Roger Waters, one of the founding members and chief components who greatly contributed to the mind-blowing success of British psychedelic/classic rock unit Pink Floyd, celebrates his 69th birthday today.
In a way, Waters stands alone as a musical architect. His lyrics to some of the most memorable and well-made rock records of all time, bass playing, and British proper nasal vocal inflections are some of the high watermark achievements in music. Approaching music first with a keen psychedelic edge during the fad of the genre during the late 1960s, and then cultivating those sounds with a dark, spacier edge which became the Floyd trademark, Waters has helped create a body of work that is not only successful, but also had the keen foresight to become dazzling in a critical sense as well. Floyd records have the luxury of not only selling in the millions, but also for being regarded and lauded as some of the most ultimate records ever produced.
He started with Pink Floyd since the very beginning, a group he formed with local art classmates Syd Barrett, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason. After using names like Abdabs and Meggadeth (yep, they had the claim on the name first, although spelled differently as you can see), they finally became known as Pink Floyd, a name suggested by Barrett, which is a link of two blues artists’ names together, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The band started its musical paces off by becoming a heavy psychedelic group, led by the bizarre, wild, and darkly poetic antics of lead singer/guitarist Barrett, and the band became a minor success in its native England. Barrett left the group after he began sporting rather strange behavior on and off stage, which was basically a by-product of too much psilocybin overuse, compounded by mental illness. Barrett was replaced by another school friend, David Gilmour, on lead guitar. Gilmour’s immense command of the instrument, coupled with a chemistry the band now had which was even more trippy than the Barrett era was, but more controlled and tightly arranged, brought Pink Floyd more and more into the mainstream rock arena with each subsequent release.
By 1971, their album Meddle, which included “Echoes,” a track that clocked in at over 20 minutes, started the string of what is considered the “classic” records released by Pink Floyd during that decade. Waters and Gilmour forged a sort of partnership with the writing, and by this time, Waters started chiefly penning the lyrics as well. At first, his lyrics on prior Floyd records were mainly in the alphabet word soup of mixed metaphors and the like, or purposely hard to decipher, but by Meddle, they began to touch on more familiar themes of human nature. Even the one word line growled in Meddle’s opening track “One of These Days,” which is “One of These Days, I’m going to chop you up into little pieces!” speaks of frustrations and hermetically sealed soul torturing that would become Roger Waters and Pink Floyd’s instant trademark.
It all crystallized for the band with their next release, 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon. Exploring themes like alienation, money, paranoia, schizophrenia, passage of time, and death among others, and done with the signature Pink Floyd sonic stamp in a quadraphonic production, the record went on to become one of the best-sellers of all time, owned by tens of millions of fans, some who discovered the band for the first time. The record in a way forged its own clique and style with generations of fans who also see the record as a key proponent of their lifestyles as well. Written entirely lyrically by Waters, and also showcasing his memorable bass line on the track “Money,” Dark Side of the Moon remains one of rock and roll’s most classic and best releases of the 20th century and certainly beyond.
For the records that followed, Waters and Floyd still explored the same themes, using the template procured on Dark Side. Wish You Were Here and Animals also held equal weight to the now Floyd standard set with Dark Side. The band arguably topped itself with what has been regarded by many as the Floyd masterpiece, largely written, concocted, devised, created, and produced by Waters, 1980’s, The Wall, which is another highly lauded release and in a way perfectly bookends with Dark Side of the Moon the dazzling success of that era for the band. A tale about a rock and roll misfit megalomaniac who suffers a sundry amount of demons within him, fueled by his past, present, and future, becomes a dictator of his music and to his fans, most of whom aren’t able to see the distinction between rock and roll performer as entertainer and rock and roll performer as czar. The album employed complex arrangements, plenty of sounds and special effects, large orchestras and small musical passages, all swirling around a foreboding, darkness which almost enveloped everything else about the album. Like Dark Side, The Wall continues to also be accepted as one of rock’s heavyweight releases of all-time.
By the mid 1980s, Waters and Pink Floyd parted ways, due to stress, pressures, and Water’s inability to get along with his bandmates anymore, who were starting to feel that Pink Floyd was nothing more than a Roger Waters solo project. Floyd went on to success, Waters went on to critical success, but in terms of sales, he never reached the kind of heights he had with Floyd. The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and Amused to Death were two of his standout solo albums, featuring Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck on lead guitar respectively.
In recent years, following the reunion of Pink Floyd at 2005’s Live 8, which was a smashing success but ultimately a one-off performance, Waters has adventurously taken Dark Side and The Wall and toured globally with those productions, The Wall in particular, a big lavish stage show which employs an actual foam wall which gets built brick by brick as the show progresses, massive-sized puppets, crashing airplanes, and eye-opening animation, all rotating around the axis of the music, presented by Waters and his band of musicians. Once in a while, an original member of Floyd will make an appearance at a show here or there, unannounced. These projects keep the public image of Roger Waters and the music of Pink Floyd still in high regard to this very day.
So let’s celebrate the life and career of Roger Waters today, key musician, genius songwriter, innovative musical technician of sorts, who not only makes people groove and listen to some of the best music has to offer by way of various genres that always keeps a rock foundation, but also music that makes them think and feel, reflect and hope, even cry and emote. Happy Birthday, Roger Waters, enigmatic force of nature in the musical world, and one who will always remain that way.