The Dark Side of the Moon is the eighth studio album by the English progressive rock band Pink Floyd, released in March 1973. It built on ideas explored in the band’s earlier recordings and live shows, but lacks the extended instrumental excursions that characterised their work following the departure in 1968 of founder member, principal composer and lyricist, Syd Barrett. The Dark Side of the Moon’s themes include conflict, greed, the passage of time, and mental illness, the latter partly inspired by Barrett’s deteriorating mental state.
The suite was developed during live performances and was premiered several months before studio recording began. The new material was recorded in two sessions in 1972 and 1973 at Abbey Road Studios in London. The group used some of the most advanced recording techniques of the time, including multitrack recording and tape loops. Analogue synthesisers were given prominence in several tracks, and a series of recorded interviews with the band’s road crew and others provided the philosophical quotations used throughout. Engineer Alan Parsons was directly responsible for some of the most notable sonic aspects of the album as well as the recruitment of non-lexical performer Clare Torry. The album’s iconic sleeve, designed by Storm Thorgerson, features a prism that represents the band’s stage lighting, the record’s lyrical themes, and keyboardist Richard Wright’s request for a “simple and bold” design.
The Dark Side of the Moon was an immediate success, topping the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart for one week. It subsequently remained in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. With an estimated 50 million copies sold, it is Pink Floyd’s most commercially successful album and one of the best-selling albums worldwide. It has twice been remastered and re-released, and has been covered in its entirety by several other acts. It spawned two singles, “Money” and “Time”. In addition to its commercial success, The Dark Side of the Moon is one of Pink Floyd’s most popular albums among fans and critics, and is frequently ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time
Following the release of Meddle in 1971, the band assembled for an upcoming tour of Britain, Japan, and the United States in December of that year. Rehearsing in Broadhurst Gardens in London, there was the looming prospect of a new album, although their priority at that time was the creation of new material. In a band meeting at drummer Nick Mason’s home in Camden, bassist Roger Waters proposed that a new album could form part of the tour. Waters’ idea was for an album that dealt with things that “make people mad”, focusing on the pressures faced by the band during their arduous lifestyle, and dealing with the apparent mental problems suffered by former band member Syd Barrett.Generally, all four members agreed that Waters’ concept of an album unified by a single theme was a good idea. Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright participated in the writing and production of the new material, and Waters created the early demo tracks at his Islington home in a small recording studio he had built in his garden shed.Parts of the new album were taken from previously unused material; the opening line of “Breathe” came from an earlier work by Waters and Ron Geesin, written for the soundtrack of The Body, and the basic structure of “Us and Them” was taken from a piece originally composed by Wright for the film Zabriskie Point. The band rehearsed at a warehouse in London owned by The Rolling Stones, and then at the Rainbow Theatre. They also purchased extra equipment, which included new speakers, a PA system, a 28-track mixing desk with four quadraphonic outputs, and a custom-built lighting rig. Nine tonnes of kit was transported in three lorries; this would be the first time the band had taken an entire album on tour, but it would allow them to refine and improve the new material, which by then had been given the provisional title of Dark Side of the Moon (an allusion to lunacy, rather than astronomy). However, after discovering that that title had already been used by another band, Medicine Head, it was temporarily changed to Eclipse. The new material premièred at The Dome in Brighton, on 20 January 1972,and after the commercial failure of Medicine Head’s album the title was changed back to the band’s original preference.
Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics, as it was then known, was performed in the presence of an assembled press on 17 February 1972—more than a year before its release—at the Rainbow Theatre, and was critically acclaimed. Michael Wale of The Times described the piece as “… bringing tears to the eyes. It was so completely understanding and musically questioning.” Derek Jewell of The Sunday Times wrote “The ambition of the Floyd’s artistic intention is now vast.” Melody Maker was, however, less enthusiastic: “Musically, there were some great ideas, but the sound effects often left me wondering if I was in a bird-cage at London zoo.” The following tour was praised by the public. The new material was performed live, in the same order in which it would eventually be recorded, but obvious differences between the live version, and the recorded version released a year later, included the lack of synthesisers in tracks such as “On the Run”, and Bible readings that were later replaced by Clare Torry’s non-lexical vocables on “The Great Gig in the Sky”.
