From Leonard Cohen to Neil Young: Roger Waters picks 8 songs he couldn’t live without
Roger Waters, the singer, songwriter, bassist, and composer best known as the co-founding member of the pioneering progressive rock band Pink Floyd, has selected eight songs that he couldn’t live without. It makes for a fantastic playlist and offers up a keen insight into the mercurial mind of a bonafide rock great.
Waters has become a leading voice in the rock scene ever since he and Pink Floyd began changing the chemical make-up of rock ‘n’ roll in the late sixties. While he and Syd Barrett can consider themselves at the forefront of the acid scene, Waters has since moved into every different project and venture with the same progressive and forward-thinking enthusiasm. It makes him one of the most engaging artists of his generation.
Having initially only taken the role of bass player in the formative years of the band, letting Barret lead in both lyric writing and musical composition, Waters stepped up to be the band’s leader following the difficult departure of Syd Barrett in 1968. He soon became the face of Pink Floyd and, despite duelling constantly with David Gilmour—something he’s never shied away from doing—Waters has been seen as a grand member of British rock royalty.
For the next 20 years Waters and Pink Floyd would go on to achieve international fame with critically acclaimed records such as The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall while rubbing shoulders with some other hugely influential figures of a counter-culture movement. It would result in the major development of pop and alternative music, with an extra focus on the evolution of sonic landscapes.
It’s safe to say his favourite songs are filled with the esteem Waters gave his own work and pays homage to some serious figures of the past, noting their value to the wider musical sphere as well as his own personal progression.
Leaving the band in 1985 amid creative differences (shockingly), Waters went on to enjoy a successful solo career before reuniting with his former bandmates years later for some one-off performances. Reflecting on a career that has seen him change the landscape of music as we know it, Waters sat down with BBC Radio 4 as part of their Desert Island Discs feature to pick out eight songs that he holds dearly.
It’s impossible for us to over-sell the importance BBC’s Desert Island Discs has in the dense tapestry of British pop culture. It’s a time-honoured tradition that has seen Prime Ministers and rock stars alike walk through its studio doors. Created by Roy Plomley way back in 1942, the format is always the same, each week a guest is invited by the host to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island.
As well as their eight discs, a complimentary collection of the complete works of Shakespeare and a bible, the star in question also gets to choose one luxury item and one book. There’s not much left to do but sit back and listen to Waters’ favourite tracks.
His first pick is indicative of the path we’re about to join the musician on, “Neil Young singing ‘Helpless’,” Waters began. “There is an honesty and a truth in everything that he’s done. You feel the man’s integrity and passion. I can feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck now remembering the purity with which he hits the first notes of this song. It’s extraordinarily moving and eloquent.”
Including a typically eclectic list of artists, Waters continued with a reference to Leonard Cohen, an artist he would cross paths with on numerous occasions during Pink Floyd tours. “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,” he said. “This song of his, ‘Bird On The Wire’, is so simple, so moving, so brilliant. I love it.”
Giacomo Puccini – ‘E Lucevan Le Stelle’ (from Tosca)
Billie Holiday – ‘God Bless the Child’
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor – ‘4th Movement’
When discussing Ray Charles, Waters said: “I actually met him, fleetingly, when I was a student studying architecture in London. We were living in a squat in Cheyne Gardens—the whole block was full of squats—and Chet was squatting three doors down and this must have been 1962. He was a junkie and he had no teeth and he Roger Waters couldn’t play anymore and I’ve seen films about him after he got himself together but what a remarkable man. What an extraordinary talent.”