Brick by Brick

Editor's Note

About Spare Bricks


Read Guestbook

Sign Guestbook

Front Cover

Under Construction, Part Three

Funeral march of the marionettes

Our ongoing song-by-song examination of Under Construction explores the other side.

Rating system

As we progress through the songs, I will rate the development of the music, lyrics and take a stab at guessing from which period the recording originates. Roger's acoustic recordings will be labeled with 1 asterisk (*); the early studio work will be labeled with 2 and the later studio work will be labeled with 3.

1 = Very early development; rough or unlistenable
2 = Rough, but developed
3 = Close to finished version
4 = Identical to the finished version

1 = No lyrics
2 = Early development; different or sketchy sounding
3 = Polished lyrics, but different from finished version
4 = Close or identical to the finished version

Despite containing some of the most enticing tidbits on the entire album, the third quarter of Under Construction is the least pleasant part to sit through. Not only does it sound like the least developed portion overall, but the two most powerful elements of side three of The Wall are absent. Both "Hey You" and "Nobody Home" are presently not present.

Listening to this segment of Under Construction repeatedly for this kind of writing project actually got to be tiresome, if not a bit painful. When Roger queries us at the end of "Comfortably Numb" to "show me where it hurts," I want to point to this section of the album.

"Hey You" makes an appearance on Under Construction in the position it was said to have occupied early on -- after "Comfortably Numb." This is consistent with recounts of The Wall's recording process. Recall that Roger made the last-minute decision to move "Hey You" to the start of side three.

The aptly named "Nobody Home" on the other hand is nowhere to be found. I've always had a pet theory that some of the lines in "Nobody Home" were about Rick Wright. Roger has stated that the song refers to people he knew, but he never named names. The line "I've got a grand piano to prop up my mortal remains" (among others) struck me as a particularly vicious swipe at his ex-band mate. Given that the song was apparently composed late in the recording process when Wright had been thrown out of Pink Floyd, it gives that theory slightly more weight.

So the two best parts are missing, and on top of that, "side three" of Under Construction contains the weakest material. There are two outtakes--two runts of this prodigious litter--that never survived the early creative process. But then, they sound like outtakes. The novelty of hearing unreleased Floyd material wears thin with surprising speed. Despite being fascinating to the diehard Floyd fanatic and giving a rare glimpse into some of the Floyd's secretive studio moments, both songs prove to be undercooked and uninspired ideas that were probably best left on the cutting room floor.

Finally, there's the undisputed gem of The Wall--"Comfortably Numb." On Under Construction we hear an early version of the song that is quite pleasant. The arrangement is largely in place (although the orchestration is absent) and the melodies and guitar solos add just the right touch.


Well, until you hear the lyrics.

Wall in Progress (alternate title) cover art

I know many Floyd fans will disagree, but I think much of the lyrics on this early version of "Comfortably Numb" are amongst the worst Roger has ever penned. Ineffective and awkward sounding, the lyrics race dizzyingly from laughable to puzzling in their attempt to tell some vague story line. The story can barely be discerned and leaves the listener asking too many questions. (Who are these neighbors? What's with the shotgun? Why is the doctor encouraging him to go see some shows? What drugs do I have to take to get this stuff?)

I give nothing but absolute credit to Roger that he apparently recognized this fact and reworked this drivel into the moving lyrics that we hear on the final album. Thank goodness for revisions! I can't imagine that puerile "like a magician" line on the final version of "Comfortably Numb."

Is There Anybody Out There? (Part 1) | music: 2 / lyrics: - / **


Under Construction cover art

With the exception of the missing vocal intro, this piece is essentially what we hear on the album, albeit with sparser accompaniment than what is heard on the final version. It sounds like it's from an early recording session. Rudimentary and somewhat annoying synth notes stand in here for the beautiful orchestration we would expect to hear. If this synth is indeed an example of some of the "work" Rick Wright was producing during the early recording sessions, one can almost sympathize with Roger's desire to oust the keyboard player from the sessions.

The guitar parts sound like the recordings we hear on the final album, minus overdubs (and by that, I mean that the arrangement is the same, but this sounds like a different recording to me.)

Vera | music: 2 / lyrics: 4 / *

    Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?
    Remember how she said that
    We would meet again
    Some sunny day?
    Vera! Vera!
    What has become of you?
    Does anybody else in here
    Feel the way I do?

