Why Roger Waters Had to Add ‘The Tide Is Turning’ to ‘Radio KAOS’
Inspired by his friendship with American DJ Jim Ladd, childhood memories of listening to Radio Luxembourg (just about the only way to hear pop songs in the U.K. in the early ‘50s and ‘60s), a paraplegic boy and a violent incident during the British miners’ strike of 1984 and 1985, Radio KAOS was an album so complex that even Waters tried to avoid explaining it.
One thing was clear, though: It was a notably depressing concept, even though the record ended with the disabled hero, Billy, tricking the world into thinking a nuclear war was about to start, resulting in everyone being so relieved it was a hoax that they began rebuilding society into something less finance-oriented. It was an optimistic finish, but it came after an undeniable 40 minutes of dirge. Waters later said he should never have tried to make the record.
Outside of his work on the concept, though, Waters had been through another inspiring experience: 1985’s Live Aid concert. He offered his services to Bob Geldof, but his offer wasn't taken up. So instead, Waters spent most of the day watching the live broadcast at home, before heading to Wembley for the Who’s set. The positivity of the event led him to write the song “The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid).”
Watch Roger Waters' Video for 'The Tide Is Turning'
Faced with the prospect of releasing a negative album, Waters' record label insisted upon some sort of change. According to some sources, co-producer Nick Griffiths suggested adding “Tide” to the end of the track listing – which is exactly what Waters did. Instead of leaving the world of Radio KAOS with just a glimmer of hope, the song spoke of real change: “Now the satellite's confused / Because on Saturday night the airwaves were full of compassion and light / And his silicon heart warmed to the sight of a billion candles burning / Oo, oo, oo, the tide is turning.”
Waters being Waters, there was an additional message relayed in a verse that didn’t appear in the recorded version, in which he berates Sylvester Stallone and the glamorization of war portrayed in the actor's ‘80s movies, such as the Rambo franchise. Allegedly concerned about potential legal action, the lines left out included “Now the past is over but you are not alone / Together we’ll fight Sylvester Stallone / We will not be dragged down in his South China Sea of macho bullshit and mediocrity.”
While “Tide” was a moderate hit in the U.K upon its release in November 1987, the song wasn’t able to turn the tide for Radio KAOS, which suffered by being released around the same time as A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first album without Waters. But the song lived on in spirit. Waters later said its spirit ran through the concept of his successful 1992 LP Amused to Death. “All those glimmers of hope that we’re seeing at the beginning of the ‘90s, I hope that’s the end of the dog shit that was the ‘80s,” he said. “This is all happening very, very fast. And that's the point that I'm trying to make in the record. Suddenly we’re getting bombarded with all this information. Can we make sense of it and move forward?”