Ask Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour for his favourite song from the prog-rock legends and he would likely scratch his head for a little while. No, because he would be searching for the right song to share with you but because he would be politely figuring out how to tell you to “do one”. The guitarist and vocalist for the group has been the official mouthpiece of the outfit ever since a certain high volumed Mr Waters left the group, and so, has largely had to face such questions alone.
More often than not, Gilmour, being the humble man he is, declines to answer what might be his favourite Pink Floyd song apart from one occasion where he shared six songs that he considers to be the best. The usual suspects are all there, ‘Echoes’, ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ all get a mention but the first song he jumped to, the initial thought of Gilmour’s favourite Pink Floyd song was: “‘High Hopes’ from The Division Bell is one of my favourite all-time Pink Floyd tracks.”
Despite the name of the album, the 1994 LP The Division Bell actually saw Pink Floyd united. Though Roger Waters had long since left the band and his attempts to have the group cease and desist existing as Pink Floyd had fallen flat, the band presented themselves as a united front, even with an unspoken addition in the studio. The album was the first moments that Gilmour’s then-girlfriend Polly Samson joined in with the production of the music.
Pink Floyd had officially morphed into something unrecognisable from the early days. Not only had Waters left the group but more and more team members were being introduced, from producer Bob Ezrin to a whole host of session musicians. But perhaps the most vital relationship in the band was Gilmour and Samson, who, together, wrote the majority of the lyrics for the album.
“I started writing things and looking to her for an opinion,” recalled Gilmour when reflecting on the album, “and gradually, as a writer herself and an intelligent person, she started putting her oar in, and I encouraged her.” A gifted writer herself, Samson brought a sense of balance to the songs that had been unwittingly missing. Gilmour would spend all day working on music at his studio/houseboat Astoria, situated on the Thames, before returning home to Samson to begin penning lyrics. It allowed the entire album to have the rock and roll equivalent of helpful elves, endlessly working away at night, or as Gilmour describes it, “There was a whole invisible side to the process.”
There’s no doubt that the couple’s shining moment on the album came on ‘High Hopes’. “It pulled the whole album together,” said producer Bob Ezrin. “It also gave us an idea around which to hang some of the broader concepts.” Much of the song’s reliability came from the fact it was the first track the band began to piece together for the album but was the last song they finished for the LP. It meant it was a constant presence in their workings and provided stability for the entire record.
It would be the second single released from the album and also provided The Division Bell with its title after school friend Douglas Adams picked the words out of the second verse. It’s a fitting connection, considering the song reflects Gilmour’s childhood in Cambridge and the moments in life both gained and lost. Many have pointed to the track as acting like a break-up song, looking back at the seeds of division between the bandmember but, in truth, this was a song that united the band under Gilmour.
After Roger Waters had left the band, there were some serious doubts about Pink Floyd’s potential to succeed. Their thirteenth studio album, 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, was their first without Waters, and although it’s not quite at the level expected from the Floyd, Waters himself called it a “fair forgery”, it proved that they could find success without their cantankerous leader. Some seven years later, on The Division Bell, Gilmour rose once more to add a stamp of approval on Pink Floyd’s progress.
There was no doubt that Gilmour was the spearhead of proceedings and no doubt that he would be the man in charge come the next record too. Though there was equal billing for Nick Mason and Richard Wright’s ideas and concepts to be explored within the songs at hand, with Gilmour and Samson largely in charge of the lyrics, the guitarist who joined the band last had now become captain of the ship. For a group who were then entering their third decade as a band, this forthright direction likely extended their life as a band, giving them the clear direction they needed.
While it’s likely a stretch to land all of this at the feet of one song, no matter if it’s Gilmour’s favourite or not, the truth is ‘High Hopes’ represents the entire album, an album created by a band working in complete unison.