The band’s lengthy tour through Europe and North America gave them the opportunity to make continual improvements to the scale and quality of their performances. Studio sessions were scheduled between tour dates; rehearsals began in England on 20 January 1972, but in late February the band travelled to France and recorded music for French director Barbet Schroeder’s film, La Vallée. They then performed in Japan and returned to France in March to complete work on the film. After a series of dates in North America, the band flew to London to begin recording the album, from 24 May to 25 June. More concerts in Europe and North America followed before the band returned on 9 January 1973 to complete work on the album.
The Dark Side of the Moon built upon experiments Pink Floyd had attempted in their previous live shows and recordings, but lacks the extended instrumental excursions which, according to critic David Fricke, had become characteristic of the band after founder member Syd Barrett left in 1968. Guitarist David Gilmour, Barrett’s replacement, later referred to those instrumentals as “that psychedelic noodling stuff”, and with Waters cited 1971’s Meddle as a turning-point towards what would be realised on the album. The Dark Side of the Moon’s lyrical themes include conflict, greed, the passage of time, death, and insanity, the latter inspired in part by Barrett’s deteriorating mental state; he had been the band’s principal composer and lyricist. The album is notable for its use of musique concrète and conceptual, philosophical lyrics, as found in much of the band’s other work.
Each side of the album is a continuous piece of music. The five tracks on each side reflect various stages of human life, beginning and ending with a heartbeat, exploring the nature of the human experience, and (according to Waters) “empathy”. “Speak to Me” and “Breathe” together stress the mundane and futile elements of life that accompany the ever-present threat of madness, and the importance of living one’s own life—”Don’t be afraid to care”. By shifting the scene to an airport, the synthesiser-driven instrumental “On the Run” evokes the stress and anxiety of modern travel, in particular Wright’s fear of flying. “Time” examines the manner in which its passage can control one’s life and offers a stark warning to those who remain focused on mundane aspects; it is followed by a retreat into solitude and withdrawal in “Breathe (Reprise)”. The first side of the album ends with Wright and vocalist Clare Torry’s soulful metaphor for death, “The Great Gig in the Sky”. Opening with the sound of cash registers and loose change, the first track on side two, “Money”, mocks greed and consumerism using tongue-in-cheek lyrics and cash-related sound effects (ironically, “Money” has been the most commercially successful track from the album, with several cover versions produced by other bands). “Us and Them” addresses the isolation of the depressed with the symbolism of conflict and the use of simple dichotomies to describe personal relationships. “Any Colour You Like” concerns the lack of choice one has in a human society. “Brain Damage” looks at a mental illness resulting from the elevation of fame and success above the needs of the self; in particular, the line “and if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” reflects the mental breakdown of former band-mate Syd Barrett. The album ends with “Eclipse”, which espouses the concepts of alterity and unity, while forcing the listener to recognise the common traits shared by humanity.
The album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, in two sessions, between May 1972 and January 1973. The band were assigned staff engineer Alan Parsons, who had worked as assistant tape operator on Atom Heart Mother, and who had also gained experience as a recording engineer on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be. The recording sessions made use of some of the most advanced studio techniques of the time; the studio was capable of 16-track mixes, which offered a greater degree of flexibility than the eight- or four-track mixes they had previously used, although the band often used so many tracks that to make more space available second-generation copies were made.
Beginning on 1 June, the first track to be recorded was “Us and Them”, followed six days later by “Money”. Waters had created effects loops from recordings of various money-related objects, including coins thrown into a food-mixing bowl taken from his wife’s pottery studio, and these were later re-recorded to take advantage of the band’s decision to record a quadraphonic mix of the album (Parsons has since expressed dissatisfaction with the result of this mix, attributed to a lack of time and the paucity of available multi-track tape recorders). “Time” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” were the next pieces to be recorded, followed by a two-month break, during which the band spent time with their families and prepared for an upcoming tour of the US. The recording sessions suffered regular interruptions; Waters, a supporter of Arsenal F.C., would often break to see his team compete, and the band would occasionally stop work to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the television, leaving Parsons to work on material recorded up to that point. Gilmour has, however, disputed this claim; in an interview in 2003 he said: “We would sometimes watch them but when we were on a roll, we would get on.”
