Comfortably Numbs

by John Holbo on July 3, 2010

A year ago I said I liked The Bad Plus’ cover of “Comfortably Numb”. Most everyone else seemed to hate it. So let’s get comparative. I just found out about Scissor Sisters’ cover of “Comfortably Numb”, which I also think is pretty great. I expect most everyone else will hate it. But the question is: which do you hate more? The Bad Plus version or the Scissor Sisters version? (Obviously, since I like them both, I can’t vote.)

UPDATE: The Scissor Sisters’ version is blocked in the US. Try this, per comments.



Gofr 07.03.10 at 3:19 pm

The Scissor Sisters vid is blocked in the U.S. – try this one:

I hate it more.


Luther Blissett 07.03.10 at 3:27 pm

Some songs cannot transcend their origins. “Comfortably Numb” is such a song. It sucks no matter who performs it. But The Scissor Sisters’ version sucks the least.


ben w 07.03.10 at 3:44 pm

Oh, here is my argument that none of Four Quartets, The Nightwatch, or the Pastoral are masterpieces:

None was produced by a journeyman attempting to become recognized as a master.

I hope ejh finds this satisfactory and I apologize for the delay.


Doctor Memory 07.03.10 at 3:52 pm

Luther: actually, I’d argue that the problem with the original version isn’t that it sucks on its own as that it’s inextricably bound up with the moment that Roger Waters’ ego finally wanked itself past the speed of light in “The Wall.” If “Comfortably Numb” had been on any other album (say, somewhere in the middle of side two of “Dark Side of the Moon”, where it would have fit unobtrusively), we’d remember it fondly if fuzzily as one of Dave Gilmour’s better songs. Faint praise and all that, but there you go.

Oh, and to answer the question: the Bad Plus version, all the way. I like the Sisters possibly more than is healthy, but their version always struck me as a little self-congratulatorily clever.


John S. Wilkins 07.03.10 at 4:09 pm

The Scissor Sisters version sucks badly; they could have been singing anything. The Bad Plus’ version struck me as a decent attempt if only the piano glissandos were in time. I also liked Van Morrison’s version.


sg 07.03.10 at 4:11 pm

The van morrison version. There should be laws against touching this song if you’re underqualified, and a man like van Morrison is clearly underqualified. And at the Berlin wall concert, no less… compare with Sinead O’connor’s version of Mother…


misterxroboto 07.03.10 at 4:20 pm

bad plus. scissor sisters turned it into a completely different song. bad plus took out the reason to like the song (best screaming guitar solo ever).


Ahistoricality 07.03.10 at 4:27 pm

Of those two, the Scissor Sisters is clearly better. Clearly? First, covers should almost never be noticably longer than the originals, unless there’s new content there: just slowing down doesn’t constitute an interesting artistic transformation. Second, the Bad Plus version is not just about drugs, but sounds drugged, which is not pleasant or successful: there are words lost, no narrative thread, etc. A good jazz version of the song could be interesting — especially given the history of drugs in jazz — but that’s not even close.


a.y.mous 07.03.10 at 4:34 pm

… …AND

this is proof why crooked timber makes no straight man. Man…. so not reality oriented! I am comfortably numb. Know why? ‘Cause I am! That’s why! It is not what goes into your nose or your ears or what comes out of the other two that makes you comfortably numb. It is what you feel, man. What you feel! FEEL! FEEL! FEEL!

Or don’t feel. Numb. Numb. Numb. Is that feel or no feel. I don’t know man. All I know is I am comfortably numb. Ask her. She says I am so numb, even she can’t feel what I don’t feel. Numb, man, numb. Thumbs up, man. Thumbs. Fuck all rules man. Fuck all rules of thumb. Academia is where the stuff is at, man! Screw heuristics! Hell! Why screw her sticks? Just screw her, man. Bliss! Love! Light! Oh! fuck! Bricks and walls! Where did that shit come from. Oh!, yeah, van Morrison.


ben w 07.03.10 at 5:20 pm

just slowing down doesn’t constitute an interesting artistic transformation.

It can. There are different performances (all, admittedly, by Gnarls Barkley) of “Crazy” at different speeds and it makes a real difference to the feel of the song.


Lee A. Arnold 07.03.10 at 5:36 pm

How about lyrics that are like “Comfortably Numb”?

“But you could make those people sweat like never before

You’d heat their souls with your golden heart

“And we will wear our swimming-suits under the tree
You’ll heat our souls with your golden heart

“Sing us the song that your mother sang to make you sleep
Save our souls with your golden heart”

—from “Christmas in Adventure Parks”

by Get Well Soon, an astonishing new artist who is unknown in the U.S. A representative sample from two albums:

“Seneca’s Silence”

“Listen! Those Lost at Sea Sing a Song on Christmas Day”

“We Are Free”

“Voice in the Louvre”


tomslee 07.03.10 at 5:38 pm

Scissor Sisters link:
“This video contains content from Vevo, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.” Thanks Google.


