Pink Floyd (Final of 4) – Have Become Comfortably Numb

Above, one of the few pictures of the band in their brief tenure as a five-piece (L-R, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright). 

It would be impossible to adequately sum up the remaining 20-30 years of Floyd in one post so I’ll just hit a few high  (and low) lights. In 1975, they released the impossible-to-follow Dark Side with an album that some (not me) think is even better – Wish You Were Here.

The band felt, collectively, that they had been in a really harmonious, fun place during the making of Dark Side. Waters said that the years 1968-1973 were when they were the most unified. After that, the wheels started to slowly – and then quickly – come off the Floydian train. (In the late ’70’s, the band were in deep financial straits due to poor investments and malfeasance by their financial advisors.)

The song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is believed to be yet another tribute to Syd Barrett. However, Roger Waters has stated that it’s “not really about Syd, he’s just a symbol for the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope with how fucking sad it is – modern life, to withdraw completely.” (And what, hide behind a wall, Rog?)

The title song has become a popular favorite and in fact, the album is a favorite of the whole band. One of the characters in the movie Boyhood sings it and it just seemed like the perfect song. (This album may well be the last time Floyd were truly in synch. Pressures of fame and the feeling  – Waters’ especially – that they’d said and done it all were weighing on them):

In 1979, the band released the massive double album, The Wall, which truthfully probably deserves its own post. (But I like to cap my series at four posts.) This album was initially inspired (if that’s the right word) by an incident wherein Waters – frustrated by some noisy fans – spat at one of them. (I don’t know exactly when that piece of knowledge became known but I wasn’t aware of it till years later).

For the record, Waters has never shied away from this non-peace-and-love event and is, understandably, deeply ashamed of it. He even wrote something about it on a Wall exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Although frankly, I’ve never read about any apology to the audience member, not even so much as a “Roger Waters spat on me” T-shirt).

Waters later imagined a wall between band and audience. Part of his frustration came from the fact that pre-DSOM, fans would sit and listen quietly to their quasi-symphonic music. But afterwards, there were far too many who, during a quiet passage, would yell out, “Yo! Play Money!” or the ever-popular “Floyd!”

So after one too many of these insightful comments at one too many venues, Waters (in Montreal) told them to shut the fuck up, one thing led to another and voila! – spitting incident. (Actually it was one particular crazed fan who was climbing up the front of the stage that he spat on).

However, the album became not only about that isolation from the audience but also about (again) Barrett and Waters’ sense of loss: his father died in WWII when Roger was five months old. (Some think that Waters keeps revisiting the subject of Syd because he felt guilty about driving his old mate out of the band).

Waters performed this album live in Berlin a few months after the fall of East Germany’s own monstrosity of a wall. That performance had a hell of a guest artist list (in part): guys from The Band, Cyndi Lauper, Scorpions, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell.

In my review of Waters’ movie of the tour, I said this, “I’ve always liked but never loved [The Wall]. With few exceptions, I find it to be a relentless downbeat bummer.” Well, I’ve been listening to a ton of Floyd lately as part of researching these posts. So I went back and listened to the album again, first on headphones and then again through my Bluetooth speaker. And let me now say this:

I was wrong

It’s an excellent album. Is it sometimes depressing? Sure. Could they have thrown in another more upbeat number later in the album like “Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” or “Young Lust?” Absolutely. But it really holds up well as an album.

Pete Townshend was asked if Floyd’s concept albums held up as well as The Who’s. Emphatic yes from him. Interesting if perhaps pointless question to ask – Tommy/Quadrophenia vs. Dark Side/Wall? Hmm. My own personal ranking would be:

  1. Dark Side
  2. Tommy
  3. The Wall
  4. Quadrophenia

Comments welcomed on that particular hot potato.

All that said, the band’s stage show continued to grow and grow both in terms of sight and sound. Eventually they incorporated floating pigs, crashing airplanes, demented-looking teachers and for all I know, crawling iguanas, flying monkeys and giant jars of mayonnaise.

“Comfortably Numb” was inspired by Waters taking tranquilizers for stomach cramps prior to a concert in Philly. It was a very, very long two hour show.

It is not only one of the band’s best songs, but Gilmour’s guitar solos on it have been consistently ranked as either the best or near-best of all time by any guitar magazine you can think of. What’s really cool – among other things – is that his first solo is played against all major chords, the second in its relative minor key. So while related, it gives each solo a somewhat different feel:

In terms of band harmony, the rest of the story from here on in isn’t very pretty. Keyboardist Richard Wright left the band due to, shall we say, creative differences with the by now authoritarian Waters. It was generally felt that he wasn’t contributing enough, not carrying his own weight.

