Comfortably Numb

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"Comfortably Numb"
Pink-Floyd-Comfortably-Numb-single.jpg
The artwork for the Japanese release
Single by Pink Floyd
from the album The Wall
B-side "Hey You"
Released 23 June 1980[1][2]
Format 7"
Recorded April–November 1979
Genre
Length 6:23 (album version)
3:59 (single edit)
Label Harvest (UK)
Columbia (US)
Songwriter(s) David Gilmour, Roger Waters
Producer(s) Bob Ezrin, David Gilmour, James Guthrie and Roger Waters
Pink Floyd singles chronology
"Run Like Hell"
(1980)
"Comfortably Numb"
(1980)
"When the Tigers Broke Free"
(1982)

"Comfortably Numb" is a song by the English rock band Pink Floyd, released on their eleventh album, The Wall (1979). It was released as a single in 1980 with "Hey You" as the B-side. The chorus progression and guitar solos were written by guitarist David Gilmour, while the lyrics and verse progression were written by bassist Roger Waters.

"Comfortably Numb" is one of Pink Floyd's most famous songs, renowned for its two guitar solos.[3] In 2004, it was ranked number 314 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[4] In 2005, it became the last song ever to be performed by Waters, Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason together. An early version of the song was included under the working title on the "Immersion Box Set" of The Wall, released in 2012.

Composition[edit]

The Wall is a concept album about Pink, an embittered and alienated rock star. In "Comfortably Numb", Pink is medicated by a doctor so he can perform for a show.

The verses are composed in the key of B minor, while the chorus is in that key's relative major, D major.[citation needed] The song, together with "Mother", is one of two tracks on The Wall which are free-standing and do not fade into or out of an adjacent track. It is also the longest song on the album at 6:21, followed by "Mother", which is 5:32.

Writing[edit]

An afterthought from Gilmour's first solo album, the music first existed as a wordless demo. According to Gilmour, "I never get to the 'I have become comfortably numb' bit, because Roger said he wanted to put that line in as a lyric, and I had to write the extra bit there and then."[5]

The lyrics were inspired by Waters's experience of being injected with tranquilizers for stomach cramps before a Pink Floyd show in Philadelphia on the 1977 In the Flesh tour.[6][7] "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 had the working title "The Doctor".[8]

Waters and Gilmour disagreed about how to record the song; Gilmour preferred a more grungy style for the verses. Gilmour would later say, "We argued over 'Comfortably Numb' like mad. Really had a big fight, went on for ages."[9] In the end, Waters' preferred opening to the song and Gilmour's final solo were used on the album.

For the chorus, Gilmour and session player Lee Ritenour used a pair of acoustic guitars strung similarly to Nashville tuning, but with the low E string replaced with a high E string, two octaves higher than standard tuning. This tuning was also used for the arpeggios in "Hey You".[10]

Guitar solos[edit]

"Comfortably Numb" features two guitar solos by Gilmour. The first bridges the first chorus and second verse, and is played over the prechorus structure. The longer outro solo is played over the verse structure. The solo was pieced together from several other solos that Gilmour was experimenting with at the time; this was accomplished by recording several solos and marking his preferred segments for the perfect final take.[11] Gilmour used a Big Muff distortion and delay effects on the solos.[12]

Pink Floyd technician Phil Taylor, said:

It really is just his fingers, his vibrato, his choice of notes and how he sets his effects. I find it extraordinary when people think they can copy his sound by duplicating his gear. In reality, no matter how well you duplicate the equipment, you will never be able to duplicate the personality.[13]

Live performances[edit]

Pink Floyd[edit]

During the 1980/81 The Wall tour, where a giant wall was constructed across the stage during the performance, the song was performed with Roger Waters dressed as a doctor at the bottom of the wall, and David Gilmour singing and playing guitar from the top of the wall on a raised platform with spotlights shining from behind him. It was the first time the audience's attention was drawn to the top of the completed wall. According to David Gilmour, the final solo was one of the few opportunities during those concerts that he was free to improvise completely. Gilmour said:

It was a fantastic moment, I can tell, to be standing up on there, and Roger's just finished singing his thing, and I'm standing there, waiting. I'm in pitch darkness and no one knows I'm there yet. And Roger's down and he finishes his line, I start mine and the big back spots and everything go on and the audience, they're all looking straight ahead and down, and suddenly there's all this light up there and they all sort of—their heads all lift up and there's this thing up there and the sound's coming out and everything. Every night there's this sort of "[gasp!]" from about 15,000 people. And that's quite something, let me tell you.[14]

After Waters had left the band, Gilmour also revised the verses to his preferred grungier approach during live performances. The verse vocals were arranged for three-part harmonies. In both 1987–88 and 1994, the verses were sung by Richard Wright, Guy Pratt and Jon Carin.

