Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb 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. The melody and most of the music was written by David Gilmour while Roger Waters contributed the lyrics. The song had the working title of The Doctor. This was the last song Waters and Gilmour wrote together.
The song is one of the most famous Pink Floyd songs and is known for its guitar solos. In 2004, the song was ranked number 314 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
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 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 tranquilisers for stomach cramps by a doctor prior to playing a Pink Floyd show in Philadelphia on the band's 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 experience gave him the idea which eventually became the lyrics to this song.
Other stories of the song's origins also exist. While many people thought the song was about drugs, Waters claims it is about a time in his childhood. He told Mojo Magazine (December, 2009) that the lines, "When I was a child I had a fever/My hands felt just like two balloons" were autobiographical. He explained: "I remember having the flu or something, an infection with a temperature of 105 and being delirious. It wasn't like the hands looked like balloons, but they looked way too big, frightening."
(Note to Clinton Heylin here: You see Clinton, here's two different accounts by Waters about the inspiration behind the song. And you attacked Van for his inconsistent memories!)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." 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).
Dave Gilmour wrote the music while he was working on a solo album in 1978. He brought it to The Wall sessions and Waters wrote lyrics for it. Gilmour believes this song can be divided into 2 sections, dark and light. The light are the parts that begin "When I was a child...," which Gilmour sings. The dark are the "Hello, is there anybody in there" parts, which are sung by Waters.
Van Morrison played Comfortably Numb with Roger Waters at the July 21, 1990 concert Waters organised in Berlin to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. This version was used in Scorsese's 2006 movie The Departed and also appeared in an episode of The Simpsons. The song has become an established favourite, and an essential part of any live set by Pink Floyd , and also by Waters and Gilmour during their respective solo careers.
At The Wall – Live in Berlin concert 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. Van Morrison's 2007 compilation album, Van Morrison at the Movies – Soundtrack Hits also includes this version.
In July 2008, Van Morrison began to include this song on the set list of some of his live concert performances. 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."