He came back later – salaried, like a session player – for their tour. (Ironically, the tour wound up losing money.  The only one who profited was Wright. Karma is a bitch.)

Although he worked with them, he was not considered a band member again for many years. (How fucking humiliating that must have been, especially considering he was thought to be the band’s best overall musician). Waters left in 1985 and the remaining members soldiered on as Pink Floyd. Which did not bode well for their continued relationship with Waters.

As to the band’s personal and professional relationships, all the details aren’t even worth going into but let’s say that whatever camaraderie the band had in the good old days was now long gone. Lawsuits and counter-suits were filed in every direction as to who got to use the name Pink Floyd. When we saw The Wall live a couple of years ago, it was Waters, not Floyd who performed. I’ve never been to a Pink Floyd show as such.

Floyd somehow managed to reunite a few times, most notably at Live 8 in 2005, even as recently as 2011. (After Roger got a grip, he conceded that yes, the other guys had a right to use the name Pink Floyd). But after The Wall, the whole thing was a terrible, fucked-up situation. They put stuff out but I personally have not listened to most of it.

Some of the albums could be great for all I know but by then, album-wise I checked out. BTW, that wasn’t necessarily because of, or even related to, their issues. If a band doesn’t keep me interested, I move on. Or sometimes the love affair with a band just runs its course. I love Bruce but I can’t say I’ve listened to every single album he’s done over the course of forty years. C’est la vie.

But did I watch this when it was broadcast? Damn right I did. So did everybody else in the world and the only equivalent I can think of is if the Beatles had had a chance to reform one more time:

Coda: The Wall was released in 1979. Between 1983 and 2014, some version of Floyd released four studio albums. The final Pink Floyd album, The Endless River, was released in 2014. It is largely instrumental/ambient music left over from previous albums. It has gotten about the kind of reception one would expect an album of instrumental/ambient music left over from previous albums would get. That said, I listened to it and kinda dug it.

Syd Barrett did a couple of solo albums to little commercial impact. He died in 2006. He is gone but not forgotten. David Gilmour saw to it that his old friend got all of his royalties on a regular basis.

Richard Wright did some solo work and a few albums with Gilmour. He died in 2008. Although he had been forced out of the band in later years for lack of input, anyone who has followed the band knows of his outstanding contributions.

Nick Mason played on a variety of albums but now spends as much (or more) time auto racing these days as anything else. He owns an enviable fleet of race cars. Waters and Gilmour continue to play and/or tour. In fact, Gilmour played the Hollywood Bowl not too long ago behind his new album. He also appeared on TV host Jimmy Kimmel’s show.

As to their legacy, Pink Floyd are one of the most commercially successful and influential rock bands of all time.They have sold more than 250 million records worldwide. In 2004, MSNBC ranked Pink Floyd number 8 on their list of “The 10 Best Rock Bands Ever.”

Rolling Stone ranked Floyd number 51 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” Q magazine named them as the biggest band of all time. VH1 ranked them number 18 in the list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” 

In 2008, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden (!) presented the band with the Polar Music Prize for their contribution to modern music. The write-up is worth quoting:

The 2008 Polar Music Prize is awarded to the British group Pink Floyd for their monumental contribution over the decades to the fusion of art and music in the development of popular culture. Through extensive sonic experimentation, they captured the mood and spirit of a whole generation in their reflections and attitudes. Pink Floyd managed to evolve and create exciting music and albums over the years. When rock’n’roll developed, Pink Floyd was foremost in shaping the sounds that would influence artists for ever.

They were inducted (beautifully, by Billy Corgan) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, (by Pete Townshend in his inimitable witty fashion), and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2010. And a tribute band, The Australian Pink Floyd, has been touring since 1988.

I leave you with this – in writing this series, I’m reminded of a guy I knew years ago who, upon being asked about the band, merely closed his eyes, shook his head back and forth slowly, opened his eyes again, and with a contented, mischievous grin uttered the following:

“Fuckin’ Floyd.” And who of us can argue with, or improve upon, that?

And if the band you’re in starts playing a different tune
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

 

 

15 thoughts on “Pink Floyd (Final of 4) – Have Become Comfortably Numb

  1. Hi, I’m writing about every song that ever became a #1 hit, backwards chronologically, in the journey that is the Every Number One blog. I would really appreciate if you took a look around.

