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"Comfortably Numb" (working title The Doctor) is a song by the Englishmarker progressive rock band Pink Floyd, which was released 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 on "Comfortably Numb" was written by Gilmour, while Waters contributed the lyrics and some additional notes. "Comfortably Numb" is one of the most famous Pink Floyd songs, and is known especially for its guitar solos. In 2004, the song was ranked #314 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Playwright Tom Stoppard said he wrote most of his Tony Award winning The Coast of Utopia during repeated listenings of the song. It is the last song to ever be performed by Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason together.

History

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 song is one of two tracks on The Wall which are completely freestanding and do not fade into or out of an adjacent track. (The other freestanding song is "Mother".) This is because on the original LP there was a hiatus of the music as side three of the album finished.

According to Rolling Stone the lyrics came from Roger Waters' experience when he was injected with tranquillizers for stomach cramps by a doctor prior to playing a Pink Floyd show in Philadelphia on the band's 1977 tour for the Animals album. "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 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."

Plot

As with the other songs on The Wall, "Comfortably Numb" tells a portion of a story about Pink, the album's protagonist. This song has to do with Pink's battle to handle the world. He is forced to turn to drugs to cope with his problems.

Film version

A large group consisting of Pink's manager (played by Bob Hoskins), the hotel manager (played by 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 at which he was scheduled to play. Flashbacks of Pink's childhood are 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 the body into the nearby river, representing his loneliness.

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 reacts to the drug and tears up his apartment. Upon being inserted into the police car, Pink tears off his diseased shell to reveal a Nazi-esque attire.

Guitar solos

This song features two guitar solos by David Gilmour. 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. Also on Guitar World there are 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 Gilmour 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.

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 could be free to improvise completely. Gilmour also revised the verses to his preferred more grungy approach when the song was played on 1990s Pink Floyd tours after Waters left the band.

When the post-Waters Pink Floyd performs the song without Waters, the verse vocals are arranged for harmonies, rather than attempt to imitate Waters's voice. In both 1987-88 and 1994, these vocals were performed by Richard Wright, Guy Pratt and Jon Carin.

In December 1988, a video of the live performance from Delicate Sound of Thunder reached #11 on MTV's Top 20 Video Countdown. The video was two minutes shorter than the album version and the video clip had some different camera angles as opposed to the released home video version.

A 10-minute version of "Comfortably Numb" was performed at Earls Courtmarker, Londonmarker on October 20, 1994, as part of the Division Bell tour. The P*U*L*S*E video release edited out approximately 1:14 minutes of the ending solo . (The original pay per view video has the unedited version).

Pink Floyd reunited briefly, complete with Waters, to perform at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London in July 2005. The set consisted of four numbers, of which Comfortably Numb was the last. It is widely considered among fans to have been the highlight of the entire event.

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 at different dates by guest singers: Robert Wyatt, Bob Geldof, Kate Bush and Durga McBroom.

During 2006, Richard Wright sang the Waters' part. On 29 May 2006 at the Royal Albert Hall, David Bowie sang Waters' part as a special guest. The song was often referred to as "C-Numb."

Roger Waters

After leaving Pink Floyd, Waters first performed "Comfortably Numb" at the massive 1990 concert staging of The Wall Live in Berlin on July 21 1990. The event's purpose was to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wallmarker. 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 & Snowy White, and backup by the Rundfunk Orchestra & Choir. This version was used in the Academy Award winning 2006 movie The Departed that was directed by Martin Scorsese. It is also heard in the TV show The Sopranos episode "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 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 off a lyrics sheet with Katie Kissoon singing the Roger Waters verses. After singing it at the Massey Hallmarker in Toronto, Canadamarker he remarked, "I hope you liked that. I'm not numb and I'm not comfortable."

Waters subsequently performed the song at the "Guitar Legends" festival in Spainmarker in 1991 (guest vocals by Bruce Hornsby) and at the Waldon Woods benefit concert in Los Angelesmarker in 1992 (guest vocals by Don Henley)

During 1999-2000, Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White replicated 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.

Cover versions

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).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. A recent cover version from jazz trio The Bad Plus appeared on For All I Care in 2009.

The Scissor Sisters recorded a disco-oriented version released in January 2004 on Polydor. The track was mixed by Canadian electronic musician and DJ/producer Tiga and featured a falsetto vocal by lead singer Jake Shears. This release reached #10 in the UK Singles Chart, giving the group their first hit and becoming the most successful cover of a Pink Floyd song to date in the UK. David Gilmour and Nick Mason expressed a liking for the group, and Roger Waters is said to have congratulated the Scissor Sisters on the version. Shears was invited by Gilmour to sing "Comfortably Numb" with him in some 2006 shows, but was dropped at the last moment to Shears' public disappointment. This cover received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording, but lost to "Toxic" by Britney Spears

In 2005 Dar Williams included a version with on her album My Better Self, duetting on the track with Ani DiFranco. "I always thought a woman should record it," Dar 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 says. "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."

Personnel



References

  1. www.broadway.tv article "Stoppard's Rock-N-Roll Connection"
  2. Interview from Rock Compact Disc Magazine Issue 3, September 1992
  3. 100 Greatest Guitar Solos - Tablature for the greatest guitar solos of all time
  4. Planet Rock - Greatest Guitar Solos
  5. Interview with Nick Mason
  6. Scissor Sisters star lashes out at Pink Floyd legend


Bibliography

  • Fitch, Vernon. The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia (3rd edition), 2005. ISBN 1-894959-24-8


External links




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