Song of the Day #1,433: ‘Comfortably Numb’ – Pink Floyd

Best Albums of the 70s – #2
The Wall – Pink Floyd (1979)

The Wall, Pink Floyd’s two-disc concept album, came within a month of not making this list. Released in November of 1979, this nonetheless feels like a very 70s album to me.

Of course, I personally didn’t discover it until the late 80s, along with the rest of Pink Floyd’s catalog. Along with Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon and Animals, this record became the soundtrack of my high school experience.

But The Wall shows up this high on my list not just because it reminds me of my adolescence but because it opened my eyes to the theatrical possibilities of music. This is an album that works like a film — so much so that it was successfully turned into a movie in 1982.

The Wall was the first, and remains the best, concept album I’ve ever heard. After Roger Waters had an ugly altercation with a group of fans during a live show that ended with him spitting on them, he fantasized about building a giant wall between himself and the audience.

That idea — a psychological barrier made physical — grew into a semi-autobiographical tale of a boy who lost his father in the war and suffered the abuses of an overbearing mother and cruel schoolmates and teachers before becoming a celebrated rock star with a drug habit and a crumbling marriage. The rock star (named Pink Floyd) increasingly withdraws into himself, building up the titular wall around him, until he puts himself on trial in the album’s climax and decides he must “tear down the wall!”

It’s ambitious, overwrought, sometimes goofy but sometimes sublime. And it’s the first time I ever really got lost inside an album.

I vividly remember lying in the backseat of my parents’ car listening to this album through headphones and essentially leaving my body to enter the world of the album. There’s a reason so many people take drugs when listening to Pink Floyd albums, but the music itself more than does the trick.

I don’t know if bands make albums like this anymore. Green Day’s American Idiot was a concept album (that morphed into a Broadway musical) but didn’t have a strong narrative like The Wall. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs has a consistent theme but no real structure. Has the iTunes age killed off the concept album? Or was Pink Floyd the only band that would ever get it this right, regardless of decade?

Hello
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?

Come on, now,
I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again

Relax
I need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb

(solo)

I have become comfortably numb

O. K.
Just a little pin prick
There’ll be no more AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
But you may feel a little sick

Can you stand up?
I do believe its working, good
That’ll keep you going through the show
Come on it’s time to go

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,433: ‘Comfortably Numb’ – Pink Floyd

  1. Dana says:

    I wouldn’t personally rank this album as high as Stranger, Tapestry or a number of other albums on your list, but clearly this record impacted you in a way it never did for me. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate The Wall and I really like many of the songs on it, including most notably, the song you have chosen to feature.

    As for theatrical concept albums, I would argue that The Who’s Tommy was the first and perhaps best of the genre. In fact, I actually had a similar experience to what you describe when I first heard Tommy. It showed that rock music could be more than a 3 minute song…it could become modern opera. I am curious to know if you have ever heard Tommy as I think you would find it similarly compelling. And, of course, like The Wall, the music of Tommy was translated to film and, at least in my opinion, Tommy was a better film than The Wall.

  2. Clay says:

    I’ve actually never heard Tommy in its entirety (just the hits) and I’ve never seen the movie. In general I’m not a very big fan of The Who, with a few exceptions.

  3. Amy says:

    First, thanks for the concise summary of the album, as, being a girl, I had no idea what the actual narrative of The Wall was about (that sounded snide, but I mean it sincerely!) Other than watching a video, hearing an odd song, or perhaps a clip from the film of “Pinball Wizard” (from Tommy) or “Mother”, today’s SOTD, or one of the “Another Brick in the Wall”s (couldn’t begin to tell you which is which), I never listened to either of these concept albums from start to finish.

    Last year, our school’s rock band put on a live performance of The Wall that was rather extraordinary. The kids all became immersed in the music much like you probably did when you first discovered it. I probably heard more of the album in that one evening of music than I had in my entire life to that point, and I certainly did appreciate the songs – and the theatricality.

    So, while this album wouldn’t be on any list of mine, I appreciate why it sits so high at the top of your list.

  4. pegclifton says:

    I’m certainly not surprised this album is high on your list as I remember how much you were “into” it during that time you mentioned as well. I remember the first time I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and seeing the “Wall” there (I believe it was a special exhibit, not sure if it’s a permanent one) and thinking OMG Clay would love this! Can’t remember if it was there when you came to visit?? Like Amy, I didn’t know the story behind the music; very interesting stuff. Also I now understand why you never answered me from the back seat 🙂

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