Song 136: Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb” (1979)


I write songs, and one thing I’m not terribly good at is matching a song’s lyrics to its musical mood. I’ve got plenty of sad songs with happy musical feels, and happy songs that sound like cry-in-your-beer ballads. That kind of thing can work great for certain songs, but I don’t think I often strike the right balance.

Songs like “Comfortably Numb” are the ones I wish I could write. The chords to the verses are all about paranoia, fear, and recklessness. Like the chords in the verses of “Anyday,” these go down, down, down—in this case, starting at B-minor and going down to A, G, and E-minor, before returning to B-minor. Then (again, like “Anyday”), the chorus, airy and tranquil, brightens with a major chord.

Of course, the tranquility is both ironic and short-lived. The Wall’s protagonist, rock star Pink, is steeling himself (emotionally, chemically) before facing the masses. The peace is entirely manufactured, and it’s not going to last. I’ve never done any drugs (unless you count alcohol, which I suppose you should), but I imagine this song is as accurate as any other about the experience. When heroin kicks in, it must seem like the chords are changing from minor to major, and like string-like synthesizers are playing beautiful arpeggios.

The Wall is my favorite Pink Floyd record. It’s kind of a mess, but I find it a lot more satisfying than Dark Side of the Moon or my second favorite of theirs, Wish You Were Here. The songs are just gorgeous, even the ones that are so dark you feel imposed upon when hearing them. Pink Floyd gets lots of deserved recognition, but I don’t think they get enough credit for their songs. For a band that specialized in abstract ideas, they kept things pretty restrained, even on double albums about many things at once.


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