Comfortably Numb might be my favourite song ever. I mean, if push came to shove and I needed to select just one favourite song then Comfortably Numb would be it. Nestled on the end of side three of Pink Floyd’s monster hit album, The Wall, Comfortably Numb is a true highlight in a landmark best-selling (double) LP.
The Wall was released at the very tail end of 1979 – 30th November to be exact – and the album would dominate the album charts in 1980. That year was my first in National Service and The Wall would provide musical solace for my troubled soul that year.
Apart from the role that Comfortably Numb would play in the narrative of The Wall, the song is really two halves ‘uncomfortably’ squeezed into one to produce a masterpiece that is greater than the sum of its parts. One of the last true collaborations between Roger Waters and David Gilmour, Comfortably Numb represented the best of both musicians and their synergy accounted for the massive success of Pink Floyd in the 70s despite the departure of founder Syd Barrett in 1968.
The song began life as a Gilmour instrumental demo to which Waters put his words to. The lyrics find our protagonist Pink at the lowest ebb of his rock star life as he loses his connection to reality and retreats behind The Wall. The themes of loss of innocence and the end of dreams resonate strongly in the imagery.
‘When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone, I have become comfortably numb.’
Gilmour’s two guitar solos have been rightly lauded as one of the best in rock history. The middle solo is dreamy, reflecting Pink’s innocence but the outro solo is angsty and visceral as Pink’s loses his humanity by the song’s end. It’s impossible not to be moved by the intensity of Gilmour’s performance, both in terms of the vocals (for the chorus) and his guitar playing.
Besides Gilmour and Waters (verse vocals and bass), Nick Mason (drums) and Rick Wright (keyboards), Lee Ritenour (acoustic guitar) and Michael Kamen (orchestral arrangements) also provide significant contributions. The song was released as a single (edited for radio) in June, 1980.
An incandescent moment in rock history.
… still there’s more …