The search for a long version of Comfortably Numb with extended guitar solo and how the track almost didn’t make it into The Wall.
On Pink Floyd The Wall LP releases, “Comfortably Numb” (6:22) closes out Side 3. Originally, “Hey, You” was to close out the side, sequenced just after “Comfortably Numb”. However, at the last minute it was moved before the album went for mastering. In fact, on the early pressings of the album, the inner sleeves still showed “Hey, You” closing out the side on the track listings. When the decision was made to move the track, the album artwork had already been designed and sent out to print.
In a 1979 interview with Radio 1’s Tommy Vance, Roger Waters explained:
“Bob Ezrin called me up and he said I’ve just listened to side three and it doesn’t work. In fact I think I’d been feeling uncomfortable about it anyway. I thought about it and in a couple of minutes I realized that “Hey You” could conceptually go anywhere, and it would make a much better side if we put it at the front of the side, and sandwiched the middle theatrical scene, with the guy in the hotel room, between an attempt to re-establish contact with the outside world, which is what “Hey You” is; at the end of the side which is, well, what we’ll come to. So that’s why those lyrics are printed in the wrong place, is because that decision was made very late; I should explain at this point, the reason that all these decisions were made so late was because we’d promised lots of people a long time ago that we would finish this record by the beginning of November, and we wanted to keep that promise.”
The track was the third and final single from The Wall. In 2010, it was ranked number 321 on Rolling Stone magazine’s updated list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The second guitar solo is considered one of the all-time greats. At the time of its release, the single didn’t even crack Billboard Magazine’s Top 100.
The solo is actually built from several different solos that David Gilmour recorded for the track. In a 1993 interview with Guitar World magazine, he recalled:
“I just went out into the studio and banged out 5 or 6 solos. From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and mark out bar lines, saying which bits are good. In other words, I make a chart, putting ticks and crosses on different bars as I count through: two ticks if it’s really good, one tick if it’s good and cross if it’s no go. Then I just follow the chart, whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase and trying to make a really nice solo all the way through. That’s the way we did it on ‘Comfortably Numb.’ It wasn’t that difficult. But sometimes you find yourself jumping from one note to another in an impossible way. Then you have to go to another place and find a transition that sounds more natural.”
Despite its climactic position at the end of Side 3, the basis of “Comfortably Numb” was actually conceived before the album was written. The track started as an unfinished demo from David Gilmour’s first, self-titled solo album released in May of 1978. The track started as an unfinished demo from David Gilmour’s first, self-titled solo album. Like many from the production of The Wall, details are conflicting. “The Doctor” as it was named during production, was not originally part of Roger Waters’ original cycle. Initially, Waters was reluctant to include the piece and did so only at co-producer Bob Ezrin’s insistence. Considered a definitive Pink Floyd track, “Comfortably Numb” was a collaborative effort between Gilmour, Waters, and Bob Ezrin that almost wasn’t included on the album.
Ezrin later recalled,
“At first Roger had not planned to include any of Dave’s material […] I fought for this song and insisted that Roger work on it,”
Several versions of the track were recorded during production. Waters and Ezrin preferred a wall-of-sound version with orchestrations behind the guitar solos while Gilmour preferred a harder-edged version with no orchestration. Bob Ezrin talked about it in a Guitar World interview:
“I fought for the introduction of the orchestra on that record. This became a big issue on ‘Comfortably Numb,’ which Dave saw as a more bare-bones track. Roger sided with me. So the song became a true collaboration — it’s David’s music, Roger’s lyric and my orchestral chart.”
In the end, the three compromised. The final version featured orchestration behind the first guitar solo and no orchestra behind the final solo. Bingo… history.
The final version is not only an excellent compromise but collectively it is a better track than either of the two versions would have been on their own. Moving from softer and orchestral to raw and edgy adds a sonic contrast that builds to a crescendo as the song progresses. The shifting tone adds to the drama of the track and ultimate build of Side 3.
Session musician Lee Ritenour was brought in to play a second high strung acoustic guitar for the chorus underneath David Gilmour’s vocals, adding to the fullness and fill of the sound.
Is there a long studio version of Comfortably Numb with extended guitar solo?
Unfortunately, no. There is no longer version of “Comfortably Numb”, the studio recording that I’ve been able to locate. I’ve looked. I’ve been searching all sources and then some for years — even for a low-quality studio outtake just to hear. For now, the live version on Is There Anybody Out There? is the longest commercial version we have with the full band. It clocks in at 7 minutes 25 seconds.
I really wish I could have found an extended version of the studio track — anything, even a few more seconds, just to hear. Given all that was cut so that The Wall would fit onto two LPs, it makes sense that “Comfortably Numb” would have also been edited somehow. In fact, it’s rumoured that the track was originally one minute longer with a longer guitar solo at the end and that this was among the last-minute cuts made throughout the album so that it would fit onto two vinyl LPs. So far, I’ve been unable to reliably confirm this.
Sometimes, the band released alternate versions of tracks from the album as singles or as exclusives for radio play. For instance, a special eight track promo-only sampler was released only to radio stations and contained an extended, partially-restored version of “Run Like Hell”. “Comfortably Numb” was included on this album but was one of few tracks that was no different from the album version.