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  2. So I just spent these two weekend afternoons listening to Pink Floyd to really remember their music. Started with listening to the videos on your blog, went to “Dark Side of the Moon” album and then today “The Wall”. One of my favorite albums has always been “Dark Side of the Moon” and their song “Comfortably Numb”, but I had no idea how much of an influence Pink Floyd had on other groups nor how enormously talented they really were. In fact, although I really liked their song, “Comfortably Numb”, I never listened to their album “The Wall” until today.

    I would have to say David Gilmour is absolutely one of my favorite guitar players and Pink Floyd is up there as one of my favorite rock groups. Pink Floyd’s music is memorizing. Harmonizing is just so excellent. I was listening to their music as I would a classical piece – totally engrossed and in another state of mind. I went to this state listening to “Echoes” at the Pompeii concert (Part I) and where I really got Pink Floyd (after 40 years!) as if it were the first time I listened to them.
    I agree with your assumption that the Beatles were influenced by Pink Floyd. When I went to listening to their album the “The Wall”, there was one comment that I thought was worth noting. It just emphasized Pink Floyd’s influence in music and it read,

    “Never listened to this all the way through before. Their influence is EVERYWHERE in the music I like. Ooh, that sounds like that Metallica riff. Ooh, that sounds like that Deftones break.”

    Thanks for bringing this group back to life for me and reminding me of how this group’s creativity grew over time and all of their individual contributions to our music even today. It was great getting to know Pink Floiyd individually and to again enjoy the music created by Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Roger Waters and David Gilmour.

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  3. So cool that you spent that time listening. Someone else who commented said they were inspired enough to put Dark Side on their iPod. For me, I think I’ve listened to more Floyd in the past month than I had in the previous year. Their music is so good, so melodic, so hypnotic. i hadn’t listened to ‘Echoes’ all the way through till you mentioned it. It just captivated my interest all the way. And for four guys they make an awfully big sound.

    Only thing I didn’t like of theirs that I listened to was the album after the wall called The Final Cut. Waters totally took it over and it takes the worst downbeat stuff from the Wall and does it through the whole album. Just a total misfire. Other than that, loved everything. I will definitely over time be checking out more stuff I haven’t yet heard.

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    1. Yeah. I was inspired by both your blog and then the comments posted. I started to remember the first time I heard ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and how great it sounded. I went back and listened to ‘Echoes’ again but this time on Youtube. I still couldn’t get through the whole song and skipped to the ending. I still really loved it though. You feel like your smoking something to get to the place you are in. 🙂
      Not going to go to the ‘Final Cut’ just yet. Just enjoying their two incredible albums and certain singles for now. Just to be curious, I checked to see where David Gilmour was playing. He plays mostly in Europe and a number of his shows are sold out in Italy. He’s playing a couple of sets in Pompeii. The guy is such a talented and, as I read in your blog, very generous person.

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  4. Great final wrap-up. Hard to get it all in on one post but it’s worth pointing out that Richard Wright was bought back in as a full member and co-wrote five of the songs on The Division Bell (and was huge in the tracks that were recorded at the time and later reshaped into The Endless River) and the album, specifically High Hopes is a pretty strong and worthy final chapter. I’d much rather consider High Hopes and its chiming bells as the last word from Floyd than The Endless River in all honesty.

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    1. Good information about High Hopes. I will definitely check that out. And yes, I’ll consider it their last album in the way that most people consider Abbey Road the Beatles final album and not Let it Be. (Let it Be was supposed to be released first but got held up for any number of not-so-good reasons. Anyway, thanks for the insight.

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    2. So I listened to Division Bell and yeah, good album. Won’t take the place of DSOM or The Wall in my affections but to your point, a much better send-off than Final Cut. Thanks.

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  5. Interesting. I’ve never been able to quite warm up to Quadrophenia, at least not in its entirety. I saw the Who play this live on a cable channel recently and while I like the music in general, not enough of the album holds together for me to elevate it. I passed on seeing them when the toured behind it, saving it for the great 50-year retrospective. 😀

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    1. Jim I forgot something When you mentioned that Rolling Stone ranked Floyd number 51 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” it just reminded me why I don’t read or care for much that they say anymore. A few months ago I checked out there “Top 100 Drummers” and Carl Palmer wasn’t even on the list

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      1. Yeah, I don’t necessarily disagree. I got back into reading it a little while ago after many years’ hiatus. And I’ll quote them because there aren’t too many quotable “authorities.” But if someone quibbles with them, I never disagree. I take them with a huge grain of salt. Their “best guitarist” list is hit-or-miss as well.

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  6. Nothing about “Animals”? It has some of David’s best Pink Floyd guitar work on it (after Comfortably Numb). Thank you for sharing your 4 part Floyd history lesson with us. Really enjoyed it.

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