The Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd's Iconic Album
Created | Updated Apr 7, 2011
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes,
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.
Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon, released in March 1973, was one of the most successful rock albums of all time, becoming well known to a whole generation. The dark mood of the album, with words ringing with depression and sadness bordering on madness, struck home with young people of the time and the stylish black cover tapped into this perfectly.
The group had been reasonably successful previously, with such albums as Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, but they really hit the big time with The Dark Side of the Moon. It stayed in the album charts for years and sold more than 30 million copies, making it one of the biggest sellers of all time. It stayed longer on the US Billboard Top 200 chart than any other album in history (741 weeks).
The Music Makers
At the time of the album's release, Pink Floyd consisted of:
- David Gilmour (1946) - Guitar and Vocals
- Nick Mason (1944) - Percussion
- Roger Waters (1943) - Bass Guitar and Vocals
- Rick Wright (1943 - 2008) - Keyboards and Vocals
Gilmour provided the vocals for the lion's share of the album, being joined by Wright on a couple of numbers, while Waters sang the songs Brain Damage and Eclipse. The wordless vocals on The Great Gig in the Sky were by Claire Torry and the saxophone solo on Us and Them was by Dick Parry. The music was written by the whole group, but all the lyrics were by Roger Waters.
The album relied heavily on taped sound effects, which in those days were just that: on tape. These had to be physically cut and spliced together to create the tapestry of sound. The band had written out a number of questions on cards which they presented to anybody they could find around the studio. They taped the replies and many of these made it into the album as semi-audible comments.
There are two main themes running through the album. The first is the inexorable march of time - from the heartbeat which starts the album off (also shown on the cover) through such numbers as Breathe and Time, Roger Waters bemoans the fact that we are getting older and life is slipping away.
The other theme is madness. There are voices screaming at the start, manic laughter and mumbled comments throughout the album, and there is a song entitled Brain Damage in which the dark side of the moon represents madness. It is likely that the madness theme was inspired by Pink Floyd's original leader, Syd Barrett, whose nervous breakdown and subsequent mental illness, possibly brought on by his use of hallucinogenic drugs during the 1960s, forced him to retire from the band.
Speak to me
The album starts with the sound of a heartbeart. More sounds are added, including voices, mumblings and screaming, building to the first song:
This number starts with an exhortation to breathe in the air and enjoy the world, but rapidly degenerates into panic at time slipping away: 'Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one'. Gilmour's swooping steel guitar gives us the classic Pink Floyd sound.
On the Run
This instrumental features somebody being pursued, along with sounds of heavy breathing, engine sounds and airport noises.
Starting with a cacophony of clocks, the noise gives way to a wonderful duet between tuned drums and bass guitar. The song follows on, once again bewailing the lack of time. Classic rock, this piece relies heavily on Gilmour's soaring guitar.
There is a short reprise of the Breathe song.
The Great Gig in the Sky
A calm and restful piano number, although there are some fairly wild parts, it features the voice without words of Claire Torry. Although the implication of the title is that this song is about death, it is purely music, without words or meaning.
A quirky tune, its 7/4 rhythm seems to be expressly designed so that you can't dance to it. The introductory rhythms played on cash registers later inspired a similar theme in the British sitcom Are You Being Served?. Although this song is giving out about money and the fact that none of us have enough of it, it is done in a cheerful and light-hearted way, making this one of the most up-beat numbers in the album.
Us and Them
Featuring one of the coolest saxophone solos ever, this song moans about our lack of control in this world, where governments and generals pull all the strings. A long, slow number, it takes nearly eight minutes to say what it has to say.
Any Colour you Like
An instrumental track. When Henry Ford produced the first production-line car, the Model T, he is said to have joked 'You can have it any colour you like, as long as it is black'. This phrase became a favourite of the band, with their version being 'any colour you like, as long as it is blue', blue being the colour of depression and the style of music known as the 'blues'. Blue or black, either colour could be said to summarise the mood of this album.
Starting by treating lunatics as simple pitiable figures, the song progresses to the terrible tragedy of insanity, and suggests that perhaps none of us is sane.
A sign of hope, or a sign of confusion? 'Everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon'. The music fades into a heartbeat sound, then this too fades and all we are left with is silence, and the almost inaudible comment 'There is no dark side of the moon really. As a matter of fact, it's all dark.'
The album was released in one of the greatest sleeves ever, designed by Hipgnosis and drawn by George Hardie: a glass prism on a black background; a beam of light entering from the left is split into the colours of the rainbow. The colours continue along the inside of the (double) cover, with the green light mapping out the shape of a heartbeat as seen on an electrocardiogram. The colours continue onto the back cover where they are reunited by another prism into the original white beam of light.
Included with the album were two posters, one a blue photo of the Pyramids of Giza, echoing the shape of the prism on the cover, the other a pink one with photos of the band. Also included were two postcard-sized stickers, featuring pop-art designs with various pyramids and palm trees. These didn't really fit in with the image of the rest of the album and are usually forgotten about. (The US and Canadian releases featured different posters.)
In the 1990s, a bizarre and amusing theory was bandied about: that The Dark Side of the Moon formed an alternative soundtrack to the film The Wizard of Oz. Starring Judy Garland, the movie was one of the first to feature colour, to represent the land 'over the rainbow'. If you start the CD of The Dark Side of the Moon at the third roar of the MGM lion at the start of the film, a series of unlikely coincidences occurs, where events on screen eerily line up with words in the album.
For example, as the Witch of the West looks at the body of her dead sister, the Witch of the East, David Gilmour sings 'and who knows which is which and who is who?'. Note the pronunciation of 'which' as 'witch'. Another example is where the Scarecrow (who hasn't got a brain) is wandering around at the side of the road, the lyrics sing 'the lunatic is on the grass'. When Dorothy ushers him onto the yellow brick road, the words become 'got to keep the loonies on the path'.
This theory is well enough known that the band have commented on it. They were not thinking of the Wizard of Oz when they produced the album. So any correlation must be coincidence, unless it is 'synchronicity', the belief that there is some unknown force or purpose which causes ridiculous coincidences like this.
The correspondence is not very convincing. The scarecrow isn't actually a lunatic; he's the most sensible character in the film. Dorothy's arrival in the colourful land of Oz coincides with the start of the song Money. What a pity it didn't happen at the start of Any Colour You Like! And the often-cited parallel between the words 'Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town' and Dorothy's dog escaping and running towards home is really stretching the point. The Oz/Moon connection must stand as a tribute to the very human power of wishful thinking.
The 21st Century
The year 2003 saw the 30th anniversary of the original release of The Dark Side of the Moon. To celebrate, a remastered version was released on the new Hybrid SACD format (Super Audio Compact Disc). This new format may eventually replace CD as the medium for music - it supposedly offers better quality reproduction in 'surround sound' when played on an SACD player, while still being playable on a traditional CD player. The new album had a redesigned blue version of the original prism sleeve design.