When Pink Floyd was founded as a band in 1965, this London-based group soon became the official king of progressive psychedelic rock. Perhaps I’m being biased but I have yet to encounter a band that can hold a candle to the euphoric performances Pink Floyd has been known for. Originally founded by Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright, Pink Floyd released 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn as a debut album. Not long after this, David Gilmour joined the lineup, serving as guitarist and vocalist at the time. Shortly after his arrival, Barrett left. Starting in 1968, Roger Waters took over as the band’s frontman. Until his departure in 1985, his performance as the band’s lead vocalist was legendary. When putting together a top ten song list sung by Roger Waters while he was Pink Floyd, the decision was made based on how successful they were when they were released. In all honesty, there were few songs from Pink Floyd’s musical portfolio that was anything less than extraordinary.
Wading the Waters
Born on September 6, 1943, Roger Waters was raised as the son of a soldier who fought and died at the Battle of Anzio in 1944 while the British Army was among the many who were caught in the trenches of World War II. Now as a widow, Mary Waters took her two sons and moved to Cambridge, England. While there, Roger Waters met Syd Barrett and David Gilmour when they were school teenagers. Upon entering post-secondary education, Waters met Nick Mason and Richard Wright. Before venturing into music as a career choice, Waters had looked into becoming a mechanical engineer once upon a time. However, his animosity towards the oppressive methods of the education system left a bad taste in his mouth. By 1963, Waters left school. His fellow student, Nick Mason, did the same. After the two moved away from campus, they teamed up with Richard Wright and performed for a band known as Sigma 6. When the founders of that band left, Mason, Waters, and Wright invited Syd Barrett and Bob Klose to join the group. From 1963 until 1965, this particular lineup went through a few name changes before finally settling on Pink Floyd. Technically speaking, the group was known as Pink Floyd Blues Band before the name was downsized in 1966 to Pink Floyd.
The debut year of Pink Floyd was in 1966 as the frontman at the time, Syd Barrett, wrote the majority of the songs for their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Roger Waters also made his songwriting debut on the album “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” In August 1967, the album was released and became a commercial success. Unfortunately for Pink Floyd, Barrett’s mental condition caused a few problems where it was necessary to make some changes. After it was agreed to save his mental health was more important, Barrett was removed from Pink Floyd’s roster in April 1968. At this time, David Gilmour was already serving as a guitarist and vocalist. Barrett’s departure caused Roger Waters to step up and take over as the group’s frontman.
Barrett’s departure in 1968 left an opportunity for Roger Waters to express his artistic vision as a man who had very strong political and social views. It didn’t take long before he became Pink Floyd’s main songwriter and lyricist. This also marked an era where Waters shared the lead vocalist role with David Gilmour and Richard Wright. With Waters at the helm as a lyricist, 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon became an album release that would forever cement Pink Floyd in the history books as a musical icon. To this day, this album remains one of the most successful recordings ever produced. From the year it was released until 1988, it remained on the US Billboard 200 Albums chart. Even today, the album continues to earn sales and streaming downloads, thanks to the timelessness of its tracklist.
The thematic vision that stemmed from Roger Waters didn’t stop with The Dark Side of the Moon. It also flowed in 1975’s Wish You Were Here, 1977’s Animals, 1979’s The Wall, and 1983’s The Final Cut. That vision included Waters sharing his personal experiences. The Wall was one such album that illustrated this as its primary theme focused on the unsatisfactory state of a post-WWII English society. The album, plus its title track, was enough to bring forth The Wall as a film production in 1982. As a musical artist, as well as a person, Roger Waters was incredibly passionate when it came to expressing himself and his views. The Wall served as the man’s autobiography while The Final Cut was an album that paid homage to his father. These were his final two albums as Pink Floyd’s frontman before moving on to embark on a solo career. Just like The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall became a multi-platinum hit worldwide. Just in the United States alone, The Wall sold well over twenty million copies and remains on the list of the top ten most successful albums of all time.
