Roger Waters doesn’t often share the details of specific music that make him move, so when he does praise a fellow artist, it is usually a creative that the Pink Floyd man truly admires. With that in mind, here we explore five people placed in his pantheon of songwriting greats.
Waters is well equipped to be commenting on what makes for a great songwriter. After all, The Wall came from within his mercurial brain and remains arguably the definitive concept album. His writing style has progressed as the years went on, and it wasn’t until Syd Barrett’s mental health declined that he had to pick up the pen.
Following their original leader’s departure, Pink Floyd morphed into a drastically different outfit under the guiding hand of Waters. In fact, this has been a theme that has run right through Waters’ career from the get-go. He’s approached every venture of his career with the same vigour and forward-thinking enthusiasm, a mentality that helped cement him as one of the most engaging artists of his era in the first place.
For Waters, when it comes to songwriting, five names sit firmly above anyone else. When he was pressed on the spot about whether his own band were the best of all time during a 2015 interview with Haaretz, instead he decided to reel off five of his favourites: “There are certain groups whose names you can just pluck out of the air, and songwriters. Like you can say John Lennon is an important songwriter, as is Paul McCartney,” he commented. “So is Neil Young, Bob Dylan, so is John Prine. Who else? There aren’t many rock ‘n’ roll acts I would ever listen to or care about.”
This comment isn’t the only time that he’s celebrated any of these names, with The Beatles, a band who played a crucial role in Waters’ development from an artistic perspective. He told KLCS, “I learned from John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison that it was OK for us to write about our lives, and what we felt — and to express ourselves. That we could be free artists and that there was a value in that freedom. And there was.”
Meanwhile, during his appearance on the BBC radio institution Desert Island Discs, Waters named Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ as one of the song’s he simply couldn’t live without. “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,” Waters once told the BBC during an appearance on Desert Island Discs.
“There is an honesty and a truth in everything that he’s done. You feel the man’s integrity and passion,” he said during the programme. “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.”
Additionally, in another interview with Howard Stern, Waters heaped praise on Bob Dylan for proving there was another way of making popular music. A method that defied conventions and showed that boundaries only exist to be smashed into pieces.
More specifically, the track that opened Waters’ eyes is ‘Sad Lady of the Lowlands’, the eleven-minute closing number from Blonde on Blonde. Dylan wasn’t playing the game; he just expressed his artistry freely, which inspired Waters to forge a richly experimental career. “When I heard that, I thought if Bob can do it, then I can do it. It’s 20 minutes long. It’s a whole album,” he revealed. “It in no way gets dull or boring. You just get more and more and more engrossed as it gets more and more hypnotic the longer it goes on.”
Roger Waters’ favourite songwriters
- John Lennon
- Paul McCartney
- Neil Young
- Bob Dylan
- John Prine
Finally, John Prine was somebody that Waters struck up a friendship with, and after the singer’s death in 2020, he was understandably devastated.
While grieving, he paid tribute to him by uploading a cover of Prine’s ‘Paradise’ to his YouTube channel with the caption, “My friend John Prine died. This is his song, ‘Paradise’. Miss you, brother.”
Take a listen to his version of the track below.