Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon
No-one in March 1973 could have imagined that an album released in that month would still be thrilling listeners decades later, but it’s true.
Generally regarded as Pink Floyd’s masterwork, the qualities of The Dark Side Of The Moon have perhaps been taken for granted in recent years, but a return to it with fresh ears reminds the listener of its strengths. Part of its enduring appeal is the quality of the material, there simply isn’t a bad track on it, with a listening experience greater even than the sum of the parts.
As to its subject matter, Roger Waters said in 2003 that it was ‘An expression of political, philosophical, humanitarian empathy that was desperate to get out.’ He said it was about ‘all the pressures and difficulties and questions that crop up in one’s life and create anxiety and the potential you have to solve them or choose the path that you’re going to walk.’
The band initially convened in December 1971 and January 1972 at Decca’s West Hampstead Studios in Broadhurst Gardens, London and then at a warehouse owned by The Rolling Stones at 47 Bermondsey Street, South London. One of the musical elements, to become ‘Us And Them’, already existed, having begun life as a rejected musical sequence by Richard Wright for Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Another, to become ‘Brain Damage’, was a piece of Roger Waters’, created in the writing sessions of the Meddle album in January of that year.
In the pre-Internet age, it wasn’t too commercially suicidal to preview new material before its release, so Floyd were able to knock the album into shape over several months of road work. The first full-length performance was at the Guildhall in Portsmouth, England, on January 21st, 1972, after which almost the entire year was spent with the band performing Dark Side live, interspersed with visits to Abbey Road studios from May onwards to work on individual songs.
Session singer Clare Torry, was a regular at Abbey Road. She had worked on numerous cover albums, and after hearing one of those albums Alan Parsons invited her to the studio to sing on Wright’s composition ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’. She declined this invitation as she wanted to watch Chuck Berry perform at the Hammersmith Odeon, but arranged to come in on the following Sunday. The band explained the concept behind the album, but were unable to tell her exactly what she should do. David Gilmour was in charge of the session, and in a few short takes on a Sunday night Torry improvised a wordless melody to accompany Wright’s emotive piano solo. She was initially embarrassed by her exuberance in the recording booth, and wanted to apologise to the band – only to find them delighted with her performance.
In 2004, Torry sued Pink Floyd for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution to ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ after originally being paid the standard Sunday flat studio rate of £30 (equivalent to £400 in 2018 for the session. In 2005, prior to a hearing in the High Court, an out-of-court settlement was reached. All pressings after 2005 list the composition to Richard Wright and Clare Torry.
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 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). The band’s road manager Peter Watts (father of actress Naomi Watts) contributed the repeated laughter during ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Speak to Me’, and ‘I never said I was frightened of dying’ from the beginning of ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’. Floyd roadie Roger ‘The Hat’ Manifold is the voice behind ‘So if you give ’em a quick short, sharp, shock, they won’t do it again’. Wings guitarist Henry McCullough contributed the line ‘I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time’. The 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.
Pink Floyd hadn’t had a hit single since 1967 with the Syd Barrett composition ‘See Emily Play’, but a couple months after the release of Dark Side, Floyd issued an edited-down version of ‘Money’ as a single in the US and Europe, which has since become a staple for classic rock radio. Waters came up with the idea of creating a sound effects loop that would insert into the track – the literal sounds of money (coins, bags of cash, registers, etc.), which he recorded in a makeshift recording studio in his garden shed. Drummer Mason helped Waters begin collecting this rhythmic loop in the song’s home demo stage.
The success of the album brought wealth to all four members of the band; Richard Wright and Roger Waters bought large country houses, and Nick Mason became a collector of upmarket cars. Pink Floyd were massive fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In fact, Alan Parsons would later say that the band’s frequent breaks in recording to watch the show afforded him time and opportunity to experiment with different mixes and effects in the studio. Some of the profits from the album were invested in the production of one the most hilarious, daring and influential British comedy films of all time, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The Dark Side of the Moon became one of the best-selling albums of all time and although it held the number one spot in the US for only a week, it remained in the Billboard album chart for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. Part of the legacy of The Dark Side of the Moon is in its influence on modern music, the musicians who have performed cover versions of its songs, and even in modern urban myths. Its release is often seen as a pivotal point in the history of rock music, and comparisons are sometimes drawn between Pink Floyd and Radiohead – specifically their 1997 album OK Computer – which has been called The Dark Side of the Moon of the 1990s.