When Roger Waters wrote out all the music for The Final Cut, it was more than a tribute to his father, Eric Fletcher Waters. It was also an album of criticism against the British government at the time. As this album was pieced together, David Gilmour asked Waters to wait before releasing the album as he wanted some time to come up with musical material of his own. Waters chose not to wait and the creative differences between himself and Gilmour would result in Gilmour’s name being removed from the album’s credits. Although he and the rest of the Pink Floyd lineup at the time still raked in the monetary rewards that came from this successful recording, The Final Cut was viewed by critics that it behaved more like a Roger Waters solo album than a Pink Floyd recording.
The Final Cut became the final Pink Floyd album featuring Roger Waters as part of the group’s lineup. After its 1983 release, the creative differences he experienced with Gilmour and the rest of the band at that time gave him cause to make his departure. He made this official in a December 1985 statement that he was exercising a clause in his contract to make his exit. In 1987, after a legal dispute over the future of Pink Floyd as a band, David Gilmour and Nick Mason were granted the approval to continue while Waters ventured on his own as a solo artist. The post-Waters era of Pink Floyd saw the production of three more studio albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987, The Division Bell in 1994, and The Endless River in 2014. Those albums witnessed David Gilmour stepping up in a role that once upon a time belonged to Roger Waters. They’re not easy shoes to fill as Waters developed a loyal fan following, thanks to his vision as a musician. In Gilmour’s defense, he was also brilliant, which is why Pink Floyd remains one of the most popular bands of all time.
However, the personality of Roger Waters is enigmatic. It was when he was a young lad growing up in what he felt was oppressive British rule, and this is still the case today. He is also a man who has the rare quality of true humility. In 2013, he openly admitted his lawsuit against Pink Floyd was an action he personally regretted. He did, however, regard the experience as an important lesson. It was learned well enough to reconcile with his former bandmates and move forward.
Pink Floyd’s legacy includes more than a series of multi-platinum-selling albums and songs. They also became legends on the stage. This can also be said of Roger Waters. Together, they were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, then the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. It was also in 2005 Roger Waters reunited with Pink Floyd in a Live 8 performance that was timed just before the political G8 meeting that was held in Scotland. Collectively and individually, Pink Floyd hasn’t been the least bit shy when it comes to sharing their views on political policies. While this isn’t uncommon among many recording artists who’ve done the same, what Pink Floyd managed to do with Roger Waters at the helm was educate and entertain the audience at the same time with a formula that worked. Yes, this did get Waters into hot water from time to time but one of the most endearing qualities about the man is his refusal to back down from a cause he believes in.
His strong personality played an instrumental role in the successful career Pink Floyd continues to enjoy today. From The Dark Side of the Moon to The Final Cut, the influence of Waters extended beyond the reach of a loyal fanbase worldwide. He also impacted the film industry, as well as the political and social directions among the nations whose people sided with this outspoken man as she openly expressed his views.
Top 10 Roger Waters Pink Floyd Songs
#10 – Point Me at the Sky
Released as the fifth Pink Floyd single in the UK, “Point Me at the Sky” was performed by Roger Waters as the group’s lead vocalist. It was released in December 1968 as a single among many nations, except the United States. Although Roger Waters was credited as the lead vocalist, this song’s vocal performance was actually shared with David Gilmour. It’s Gilmour’s voice that covered the verses while Waters handled the choruses. As a song, “Point Me at the Sky” was not intended to be an album release but was released on the A-side of a record that featured “Careful with That Axe, Eugene.”
It wouldn’t be until 1992 the song would be included in The Early Singles as part of the Shine On CD box set. This rare gem may not have been nearly as popular as the rest of Pink Floyd’s singles but it was a Roger Waters classic that had him shine as a singer-songwriter. However, if you talk to Roger Waters, this song as a notable failure. Because it failed to make an impression in the UK, it prompted Pink Floyd to shift their musical direction to spice up their material. Instead of pouring so much focus on singles, Pink Floyd focused on progressive albums. Speaking as a fan, if you listen to “Point Me at the Sky,” then 1987’s “Learning to Fly,” this an interesting two-song experience. According to the Italian audience, “Point Me at the Sky” was good enough to chart as high as number twenty on its official singles chart.
