover to announce a reissue of Animals. Algie was eventually given to Robin Harries of Air Artists, which manufactures inflatable items.
In 2015, the pig was listed for auction, but Pink Floyd intervened and Algie was returned to them. Battersea Power Station, which opened in 1933, was decommissioned in 1983. The plant and its environs have since been redeveloped into a mixed-use neighborhood encompassing residential, office and retail facilities.