We are dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at one of Pink Floyd’s finest moments on record and how an argument between Roger Waters and David Gilmour sparked it into life and turned it into the monstrous musical moment we rever it as today.
‘Comfortably Numb’ is up there as being one of Pink Floyd’s greatest songs, and the backstory for the track is almost as remarkable as the magic that the band concocted when they wrote it. Somewhat fittingly, given the band’s history and their penchant for getting in a tizzy with one another, the now-iconic song was born out of a huge argument between the group’s two driving creative forces Roger Waters and David Gilmour.
It goes without saying that in their formative years, Gilmour and Waters needed each other, as all bandmates do. The creative duo brought out the best in one another and became a steadfast songwriting partnership. Though they weren’t exactly Lennon-McCartney, often choosing very different motifs and themes for their songs, one thing can’t be deined — they were stronger together. The duo never managed to fully recapture that same level in their subsequent solo ventures in comparison to the heavy heights that Pink Floyd would achieve.
The single ‘Comfortably Numb’ came at a time when the relationship between Waters and Gilmour had become fractured to almost a point of no return. Their creative differences looked ready to split the band irrevocably in two. In Mark Blake’s 2008 book Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story Of Pink Floyd, Gilmour confessed that the track arrived as “the last embers of mine and Roger’s ability to work collaboratively together.” We’re still very glad it did.
The song was initially created during the recording sessions for Gilmour’s self-titled debut solo album in 1978, a project that showed some insight into the relationship between the bandmates. Even having such a side-project suggested that he required another creative output for his music because he wasn’t feeling fulfilled from Floyd. Or perhaps, more pertinently, that he wasn’t allowed to.
However, the track really came to life once Waters had sprinkled his lyrics onto the instrumental take, which, incidentally, all came from a huge argument he had with his counterpart Gilmour. The Wall is considered one of Waters’ ultimate masterpieces, but it would never have shone so brightly without Gilmour.
Speaking with Absolute Radio back in 2011, Waters vividly recounted the fight that would provide us with a masterpiece of the highest calibre: “Dave and I, when we were in the South of France where we did most of the recording for The Wall, we had quite a serious disagreement about the recording of ‘Comfortably Numb’.”
He went on to add: “It’s probably one story where his memory and my memory are almost exactly the same. It was that we had made a rhythm track and I loved it and he thought it wasn’t precise enough rhythmically so re-cut the drum track and said ‘that’s better‘ so I went ‘no it’s not, I hate that‘.”
Waters then continued with expressing the intricacies of writing music: “It’s a very strange thing when you’re a musician and you work in these things, there are things to a Lehman which may seem like nothing that is really glaring and jarring. Though I did read that David said somewhere or other that if we listened to them both know we wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.”
Co-producer Bob Ezrin spoke to the aforementioned Mark Blake for the same book and discussed the song in more detail than Waters, adding that Gilmour’s take was more “stripped-down and harder” than Waters which he called “the grander technicolour, orchestral version”. Naturally, the duo found competition with one another on this fact and tried to enact their will on the other.
“That turned into a real arm-wrestle,” Ezrin recalled. “But at least this time there were only two sides to the argument. Dave on one side; Roger and I on the other.” After much wrangling, “the deal was struck,” Blake writes that: “The body of the song would comprise the orchestral arrangement; the outro, including that final, incendiary guitar solo, would be taken from the Gilmour-favoured, harder version.”
Listen to ‘Comfortably Numb’ in all of it’s beauty below as we look at the perhaps the final song Roger Water sand David Gilmour ever wrote in unison.