The emergence of Bob Dylan changed how Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters viewed music, allowing him to believe the band could become a commercial success without compromising their integrity.
While Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan don’t share a particularly strong music lineage, they undoubtedly have some traits in common. Originality is at the heart of their careers, and they’ve been pioneers, albeit in different lanes. On the surface, Pink Floyd’s prog-rock is the very antithesis of Dylan’s brand of folk music, yet he established a blueprint they followed.
In recent years, Waters has leaned further into his love of folk and has performed regularly at the Newport Folk Festival, including a special appearance with the late John Prine in 2017. While he didn’t covertly showcase this side of himself with Pink Floyd, lyrically, Waters has always been inspired by Dylan.
During an appearance on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, the Pink Floyd bassist named the eight tracks he can’t live without, and surprisingly, Dylan was an omission. However, he still explained his impact on him as a songwriter.
After naming ‘Bird On The Wire’ by Leonard Cohen, Waters said: “Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan were the two men who allowed us to believe that there was an open door between poetry and song lyrics. This song of his, ‘Bird on The Wire’, is so simple, so moving, so brilliant. I love it.”
Thankfully, Waters delved into more detail about his fascination with the work of Dylan during an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show. The Pink Floyd founder highlighted the 11-minute closer from Blonde on Blonde, ‘Sad Lady of the Lowlands’, as an influence and revealed it sparked a moment of realisation that he could also be a success.
“When I heard that, I thought if Bob can do it, then I can do it. It’s 20 minutes long. It’s a whole album,” he explained to the legendary radio figure. “It in no way gets dull or boring. You just get more and more and more engrossed as it gets more and more hypnotic the longer it goes on.”
On another occasion, Waters also revealed that The Beatles provided him with a confidence boost as a songwriter, and they made him realise it was OK to write honestly about his own life. He explained: “I learned from John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison that it was OK for us to write about our lives and what we felt — and to express ourselves… That we could be free artists and that there was a value in that freedom. And there was.”
Waters had a string of influences, such as Dylan, Cohen, and The Beatles, that he took tidbits of inspiration from, but he directly tried to replicate their art. Instead, he examined their success stories for the valuable lessons within them, and ironically, it was Dylan’s penchant for ignoring conventions which Waters found comforting.