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“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. In 2004, it was ranked number 314 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. 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 on the 2012 Wall “Immersion Box Set”.
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. 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.
The chorus of “Comfortably Numb” was written by guitarist David Gilmour, who recorded 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.”
The verse and lyrics were written by bassist Roger Waters. 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. “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”.
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”.
Waters and Gilmour disagreed about how to record the song; Gilmour preferred a more grungy style for the verses. Gilmour said: “We argued over ‘Comfortably Numb’ like mad. Really had a big fight, went on for ages.” In the end, Waters’ preferred opening and Gilmour’s final solo were used.
To write the two guitar solos, Gilmour pieced together elements from several other solos he had been working on, marking his preferred segments for the final take. Gilmour used a Big Muff distortion and delay effects on the solos.
Roger Waters – lead vocals (verses), bass guitar
David Gilmour – lead and harmony vocals (chorus), acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, bass guitar, Prophet-5 synthesiser.
Nick Mason – drums
Richard Wright – organ
Michael Kamen – orchestral arrangements
Lee Ritenour – acoustic guitar