Rock’s Classics :: Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb

The second installment of profiles that chronicle some of rock music’s finest achievements. Pink Floyd’s song about dodgy medical treatment in this edition.

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd in their majestic glory © Pink Floyd

Continuing in the series of profiles on some of rock music’s classic tracks is the 1979 Pink Floyd staple “Comfortably Numb”. This track is often citied as one of the band’s finest musical achievements, hefty praise indeed considering its appearance on the almost operatic The Wall album. As a shining beacon of Pink Floyd’s melodic, progressive rock talents, “Comfortably Numb” is a song that not only displays expert musical ability but stands as a symbolic gesture to the past and future careers of the band and all of its influential members.

Debuting in 1979, the double album The Wall would almost instantly become one of the defining works of the later twentieth century. A landmark album in so many instances, Pink Floyd’s musical and commercial talents crescendoed on a scale that contemporaries would seldom, if ever, rival. The state of the rock music scene at the time was indeed a changing one, the imminent mainstream demise of Led Zeppelin and other great bands who had forged the previous decade such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and The Rolling Stones were rapidly being replaced by newer, harder sounding bands who would take rock music into a much more metal oriented direction. The progression of recording techniques and the imminent arrival of synthesised keyboards and other instruments meant that rock and roll musicians now had to embrace the dawn of the new decade both as singers and songwriters along with being instrumental engineers. Ever ahead of the curve, Pink Floyd would be one of the foremost champions of this new digital age in which to record, The Wall incorporating sound effects, spoken word and pulsing keyboard work throughout the entirety of the album.

Appearing on the second part of the two part album, “Comfortably Numb” immediately attracts the listener’s attention from the off. As part of the bigger, much wider scaled work that The Wall is considered, the story following the rise and fall of fictional character Pink and his progressive isolation from the world due to a life of abuse and borderline sociopathic tendencies. The track features two very distinctive traits that indeed isolate it from the others on the album, firstly it is only one of two tracks that do not fade in or out of any adjacent track on the album. This freestanding status was the result of a technical issue relating to the production of the work. This merely adds to “Comfortably Numb” being a distinctively individual track in an album that deliberately seeks to emphasise the lack of individuality that can be experienced during one’s lifetime.

The other, more noticeable distinction that “Comfortably Numb” has as an accolade is the fact that it features not one but two very different guitar solos. Initially composed as music for lead guitarist David Gilmour’s debut album, David Gilmour, “Comfortably Numb” has the distinct advantage of both his unquestionably unrivalled guitar and musical talents combined with the almost limitless vision of the band itself. Often credited as being one of the very best solos of all time, both solos on “Comfortably Numb” are fine examples of classic rock guitar work, the tone of Gilmour’s Fender Stratocaster screams across the sedated feel of both the song’s music and lyrics. Speaking of the solos in interviews, Gilmour has gone on record as stating that the second solo work was combined together from a string of previously recorded solos and other experimental work he had been practising with at the time of the album’s recording. This, however, has not marred the performance of the song which quickly became a fan favourite at live shows and a permanent staple of Pink Floyd’s set list for the next thirty years.

“Comfortably Numb” is a track that has now achieved the status of being one of the few rock songs that does not immediately blow the listener away with power chords, amp bursting sound or indeed deeply moralistic and ambiguous lyricism. Instead, the song has quietly retained a solemn dignity since its inception, a sleeping giant of the rock music genre, gently garnishing more and more praise form musicians and fans alike. Although Pink Floyd would continue throughout the 1980s and on until 1994, their popularity would wane somewhat as the personnel of the band coupled with numerous direction changes and the advent of individual careers began to take their toll. The 2005 reunion for Bob Geldof’s “Live 8”, Geldof himself appeared as Pink in the cinematic version of The Wall, provided a massive stage on which Pink Floyd could and would impress their ever adoring fans. As a progressively styled band, Pink Floyd tend to have split opinions amongst the rock world, “Comfortably Numb” however remains well recognised as one of the band and genre’s standard anthems.

Jonathan Whitelaw

Pink Floyd’s official website can be found here:

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