"Vera" sounds like it's possibly from Roger's early recording with a few instruments overdubbed in the studio. The acoustic guitars are slightly out of tune--most noticeably during the middle section between verses. This middle section sounds very early in development and dangerously close to falling apart. It's played much more loosely than we're accustomed to hearing from Pink Floyd on record. It's either suffering from being underdeveloped or the playing simply isn't confident enough at this stage. The same can be said of the meandering outro of the song.

During the outro, we get a sense of deja vu. We hear a familiar tinkling glass sounds as heard at the intro of the album version of "Is There Anybody Out There?" If you're familiar with the The Wall then hearing the tinkling sound is a wonderful moment of recognition. You are rudely shot out of that moment by a hard edit into the next track. (However, let's hold on to that wonderful moment. We'll meet up with it again some sunny day... or two tracks later.)

Bring The Boys Back Home | music: 2 / lyrics: 4 / *

    Bring the boys back home
    (spoken, as if imitating drums: "Choo-chika-choo-do!")
    Bring the boys back home
    Don't leave the children on their own (oh... own) no more
    Bring the boys back home!

As noted, we enter this song on a hard edit. This track hasn't yet reached the grandiose scale for which it is destined. Heavily phasing guitar chords take over for the orchestra and Roger's multitracked vocals for the choir.

Again, as in tracks from sides 1 and 2, we hear dueling Rogers at the end of "Don't leave..." line. One voices sings "Don't leave the children on their own... oh... own" while the other sings "...their own no more."

The most curious item of note here is the puzzling addition of the "choo-chika-choo!" sounds. It sounds like Roger, and it sounds like he's imitating some musical addition that he can hear in his own head but hasn't yet committed to tape with the actual instrument. (Again, this backs up my previous statements that this simply isn't a demo tape, but an internal working rough version of the album. Imagine the band presenting this tape to some studio executive and asking them to mentally transform Roger's "choo-chika" into some given instrument!) My best guess is that he's vocalizing what should have been drums, but we will never know for sure. Nothing like those noises appears on The Wall's version of this song. What it was supposed to have been is lost to time and the creative process.

By the end of the song, Roger's voice sounds strained and out of tune. Given that these qualities are evident in the final version as well, it's hard to say if it was intentional.

As the song ends, it fades into a synth note being held and those familiar tinkling sounds again.

Is There Anybody Out There? (Part 2) | music: - / lyrics: - / **

    Is there anybody out there?
    Is there anybody out there?
    Is there anybody out there on your own
    Naked by the telephone ("Cha! Cha!")
    Casually leaning on the wall
    To stop you falling
    Waiting for the call

    Or the footsteps in the hall
    The knock on the door
    Cannot stem the sensation
    Of seemingly endless free fall

This is the first of two outtakes and, like "Bring the Boys Back Home," it contains more vocalizing in place of instrumentation. The curious "cha! cha!" sounds (similar to those in "Vera") that Roger makes near the opening hint at some instrumentation idea that never made the final version.

The song begins like the album version of "Is There Anybody Out There?" with the repeated vocal line "Is there anybody out there?" and leads into a mid-tempo guitar rhythm and bass, neither of which sound developed at this stage. They act as musical glue to hold the piece together and do little more than that.

The way this song opens with the familiar tinkling sounds leads me to believe that we're staring at evidence of a change in running order. It sounds to me like "Vera" and "Is There Anybody Out There? (Part 2)" we're originally supposed to have run together. The ending of the former and the intro of the latter dovetailing perfectly, fitting together neatly like puzzle pieces.

This outtake was cannibalized later for other projects. In it, we can hear what would become the layered vocal intro to "Is There Anybody Out There?" on The Wall. We hear lyrics that sound like they may have been later incorporated into other songs. "Naked by the telephone" shows up in "Hey You." A permutation of the phrase "Casually leaning on the wall" shows up in "Paranoid Eyes" on The Final Cut. We hear echoes of "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" in the arrangement and the vocal melody. The piece may never have fully made it on to the final version of The Wall, but it wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that it never saw the light of day.

Is There Anybody Out There? (Part 3) | music: - / lyrics: - / **

    Oooh, ahhh
    Is there anyone out there?
    Is there anyone out there?
    Is there anyone out there?
    Oooh, ahhh
    Is there anyone out there?
    Is there anyone out there?
    Is there anyone out there?
    Do you sometimes get lonely at night?
    Oooh... are you out there tonight?
    Is there anyone out there?
    Is there anyone out there?
    Is there anyone out there?