Ahistoricality 07.03.10 at 6:19 pm

ben w.: It can.

Hence, the “just.”


Ahistoricality 07.03.10 at 6:23 pm

Sorry, that didn’t come out right: I don’t know the “Crazy” versions you’re talking about, but presumably there’s something more about the presentation that changes with the speed. There are broad exceptions, I suppose, in instrumental music (our “Ravel’s Greatest Hit” CD contains full versions of “Bolero” ranging from, I think, 9 to 14 minutes in length; in addition to the altered orchestration, instrumentation etc,. versions), but rarely is simply slowing down going to represent a significant artistic move.


Ginger Yellow 07.03.10 at 7:29 pm

I love the Scissors Sisters version. But then, I don’t really know the original. Still, it achieves the number one goal of a cover, which is to succed on its own merits.


bigcitylib 07.03.10 at 7:33 pm

This is stupid. The real question is: is the Cardigans’ version of Iron Man better than Black Sabbaths’?

Or, more generally, is Dread Zeppelin better than Led Zeppelin? The truth will rock your world.


ejh 07.03.10 at 8:44 pm

actually, I’d argue that the problem with the original version isn’t that it sucks on its own as that it’s inextricably bound up with the moment that Roger Waters’ ego finally wanked itself past the speed of light in The Wall.

Maybe, but Nobody Home is a pretty good song. Comfortably Numb, of course, is not.


etbnc 07.03.10 at 9:46 pm

Well, I just remembered I have the Bad Plus (mp3) album which includes Comfortably Numb, but it’s not one of the songs I like. Some of their rearrangements work for me, some don’t. I appreciate their artistic intent, though.

Although I don’t like the Scissors Sister version enough to want to listen to all of it, the sample excerpt I found on Amazon did elicit a brief smile.


vivian 07.04.10 at 12:55 am

tomslee@9: a quick search on youtube brings up a bunch of copies, this one is audio only (so we can type and listen, how efficient).


DaveMB 07.04.10 at 1:16 am

Dar Williams also covers Comfortably Numb on her album My Better Half.


Josh 07.04.10 at 6:19 am

Dave, it’s Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco on My Better Self. She was really worried that it’d be overshadowed by Scissor Sisters, as I understand it.


Nate 07.04.10 at 9:02 am

It is simply unfathomable to me that anyone could dislike the original Comfortably Numb. It is hands down the best guitar solo ever to appear in a mainstream rock song. But to answer the question, the Bad Plus version is the lesser cover. Not as bad as the Bad Plus doing Sabbath, but bad.


PHB 07.04.10 at 1:30 pm

Both covers were dreadful. The musicians could not play and the ‘signers’ were terrible.

Rather ironic that the crap version is blocked while the original is not.

It is a virtuoso piece, you have to be damn good to play it. These covers were not good, they were barely passable.


PHB 07.04.10 at 1:32 pm

Opps sorry, the musicians are barely passable. Their covers were not passable. They were total crap.


JP Stormcrow 07.04.10 at 3:13 pm

Here is the Dar Williams – Ani DiFranco cover. My personal ranking would be Williams/Scissor Sisters/Bad Plus. I think all were at least legitimate attempts at re-imagining the song. Decrying the lack of guitar solo seems rather silly*, plenty of places to get that fix if you need it.


Doug M. 07.05.10 at 9:12 am

There are reasons to like the original besides “oh cool guitar solo”. The lyrics are several cuts above your average pop song, and include at least two strong and engaging images. “When I was a child I had a fever/my hands felt like two balloons” manages to be both evocative and novel — it’s striking even today, and would have been that much more so in 1979.

It’s been _de rigeur_ to harsh on Roger Waters for the last 30 years or so — make that 35 if you’re hardcore Floydist — but if we’re keeping ourselves within the limits of this single track, there’s not that much evidence for the prosecution beyond “well, that last verse gets pretty bathetic dunnit?”

Random bit of Floyd trivia: they originally wanted to have the Beach Boys singing backup on “Waiting for the Worms”. It almost happened; apparently Waters had some sort of last-minute hissy that caused it to be cancelled.

OTOH, there’s also an alternate universe where Floyd decided to produce “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” as their Big Concept Album, trading most of “The Wall” to Waters for solo use in return. Yes, apparently this was seriously considered. And while I think PACOH is a somewhat unfairly maligned album, still I think we can all agree that we got the better of the deal on that one.

Doug M.


