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(Credit: Andrés Ibarra)

Music

Roger Waters' favourite Neil Young song

Roger Waters, the singer, songwriter, bassist, and composer best known as the co-founding member of the pioneering band Pink Floyd, is unsurprisingly an avid consumer and historian of music. Over the years, he has shared his thoughts on some of the most vital music ever released, offering an insight that only a true great can possess, shedding light on the mercurial mind of one of rock’s true greats. Although he’s a divisive figure, there is no doubting Waters’ iconic status. 

Waters has long been a leading voice in rock since Pink Floyd burst onto the scene in the late ’60s. He moved from being a key figure in the acid scene of the day into a more cerebral and challenging realm of artistry over the ’70s and beyond. A captivating figure, he remains one of the most complex artists of his generation. 

When it comes to his position as a listener of music, his favourite songs are imbued with the same esteem that his own songs are. He brilliantly notes his favourite songs’ value in wider culture, as well as the effect they had on him personally. Listening to Waters discuss his favourite music is a brilliant way of learning how he forms his own distinct musical style. 

Famously, Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985 due to tense creative differences. Unphased by his departure, he continued to enjoy a successful career with his solo work before reuniting with his former bandmates for a smattering of one-off performances over the years. Although Pink Floyd haven’t reunited for well over a decade, luckily for us, Waters sat down with BBC Radio 4 in 2011 as part of their Desert Island Discs feature to pick out eight songs that he cherishes. 

One of the tracks he showered with praise was Neil Young’s iconic 1970 track ‘Helpless’. Recorded by the Canadian troubadour as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for their classic album Déjà Vu, it has endured as one of Young’s best-loved pieces. A heart-wrenching piece, it’s a tearjerker and makes a strong claim for being the most emotive Young ever penned.

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Waters’ pick reflected the path that he followed throughout the rest of the episode. “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.” 

It’s a testament to Neil Young’s genius that he is so lauded by one of his most eminent peers. The pick also shows a more candid side to Waters, as these days he’s more known for the barbs he directs and former Pink Floyd partner David Gilmour. Indicative of the honest quality of Young’s music, his work touches even the consistently spiky Waters.

Head over to the BBC to listen to Water’s full Desert Island Discs radio show, here. 

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