The Dark Side of the Moon is Pink Floyd's eighth album and is probably the most influential album of the most influential Progressive Rock band. Pink Floyd had their first album released in 1967, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn , with Roger Waters on bass, Richard Wright on keyboards, Nick Mason on drums and Roger "Syd" Barrett on lead guitar and vocals. Although Barrett was already replaced during the recording of the second album by David Gilmour, he left a huge impression on the rest of the band, something that they never got rid of until the mid eighties when Waters left en Pink Floyd refreshed itself. In my opinion, one can roughly devide the history of Pink Floyd in three stages. The first period is from the start in '67 until about '71-'72, the psychedelic period, influenenced by the musical inheritance of Barrett. This ended with Obscured by Clouds, a much underestimated movie-soundtrack. Their second period is the period of Waters and massive albums, starting with Dark Side of the Moon and ending with The Wall (not considering The Final Cut ). The third period is the Gilmour period, with 2 studio albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell and 2 live albums. On the last live album, Pulse, the integral Dark Side of the Moon is featured. This stresses the importance that DSOTM, as the album is often acronymed, has to the band.
DSOTM was not written completely in 1972/1973. The "oldest" track on the album is Us and Them, originally titled The Violence Sequence and written in 1969 by Wright for the openings-sequence of the movie Zabritskie Point. The director of the movie decided not to use this sequence... In 1970 Roger Waters worked with Ron Geesin on the soundtrack of the documentary The Body. One of their tracks is called Breathe. It is not hard to imagine which track this would eventually become! While recording their 1971 album Meddle, Waters writes a song about a "Lunatic on the Grass", called Dark Side of the Moon. Although this song is not used on Meddle, it becomes the basis of their next studio album, together with the above mentioned tracks. Waters proposed to link these songs with the general theme of "madness" and make that into their new album. The band loved the idea and thus DSOTM was born. Time and Money were the first tracks especially written for the project. Having laid down the general theme, the rest of the album is written remarkably quickly, in 6 weeks time. The first time that DSOTM is performed in 1972, it had the subtitle Piece for Assorted Lunatics. At that time, On the Run did not exists yet and instead a song called The Travel Sequence was performed. This almost 8 minutes long improvisation of Gilmour and Wright never appeared agian. Also there was a track called The Religion Sequence with Saucerfull of Secrets-like organ tunes that was featured instead of the not-yet-written Great Gig in the Sky. Since the RelSeq featured voices of priests and Pink Floyd did not want to offend people, they decided to rewrite and rename it to the Mortality Sequence, later called GGITS. Time was played much slower than on the final album. Since the band was told that another band, Medicine Head wanted to market an album with the same title, the suite was called Eclipse for a while. When it turned out that album was a flop, they changed the name back into DSOTM. With Alan Parsons as sound engeneer, the album was recorded and soundeffects were added. According to Gilmour "the role of Parsons in the whole process was not as big as he wants people to believe and we could have done the same job without him, but in general he is a fine chap."
The final album consist of 10 songs (not counting Breathe (Reprise) as a seperate song). Since I assume that everybody has at least once listened to this album, I will not describe the musical contents of the individual songs, but rather give some funny details and themes. The album opens with Speak to Me, a collage of soundeffects and themes of the rest of the album, thus providing DSOTM with an Ouverture. It has evolved from the opening of Echoes on the Live at Pompeï movie. Although album credits give Mason as composer, Waters claims (and Gilmour confirms it) that he has conceived this piece. Speak to Me is what Alan Parsons used to say at the start of the recording sessions to adjust the recording volume, hence the title.
Breathe (in the air), sung by Gilmour but written by Waters, deals with the frustation of chasing empty goals in live. As mentioned before, the song evolved from the Music from the Body album by Waters and Geesin.
On the Run had to be about paranoia. The band experimented with the EMS VCS#3, a brand new synthesyser they just purchased until they had the repetitive sound they wanted. In fact, the whole track including bass etc. was done on this machine, hardly without any overdubs!
Time is about man's fixed habits and people waiting for their life to start. The tracks opens with a kakaphonia of clocks and bells, all recorded seperately by Alan Parsons in an antique store near the recording studios. The pace of the song has increased dramatically during its final recording with respect to the early versions, with Gilmour singing the fast parts and Wright the slow parts. It is followed by Breathe (reprise), put here due to the textual overlap of Breathe and Time.
The Great Gig in the Sky was originally intended to be about how religion can drive people to insanity (The Religion Sequence), but later changed into the fear of dying (The Mortality Sequence), later renamed to TGGITS. The decision to add the vocals came only after the recording of the main track. The session vocalist Clare Torry was told only the theme of the song and improvised on it. The result is known....
Money, about the pressure money can give in people's every day life, was almost finished when Waters brought it to the studio to let the others hear it. The band only added a middle part, and there it was. The most difficult parts were the soundeffects of a cashregister in 7/8, a masterpiece of Parsons and his tape-cutting-and-pasting abilities.
Us and Them was written by Waters using Wright's 1969 The Violence Sequence. The song deals with three contradictions: rich and poor, employers and workcrew (illustrated by generals and dying soldiers) and "us" and "them" (the differences between individuals which lead to more general phenoma like racism). All the spoken sentences on the record are awnsers to (unheard) questions. In this case: "Have you ever been violent ?" and "were you right ?".
Any Colour You Like, originally called Dave's Scat Section, is the only song on the album that goes back to Floyd's past of improvisation and is the only song not (co-)written by Waters. The title is due to a roady of the group who told them they could have it in "any colour you like" when asked to do something he didn't want to do. So in fact he told them they could let him do anything...
Brain Damage, originally called "Dark Side of the Moon" is written by Waters when a feeling of nostalgia hits when picking material for the Relics album, and is originally about Barrett. For the album, the context is broadened to the person behind the facade that the outside world sees.
Originally the suite ended after Brain Damage, but the group realised it needed a stronger ending. Therefore Waters wrote Eclipse, a song in the form of a summation using the image of the cold, dead moon eclipsing the warm, live giving sun, in this way summing up all the contrasts encountered in the album, bringing the album to its climax and ending. A true masterpiece had been created.
After the release of the album, Money was released as a single. The modest success of the single (13 in USA), caused a dramatic change in the type of audience for the Floyd. Before the Dark Side, people were quiet and listened to the music. Now, they scream for the hit-song and yell. Eventually, Waters will be so fed up with that, that he's going to write a new album about his reactions... but that is a different story. The Dark Side has been in the Billboard list for the total of 591 weeks and it is estimated that 1 in 4 British households owns a copy of the album, and 1 in 14 people in the USA. A total of over 35 million copies have been sold, stressing how deep the impact of the album has been and still is.
Written by Remco Schoenmakers,
using a great article by Frans Schmidt. Thanks Ed Sander for providing me with it.