“When the Tigers Broke Free” is the best Pink Floyd song ever written. “Comfortably Numb” is the greatest, but not the best. There is a difference.
Credit for the song goes to the band member who, in the wake of Syd Barrett’s departure, began to write and direct more and more of Floyd’s output.
Roger Waters engendered animosity because he “took over” the band and ran it like some kind of dictator. The man who so often took aim at fascism was accused of being a kind of fascist himself. Floyd lore became filled with stories about Roger’s “my way or the highway” attitude.
The accusation is true, but there’s a reason for it. He brought most of the good material to the table while the rest of the band stepped back and let Roger do the heavy lifting. Roger was the one driven to work.
Roger’s treatment of Rick Wright, for example, illustrates his drive. Rick was “fired” for not bringing any useful material, and later, even Rick agreed with that assessment.
Rounds of lawsuits after Roger left solidified the grievances and hard feelings between him and David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Rick — wounds that were never fully healed even when they reunited for a Live Aid appearance in 2005. Body language after their short set concluded showed that the rest of Floyd wasn’t all that happy to be on stage with Roger again, while Roger himself seemed uncharacteristically ebullient.
Out of all the songs Roger created, his “When the Tigers Broke Free” remains a stark example of razor-sharp, absolutely perfect lyrics with its odd rhyming meter punctuating the song like the hurt and anger the singer feels, as a child tries to come to terms with the death of his father. Every line is a pointed dagger, aimed squarely at the truth of loss and pain.
They’re probably the best Roger ever wrote.
“It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black ‘forty-four
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives
And kind old King George
Sent mother a note
When he heard that father was gone
It was, I recall
In the form of a scroll
With gold leaf adorned
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp
It was dark all around
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z
They were all left behind
Most of them dead
The rest of them dying
And that’s how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.”