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What Roger Waters learned from John Lennon

Roger Waters is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, and for good reason too. From 1973 until 1983, he served as the band’s lyricist and primary songwriter and advised the band to follow a series of narrative tracts that served as a complete, satisfying whole. Arguably the most grounded of the musicians, Waters steered the band to a more accessible terrain, which was a relief after years of flourishes, fire and spectacle. Waters’ rationale was simple: If The Beatles – the best band Britain has, and likely will, ever produce – could be truthful, then so could everyone.

“I learned from John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison,” the bassist revealed, “that it was okay 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.”

The band’s album, A Saucerful of Secrets seemed to carry on the narrative of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the bassist seemed happier to lean on Lennon’s solo work in the works that followed afterwards. It’s possible to discern from ‘Us and Them’ the overwhelming sense of despair that soaks into John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, especially a song as lonely as ‘Isolation’. In both cases, Waters and Lennon distinguish themselves from the horrors around them by stating that it’s normal to feel distant from the world around them, thereby insinuating that their madness is the same as the common madness.

To be mad is to be human, as being human is a form of madness. Plastic Ono Band is Lennon’s finest work- no high margin, considering the rest of his catalogue – and showed the man in a state of constant vulnerability and introspection. It inspired several artists to discuss the failings of their lives, and Waters was one of the songwriters who responded well to the work. Indeed, there is a case to be made that Waters, like Phil Collins, carried the Lennon DNA into the 1980s.

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“I think John Lennon’s first solo album will always be in my top five,” he admitted. “Neil Young is a big favourite of mine. His performance in that film was stunning. I think a great singer-songwriter is the best part of the musical spectrum. I was watching the last waltz because I’ll be filming. I was struck by the rawness of The Band’s Big Pink.”

For Waters, work had to be real to be impactful, but the impact could be gained by the rawness, not the presentation, of the work in question. For the songwriting bassist, the truth won him plaudits and made up for a lack of musical skill he lacked. He was the Lennon to David Gilmour’s Paul McCartney, which is why he could never compete as a musician or a composer but could sting with a rhyming couplet. Gilmour and Waters were a formidable team, and the two created a back catalogue that will outlive you, me and them.

But it all started with the lessons Pink Floyd learned from The Beatles, and no matter what bands came after them, they all are indebted to the fab four-piece in one way or another. As it was in the 1960s, as it will be in the future, this was the schooling of a collection of artists aching for something grander and more truthful than many of the bands that came after. Music needs great truth to realise its potential, but for Waters, it was all there in Plastic Ono Band. And what an album Plastic Ono Band is too.