The famous theme for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series was called "Funeral March of the Marionettes," composed by Charles Gounod. It shares, oddly enough, some musical qualities with "Is There Anybody Out There (Part 3)," the second of the two outtakes on Under Construction. A somewhat off-kilter, but morbid sounding keyboard piece, one can't help but conjure images of cartoon funeral processions. The minor-key synth part leads the way through this piece with its carnival-on-drugs cadence.

Eventually Roger's voice drifts into the mix, in a trademark Floydian style: a falsetto drenched in reverb chant that we've heard before, primarily in live performances in the late 60s and early 70s. It is used to great effect here in creating a desolate, lonely, almost yearning sound. Although the song is a throwaway, earning its place as an outtake with an uninspired performance and lackluster material, I almost wish this haunting vocal effect had been salvaged from the wreckage and used elsewhere.

Apart from that, it contributes little to the concept of the final album. It's worth one or two listens, but beyond that, proves to be of little consequence in the grand scheme of it all.

Comfortably Numb | music: 3 / lyrics: 2 / **

    Is there anybody in there?
    Is anybody bleeding?
    Is there anyone at home?
    Come on...
    I know you're hiding
    I could hear you screaming when your neighbors
    Called me on the phone

    I am a physician
    And I can handle your condition
    Like a magician
    If you show me where it hurts

    (spoken, sounds like Roger in the studio: "Leave it alone.")

    There is no pain
    You are receding
    A distant ship
    Smoke on the horizon
    You are only coming through in waves
    Your lips move but I can't hear you're saying
    When I was a child I had a fever
    My hands felt just like two balloons
    Now I've got that feeling once again
    I can't explain, you would not understand
    This is not how I am
    I have become comfortably numb

    (guitar solo)

    I have become comfortably numb

    Wake up (light up)...
    Pull yourself together
    Get out and meet new people
    I'm sure they'll understand
    Come on...
    Put away the shotgun
    Yeah, have another blue one
    Have your fingertips gone numb?
    Goodbye, goodbye
    Try and see the bright side
    Listen to some punk groups
    Rock and roll
    Go out and see some shows

    (guitar solo)

    Go out and see some shows
    Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!
    Bye! (Put up?) Bye!

I must confess that when I first heard this version of "Comfortably Numb" I was convinced it was a hoax. Not because of the instrumentation, which at this point is well developed and taking shape, but because of the low quality of the lyrics. Admittedly, the lyrics are not bad per se but when held up to Roger Waters' high standards, they simply don't cut it (Sap like "Get out an meet new people" or "Try and see the bright side" might sound good on a Hallmark greeting card but this is Pink Floyd for fuck's sake!)

The unused lyrics from the verses run the gamut from unintentionally funny to utterly perplexing. It doesn't help that Roger delivers some of the lines in an oddball singsong style that underscores this fact ("I am a physician... and I can handle your condition... like a magician....") The lyrics for the chorus are present and are mostly in the form we hear in the final version, but sandwiched rudely between the less-inspired verses, they lose much of their potency.

Getting around the sore thumb of the lyrics, we witness a song that has flowered beautifully. Whereas Gilmour sounds largely absent or mired in the rest of this section of the album, here he is set free and plays. The middle guitar solo is largely what we hear on The Wall. The layered guitars, including the dreamy slide effects, of the verses and chorus are present. On top of that, Gilmour already has his teeth firmly sunk into the outro solo and many of the licks we hear on this version foreshadow the stunning work to come.

Except for the absence of the second chorus and the orchestra, the song is basically finished. Despite that, I think this recording is a different one from the final version. Nothing here sounds quite the same so I suspect what we hear on The Wall is another take.

A few interesting studio artifacts can be heard on this take. Listen carefully after the line "show me where it hurts" and you'll hear what sounds like Roger speaking to someone in the studio. It sounds like he's saying "Leave it alone" although I'm not sure exactly. Also, the line "wake up" that starts the verses after the first guitar solo echoes, but the echoes sound like "light up." This is perhaps another instance of dueling Rogers, where two alternate vocal takes are left in the mix. Who knows? (This is curious to me for personal reasons. I once spent an evening with some old friends repeatedly listening to the "okay" line in "Comfortably Numb" trying to determine if the echoes morphed into the word "cocaine." It's strange that the early recordings have the echo in that place morphing into an apparent drug reference.)

That's it for part three of this series. I hope you've enjoyed it so far and that you will join me for the final part in the next issue.

Rick Karhu is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.