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How Pink Floyd inspired 'The Phantom of the Opera'

Roger Waters may well be one of the most original artists of his generation, refusing to ever conform to the parameters of pop; when he and Syd Barrett founded Pink Floyd, they knew they were destined to take their music into another dimension. Pink Floyd soon became the hottest ticket around; chewing up the boundaries put down by traditional rock, they extended their sound into new plains whenever possible, leading the explosion of acid rock.

It was an original sound that captivated millions of people. As their progressive sound only grew (along with the addition of pivotal band member David Gilmour), Pink Floyd were quickly anointed the prog-rock kings. Their music moved away from structured songs built for radio airplay and drumming on steering wheels as the audience flew down a motorway. That kind of rock was never impressive to Waters and the band; they had grander ambitions. Their 1971 album, Meddle, helped to achieve those dreams.

One of the stand out tracks on the album, the 23-minute long epic, ‘Echoes’ is still revered to this day as one of their best. It has since gone on to inspire countless bands to pursue their expression and forget about the rules of the road. But, Roger Waters thinks it inspired one classic song a little too closely, even calling its writer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, a “plagiarist”.

If you’re a fan of musical theatre, the name Andrew Lloyd Webber won’t be new to you. The creator of a myriad of impressive West End hits, like Cats, Starlight Express and, of course, the legendary The Phantom of the Opera. Amid this run of jaw-dropping hits are songs that have transcended the stage and filter into our collective conscience. A prime example would be the titular track from The Phantom of the Opera. It was this song that Waters points out as being incredibly close to the masterpiece, ‘Echoes’.

Released in 1986, as quite possibly the most eighties musical of all time, The Phantom of the Opera was a box office smash, with the titular song becoming a worldwide hit. The song largely hangs on the iconic riff, often played via a gruesome church organ, that starts the track, and it is this riff that Waters claims to be a direct rip off of the Pink Floyd song, using the time signature to the same devastating effect.

Lloyd Webber has been known to dabble in prog-rock. Aside from The Phantom of the Opera, there are also classic prog-rock overtones in Jesus Christ Superstar too. But, when Waters first heard the former’s title track, he was blown away by the similarities. Rather than pursue a lengthy court battle, the bassist decided to just move on with his life. “It’s the same time signature—it’s 12/8—and it’s the same structure,” Waters said, “and it’s the same notes, and it’s the same everything. Bastard.”

“It probably is actionable…But I think that life’s too long to bother with suing Andrew f*cking Lloyd Webber,” concluded Waters. Equally, given that Waters had already been embroiled in his own court case concerning the liquidation of Pink Floyd as an entity after leaving the band in 1982 — a case he ultimately lost — Waters may well have been weary from legal proceedings.

Instead, Waters decided to write a riposte to Lloyd Webber on ‘It’s A Miracle’. He makes his point loud and clear when he sings “It’s a miracle/ We cower in our shelters/ With our hands over our ears/ Lloyd-Webber’s awful stuff/ Runs for years and years and years.”

It’s the only way Waters could truly express himself about the debacle and, unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber, he didn’t need someone else to write the riff.

Check out ‘It’s A Miracle’ below as well as ‘Echoes’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.