Roger Waters discusses the Beatles’ impact on Pink Floyd: ‘There was a value in that freedom’

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Pink Floyd recorded its 1967 debut just one studio over from the Beatles at Abbey Road studios. But that’s where the similarities between Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band end, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters says.

“I remember when Sgt. Pepper came out, pulling the car over into a lay by, and we sat there and listened to it,” Waters tells KLCS. “Somebody played the whole thing on the radio. And I can remember sitting in this old, beat up Zephyr Four, like that [sits for a long period, completely agape].”

You can hear the immediate influence of the Beatles’ “Lovely Rita” on “Pow R. Toc H.,” from Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But Roger Waters, then still in ascendency as the principal creative force in Pink Floyd, says his entire approach to songwriting was forever altered.

“I feel as if I learned my lessons from [early blues legends] Huddie Ledbetter and Bessie Smith and I listened to a lot of jazz and Woody Guthrie,” Roger Waters says. “I learned a lot from all of that protest music, when I was a very young teenager. But 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.”

It would be a few more years, with 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, before Pink Floyd secured its place alongside the Beatles in the pantheon of concept albums. But Roger Waters wasn’t thinking about topping the Beatles, he admits. He was simply caught up in the moment he had created with Nick Mason, Richard Wright and erstwhile foil David Gilmour.

“We didn’t mix it,” Waters says. “Even at that point, Dave and I would be — there’s no way we could sit in a studio and mix something together. … So, a guy called Chris Thomas actually mixed it, and he did a great job. I just thought, ‘That’s it. We’ve cracked it.'”

Chris Thomas, of course, has had a lengthy relationship with the Beatles. He made significant musical contributions to several songs on 1968’s White Album, served as an uncredited co-producer on that project, Abbey Road and the early Let It Be sessions for the Beatles; and then produced a pair of albums by Paul McCartney, 1979’s Back to the Egg and 1999’s Run Devil Run — both of which, in still another twist, featured Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

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