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Pink Floyd - Comfortably numb (1980)

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“Comfortably Numb” is a song by the English rock band Pink Floyd, released on their eleventh album, The Wall ...

“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 performed by Waters, Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason together. An early version was included on the 2012 Wall “Immersion Box Set”.

Composition

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.

Writing

The chorus progression was written by guitarist David Gilmour, who recorded a wordless demo. The verse and lyrics were written by bassist Roger Waters. The lyrics were inspired by Waters’s experience of being injected with tranquillisers 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. He used a Big Muff distortion and delay effects on the solos.

Reception

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

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