Top 10 Roger Waters Songs
Pink Floyd‘s middle-period creative mastermind, Roger Waters has been their most prolific solo artist since departing in 1983. His 10 albums dwarf his former bandmates’ totals. Still, as with David Gilmour, Waters’ own projects tend to get overlooked in a world where The Dark Side of the Moon stays on the charts for almost a generation. Waters encouraged this nostalgia with a series of huge tours focusing on Floyd-era triumphs like The Wall. His production also slowed way down: Waters didn’t put out any rock albums between 1992 and 2017. Nevertheless, there are plenty of great moments across our list of the Top 10 Roger Waters Songs.
“Smell the Roses”
Almost a quarter century after 1992’s Amused to Death, Waters returned with Is This The Life We Really Want? during a time of political turmoil. No surprise then that the album is among his angriest and strongest, and “Smell the Roses,” which recalls Pink Floyd’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” with its stabbing guitars, is the LP’s best cut, a biting portrait of a world teetering on collapse. “There’s a mad dog pulling at his chain, a hint of danger in his eye,” he sings. “Close your eyes and pray this wind don’t change.”
This acoustic rumination serves as the closing track by Waters and the Bleeding Heart Band on a largely forgotten soundtrack for an animated movie based on Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel When the Wind Blows. In one of just two vocal performances on the record, Waters is at his most nakedly emotional.
“The Bravery of Being Out of Range”
A trenchant — and quite prescient — condemnation of those who act as puppeteers for conflict while safely back at home and away from the front lines, “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” — with its thumping groove and nasty guitar riff provided by Jeff Beck — excoriates the modern-day trend of remote-control warfare.
“Each Small Candle”
Arriving at the end of a tour document stuffed with Pink Floyd favorites from The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall was this new song: one of the few Waters issued between 1992’s Amused to Death and 2017’s Is This the Life We Really Want? It was worth the wait: Waters returns to his classic narrative form, constructing a striking story of redemption within the song’s dark-hued atmosphere.
“The Powers That Be”
Commercial flourishes like sequenced drums and programmed keyboards all but sink “The Powers That Be” on first listen. But sort through those aural missteps, and you’ll find a smart update of Waters’ patented call to arms against bloated bureaucracy and war-mongers — “They like fear and loathing / They like sheep’s clothing” — amid a deeply funky horn signature.
“What God Wants, Part 1″
Maybe Waters’ best take on the conflicts of organized religion, “What God Wants, Pt. 1″ is also a showcase for the molten contributions Jeff Beck makes to Amused to Death. Like the best Pink Floyd albums released so many years before it, Waters finds some of his greatest success as a solo artist through a collaborative bond with a forceful and equally artful guitarist.
“5:06 AM: Every Strangers’ Eyes”
It’s easy to get lost in the concept here, as Waters traces the downward trajectory of a man in a midlife crisis while traveling aimlessly down a dark highway between 4:30 and 5:12AM. But Waters’ best efforts — from Floyd to this list of the Top 10 Roger Waters Songs — have always been capable of standing apart from their source material. This tale of stark lonesomeness certainly does.
This remarkable song arrives within a broader concept —Amused to Death decries the influence of mass media — but like “5:06 AM: Every Strangers’ Eyes” (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Roger Waters Songs), it works as a separate statement. Waters, who duets with the Eagles’ Don Henley on a devastating chorus, uses the death of a single student as a prism to discuss the 1989 Chinese youth movement against Communism, and ends up with maybe the most sadly beautiful thing he’s ever attempted.
Despite being part of a plasticine, synth-laden bid for MTV acceptance, Waters’ message rings true as he challenges us all to stand up to the creeping indignities that eventually coalesce into true injustice. Waters hits a riff, talking about any number of unexpected personalities who might one day provide the greatest danger to our everyday lives — neatly presupposing the sweeping fear that eventually gripped the U.S. in the wake of 9/11.
In a smart twist, this guy finds a genie in a bottle, and makes his wishes — only to realize that he’d included notions like peace in the Middle East, but not something far more personally relevant, like fixing a broken relationship. Sound familiar? The thrice-divorced Waters didn’t just construct one of his best narrative arcs with this introspective triumph, he’d grown comfortable enough in his own skin to skewer even himself.