Turntable Talk: Cover Me — “Comfortably Numb,” by Roger Waters & Company on the In the Flesh Tour on June 27, 2000 at The Rose Garden Arena in Portland Oregon, featuring Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White on lead guitars.

In The Flesh

Instead of an essay on cover songs that gives a rationale of what kind I like or don’t like and why, I want to take it in another direction. What I want to talk about in today’s essay on cover songs is what I will dub a semi-cover or modified cover of an original, which I will define as a tune that is performed by at least one of the writers/performers of the song but the songwriter has a new line-up of musicians to perform it with. How often do we see where a kick-ass musical group records a mega-hit tune, the group breaks up, and wherever the songwriter ends up, they continue performing the song but with a new line-up? All of the time! Can it be called a strict cover? No; yet I still think it qualifies as one.

Unfortunately when these modified covers (MCs) are performed, often the new line-up’s names aren’t mentioned, only the name of the original star. I don’t think that’s fair.

The songwriter/musician and song I have chosen to chronologize and talk about is Pink Floyd’s song, “Comfortably Numb,” with a focus on Roger Waters, who wrote the lyrics. The plan is to talk about where it originated, where Roger took it, and the MC I chose to finish with.

Before getting into more, what I will call ritual in the live performance is that the guitar(s) doing the solos make a surprise entrance in an elevated position. Please keep that in mind as you watch the videos. To me, this symbolizes Pink’s mental state and the effects of the injection.

Comfortably Numb first appeared on Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album, “The Wall,” which was released on November 30, 1979. The album is described as “a rock opera that explores Pink, a jaded rock star whose eventual self-imposed isolation from society forms a figurative wall.” Roger Waters reportedly conceived the album concept during a 1977 tour and based the character of Pink on both himself and former band-mate, Syd Barrett. Comfortably Numb was one of the three singles released from the album. The band toured supporting it for a couple of years and Waters wrote a screenplay for a feature film based on it in 1982.

“Comfortably Numb” was released as a single in 1980, with “Hey You” as the B-side. The music was composed by guitarist David Gilmour, and the lyrics were written by Waters. It is notable for its two guitar solos. In it, Pink, the protagonist, is medicated by a doctor so he can perform for a show. There are varying yet similar stories as to what inspired the lyrics. One is that it was when Waters was injected with a muscle relaxant to combat the effects of hepatitis during the In the Flesh Tour, while in Philadelphia. Another is that it sprang from Waters being injected with tranquilizers for stomach cramps, not hepatitis, at the same concert. “That was the longest two hours of my life,” Waters said, “trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm.” The song’s working title was “The Doctor.” Of course, in the context of the album’s concept, it takes on another connotation, and it can also be expanded beyond a single concert, to man’s existential struggle to maintain sanity in a world he feels has continued to be hostile to his dreams for happiness.

The first known MC of The Wall (including Comfortably Numb, of course) was when Waters performed The Wall: Live in Berlin at The Berlin Wall on July 21, 1990 (just over twenty-two years ago now) The Berlin Wall had fallen just months before, on November 9, 1989. Rogers created not only a commemorative musical marker for the occasion, but he assembled a musical cavalcade of stars to perform it with him. A live album – which I have – and a video – which I’ve seen but do not have – were released from the performance, both of which are excellent. On the Live in Berlins’ MC of Comfortably Numb, Waters sang lead, Van Morrison sang Gilmour’s vocal parts backed by Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band, with guitar solo by Rick Di Fonzo and Snowy White, and backup by the Rundfunk Orchestra & Choir. This MC is memorable and runs a close second to the one I want to highlight.

In 1999, Waters began a tour with music from his solo career and Pink Floyd material, called, In the Flesh. Both a two-disc album, called, In the Flesh: Live and a DVD were released from it. The material for the DVD was taken from a June 27, 2000 performance at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon, which is the MC performance I want to highlight. From 1999 – 2000, Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White (also one of the two guitarists at the Live in Berlin performance) stood in for Gilmour’s vocals and guitar solos and take the song to new heights, in my opinion. I have the DVD and have watched and listened to it countless times and am thrilled every time. (It was also my introduction to Bramhall’s talent and I’ve been a fan ever since. Thanks, Roger!)

I hope you have enjoyed reading, watching, and listening to this as much as I did putting it together. Thank you, Dave, for the topic to write on.

Sources for supportive documentation:
top image link
The Wall album by Pink Floyd
The Wall: Live in Berlin
Roger Waters In the Flesh Tour
In the Flesh: Live album and DVD
The Wall Live Tour
Comfortably Numb

This was first published on Dave’s blog, A Sound Day.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. What do you think of Nina Simone’s cover ish version of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’, which was more like a largely re written, in her own way, kind of a version of it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. msjadeli says:

      I haven’t heard it and couldn’t find it on youtube. If you give me a link I’ll take a listen.

      Like

        1. msjadeli says:

          Oh I saw that out there and it didn’t seem like a Beatles cover; however this time I listened all the way through and see a nod with the chorus and theme. This is a great song and performed well by Nina and the band. Thanks for sharing, Larry!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You’re welcome . She was a big name in her day. It is such an interesting paraphrase

            Liked by 1 person

            1. msjadeli says:

              Just wondering if she gave The Fab 4 any writing credits?

              Like

              1. It was credited to songwriter (s) Nina Simone, Weldon Irvine

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Great take on the topic! In fact, when I was writing my contribution, I thought of something similar: Eric Clapton’s excellent unplugged version of “Layla” – in fact, I would call it a remake.

    But frankly, with Mr. Clapton spreading dangerous messages about COVID and vaccines, I have a hard time covering him these days, so I passed!

    Coming back to “Comfortably Numb,” it’s perhaps my favorite tune off “The Wall.” This song has one of the most epic guitar solos I can think. Doyle Bramhall does an excellent job with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I LOVE that version of Layla!!!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. msjadeli says:

      Christian I love your comment, thank you so much. Clapton is no angel, but he’s done a lot for the music world so I am not writing him off. I am geeked to hear your thoughts on Bramhall. It’s not just the guitar, his singing does it justice as well. I remember the first time I saw that performance and saw the grin on Waters’ face, I knew he was pleased to recreate that iconic tune *without* the rest of the band.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting take on the topic, but one I also thought about. Colin Hay of Men at Work did a solo album with reimagined versions of the Men at Work hits and they are excellent!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Sounds like one to check out. I think it enhances the musical experience of the original when artists do that. I know that Pearl Jam is known for endless “sanctioned bootlegs” of their live performances and I love how they feel new each time when they do it. They are also known for covering some pretty iconic tunes.

      Like

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