Dark Side of the Rainbow and Dark Side of Oz are two names commonly used in reference to rumours (circulated on the Internet since at least 1994) that The Dark Side of the Moon was written as a soundtrack for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Observers playing the film and the album simultaneously have reported apparent synchronicities, such as Dorothy beginning to jog at the lyric ‘no one told you when to run’ during ‘Time’, and Dorothy balancing on a tightrope fence during the line ‘balanced on the biggest wave’ in ‘Breathe’. Both David Gilmour and Nick Mason have denied a connection between the two works, and Roger Waters has described the rumours as ‘amusing’.
We have a book! Pink Floyd – I Was There which contains over 400 eyewitness accounts from fans who saw Pink Floyd live in concert. Available in print and all digital formats.
March 1, 2019 at 1:37 pm
I remember playing the album and then when it finished you would pick up the needle and play it again. Love that album!
March 1, 2019 at 9:58 pm
Me too. Best album ever. I still have the original album and poster that came with it.
March 1, 2019 at 10:36 pm
The first time I heard it in its entirety I was 13 years of age while I was with my two older brothers
We had smoked a joint before hand and had the 4 channel stereo cranked up to 11, it was a defining moment in my life as I am yet to hear a greater body of work, (although Wish You Were Here does come close).
45 years later and I still think its the greatest album of all time.
My family have clear instructions that it must be played at my funeral followed by Wish You Were Here.
Pink Floyd, simply the greatest band of all time.
March 2, 2019 at 12:18 am
Still my favorite album of all time. .never tire of it and always a joy to listen to
March 3, 2019 at 3:53 pm
I always thought it was a concept album and the theme was “life”… This finally confirms it for me after all these years.
March 4, 2019 at 2:10 pm
Yes, the Experience Box Set is the one to have, great album.
March 11, 2019 at 8:24 am
It’s one of the best albums ever:
Together wit Sgt.Pepper’s, Pet Sounds,Their Satanic Majesty, Led ZeppelinII, Are you experienced and Wheels from Cream.
March 31, 2019 at 10:44 am
dark side of the moon is great album i remember having it on tape all them years a go alan parson did a fine job
April 28, 2019 at 10:44 am
Dark Side of The Moon is to Pink Floyd what Sgt Pepper is to the Beatles (IMHO). Stunning on record and amazing live. A few years after seeing the live tour, I was off to Hollywood to seek my fortune as a musician, but drifted into a job at Capitol Records who had both the Beatles and Floyd in the catalogue. When new releases were going slow, the company would keep the pressing plants (and later the CD factories) busy pressing extra copies of Sgt Pepper and Dark Side in the tens of thousands. They knew the product would continue to sell. In the 90s I transferred to EMI’s London headquarters and worked on all the special packaging for Pink Floyd’s Shine boxset and The Beatles Anthologies. A privilege and a treat! But then again in the late 90s, I’ve got 2 primary school aged sons, and I’m playing guitar or bass at school events with dads and teachers and on granny. The granny turns out to be a session singer (with scores of amazing credits) who went by the stage name, Barrie St John. Her real name is Liz, and Liz was one of the 3 backing singers on Dark Side of The Moon! She’s not singing much these days, but I still see her at our local supermarket now and again.
April 28, 2019 at 5:13 pm
When our son was born, my wife got permission from the doctors to have music playing in the delivery room. You guessed it, she chose Dark Side of the Moon. He was born during Any Colour You Like.
May 1, 2019 at 3:00 am
I first heard this album as an American 18 year old lower middle-class white male while under the influence of strong weed and psilocybin while laying on my back on a sheetless mattress on the floor of a bedroom of a friend who lived in Venice beach in southern California.
I was there for a long weekend of mindless revelry with several other friends who’d been invited to celebrate the fortune of our liberation…President Nixon had only a month earlier signed the Paris Peace accord with North Viet Nam.
I and most of my friends had draft lottery numbers low enough that all but insured our induction into military service.
