The Roger Waters and David Gilmour argument that created Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’
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.
‘Comfortably Numb’ is up there as being 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 history of the band, the now-iconic song was born out of a huge argument between the group’s two driving forces Waters and 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 who, despite their success, never managed to fully recapture that same level of form 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 repair as creative differences looked ready to split the band irrevocably. 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.”
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 at the time, suggesting 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’ masterpieces but, without Gilmour, it would never have shone so brightly.
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: “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 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.
“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.”