As the final notes of the previous song "Vera" decay, the listener hears several snare drums articulating a march beat in 4
4 time, fading in like approaching soldiers. The song proves to be polyrhythmic, as this beat continues unchanged while the orchestra, choir, and lead vocals begin in 12
Roger Waters sings the simple and direct lyric in his upper register, stridently, supported by a choir. A IV-V-I chord progression in G major repeats, providing a sense of satisfaction. This is followed by a reversal, from G to D major with F-sharp in the bass, to C major, which features a tritone movement in the bassline, going from F♯ to C, introducing a sense of instability. This progression is a recurring Pink Floyd theme, appearing throughout the album in "Hey You", "Vera", and others, as well as several songs on Waters and company's follow-up concept album on the losses of war, The Final Cut. Waters and choir exhort, "Bring the boys back home / Don't leave the children on their own". On the final iteration, the song climaxes on the relative minor of E minor. The choir abruptly drops away, leaving Waters' voice alone, agonised and struggling to sustain the high note (the first B above middle C). A lone snare drum also remains, continuing its now-threatening march beat, as voices from Pink's past and present mingle while his manager pounds on his hotel-room door.
According to songwriter Roger Waters, "Bring the Boys Back Home" is the central, unifying song on The Wall:
... it's partly about not letting people go off and be killed in wars, but it's partly about not allowing rock and roll, or making cars, or selling soap, or getting involved in biological research, or anything that anybody might do ... not letting that become such an important and 'jolly boy's game' that it becomes more important than friends, wives, children, or other people.— Interview by Tommy Vance, broadcast 30 November 1979, BBC Radio One
The original Pink Floyd concerts of The Wall were so expensive that, ultimately, the band lost money staging them. They were also, at that time, the most elaborate stage productions a rock band had ever mounted. For these reasons, and others, it is understandable that the band chose to use the original recordings of Michael Kamen's orchestral arrangements, rather than hire and rehearse a live orchestra, for what was then considered a rock and roll concert. Recordings of the original sound effects (televisions, helicopters, various atmospheric effects) were also used (as were the specific echo effects in several songs, such as "Hey You" or "Stop"). With the use of click tracks, the musicians were able to play in sync with the recordings (with the additional result that they reproduced nearly every song at its precise original tempo).
As "Bring the Boys Back Home" is performed by an orchestra, with a large number of drummers, and none of the typical rock and roll instruments, Roger Waters would simply sing along to a remix of the studio recording. This is demonstrated on Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81, paying special attention to the ending, when the "live" Roger Waters drops out, and his recorded lead vocal remains, sustaining the last note with the unique wavering heard on the studio album.
Ten years later, when Roger Waters—by then a solo artist—decided to stage a massive re-production of The Wall at the site of the recently dismantled Berlin Wall, he had the personnel and the finances for a full-scale arrangement (Particularly because it was understood to be a charity concert for the Memorial For Disaster Relief). Using the extended arrangement from the film, Waters sang (in his most strident, histrionic style) while backed by the Rundfunk Orchestra and Choir, band of the Combined Soviet Forces in Germany and the Red Army Chorus.
When Waters resurrected the concept of The Wall for his 2010-2012 tour, The Wall Live, the song was again central to the show's political message. Throughout the song, the projections on the fully built wall slowly gave a 1953 quote from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.
"Bring the Boys Back Home" is about not letting war, or careers, overshadow family relationships or leave children neglected. This is symbolised in the film, in which the protagonist, Pink, is seen as a young boy at a train station. The station is filled with soldiers returning from war, their loved ones happy to greet them. But though he wanders around in vain, there is no one for Pink to embrace, as his father did not make it home alive. The happy crowd sings an exultant tune, "Bring the Boys Back Home", but the song ends abruptly on a minor chord as Pink suddenly realises he is alone. The crowd of reunited families then vanish. As the last notes die away, we see his embittered and alienated adulthood. Memories of events that drove Pink to isolation begin to recur in a loop: The teacher from "Another Brick in the Wall", the operator from "Young Lust", and the groupie from "One of My Turns", Pink's manager yelling, "Time to go!" (to play a concert) and insane laughter are also mixed into the closing seconds, concluding with the ominous voice from "Is There Anybody Out There?", reverberating slowly into silence, and segueing into "Comfortably Numb".