I say liberation because that’s how it felt. Since we were old enough to understand what we saw as young boys on the nightly news, it became increasingly more apparent that if that war did not end soon, we…our entire generation…would be those faces on the news. We felt like dead men walking from the time we were 10 or 12 years old.
This feeling permeated every fabric of our youthful beings. It infected how we viewed the timeline of our young lives as if life was potentially over once we reached 18…our draftable age.
Our female peers were exempt from the legal obligations of the mandatory draft. They all got to dream about their futures…who’d they’d be; who’d they’d love; a family; perhaps a career. They did not awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after a horrifying dream of being one of those dead GIs we all saw in a fire-fight in some good-forsaken jungle on the nightly news. Instead they dreamed of the Soph-Hop, the Junior-Prom or the Senior-Ball, what they’d wear and who their date would be.
My generation’s youth was spent in abject fear
from the years of watching the horror of the Viet Nam war unfold each night on our TVs… watching with trepidation that our youth, like thousands of other boys before us, was to be taken from us…that out fate, our future had been decided by politicians who did not know us and whom we did not know but who had voted to conscript us with or without our consent and ship us off to a foreign jungle, to wade through insect infested, muddy rice paddys, and to kill or be killed by oriental men, women and children who didn’t know us and whom we did not know.
The damn war pit many of us against each other and even against ourselves. It divided the country.
So what we had all spent our youths in a state of high anxiety over, was, thanks to President Nixon, now, finally at an end.
The end of a war was certainly worth celebrating, yes?
As I laid upon that sheetless mattress, a cool ocean breeze began wafting in off the Pacific, parting the cheap polyester curtains that graced the window above my head and settled on to my half-naked body softly caressing it, anointing it as if preparing it for the sacrament of burial.
I struggled as an amateur musician as a youth. I came from a family of six siblings and my parents had no expendable income to spend on music lessons for any of their children. So I was left to my own devices. I picked up one cheap guitar after another and taught myself some chords and techniques. I wasn’t very good. But every once in a while, I could play a favourite tune with a passion that satisfied me and whoever else was within earshot. I loved music. It was like air to me.
So there I was, stoned out of my mind. Alive and awake in a beach town laying down with a cool breeze blowing in the wind over my body and overcome with a very strong feeling of release and relief.
Someone in the other room cued up a new album called, ”The Dark Side of the Moon” by some band called, ”Pink Floyd”.
As I listened to it, I couldn’t breath. It literally took my breath away. No music before that moment in time had ever had that effect on me…and I had listened to a shit load of music by then.
When the album reached the song, ”great gig in the sky” I heard this angelic female voice laying down a wordless melody to a piano solo that was so tender and so timeless. I became overwhelmed with emotion and I began to sigh, softly at first, and then I began to sob uncontrollably. I thought of all those raging battles I’d witnessed for years on the nightly news; all those people, Americans and Vietnamese, now dead. All those lost lives and the ripple effect that enormous loss would have on generations of related lives for years to come. I was simultaneously overcome with an acute sense sorrow and relief.
To this day I sob when I hear ”the great gig in the sky”.
Few songs can move me to tears, but Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In The Sky brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
I guess you just had to be there.
Thank you Claire Torry for touching me and countless others with your wordless melody. I believe your improvisation will go down in music history as one of the best improvised melodies ever recorded.
June 11, 2019 at 6:27 pm
Great memory! Thanks for sharing. Very powerful!
June 11, 2019 at 9:40 pm
An all time favorite of mine. Every track is perfect. I think it is an album about life… No dout. A master piece of music.. Also i am in the book pink floyd i was there..
June 29, 2019 at 1:38 am
Michael White … so eloquently written… you took me back to that time. My hubby was #24 in the draft and he had to go serve , even though I was saying hell no. I too lived thru the anguish of the Vietnam war every night on the nightly news. And we are still sending our youth to fight an old mans war. I hate war. I Love Pink Floyd and dark side of the moon And you are right Clare Torry’s melody is beautiful. Great gig in the sky !