Steve 07.05.10 at 9:52 am

Without the guitar solo, the song is pointless to me! The first part of it functions to prepare you for the pure unrestrained pleasure of the solo. It’s very good for what it is, but it represents only a small fraction of the enjoyment I get from the song. Dream Theater & Queensryche do it right. Revolutionary? Not at all, but it sounds good.


Chris Williams 07.05.10 at 10:52 am

Merely slowing it down might not be big, clever or funny, but Snuff managed to entertain a lot of people by proving that speeding up by a silly amount is all three. Esp “I think we’re alone now”.


ejh 07.05.10 at 11:11 am

The first part of it functions to prepare you for the pure unrestrained pleasure of the solo.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we had punk rock. Thank God.


sg 07.05.10 at 11:22 am

Ah Queensryche, how we do love you! Thank you Steve. For me though, there’s no better version than when David Gilmour sings it.

I didn’t watch the movie of The Wall until I was an adult, but it did capture very well for me the feeling of going to school and growing up in 70s/80s England – I was surprised at all the horrid memories that came bubbling up through it. The only other music that captures it as well for me is Living with the Big Lie by Marillion. “Learning to keep your head down when they’re choosing the sides” says everything you need to know about rural schools in the UK back in the late 70s/early 80s.


polyorchnid octopunch 07.06.10 at 9:00 pm

Wow, I can’t believe you’re talking about this without looking at Luther Wright and the Wrong’s cover of this song from their complete cover of the entire album. Here’s Comfortably Numb on youtube:

I will say I’m biased, though… these guys are local to me and I’ve played with at least half of this band at various times.


Salient 07.07.10 at 12:20 am

Did you all happen to know how exceptionally popular the original song is in Poland?

Nearly 17 million views worldwide, the video takes youtube Honors awards for Most Favorited, Most Viewed, Most Discussed, and Top Rated (each in Poland) — it’s actually the #1 most viewed video there, as well as the #1 most favorited.

This just seems like the sort of thing that people who like to know things would like to know.


Edoc 07.07.10 at 12:50 am

I can’t believe nobody mentioned The Bad Plus version of “Tom Sawyer”.


mario 07.07.10 at 11:02 pm

I guess this thread is over, but I thought the folks here were sophisticated.

Wotta bunch o’ cretins.

And dude, the piano arpeggios (not glissandos) are SUPPOSED to be off. You try playing it that way.



NomadUK 07.10.10 at 9:48 am

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we had punk rock. Thank God.

Oh, is that why we had it? I knew there had to be an excuse for it somewhere…

Wotta bunch o’ cretins.



The Fool 07.14.10 at 8:02 pm

Yeah, they both blow. And I even kinda like the Scissor Sisters but, as an empirical matter, disco Floyd — as awesomely fabulous as it may sound — just doesn’t really work. And the first one is far too slow to be a good anything.


The Fool 07.14.10 at 8:09 pm

BTW: the reason we had punk rock?

Some people looked at the successful rock musicians who made it big in the 60’s and early 70’s and felt incredibly envious. They wanted what the classic rockers had sooooo bad! And they wanted it now! No time to learn how to play instruments or discover if you had any song writing talent. Just DIY right now!

Oh yeah and lots of really rad fashion, fashion, fashion. Punk rock is fashionable performance art masquerading as something more significant. And lots of people are still dumb enough to defend it. Far fewer, though, are still dumb enough to actually listen to it any more.


Substance McGravitas 07.14.10 at 8:38 pm

Witness The Fool’s full classic-rock troll performance here:


The Fool 07.14.10 at 9:38 pm

Who’s the troll?


The Fool 07.14.10 at 9:51 pm

I just reread part of it, McGrabass, and my comments stand up quite well. I argued a reasoned and reasonable position, while you and your cretinous allies mainly flung a bunch of poo and assumed that you were obviously right.


The Fool 07.14.10 at 10:21 pm

And you know there’s nothing more confused than a relativist who thinks he’s obviously right.


Substance McGravitas 07.15.10 at 4:23 am

That’s excellent work. Hey, if you and the Troll of Sorrow have ever had an argument I’d be interested in a link.


J Neo Marvin 07.15.10 at 11:38 pm

Random bit of Floyd trivia: they originally wanted to have the Beach Boys singing backup on “Waiting for the Worms”. It almost happened; apparently Waters had some sort of last-minute hissy that caused it to be cancelled.

The closest they got was to have Bruce Johnston among the fake Beach Boys on “The Show Must Go On”, which, as fake Beach Boys go, wasn’t bad.

I am surprised that The Fool shows up here to defend the honor of Pink Floyd, considering that closet punk rocker Roger Waters with his penchant for one-note bass solos.

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