In December 1988, a video of the live performance from Delicate Sound of Thunder reached number 11 on MTV's Top 20 Video Countdown. The video was two minutes shorter than the album version and the video clip had different camera angles from the home video version.

A 10-minute version of "Comfortably Numb" was performed at Earls Court, London on 20 October 1994, as part of The Division Bell tour. The Pulse video release edited out approximately 1:20 minutes of the ending solo, whereas the original pay-per-view video showed the unedited version.

Pink Floyd, complete with Waters, reunited briefly to perform at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London in July 2005. The set consisted of four songs, of which "Comfortably Numb" was the last.

Roger Waters[edit]

After leaving Pink Floyd, Waters first performed "Comfortably Numb" at the 1990 concert staging of The Wall – Live in Berlin on 21 July 1990. The event's purpose was to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Roger 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 version was used in the Academy Award-winning 2006 film The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese. It is also heard in the TV show episode of The Sopranos, titled "Kennedy and Heidi", when Christopher Moltisanti plays The Departed soundtrack on his car stereo before a serious accident. Van Morrison's 2007 compilation album, Van Morrison at the Movies – Soundtrack Hits includes this version.

Waters subsequently performed the song at the "Guitar Legends" festival in Spain in 1991 (with guest vocals by Bruce Hornsby), and at the Walden Woods benefit concert in Los Angeles in 1992 with guest vocals by Don Henley.

During 1999–2000, Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White stood in for Gilmour's vocals and guitar solos; a role carried out by Chester Kamen and White in 2002. In 2006–2007 Gilmour's vocals were performed by Jon Carin and Andy Fairweather-Low with Dave Kilminster and White performing the guitar solos.

During Waters' The Wall Live tour, Robbie Wyckoff sang Gilmour's vocals, and Dave Kilminster performed the guitar solos, both of them atop the wall, as Gilmour had been in the original tour. During the performance of 12 May 2011 at the London O2 Arena, David Gilmour appeared as a guest during this song, and both sang the choruses and played guitar from the top of the wall, echoing the original Earls Court performances.[15] The song contains one of the show's most memorable moments, when, at a specific point of the final guitar solo, Waters steps toward the wall and pounds it with his fists, triggering both an explosion of colours on the previously dark-grey screen projections and a collapsing wall.

Waters performed the song with Eddie Vedder singing Gilmour's vocals at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief.

David Gilmour[edit]

Gilmour has performed the song during each of his solo tours. In his 1984 tour to promote his album About Face, the set list referred to the song as "Come on Big Bum". The vocals during the verses were performed by band members Gregg Dechert and Mickey Feat.

In 2001 and 2002, the verse vocals were performed on different dates by guest singers: Robert Wyatt, Kate Bush, Durga McBroom, and Bob Geldof, who had played Pink in the movie version of The Wall.

On 29 May 2006, at the Royal Albert Hall, David Bowie, in a guest appearance, sang Waters' part of the song. The next day, 30 May, Richard Wright sang Waters' part, by himself, at the same venue. Both performances were immortalised on Gilmour's Remember That Night concert video, compiled from all three of his shows there on 28, 29 and 30 May 2006, which were part of his "On an Island" Tour to promote his new album of the same name.

In 2006, David Gilmour performed the song in a concert, with the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra providing the orchestral parts that had usually been done with backing tapes or multiple synthesizers. This version would be released on Live in Gdańsk.

During a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on 24 April 2016, Gilmour and his band incorporated the final refrain of the Prince song "Purple Rain" into the song as a tribute to the artist, who had died three days earlier.[16]

Personnel[edit]

with:

Reception[edit]

In 2011, the song was ranked 5th in the BBC Radio 4's listeners' Desert Island Discs[18] choices. Gilmour's solo was rated the 4th best guitar solo of all-time by Guitar World magazine, in a reader poll.[11] In August 2006, it was voted the greatest guitar solo of all time in a poll by listeners of digital radio station Planet Rock.[19] Gilmour's guitar tone in the song was named best guitar sound by Guitarist magazine in November 2010.[20] The two guitar solos were ranked as the greatest guitar solos of all time by both Planet Rock listeners and WatchMojo.com.[21][22]

Scissor Sisters version[edit]

"Comfortably Numb"
Single by Scissor Sisters
from the album Scissor Sisters
B-side "Rock My Spot (Crevice Canyon)"
Released 19 January 2004 (2004-01-19)
Format 12" vinyl, CD single
Genre Post-disco[23]
Length 4:25
Label Polydor
Songwriter(s) David Gilmour, Roger Waters
Producer(s) Scissor Sisters
Scissor Sisters singles chronology
"Laura"
(2003)
"Comfortably Numb"
(2004)
"Take Your Mama"
(2004)

