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(Credit: Roger Tillberg / Alamy)

Music

Dissecting Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb' through its isolated tracks

Pink Floyd enjoyed several different creative chapters that give unparalleled vibrancy and eclecticism to their back catalogue. Beginning as a rhythm and blues cover group circling the low-key venues of London, the band was helmed by eccentric LSD enthusiast Syd Barrett who took very little time to steer Pink Floyd into their early psychedelic rock phase. 

They enjoyed a successful run in 1967 with the singles’ ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’, followed by an appearance on Top of the Pops and their seminal debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. However, Barrett’s mental health and drug abuse issues soon began to drive him from the band as he hit an inescapable low toward the end of the year.

As Barrett was on his way out, David Gilmour, a school friend of Barrett and Roger Waters’, joined to take his place as guitarist and co-vocalist. From this point forward, the band gradually moved from Barrett’s psych-rock sound toward something more spacious and usually more sombre in tone. 

After a run of experimental and creatively varying releases in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Pink Floyd seemed to hit their full stride of prog-rock virtuosity with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon. The album showed all members reach a new level of maturity within their fields as Waters’ conceptual lyrics took on a more powerfully introspective tone.

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Releasing three more studio albums over the remainder of the 1970s, the band became comfortable with their sound and took their style through a number of intriguing concepts. 

The decade’s climactic 1979 double album, The Wall, was Waters’ most comprehensive and daring concept to date. It displayed a diverse range of atmospheres and moods that follow the concept of building a protective “wall” as a coping mechanism in life. In the narrative, Waters touches upon a mixture of personal battles and external anxieties. The theme bases itself on Roger’s childhood with his father having died during World War II, and then later it tackles school-age issues like ‘Young Lust’ and oppressive teachers in ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. 

The album, and the 1970s as it were, culminated with ‘Comfortably Numb’. The powerful epic concludes the story of The Wall’s concept. The subject of the album, a rock star named Pink, is medicated by a doctor so he can perform on stage. This part of the narrative is based on Waters’ similar real-life experience. While Pink Floyd were on their In The Flesh Tour in Philadelphia, Waters was injected with a muscle relaxant to combat the effects of hepatitis before a show. “That was the longest two hours of my life, trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm,” Waters said of the show. 

The song also concludes the concept; the wall of comfortability that one might build throughout their life has been built, but they are now numb to reality. This emphatic close to the album is among Pink Floyd’s most well-known songs, thanks to Waters’ engrossing lyrics and Gilmour’s enveloping guitar solos. 

Hear Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ as never before through its isolated guitar, orchestral (composed by Pink Floyd and Michael Kamen) and vocal tracks below.