Rock has witnessed the rise of many great feuds. Still, it’s hard to think of one that’s lasted as long as the bitterness and acrimony entre songwriting bassist Roger Waters and guitarist/keyboardist David Gilmour.
The pair have barely spoken since Waters left Pink Floyd‘s orbit in the mid-1980s, and although they were willing to put their differences aside for Live 8 in 2005, the pair returned to their opposite ends of the fences once the concert. Both men have accused each other of being difficult, with the bassist accusing Gilmour of utilising “bullying” tactics in a recent interview.
Tellingly, Waters was not invited to contribute to The Endless River, feeling that his presence would detract from the tone of the instrumental work. “Dave and I are not mates, we never were and I doubt we ever will be,” Waters said. “Which is fine, there’s no reason why we should be.”
Waters remains proud of the work he completed with Pink Floyd, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy with all of it. When Waters performed The Wall in 1990, he opted to drop ‘The Show Must Go On’ from the listing, despite it being a favourite from the album. Soaked in The Beach Boys influence, the track demonstrated a career highlight vocal from Gilmour, as he invoked the angelic-falsettos of one Brian Wilson.
Waters was always the first to recognise Gilmour as the superior singer, but that hasn’t stopped him from singing ‘Wish You Were Here’ or ‘Welcome to the Machine’ in public, so this omission struck many of his critics as a curious take.
Now, let me proffer my own theory: Waters had left the Pink Floyd orbit, convinced that the band would falter without him. And yet, Gilmour managed to reboot the brand to write a commercially successful album in A Momentary Lapse of Reason, before leading Floyd into the largest tours of their careers. The show did indeed go on, but Waters was in no mood to give the band his blessing in 1990. Maybe he felt that giving he would be giving the band a free pass by performing a tune that highlighted each and every one of Gilmour’s talents.
Waters didn’t sing on the original, and he didn’t play bass, which probably made him feel like it had nothing to do with the integrity of his original demo. The double album wove into Waters past as he absolved himself from the childhood spent mourning a deceased father and distancing himself from the guilt he felt for asking Syd Barrett to leave the band.
It was released under the Pink Floyd banner, but it was a Waters album in almost every other sense of the word. Keyboardist Richard Wright contributed so little he was asked to leave the band, being reduced to touring wages for the following tour. Gilmour contributed to three numbers, which included the blinding melody to ‘Comfortably Numb’, and the pounding riffs that cement ‘Run Like Hell’ and ‘Young Lust’. He sings on a number of tunes, but Waters provides the majority of the vocals on The Wall.
Gilmour sees Wish You Were Here as the band’s finest work, while Waters singles The Wall out as the band’s creative zenith. In an effort to appease both camps, the band played ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ at Live 8, giving both men the opportunity to sing lead vocals. Between takes, Waters could return to his bass playing, offering Gilmour a counter-melody, servicing the tunes with a series of punchy chords.
But it wasn’t friendship that funnelled the backbone of the band, it was work, and as long as the band could enjoy working together, they wrote some excellent work. Between them, the band re-shaped the lexicon of progressive rock, curating three concept albums during the mid-1970s.
As if furthering the point, Pink Floyd created one final concept album for the 1990s: The Division Bell. By that point, the band were sensible enough to recognise the changing tides, bowing out with a work that exemplified the contrasts, contradictions and characters that led Pink Floyd to this point of unvarnished truth. Because then it was back to the instrumentals that the band were best known for, culminating in the startling The Endless River.
It’s unlikely that Waters or Gilmour will get back together, either in the studio or on the stage, so the best way to celebrate their synchronicity is to listen to their past work. Personally, I think Animals offers the strongest exhibition of raw ideas and tightly coiled guitar performances.
It was this combination of ideas that gave Pink Floyd their sound, and this body of work holds up with The Beatles. And like The Beatles before them, Pink Floyd had to come to an end. It’s all part of the river of life.
Stream ‘The Show Must Go On’ below.