Story of the song: Scissor Sisters, Comfortably Numb, 2004

Robert Webb
Friday 15 October 2010 00:00
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"I've been singing it for the latter half of my life," said Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears of the 1979 Pink Floyd classic, "Comfortably Numb".

Shears recorded his falsetto tribute with Scissor Sisters in 2003, turning it into a huge chart hit the following year, much to the annoyance of most Floyd fans. They weren't the first to take Pink Floyd to the discotheque, however. Thirty years earlier, Discoballs, by Rosebud, a studio group comprising French off-duty prog-rockers, provided a novel approach to the Floyd back catalogue, all at a 4/4 beat. In 1977, the year Discoballs rolled across European dance-floors, Pink Floyd's bassist, Roger Waters, fell ill before a gig in Philadelphia. A doctor diagnosed possible food poisoning. "He wasn't listening to me," Waters told Rolling Stone. "I discovered later that I had hepatitis."

A tranquilizer was administered and Waters persuaded to go on stage. "Boy, that was the longest two hours of my life," he said. After the injection, Waters could barely move his limbs. "God knows what he gave me, but it was some very heavy muscle relaxant." Waters scribbled some lines based on his experience. Terrifying and claustrophobic, "Comfortably Numb" confirmed Waters as one of the best lyricists of the period. His words suited a remnant melody which Pink Floyd's guitarist, David Gilmour, had left over from the recording of his first solo album. But in the studio the pair couldn't agree on which direction to take "Comfortably Numb". Gilmour wanted heavy rock 'n' roll. Waters argued for a slower, orchestral arrangement. "We argued over 'Comfortably Numb' like mad," said Gilmour.

Eventually they opted for a quiet opening and used Gilmour's blistering, iconic solos to end the song. It was a staple of Pink Floyd concerts, closing their appearance at Live8 in 2005, and has also been performed by both Waters and Gilmour separately – and perhaps more surprisingly by Van Morrison, for the 1990 Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Departed. There have been country and chillout versions and string quartet and reggae interpretations. Gilmour applauded the Scissor Sisters' cover, although a recent planned duet between him and Shears at New York's Radio City Music Hall was called off at the eleventh hour. "I'm emotionally fragile and weeping," said Shears at the cancellation. "I was over the moon because I can sing the hell out of that song."

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