Pink Floyd, the legendary classic rock band, had its fair share of internal tensions and conflicts throughout its career. One such instance occurred during the making of their iconic song “Comfortably Numb,” where bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour found themselves at odds. Despite their differences, they managed to reach a compromise, which was a rarity amidst the growing egos that ultimately led to Pink Floyd’s acrimonious split. Let’s delve into the details of this conflict and its resolution.
The Clash Over the ‘Comfortably Numb’ Rhythm Track
Even before Pink Floyd rose to prominence, they had garnered attention from notable figures in the music industry. Paul McCartney, in particular, predicted the band’s success while they were recording their debut album next door to The Beatles. Over a decade later, Pink Floyd was enjoying immense popularity as they worked on their ambitious album, “The Wall,” released in 1979. The album featured several of the band’s most recognizable tracks, including the iconic “Comfortably Numb.”
Tensions were running high within the band during the making of “The Wall,” which eventually led to a bitter dispute and the subsequent split between Waters and the rest of the band in the 1980s. However, amidst the frequent clashes, Waters and Gilmour managed to find common ground and resolve one particular conflict, as Waters explained in a YouTube interview.
“It’s probably one story where his memory and my memory would be almost exactly the same. We had made a rhythm track — so that would be the drums, bass, guitar, or whatever — and I loved it. He thought it wasn’t precise enough rhythmically and recut the drum track and something else and said, ‘There, that’s better.’ And I listened to it and went, ‘No, it’s not. I hate that.’ So that’s all the disagreement was.
“And in the end, the track that is on the record, the first verse is from the version I liked, and the second verse is from the version he liked, then a bit of chorus from mine and a bit from his, so it was a negotiation and a compromise.”
The Negotiation and Compromise
Waters recounted the disagreement with Gilmour, stating that they had created a rhythm track comprising drums, bass, and guitar for “Comfortably Numb.” While Waters loved the initial version, Gilmour felt that it lacked precision rhythmically and decided to re-record the drum track and make additional changes. Waters disagreed with the alterations and expressed his dislike for the revised version. Eventually, they arrived at a compromise: the final recording featured the first verse from Waters’ preferred version and the second verse from Gilmour’s. They also incorporated bits from each other’s preferences for the chorus. This negotiation and compromise marked a rare moment of agreement during that period of Pink Floyd’s career.
The Strains and Success of “The Wall”
The tensions between Waters and Gilmour, along with the rest of the band, were palpable during the creation of “The Wall.” Waters fired keyboardist Rick Wright, took over drumming duties from Nick Mason on the song “Mother,” and Mason wasn’t actively involved in the mixing process due to his work on a solo album. Despite these internal conflicts, Pink Floyd managed to produce a highly ambitious and successful album, with several memorable songs and one of their most iconic album covers.
Although “Comfortably Numb” is considered one of Pink Floyd’s signature songs, it did not reach the singles charts in either the UK or the US. Conversely, the misunderstood “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” from “The Wall” became the band’s only No. 1 hit in both countries. It spent five weeks atop the charts in the US and UK. As for the album itself, “The Wall” was a massive success. It spent 68 weeks on the UK charts, including an uninterrupted 27-week run from December 1979 to June 1980. In the US, it held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for 15 weeks and remained in the top 200 albums for over three years. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the double album platinum in March 1980, and it has since sold over 23 million copies.