#9 – Careful with That Axe, Eugene
“Careful with That Axe, Eugene” became an unexpected hit for Pink Floyd as it was released on the B-side of a record that had “Point Me at the Sky.” Released in 1968, this mostly instrumental tune featured Roger Waters whisper before letting out an inhaled scream. Pink Floyd’s talent to turn a song into a dramatic experience was at its best here as it rode the waves of musical glory between calmer and frenzied waters. The song’s most intense moments featured David Gilmour singing in unison with the lead guitar. This song became the first of many that would feature extended instrumental music from some of the best music the band ever recorded. “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” was also a song that won the attention of Michaelangelo Antonioni, the director behind the movie, The Committee. This marked the beginning of Pink Floyd’s collaboration with several directors who looked to them for musical material for their films.
#8 – The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Before “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” launched as Pink Floyd’s most memorable song, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” was the dramatic intro that served as its opener. Speaking as a fan, listening to “Another Brick in the Wall” without “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” feels incomplete. Between the helicopter and the vocal performance delivered by Roger Waters, this was an intense nearly two-minute tune that painted the picture of a harsh school environment. It was the world Roger Waters grew up in as a student, sharing it as part of his storytelling in this song while the drums, bass, and guitar behaved like exclamation points. The transitional scream coming from Rogers between the two songs was a genius way to end the first part of his lyrical tale while starting up the second part.
#7 – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” was a song that came from Pink Floyd’s second studio album, A Saucerful of Secrets. Recorded and released in 1968, Roger Waters used lyrics taken from Chinese poetry in the form of a song. This was the only occasion the roster of Pink Floyd featured both Syd Barrett and David Gilmour as part of the band’s lineup. This was the same song that was used for the 1972 video production, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. Even after Waters parted company with his bandmates in 1985, he continued playing this song as part of his repertoire. Although not released as a single, this song became a source of inspiration for several upcoming recording artists who covered this for their own albums.
At the time, EMI Records blocked “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” to be released as a single at the same time “Scream Thy Last Scream” came out. While some critics seemed to agree with EMI that this song wasn’t hit-worthy, the fans made it clear they disagreed. This became a live performance favorite that was often extended in concert. When Roger Waters went solo, this became one of his signature staple tunes the fans couldn’t seem to get enough of.
#6 – Eclipse
Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was a progressive rock album that featured “Eclipse” as the final track of one of the most successful recordings in rock music history. It picked up where “Brain Damage” left off as Roger Waters performed as a singer whose mental stability was in question. The beauty of “Eclipse” was how it performed to perfectly match its title. It played as a melodic buildup before finishing off like a lamb heading off into the meadow. If you pay attention closely enough, an orchestral version of the Beatles’ classic “Ticket to Ride” can be heard as the song comes to an end. This was actually an unplanned event as the song was playing in the background at the studio where “Eclipse” was being recorded.
#5 – Pigs on the Wing
“Pigs on the Wing” was a song that was technically broken up into two parts. The first part appeared as “Pigs on the Wing (Part One),” a Roger Waters-led song that started out as his declaration of love to his new wife at the time, Carolyne Christie. This was a light-hearted song that was a stark contrast to the darker themes of “Dogs,” “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” and “Sheep.” “Pigs on the Wing” was a twist to the common phrase “when pigs fly.” The first half of this song was performed as a hopeful outlook on the future ahead. After it’s broken up with the three songs that threaten the couple’s happiness, “Pigs on the Wing (Part II)” came in with its triumphant performance that love does indeed conquer all. Since “when pigs fly” was often used as a comment against the likelihood of an event happening, “Pigs on the Wing (Part II)” performed as a statement that even the impossible can become possible.
#4 – Is There Anybody Out There?
From The Wall, “Is There Anybody Out There?” was a song that bridged between “Hey You” and “Nobody Home” as Pink Floyd’s progressive album played on. Roger Waters was the lead vocalist who was looking for any sign of life beyond the imaginary wall he placed for himself. His lyrical performance, combined with the sirens, suggested he was left alone in a hostile realm where it was up to him to figure a way out. As a song, this was a brilliant piece of lyrical storytelling by an artist who expressed his personal experiences. For Roger Waters, dealing with political and social issues that struck a chord with him has always been a big part of his life. It showed in his songwriting and it showed in his actions as an activist. As a song that directly deals with mental illness from the sufferer’s point of view, “Is There Anybody Out There?” is one of the best there is.