Returning from the US in January 1973, they recorded “Brain Damage”, “Eclipse”, “Any Colour You Like” and “On the Run”, while fine-tuning the work they had already laid down in the previous sessions. A foursome of female vocalists was assembled to sing on “Brain Damage”, “Eclipse” and “Time”, and saxophonist Dick Parry was booked to play on “Us and Them” and “Money”. With director Adrian Maben, the band also filmed studio footage for Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. Once the recording sessions were complete, the band began a tour of Europe.
Snippets of voices between and over the music are another notable feature of the album. During recording sessions, Waters recruited both the staff and the temporary occupants of the studio to answer a series of questions printed on flashcards. The interviewees were placed in front of a microphone in a darkened studio three, and shown such questions as “What’s your favourite colour?” and “What’s your favourite food?”, before moving on to themes more central to the album (such as madness, violence, and death). Questions such as “When was the last time you were violent?”, followed immediately by “Were you in the right?”, were answered in the order they were presented. Roger “The Hat” Manifold proved difficult to find, and was the only contributor recorded in a conventional sit-down interview, as by then the flashcards had been mislaid. Waters asked him about a violent encounter he had had with another motorist, and Manifold replied “… give ’em a quick, short, sharp shock …” When asked about death he responded “live for today, gone tomorrow, that’s me …” Another roadie, Chris Adamson, who was on tour with Pink Floyd, recorded the snippet which opens the album: “I’ve been mad for fucking years—absolutely years”. The band’s road manager Peter Watts (father of actress Naomi Watts) contributed the repeated laughter during “Brain Damage” and “Speak to Me”. His second wife, Patricia ‘Puddie’ Watts (now Patricia Gleason), was responsible for the line about the “geezer” who was “cruisin’ for a bruisin'” used in the segue between “Money” and “Us and Them”, and the words “I never said I was frightened of dying” heard near the end of “The Great Gig in the Sky”.
Perhaps the most notable responses “I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do: I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it — you’ve got to go sometime” and closing words “there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark” came from the studios’ Irish doorman, Gerry O’Driscoll. Paul and Linda McCartney were also interviewed, but their answers were judged to be “trying too hard to be funny”, and were not included on the album. McCartney’s Wings bandmate Henry McCullough contributed the line “I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time”.
The Dark Side of the Moon became one of the best-selling albums of all time, (not counting compilations and various artists soundtracks), and is in the top 25 of a list of best-selling albums in the United States. Although it held the number one spot in the US for only a week, it remained in the Billboard album chart for 741 weeks. The album re-appeared on the Billboard charts with the introduction of the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart in May 1991, and has been a perennial feature since then. In the UK it is the sixth-best-selling album of all time.
In the US the LP was released before the introduction of platinum awards on 1 January 1976. It therefore held only a gold disc until 16 February 1990, when it was certified 11× platinum. On 4 June 1998 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the album 15× platinum, denoting sales of fifteen million in the United States—making it their biggest-selling work there (The Wall is 23× platinum, but as a double album this signifies sales of 11.5 million). “Money” has sold well as a single, and as with “Time”, remains a radio favourite; in the US, for the year ending 20 April 2005, “Time” was played on 13,723 occasions, and “Money” on 13,731 occasions. Industry sources suggest that worldwide sales of the album total about 50 million. “On a slow week” between 8,000 and 9,000 copies are sold, and a total of 400,000 were sold in 2002, making it the 200th-best-selling album of that year—nearly three decades after its initial release. The album has sold 9,502,000 copies in the US since 1991 when Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales for Billboard. To this day, it occupies a prominent spot on Billboard‘s Pop Catalogue Chart. It reached number one when the 2003 hybrid CD/SACD edition was released and sold 800,000 copies in the US. On the week of 5 May 2006 The Dark Side of the Moon achieved a combined total of 1,500 weeks on the Billboard 200 and Pop Catalogue charts. One in every fourteen people in the US under the age of 50 is estimated to own, or to have owned, a copy.
All lyrics written by Roger Waters.
|1.||“Speak to Me”||1:30|
|3.||“On the Run”||3:36|
|4.||“Time” (includes “Breathe (Reprise)”)||7:01|
|5.||“The Great Gig in the Sky”||4:36|
|2.||“Us and Them”||7:46|
|3.||“Any Colour You Like”||3:25|