At the dawn of the 1960s, Britain was still recovering from the wounds inflicted by the Second World War. After a time of political instability, a revolution was sweeping the nation. The counterculture movement was beginning to take root all across the world; correspondingly, much of the movement was greatly influenced by musical artists originating in Britain (Watson). According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Bands including The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, stood at the forefront of what is known as the “British invasion” — the spread of British rock and roll to America and other parts of the world.
Another up and coming band, Pink Floyd, also emerging from the counterculture movement, used traditional rock and roll influences, psychedelia, and unique recording techniques to create a revolutionary new sound. Originally the band was led by Roger “Syd” Barrett; however, in 1968 when Syd left due to mental illness, Roger Waters assumed the role as band leader (Mabbett 2).
Drawing on his personal experiences and the counterculture influences of the time, Roger Waters’s song, “Time,” is characteristic of his incorporation of deep lyrical meaning and a focus on the sensory experience, both of which defined the progressive rock movement in the 1970s-1980s. Much of Waters’s early life influenced his songwriting. Waters was born September 6, 1943, in Surrey, England, during the midst of the Second World War. At just 5 months of age Waters’s father, Eric, was killed in combat.
Though Waters was too young at the time to understand, the death of his father left lasting impacts on his mentality and influenced his outlook on life. Shortly after the death of Eric, the Waters family (consisting of Roger, his mother, and his older brother) moved to Cambridge so the children could attend school (“Roger Waters Biography” 1). During elementary and high school Waters became friends with future band members Syd Barrett and David Gilmour. During these years, Waters was not heavily involved in musical activities — a stark contrast to Syd Barrett’s classical musical studies, and strong family influence to pursue music.
In fact, Waters musical career did not begin until after enrolling to Regent Street Polytechnic (now Westminster University) for a degree in architecture. There Waters was surrounded by musicians which quickly formed a band under Syd Barrett’s direction. After performing under several different names the band began to come together and they decided on the name “Pink Floyd Sound” after two of the band’s favorite blues musicians: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council (Harris 26). Under the lead of Syd Barrett, the band emerged in the London underground and made a name for themselves in the psychedelic rock scene.
British music magazine Q wrote in 1995, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn is, even counting Sgt. Pepper, possibly the defining moment of English psychedelia and Syd Barrett’s magnum opus. ” However, Floyd’s quick rise to fame had a detrimental impact on Barrett. Combined with Barrett’s heavy use of LSD, a series of mental breakdowns on and off stage forced the band to let go of Barrett in 1968 (Mabbett 2). At this point, without a clear leader, Waters assumed the role by providing most of the musical direction and lyrical composition.
After Syd’s departure in 1968, Roger Waters penned nearly every song and asserted much more control over the band’s artistic direction. After the release of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the band released several albums: Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971) (Harris 28). The major breakthrough that defined Roger Waters and Pink Floyd and ushered in a new era of rock music was the release of Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. Pink Floyd’s ninth album, Dark Side of the Moon was an instant commercial success. After its release in 1971, the album remained on the top billboard charts for a record-breaking 741 weeks.
Beyond commercial success, the album represented an important shift of rock and roll into a more mature, avant-garde style that dealt with themes beyond the traditional. According to a critical review by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “the album addressed such subjects as aging, madness, money and time. ” At the time, these themes rarely could be found in rock music. Roger Waters was the creative force behind the album, penning all of the lyrics and developing the idea of a “concept album” — an album that flows together between tracks and represents an entire work rather than a series of individual songs (Harris 85).
Strikingly different from the music at the time, Dark Side of the Moon represents an important milestone in rock and roll history, and it defined the beginning of the progressive rock movement. “Time,” the third song in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, is a clear representation of Waters’s thematic and sensory approach to music, and it highlights his direct influence on the progressive rock movement. Following a psychedelic synthesizer filled track, “On the Run,” “Time” makes a harsh entrance with recordings of bells and alarms, a fitting introduction given the song’s title.
The band’s engineer, Alan Parsons, under Waters’s direction, individually recorded each clock sound in antique stores in London before blending them together in the studio to create the iconic entrance to “Time” (Fielder 64). Water’s, having just turned 28, wrote this song after realizing he was no longer preparing for anything in life. Specifically, Waters draws on his youth, upbringing, and the societal norms of the time to reflect on the passage of time, life, and mortality. (INSERT QUOTE FROM HARRIS INTERVIEW WITH WATERS ABOUT TIME).
After the clockwork introduction, an isolated ticking (symbolic of a clock ticking away the time) fills the soundstage. Next guitar, synthesizer, and drums enter in an ominous minor chord that transitions into lighter counterparts. The weight given to the first chord conveys a heavy yet mysterious tone that continues until the lyrics bring clarity to the song’s theme. After the instrumental introduction, David Gilmour enters with the lyrics: “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull-day. ” These lyrics set the stage for the rest of the song by introducing Waters’s slightly negative outlook on life and his lament for the passage of time.
More importantly, the lyrics emphasize Waters’s frustration and anger towards the idea of wasted time: “You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. ” Ironically, Waters’s upbringing taught him to take advantage of opportunities which ultimately led him to pursue an architectural degree, yet he gave up his aspirations to become a musician. In response, Waters’s lyrics address a third person, an ambiguous “you” that most likely represents himself in his own struggle with the passage of time.
Waters regrets missed opportunities in his early life thus he writes “Time” to express this struggle and serve as a forewarning to others. The first verse is followed by a bridge that addresses the moment at which one finds time has passed him/her by. “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run you missed the starting gun” (Waters). Next, Gilmour enters with a wailing guitar solo that seems to represent a human voice crying out, symbolic of Waters’s struggle to accede to his own mortality.
The final two verses begin to show Waters’s acceptance of fate, a contrast from the start of the song which expressed frustration and anger towards missed opportunities. After realizing time is passing by quickly, Waters’s asserts the futility in attempting to catch up to time and seize the opportunities once missed. “So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking, Racing around to come up behind you again” (Waters).
Each day comes and goes faster than a mortal being can grasp, Waters’s realizes this when he writes: “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, Shorter of breath and one day closer to death. Waters conveys that life is about taking control of your own destiny rather than trying to prepare for every step of the way. The song seems to come to a close at the line “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, the time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say,” however, Waters’s writes a final verse to conclude the work.
Ultimately the final verse brings a light of hope into an otherwise thematically depressing song. In this verse Waters writes about being “home, home again, I like to be here when I can. The third person “you” is replaced with “I” clarifying that the lines are spoken directly from Waters himself. “Home” represents comfort, clarity, and a life free from the oppression of time. More importantly, within the context of the song it signifies the resolution of the incomplete ending in verse 4 “the song is over, thought I’d something more to say. ” As a whole, the album Dark Side of the Moon, developed and penned by Waters, represents an important shift in rock and roll history leading to the birth of the progressive rock movement.
Specifically, the song “Time” is characteristic of Waters style, and it exemplifies the themes and musical styles that originated progressive rock. Filled with dense chords, sound effects, and powerful lyrics, “Time” speaks dynamically on the passage of time and seizing one’s destiny rather than wasting away. Influenced by the counterculture movement of the 1960s, and a childhood without a father, Waters’s unique musical style departs from the traditional rock and roll themes of love, sex, and drugs, to meditate on ethereal themes such as madness, mortality, and the passage of time.