#3 – Brain Damage
“Brain Damage” was one of the songs from Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon. With Roger Waters as the lead singer, David Gilmour performed the harmonies. Even after Waters embarked on a solo career, David Gilmour often sang it with him on his solo tours. This song was originally titled “Lunatic” before it was changed to the one we know now. “Brain Damage” actually became the inspiration behind The Dark Side of the Moon as the album’s title. Fans will recognize this from the second verse’s mention of the “dark side of the moon.” As a song, the true inspiration came after witnessing former bandmate, Syd Barrett, experience a mental breakdown. When the decision came to determine who would serve this song justice, David Gilmour encouraged a doubtful Roger Waters to do it. Luckily for us, he agreed.
#2 – Shine On You Crazy Diamond
1975’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” came from the multi-platinum album, Wish You Were Here. Sung by Roger Waters, this Pink Floyd hit joined the ranks of the group’s list of cult classics. This was a song that paid homage to Syd Barrett as the man’s mental health was the root cause for the band having no choice but to remove him from the lineup. Originally, this song was supposed to perform as an intact composition but was split up into five parts. The first mostly featured David Gilmour’s bluesy guitar performance. The fadeout performance of the synthesizer would lead into the second part of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” with additional harmonized instrumentals played out before the fourth part of this song featured Roger Waters lyrically performing while his bandmates and the female backing vocals sang along. Together as one, this part of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was over thirteen minutes long and a musical masterpiece that led to David Gilmour’s performance of “Welcome to the Machine.”
When flipping “Wish You Were Here,” to the B-side, the second half of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” served as the record’s finale, following Roy Harper’s “Have a Cigar” and Gilmour’s performance of “Wish You Were Here.” Upon going into the twelve-minute plus song, the howling wind builds “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” into a breezy experience that would lead Roger Waters to sing again. When the fifth and final part of this magnificent song reaches its end, Syd Barrett’s “See Emily Play” instrumentally played out as a tune drifting off into the sunset. What a great way to pay homage to a man the entire roster of Pink Floyd deeply respected. The beauty of this song regardless of how you listen to it is the spiritual experience that comes with it. Much like the majority of Pink Floyd’s musical material, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” remains a razor-sharp timeless classic.
#1 – Another Brick in the Wall
Let’s be honest. This is a no-brainer. “Another Brick in the Wall” is so much more than a signature Roger Waters Pink Floyd song. I think I can vouch for several fans that “The Wall” still has the ability to hammer home a message that sends chills up and down the spine of a listener who hears and understands what the song is about. Interestingly enough, the concerns shared by Waters in this song about imperfect educational and judicial systems continue to be hot topics in certain parts of the world today. As a song, “The Wall” never gets old. Whether you listen to its entirety or strictly the “Part II” version, this is a song that has a knack to put the listener into a special mood as it plays. This has always been a Pink Floyd niche as Roger Waters excelled in the ability to draw in an ear that’s willing to hear. This is a song that challenged authority figures who frown upon a person’s right to individualism. In the eyes of a society that’s bent on treating human beings as a Borg collective, unless we each comply, then we have no value. As far as Waters and Pink Floyd were concerned, this was (and still is) unacceptable.
On the US Billboard Hot 100, along with several other official singles charts, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” became a number-one hit after it was first released in 1979. It became certified platinum as a single with the Recording Industry Association of America, and the British Phonographic Industry, and double platinum in Italy. It became certified gold in Denmark, France, Germany, and Spain. As to be expected, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher voiced her disapproval of “Another Brick in the Wall.” As far as she was concerned, the attack against the nation’s education system was unjust. It, along with The Wall as an album, was banned from nations like South Africa in 1980 after protests against that nation’s schooling system became too serious for comfort. Despite the thumbs-down reaction from figures who criticized the song, it became a Best Original Song winner at the 1983 British Academy Award. This came about after The Wall was released in 1982 as a film production.
Top 10 Roger Waters Pink Floyd Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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