There are some excellent live versions with extended second solos. My favorites are the Live 8 version at Hyde Park and “Comfortably Numb” Live at O2 Arena where David Gilmour performed a one-off for Roger Waters The Wall tour. Ideally, though, I prefer the perfection and polished sound of the classic studio version.
For a brief but excellent history of “Comfortably Numb”, check out “The Life and Times of “Comfortably Numb” by Dan Wiencek on Popdose.
What Got Cut
- Nothing that I could find.
Several alternate versions of the track were released. Most of them are edited, live recordings, or demo versions of the song. There are several legitimate releases of these versions and many, many ROIOs as well. In my opinion, the best version of the track is available on the album.
“Comfortably Numb” / “Hey You” single (1980). (3:57) First guitar solo, second verse and chorus have been cut. Final guitar solo is edited to the end of the first verse. Fades out early. Butchered, really.
Pink Floyd Off The Wall – Special Radio Construction (1979). (6:22) A rare 1979 US 8-track, radio-friendly promo sampler LP for The Wall album distributed mainly to radio stations. No changes from the album version. Mastering of the vinyl was a little better than the mastering of the LP due to its deeper grooves. If you like the sound vinyl brings to a recording, this is one to get.
Is There Anybody Out There?. (7:26) The official live album of the original The Wall tour in 1980. Final guitar solo is extended and the song ends with a cold fade. I like the extra time and the longer solo, but I feel this version of Gilmour’s second guitar solo never quite reaches the heights of the shorter studio version.
Live 8 – Live at Hyde Park (2005) Live 8 was the final time all four members of the band performed together live. “Comfortably Numb” was the final song they performed there. The song runs about 6min 52sec before it ends. Here, Gilmour is in top form and really makes his Strat sing. The second guitar solo in particular really benefits from the extended length of the performance and builds to a very nice crescendo. Although it’s not a note-for-note perfect performance, in my opinion, this is one of the best alternate versions of the band performing “Comfortably Numb”.
Below is the Live 8 performance in its entirety. Skip to about 16:20 in the video for “Comfortably Numb”.
Pink Floyd The Wall movie (1982). (6:15) The iconic opening guitar slide is practically eliminated from the mix and with it a lot of the weight those 4 bars would normally have. Parts were unnecessarily re-recorded. The film version uses very similar yet alternate vocals and alternate baseline throughout the track. Why? The song fades out a few seconds early. Distracting vocal and noise effects throughout the track were added for the film. Somehow, the mix manages to strip most of the weight and drama and for me, for the most part, this version just plods along.
The Wall: Immersion – Work In Progress (2012). There are three very interesting versions of “Comfortably Numb” in the extra materials of the Immersion edition.
“Comfortably Numb”, track 22 disc 6 (3:15) is the original demo from the sessions of David Gilmour’s self-titled solo album. It’s basically just an unfinished melody that he intended to use at some point. But his demo contains the music, melody, and framework of what would later become the chorus.
“The Doctor”, track 5 disc 6 (3:15), is one of the early production demos of “Comfortably Numb”. The structure of the song is in place here, but lacks the polish of the release version. As in the final version, Roger Waters is the voice of the doctor and David Gilmour sings the chorus as Pink’s inner voice. This working demo lacks a second guitar solo and has none of Michael Kamen’s orchestrations. There is a lot of distracting vocal clutter going on in the stereo mix here which helps illustrate Pink’s confusion and mental state at this point in the narrative. It’s interesting from a song evolution standpoint, but I’m glad it did not make it into the final mix. This is the much of the same version of “The Doctor” that’s on the ROIO Under Construction (or Building The Wall, Wall In Progress 1978-1979 and The Wall Demos — these are all the same recordings) except here the mix is very good and audio quality is almost commercial, although a second verse and the final guitar solo have been edited out — or, the version on the ROIOs is a later demo and those parts haven’t been edited in yet.
“The Doctor”, track 15 disc 6 (3:20), is the second of the early production demos of “Comfortably Numb” to appear on the Immersion edition bonuses. It features David Gilmour exclusively on vocals as the voice of both the doctor and Pink. The verses are in a different key to accommodate Gilmour’s vocals. There is none of the vocal clutter found in the previous demo of the song and this version really has a different feel to it.
Listening to all three (or all four) versions gives a lot of insight into the creative evolution of this classic track.
Under Construction ROIO. A bootleg collection of production demo tracks, probably from sometime between the second and third official production demos. Although many of these tracks were later released in higher quality on The Wall: Immersion edition, there are still a good number of unique and interesting versions here and “Comfortably Numb” is definitely one of them. Still listed as “The Doctor” at this point, the track runs about 4m 46s or so. The audio is bootleg-quality. This take is similar to “The Doctor”, track 5 disc 6 (3m 15s) on the Immersion Edition, except this version contains an outro with an early version of David Gilmour’s second guitar solo to extend out the track. Although Gilmour recalled that the solo on record was an edit of 5 or 6 solos, none of those elements can be heard here. Still, it’s an interesting look at the evolution of this track and fills in a gap between the demo versions released on Immersion and the final studio version.
Last updated: June 18, 2017