September 6, 2019 at 7:13 pm
In this human experience that we all navigate daily, there is the time before you first discovered The Darkside of the Moon and the time after your first listening… you cannot go back, what is done cannot be undone, you have evolved and the music is now part of your DNA forever and ever… call it a curse, but I cannot imagine the world without it now…
September 7, 2019 at 10:49 pm
I had the poster glued on my bedroom wall and my dad would pound on the wall, yelling at me to turn it down whenever l would play it. Loved it then and love it still. I glued the poster cuz when l had taped it, my dad had pulled it down.
September 7, 2019 at 10:50 pm
I had the poster glued on my bedroom wall and my dad would pound on the wall, yelling at me to turn it down whenever l would play it. Loved it then and love it still.
January 27, 2020 at 9:58 am
I was a nieve 15 year old in my last year at high school , I liked music but usually only top 40 pop music was available back then unless you had $$$ to buy records. My friends parents had just bought a very good Sharp 4 channel quadaphonic hi fi system my mate said his older brother had just bought the new Pink Floyd album . He put it on the turntable turned the volume right up and what can I say wow I closed my eyes and was transformed instantly goosebumps and a incredible feeling of emotion especially when the great gig in the sky was playing. I walked home from his house in a surreal high from the experience and to this day 47 years later it’s still my favourite album though I only play it a few times a year now as like all great things they stay great by moderation.
January 28, 2020 at 8:00 am
Awesome article! Learned alot thank u Eddie B.
March 1, 2020 at 9:55 pm
he was played during my double lung transplant
March 2, 2020 at 8:13 am
The way we enjoyed “Dark Side of the Moon” back in the day was with a bit of mesclun and pot. Still, a great listen 46 years later.
March 2, 2020 at 9:37 pm
I saw 2 of 5 shows on that tour at the L.A. Sports arena. We had floor seats. While waiting for the LSD to come on I noticed there was not much equipment on stage. A few amps, a few guitars and a large bullseye mounted on an easel. I commented to my brother that they were suppose to have the best sound system in the world and that it is going to take hours to set up. Puzzled, I leaned back in my seat and looked up and Holy shit! there was this large rectangle shape hanging down from the ceiling maybe 15 or 20 feet wide stacked maybe 10 ft high of different size and shaped speakers facing in and another stack facing out. There were giant horn looking speakers the size of a Volkswagen bus in all 4 corners. There were numerous techs in white lab coats running around up there turning knobs and whatever. Later they were getting the music to flow around in a circle and then slowly drag and turn in the other direction. Oh, and that bullseye on stage? During the song about Roger’s father going down in a burning airplane over the English channel in the war, a replica of a bi-wing plane followed a wire from way up in the corner of the venue and crashed into the bullseye on stage. I will not even attempt to tell you how mind blowing the whole show was. That is truly an experience that I will take to my grave.
March 2, 2020 at 10:29 pm
I Saw them in Seattle in April 74′ with 3 buddies.
We Were ” Tripping” in our seats about 40 feet away…as They Got on Stage, Playing & Singing this Entire Album!
Really Enjoyed the Circular Screen with Video Going on Simultaneously with Their Songs, & the Plane that Shot up from the back of the Coliseum on a wire & Exploded when it hit the target on Stage…& Then the Video showed the WORLD Blowing up On Fire. INCREDIBLE Show!✌ Ps…Even Better on Headphones with all the Different Tracks Melding in Your Ears & Mind too.
March 29, 2020 at 8:28 am
Ground breaking album
March 29, 2020 at 7:32 pm
Great documentary for the most iconic music album .
April 19, 2020 at 6:03 am
Thanks for the excellent eyewitness comments from back in the day. You’ve just made my night.
April 29, 2020 at 3:14 pm
I get the 8 track back in 74 I’m 65 and still my favorite record and I played almost every morning with my coffe e☮️✌️❤️
July 4, 2020 at 1:24 pm
I’ve bought it a couple of times, my ex stole my first album.
August 4, 2020 at 12:18 pm
I was 13 or 14 when I listened to this album for the first time, since then Pink Floyd has become and will always be my favorite band.
June 12, 2022 at 6:47 am
I love pink floyd.Floyd.. dark side of the moon is great every song on it. I have the article about Dark side of the moon going along with the wizard of Oz. You start the album at the 3rd roar of the lion and the whole side sinks right in with the wizard of Oz movie. I’ve done it. It’s really wild how that happened and was it really planned or what. How’d it come to happen and so we’ll.??