The Scissor Sisters recorded a radically re-arranged disco-oriented version released in January 2004 on Polydor, with the B-side "Rock My Spot (Crevice Canyon)". This release reached number 10 in the UK Singles Chart. David Gilmour and Nick Mason expressed a liking for the group's version,[24] and Roger Waters is said to have congratulated the Scissor Sisters on the version, although a lyric was changed, from "a distant ship's smoke on the horizon" to "a distant ship floats on the horizon".[25] Jake Shears, the band's lead singer, was invited by Gilmour to sing "Comfortably Numb" with him in some 2006 shows, but the idea was dropped at the last moment to Shears' public disappointment.[26] This cover received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording, but lost to "Toxic" by Britney Spears.[27]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2004) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[28] 39
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[29] 10
Germany (Official German Charts)[30] 97
Ireland (IRMA)[31] 30
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[32] 84
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[33] 9
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[34] 27
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[35] 10
UK Dance (Official Charts Company)[36] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2004) Position
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[37] 175

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Pink Floyd – "Comfortably Numb"". Pink Floyd Discography. Discogs. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "Pink Floyd The Wall – single releases". Pink Floyd's Timeline. EMI; Facebook. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  3. ^ "50 Greatest Guitar Solos". Guitar World. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Scribd. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Fielder, Hugh: "Sinking the pink"; Classic Rock #48, Christmas 2002, p58
  6. ^ "Rolling Stone: Comfortably Numb". Replay.web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 5 December 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2017. 
  7. ^ Mabbett, Andy (1995). "The Wall". The Complete Guide to the music of Pink Floyd. Omnibus Press. p. 82. ISBN 0-7119-4301-X. 
  8. ^ Marty Yawnick (March 2016). "Finding a Long Version of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb". The Wall Complete. Retrieved 2017-12-11. 
  9. ^ "Interview with Roger Waters". Issue 3. Rock Compact Disc magazine. September 1992. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  10. ^ "David Gilmour Talks About The Wall". YouTube. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "50 Greatest Guitar Solos". guitarworld.com. 
  12. ^ Tolinski, Brad (September 1994). "Welcome to the Machines". Guitar World. Archived from the original on 24 May 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  13. ^ Tolinski, Brad (September 1994). "Welcome to the Machines". Guitar World. Archived from the original on 24 May 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Kendall, Charlie (1984). "Shades of Pink – The Definitive Pink Floyd Profile". The Source Radio Show. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  15. ^ "David Gilmour Joins Roger Waters for Wall at London O2". Roger Waters The Wall Live Tour 2010/2011.com. 12 May 2011. Archived from the original on 24 May 2012. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  16. ^ "Watch David Gilmour Seamlessly Blend 'Comfortably Numb,' 'Purple Rain'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 June 2017. 
  17. ^ Fitch, Vernon; Richard Mahon (28 July 2006). Comfortably Numb-A History of "The Wall" – Pink Floyd 1978–1981. PFA Publishing, Inc. p. 99. ISBN 0-9777366-0-1. 
  18. ^ "Listeners Desert Island Discs". BBC. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  19. ^ "The Greatest Guitar Solos". planetrock.com. 
  20. ^ "Pink Floyd's David Gilmour & Jimi Hendrix Have 'The Best Guitar Sound of All Time'". live4ever.uk.com. 
  21. ^ Neil McCormick. "Everyone wants to be an axeman..." Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  22. ^ "Top 10 Guitar Solos". YouTube. 2013-09-08. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  23. ^ Bodenner, Chris (28 November 2016). "Track of the Day: 'Comfortably Numb' by Scissor Sisters". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 April 2018. 
  24. ^ Endelman, Michael (27 September 2006). "Think 'Pink'". EW.com. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  25. ^ Tom Bishop (2 February 2004). "Scissor Sisters' stab at success". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 8 January 2008. ...Pink Floyd Publishing told us the band was very pleased with our version. Roger Waters wants a picture disc. 
  26. ^ "Scissor Sisters star lashes out at Pink Floyd legend | News". Nme.Com. 8 September 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  27. ^ "47th Grammy® Awards Nominations". DigitalHit. Retrieved 23 March 2018. 
  28. ^ "Ultratop.be – Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  29. ^ "Ultratop.be – Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb" (in French). Ultratip. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  30. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  31. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Comfortably Numb". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  32. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  33. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  34. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  35. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  36. ^ "Official Dance Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  37. ^ "The Official UK Singles Chart 2004" (PDF). UKChartsPlus. Retrieved 27 May 2018. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]