Comfortably Numb

Comfortably Numb
"Comfortably Numb"
Song by Pink Floyd from the album The Wall
Released 1979
Recorded April–November 1979
Genre Progressive rock
Length 6:23
Label EMI
Writer David Gilmour, Roger Waters
Producer Bob Ezrin, David Gilmour, James Guthrie and Roger Waters
The Wall track listing
"Bring the Boys Back Home"
(5 of disc 2)
"Comfortably Numb"
(6 of disc 2)
"The Show Must Go On"
(7 of disc 2)
"Comfortably Numb"
Single by Pink Floyd
from the album The Wall
B-side "Hey You"
Released 1979
Format 7"
Recorded April–November 1979
Genre Progressive rock
Length 3:59
Label EMI
Writer(s) David Gilmour, Roger Waters
Producer Bob Ezrin, David Gilmour, James Guthrie and Roger Waters
Pink Floyd singles chronology
"Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)"
"Comfortably Numb"
"Run Like Hell"
"Comfortably Numb"
Song by Van Morrison, Roger Waters with The Band from the album Van Morrison at the Movies – Soundtrack Hits
Released 12 February 2007
Recorded 21 July 1990
Genre Rock
Length 4:41
Label EMI
Writer David Gilmour, Roger Waters
Producer Roger Waters and Nick Griffiths

"Comfortably Numb" (working title "The Doctor")[1] is a song by the English rock band Pink Floyd, which first appears on the 1979 double album, The Wall. It was also released as a single in the same year with "Hey You" as the B-side. It is one of only three songs on the album for which writing credits are shared between Roger Waters and David Gilmour. The melody and most of the music was written by Gilmour while Waters contributed the lyrics and some additional notes.

The song is one of the most famous Pink Floyd songs and renowned especially for its guitar solos.[2][3] In 2004, the song was ranked number 314 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[4] In 2005, it was the last song ever to be performed by Waters, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason together. In 2011, the song was ranked 5th in the BBC Radio 4's listeners' Desert Island Discs[5] choices.



While most songs on The Wall were written by Waters alone, most of the music for "Comfortably Numb" was written by David Gilmour, who originally recorded the instrumental demo during the latter stages of recording his first solo album, hoping to find some later use for it. Gilmour later brought his demo of it to The Wall sessions.


The verses are composed in the key of B minor, while the chorus is in the key of D major. The song is one of two tracks on The Wall which are free-standing and do not fade into or out of an adjacent track. (The other free-standing song is "Mother".) This is because on the original LP there was a hiatus of the music as side 3 of the album finished. This is also the longest song on the album at 6:21, followed by "Mother", which is 5:32.

According to Rolling Stone, the lyrics came from Roger Waters' experience when he was injected with tranquilizers for stomach cramps by a doctor prior to playing a Pink Floyd show in Philadelphia on the band's 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 experience gave him the idea which eventually became the lyrics to this song.

Waters and Gilmour disagreed about how to record the song as Gilmour preferred a more grungy style for the verses. In the end, Waters' preferred opening to the song and Gilmour's final solo were used on the album. Gilmour would later say, "We argued over "Comfortably Numb" like mad. Really had a big fight, went on for ages."[8] For the backing of Gilmour's vocal section, he and session player Lee Ritenour used a pair of high-strung acoustic guitars (i.e. just the treble strings from a 12-string guitar), a tuning also used for the intro to "Hey You").


As with the other songs on The Wall, "Comfortably Numb" tells a segment of the story about Pink, the album's protagonist. This song has to do with Pink's battle to handle the world. The lyrics feature interplay between a doctor treating Pink (verses, sung by Waters) and Pink's thoughts (chorus, sung by Gilmour).

Film version

A large group consisting of Pink's manager (Bob Hoskins), the hotel manager (Michael Ensign), paramedics, and roadies burst into Pink's hotel room to find an unconscious Pink sitting in a chair. The hotel manager does not take kindly to Pink's untidiness, but Pink's manager insists that "he's an artist". After injecting a drug into Pink's arm, the paramedics drag Pink out of the hotel and to his limousine.

