The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ (DSOTM with the definitive article added to later releases) was released in March 1973 and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios from June 1972 to January 1973. It was produced by the band, but the engineer Alan Parsons was so important to the recording sessions that he was co-producer of the album as well as engineer.
DSOTM is a concept album. All the lyrics on the album were written by bass player Roger Waters, the overall theme is the pressures of modern life with songs about birth, life and death, the passage of time, the stress of travelling, greed, consumerism, mental illness, isolationism, conflict, the lack of choice, alterity (otherness) and unity. This makes it a very philosophical album, but the lyrics are not complicated even if English is not your mother tongue. Roger Waters himself as described the lyrics as being very ‘lower-sixth’ or teenage.
The album cover idea was suggested by Richard Wright. He wanted something graphic, bold and simple. Storm Thorgerson came up with the prism and the band were extremely happy with it. Every member being instantly drawn to it when Storm showed them four different covers. It is a cover that is instantly recognisable as the album and it is difficult to imagine any other cover, they are so connected to each other.
Credited solely to Nick Mason is the sixty-eight second long “Speak to Me”. Running through the album is voices of different people who were around while the album was being recorded so the first track is a sound collage taken from samples of the rest of the album (including manic laughter, clock ticking, cash register, Clare Torry’s scream and helicopter noise) with the voices being very prominent. It opens the album with a heartbeat which might be a slowed down bass drum treated with lots of reverb. There is some dispute as to who wrote it as Nick Mason claims he wrote it himself whereas Richard Wright and Roger Waters stated it was credited to Mason as a gift to give him some publishing income.
This leads into “Breathe (In the Air)”. Credited to Gilmour, Waters and Wright for the music, it is a slow-paced and beautifully rich in texture piece with Hammond organ, Rhodes electric piano as well as guitars played through a phaser and a multi-tracked pedal steel guitar. The lyrics are quite simplistic but serve their purpose to the melody.
“On the Run” was originally written as an all-band jam. The band felt that it was a bit rubbish and not actually going anywhere so Roger and David got out the VCS3, fed a sequence of notes into it and created the track. The hi-hat was not played by Mason but is a white noise generator. There are also effects such as footsteps, backwards guitar parts created by dragging a microphone stand down the fretboard (it was then reversed and then panned left to right) and sounds made to sound like vehicles passing to give a doppler effect. At twenty-seven seconds a female airport announcer says “"Have your baggage and passport ready and then follow the green line to customs and immigration. BA 215 to Rome, Cairo and Lagos" and Pink Floyd’s road manager says "Live for today, gone tomorrow. That's me" at one minute and fifty-four seconds. At the end, a guitar chord over an explosion of an aircraft, this then fades away and segues into the chiming clocks of
“Time” begins with the chiming clocks mentioned above. Recorded separately in an antiques store by Alan Parsons for a quadraphonic test, he asked the band if they wanted to stick it on the album. The clocks are followed by a two-minute passage dominated by rototoms and a tick-tock sound played by muted strings on the bass. The song is credited to all four members with Richard Wright sharing vocals with David Gilmour with lyrics about how life is not about preparing you for what happens next but taking control of your own destiny. It is one of the highlights of an already solid album and has one of David Gilmour’s finest guitar solos.
“The Great Gig in the Sky” began as a chord progression called ‘The Mortality Sequence’ that Richard Wright had written. It had originally been an instrumental organ piece with spoken-word samples from the bible and was performed live in 1972 but was moved to piano when the band were recording DSOTM. Various sound effects were tried over the track including NASA astronaut communications but a few weeks before the album was finished the band thought about having a female singer wail over the music.
After the original vinyl is turned over to the other side “Money” opens with a tape loop of various sound effects created by Roger Waters who wrote the song by himself. As the song is in 7/4, he had to cut seven lengths of tape and spliced them together. It has a pretty funky bassline, but the song is driven by blues influenced double tracked guitar and does not feature much keyboard apart from Richard playing Wurlitzer electric piano with wah-wah pedal. There is a short saxophone solo at two minutes and two seconds played by a friend of the band but at three minutes and five seconds, after a short drumroll, the time signature switches to 4/4 and the band rock out for the guitar solo. Lyrically, the song is obviously about money. Roger Waters had made a lot of money as a member of Pink Floyd and had to decide if he really was a socialist or if he was into material possessions. Ironically the song was a huge hit in the USA (the band did not release any singles in the UK from 1968 to 1979) and made the band even more money.
“Us and Them” was originally written as a solo piano piece for a movie called ‘Zabriskie Point’ in 1969 and was titled "The Violent Sequence". It was never used for the movie as the director thought it was beautiful but too sad and made him think of church, so the band filed it away for later use. It was a quite a repetitive piece, but it was arranged during DSOTM recording sessions to be a jazz influenced song played on guitar arpeggio and Hammond organ with two saxophone solos
“Any Colour You Like” is a funky instrumental. The first third of the song is a keyboard solo played on the VCS3 through a tape loop, so it rises and falls. The guitar solo later in the song is two guitars played with a guitar effect so they harmonise. The title is not in reference to Henry Ford’s comment. The short version of the story according to Roger Waters is a salesman in Cambridge selling china plates out of the back of a truck but they were all the same colour. The salesman used to say “'You can 'ave 'em, ten bob to you, love. Any colour you like, they're all blue.” That is how Roger saw it. Offering a choice when really there isn’t a choice. how even though there is a choice of many colours it is always blue.
“Brain Damage” was written by Roger Waters alone. The song is quite slow and based on a guitar arpeggio played in the key of D minor with the Hammond organ coming in during the chorus. The lyrics concern insanity and are about former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett’s mental instability. The album title comes from the song with the line “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”
“Eclipse” is just over ninety seconds long and was also written by Waters. The final words sung on the album are "and everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon." It ends with the heartbeat from ‘Speak to Me’ so the album completes a cycle just like circle of life with the voice of Gerry O’Driscoll Abbey Road’s doorman saying in his Irish accent "What is 'the dark side of the moon'?" with: "There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it's all dark. The only thing that makes it look light is the sun." The explanation for the song and indeed the album title is that, according to Waters, the sun and moon are symbols of the light and the dark and the good and the bad. That there is good in the world that is on offer and all you must do is grab them but there is also a dark force that prevents us from seizing them.
Sometimes a commercially successful album may have a sound that is too commercial. Another album may go the other way and be a bit too experimental in the lyrics and the music. It would either be very dull or very weird. The important thing is to be both melodic with plenty with tunes and interesting. DSOTM gets the balance right between commercial and experimental and very few albums can do that. There is a reason why it is so influential and so important. The album has sold over forty-five million copies worldwide, is Pink Floyd’s best-selling album, one of the best-selling albums worldwide of any genre in history and is considered one of the greatest albums of all time.