Top 10 Pink Floyd Roger Waters Songs
Pink Floyd weren’t Roger Waters‘ band when they first got together in 1965. They weren’t his band after frontman Syd Barrett blew out his mind and left the group by the end of the ’60s. They weren’t even his band when they finally became global superstars in 1973 with The Dark Side of the Moon. But by the time the ’70s ended, Pink Floyd, for all intents and purposes, were Roger Waters’ band — somewhat by default, somewhat by a not-necessarily-conscious decision on his part to make the group the vessel for his increasingly personal and cathartic songs. Waters had a hand in writing every single number on our list of the Top 10 Pink Floyd Roger Waters Songs, and he sang (or shared vocals) on all but one track. But each and every one of them bears the stamp of one of rock’s most distinctive voices.
‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’
After Wish You Were Here, the last Pink Floyd album to include songwriting contributions from all four members, the band returned with a five-song LP almost totally written and sung by Waters (David Gilmour receives one writing co-credit and shares vocals on one number). Pink Floyd were becoming Waters’ band on Animals, a concept album about how much it sucked to live in England during the middle part of the ’70s. The work borrows some inspiration from George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm, in which animals stand in for different social classes. In the sprawling “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” Waters slams the nation’s wealthy leaders who led his country to discord and poverty. Animals is Floyd’s most political album, and this track is one of Waters’ all-time angriest.
‘Goodbye Blue Sky’
By the time Pink Floyd made their double-album epic The Wall in 1979, Waters had had enough of fame, fans, the industry — pretty much everything that had to do with music but the music itself. So he unleashed a lifetime’s worth of pain, gripes, complaints and spite onto a 90-minute record about a rock star (named “Pink Floyd,” of course) at the end of his rope. Nobody even had to ask if it was autobiographical. “Goodbye Blue Sky” is a pivotal song in the saga, the moment where a far-from-idyllic childhood turns deadly, as German bomber planes descend from the skies, setting in motion a catastrophic series of events that would forever affect Pink.
Waters reached his creative peak on 1979’s The Wall (half of the cuts on our list of the Top 10 Pink Floyd Roger Waters Songs come from the album). He’d been building toward it ever since the band found its footing six years earlier on The Dark Side of the Moon. “Hey You” (written by Waters, who shares vocals with David Gilmour) is protagonist Pink’s one last, futile grasp to connect with the world he’s shuttered off. In one sense, it can be read as Waters’ cry for help (he’d grown disinterested and fed up with the concept of the band and its fans during Pink Floyd’s world tour two years earlier); in another, it’s exactly where he wanted, and needed, to be.
‘Run Like Hell’
By the time Pink Floyd recorded The Wall, Waters had pretty much taken control of the band. While a few songs included songwriting input from guitarist David Gilmour, who also sings several of them, the No. 1 album is pretty much Waters’ from beginning to end. When the group got around to making a follow-up LP/sequel, 1983’s The Final Cut, Waters was the sole songwriter and, save for one song on which he shares vocals, the lead singer. It was Waters’ debut solo album in all but name. The Wall is Floyd’s last stand, and you can hear it in songs like “Run Like Hell,” a paranoid and drug-fueled riff on the dangers of stardom and its parallels with fascism. It’s one of three Wall songs co-written with Gilmour, but the sentiment is all Waters’.
“Money” is the only song on our list of the Top 10 Pink Floyd Roger Waters Songs that he doesn’t sing (or share vocals on). But it’s a critical song in his evolution as a songwriter, the moment where he and the band found a focus outside of their wayward space jams. It was also the group’s first Top 40 hit. Written solely by Waters (but sung by David Gilmour), “Money” is a tentative swipe at the big personal-meets-political issues that would dominate Floyd’s next three albums.
‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’
The Dark Side of the Moon grazed the subjects of mental illness, loss and the dangers of being swallowed whole by a heartless industry, but “Wish You Were Here” picked them apart one by one, and served as an introduction to Waters’ growing disinterest with fame. The album itself is a tribute to Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 after too many drugs triggered a breakdown from which he never recovered. “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” the LP’s nine-part centerpiece, opens and closes the record … and opens the door to Waters’ further exploration of similar themes on subsequent Pink Floyd albums.
The Dark Side of the Moon marks the first time that Waters got personal in his songwriting. He’d dig even deeper on future releases, reaching his apex with The Wall and The Final Cut. But it’s on the band’s breakthrough masterpiece that he finally starts tapping issues that have plagued him since childhood. You can hear them simmering, even if they’re not at the boiling point yet. Along with “Eclipse,” “Brain Damage” is Dark Side‘s centerpiece, a summation of the loss, pain and sickness that courses throughout the album.
The companion piece to “Brain Damage” (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Pink Floyd Roger Waters Songs) caps The Dark Side of the Moon, and, in turn, nudges Waters toward taking leadership of the band, which pretty much operated as a directionless democracy since Syd Barrett’s departure five years earlier. With Dark Side‘s new focus on sharp, tight songs, and Waters’ growing comfort in expressing himself in lyrical terms other than strictly musical ones, Pink Floyd turned the corner from proggy art-rock band to one of the biggest groups on the planet. “All that is now / All that is gone / All that’s to come / And everything under the sun is in tune / But the sun is eclipsed by the moon” sums it up nicely.
Co-written with David Gilmour, who also shares lead vocals, “Comfortably Numb” has become one of Pink Floyd’s most popular songs, no doubt spurred by Gilmour’s soaring choruses and searing guitar solos. But falling as it does within the narrative of Waters’ magnum opus The Wall, it’s just as much his song, a cornerstone brick, if you will, as the barriers between audience and artist expand, and the concept of “the show must go on” all but detaches the star from his fans. Waters had pretty much isolated himself from the effects of his music shortly before he wrote “The Wall,” and it’s one of the reasons Pink Floyd performed only a handful of concerts in support of it.
‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part II’
Waters’ most personal statement, The Wall, pretty much unfolds like a memoir, stuffed with childhood trauma, rock-star excess and insight into the massive divide between reality and fantasy. As bricks are added to the wall of security anti-hero Pink (and Waters himself) builds to isolate himself, the wider that division becomes. The middle song in a three-song arc that serves as the structural theme of the album, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” rails against a rigid education system that shaped Waters’ youth and his lifelong anti-authoritarian streak. But its ramifications are bigger than that, setting in motion an inevitable collapse of his soul. It’s Waters’ crowning achievement, and Pink Floyd’s only No. 1 single.
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