He is then transported to a concert where he was scheduled to play. Flashbacks of Pink's childhood are inter-cut into the scene. In the flashback, a young Pink finds a wild rat and shows it to his overprotective mother. Her negative reaction towards the rodent causes Pink to hide the rat in a nearby shed. Pink later catches a fever that keeps him bed-ridden until the next morning. The next day, Pink returns to the shed only to find that the rat has died in his absence, forcing Pink to dump its lifeless body in a nearby river.

During this time, the drug causes Pink to hallucinate that his body is decaying. He sees himself as a child walking in a field in his room and touching his TV, then walking away. It then cuts to a scene where Pink explodes in a rage and tears up his hotel room. Upon being pushed into the limousine, Pink tears off his diseased shell to reveal a Nazi-esque attire.

Guitar solos

This song features two guitar solos by David Gilmour. The chorus guitar solo is in the key of D major, and the long outro solo is in the key of B minor. In 1989, the readers of the Pink Floyd fanzine, The Amazing Pudding, voted this song the best Floyd song of all time. David Gilmour's solo was rated the 4th best guitar solo of all-time by Guitar World magazine, in a reader poll.[9] Also in Guitar World, there were details on David Gilmour's "Comfortably Numb" solo, stating that the solo (most likely the outro solo) was pieced together from several other solos that he had been experimenting with at the time. In August 2006, it was voted the greatest guitar solo of all time in a poll by listeners of digital radio station Planet Rock. In addition, Gilmour's guitar tone in the song was named best guitar sound by Guitarist magazine in November 2010.[10]

'[David Gilmour] is obviously using a couple of effects, like a Big Muff and a delay, but 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.'
—Phil Taylor, Pink Floyd's technician.[11]

Live performances

Pink Floyd

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. According to David Gilmour, the final solo was one of the few opportunities during those concerts that he was free to improvise completely.

'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.'

After Waters had left the band, Gilmour also revised the verses to his preferred grungier approach during live performances. The verse vocals were arranged as sinister, foreboding harmonies, rather than attempt to imitate Waters' voice. In both 1987–88 and 1994, the lyrics 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 The Division Bell tour. The P·U·L·S·E video release edited out approximately 1:14 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.

David Gilmour

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 Dechart and Mickey Feat.

In 2001 and 2002, the verse vocals were performed on different dates by guest singers: Robert Wyatt, Bob Geldof, Kate Bush and Durga McBroom.

On 29 May at the Royal Albert Hall, David Bowie, a special guest on the concert sang Waters' part of the song. Next day, on 30 May, Richard Wright sang Waters' part on the same venue.[citation needed] This performance was also featured on Gilmour's Remember That Night concert video.

In 2006, David Gilmour performed the song on the concert in Gdańsk.

In late 2010 and 2011, Waters toured with a reprise of the full live version of The Wall, which naturally included the song. Prior to the European leg of the tour, Waters announced that Gilmour had agreed to perform the "Comfortably Numb" solo at one show, but did not say which one. This duly happened on 12 May 2011 at the O2 Arena in London.

Roger Waters

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 solos by Rick DiFonzo 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. On 7 July 2008, Morrison began to include this song on the set list of some of his live concert performances for the very first time, reading from a lyrics sheet with Katie Kissoon singing the Roger Waters verses. After singing it at the Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada he remarked, "I hope you liked that. I'm not numb and I'm not comfortable."[13]

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. During the 12 May 2011 performance 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.[14]

Cover versions

An orchestrated version of "Comfortably Numb", arranged by Jaz Coleman, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted by Peter Scholes, appears on the 1995 instrumental album Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd.

Various Pink Floyd tribute albums include this song, including Luther Wright and the Wrongs on Rebuild the Wall (2001), Graham Parker on A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd (2003), Billy Sherwood with Yes members Chris Squire and Alan White on Back Against the Wall (2005); Mostly Autumn with Heather Findlay singing verse, Sarah Slean on Pink Floyd Redux (2006), and Gregorian on Masters of Chant Chapter V (2006).[15] Staind included a live acoustic version on their compilation album The Singles 1996→2006. Bruce Hornsby performs "Comfortably Numb" as part of a medley with his own "Fortunate Son") on the 2005 DVD Three Nights on the Town.

The Scissor Sisters recorded a radically re-arranged disco-oriented version released in January 2004 on Polydor. This release reached number 10 in the UK Singles Chart, becoming the most successful cover of a Pink Floyd song to date in the UK.[citation needed] David Gilmour and Nick Mason expressed a liking for the group's version,[16] 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".[17] 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.[18] This cover received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording, but lost to "Toxic" by Britney Spears.

Dream Theater and Queensryche performed "Comfortably Numb" in a concert in 2003; the solos were shredded by John Petrucci.

In 2005 Dar Williams included a version on her album My Better Self, duetting on the track with Ani DiFranco. "I always thought a woman should record it," Williams explains, "so I decided to do it, but I thought it needed another woman. Ani was my dream choice and she just nailed it," Williams said. "The song is a commentary on who we are in the aftermath of the last election, no matter who you voted for. On one level it is about a dream which seems to have died in our society and the ultra convenient numbing I am witnessing these days."

British rock band The Sisters of Mercy have performed the song live, often in medley with "Some Kind of Stranger" and, although not released officially, this is available on bootleg albums and media sharing sites such as YouTube.

The progressive-metal group, Our Malignant Beloved, recorded a heavy version of "Comfortably Numb". The vocal style of this version blends elements and effects of the studio recording, and the heavily harmonised version of the live Pulse recording.

In 2010 Mojo Magazine featured a 2-part cover CD named The Wall Rebuilt, featuring all the songs from The Wall, each covered by a different artist. Comfortably Numb was duly performed by Ralfe Band.




  1. ^ "Pink Floyd Comfortably Numb". Drumpaper. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  2. ^ "50 Greatest Guitar Solos". Guitar World. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "100 Greatest Rock Guitar Solos". DigitalDreamDoor. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Scribd. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "Listeners Desert Island Discs". BBC. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  6. ^ "Rolling Stone: Comfortably Numb". 
  7. ^ Mabbett, Andy (1995). "The Wall". The Complete Guide to the music of Pink Floyd. Omnibus Press. p. 82. ISBN 071194301X. 
  8. ^ "Interview with Roger Waters". Issue 3. Rock Compact Disc magazine. September 1992. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  9. ^ "50 Greatest Guitar Solos". 
  10. ^ "Pink Floyd's David Gilmour & Jimi Hendrix Have 'The Best Guitar Sound Of All Time'". 
  11. ^ Tolinski, Brad (September 1994). "Welcome to the Machines". Guitar World. Retrieved 2011-07-29. 
  12. ^ Kendall, Charlie (1984). "Shades of Pink - The Definitive Pink Floyd Profile". The Source Radio Show. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  13. ^ Matt (11 July 2008). "Van Morrison performs Comfortably Numb again". Retrieved 12 October 2008. 
  14. ^ "David Gilmour Joins Roger Waters for Wall at London O2". Roger Waters The Wall Live Tour 2010/ 12 May 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ Interview with Nick Mason
  17. ^ Tom Bishop (2 February 2004). "Scissor Sisters' stab at success". Retrieved 8 January 2008. "...Pink Floyd Publishing told us the band was very pleased with our version. Roger Waters wants a picture disc." 
  18. ^ Scissor Sisters star lashes out at Pink Floyd legend
  19. ^ a b Fitch, Vernon; Richard Mahon (28 July 2006). Comfortably Numb-A History of "The Wall" - Pink Floyd 1978-1981. PFA Publishing, Inc.. p. 99. ISBN 0977736601. 


External links

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