When I went to fetch my copy of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ to listen to while I wrote this piece, I was more than a bit distressed to find it missing from my music collection. I immediately turned to my adult son, chief culprit whenever any of my Pink Floyd goes missing, insisting that he had to have it somewhere —in his car, his computer bag, under his bed, somewhere — when my 17-year-old poked his head out of his room just long enough to hand over the disc. “Good stuff,” he mumbled. Well, I’ll be. Score one for stellar parenting.
‘Dark Side of the Moon’ has been part of my life for most all of my life and, by extension, the lives of my offspring. They’ve listened to it from the womb. From their car seats and their beach blankets and the dinner table. Over the decades I’ve owned just about every pressing of Pink Floyd’s masterpiece as well as novelties like the picture disc, symphonic ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ the ‘Flaming Lips do Dark Side,’ and ‘Dark Side’ lullabies for babies.
I’ve tried the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ ”Wizard of Oz” thing, the ‘Dark Side’ laser light show, and the ‘Dark Side’ trivia quiz (a few minutes ago, when I should’ve been writing). I’ve meditated and made mad love to that collection of languorous, fluid songs. Lost myself in the album’s hypnotic soundscapes and waxed philosophically on its themes into the wee hours. I’ve gone to bed many a night with gigantic headphones strapped on nice and snug, ‘Dark Side’ pouring over me at obscene decibels, dragging me under.
‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (the “The” wasn’t added to the title until the 2003 reissue) has meant a lot to many over the decades. The album spent a staggering 741 weeks on the Billboard 200, from 1973 till it quietly fell off the charts in 1988, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records and setting a record that has yet to be broken. It’s one of those landmark albums of the ’70s, like The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘IV’ aka ‘Zoso,’ aka ‘Four Sticks’ that is ageless and timeless. Its impact on music, from songwriting to production and engineering, is still felt four decades after its release. ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ turned Pink Floyd from a London underground psychedelic band into one of the biggest of all the stadium rock bands and remains one of the most iconic records in rock music.
When the album was released on March 1, 1973, it marked a distinct change of direction in Pink Floyd’s sound, due in large part to the departure of Syd Barrett, who had been the band’s principal songwriter until his deteriorating mental state forced him to leave the group. Unlike the work on their previous albums, which tended to be disjointed, spacey and lacked the narrative glue to hold everything together, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was a cohesive whole.
With the whimsical Barrett out of the band and David Gilmour in, Roger Waters assumed the lyrical helm. His aim was to shed the “space rock” moniker attached to their music and write songs that were less abstract and more concrete. “I think we all thought—and Roger definitely thought—that a lot of the lyrics we had been using were a little too indirect,” David Gilmour told Rolling Stone. “There was definitely a feeling that the words were going to be very clear and specific. That was a leap forward. Things would mean what they meant. That was a distinct step away from what we had done before.”
Barrett’s mental problems also served as inspiration for much of the albums concept and themes that range from disenchantment and madness to the passage of time, conflict, greed and mortality, psychological and emotional concerns that are universal. Little wonder then that the album should resonate with the collective the way it did and continues to do.
Pink Floyd were way ahead of their time with ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ writing the music of the future both lyrically and aurally. With all the sonic experimentation that went into the making of the album, it’s pretty incredible to think that the band pulled it off without the technology so readily available today. Back then, songs like “On the Run” required the whole band adjusting specific knobs at specific times to get sound effects like hurried footfalls, disembodied voices and heartbeats, which add tension to the music. Everything was done manually using tape and razor blades and was coordinated by the use of hand signs and stopwatches.
The intro to “Money,” on which cash registers, bills and coins clink, rip and jangle in a cacophony of noise playing to the opening bass riff, were sounds created at home using everyday objects. “I had drilled holes in old pennies and then threaded them on to strings,” drummer Nick Mason recalled in his autobiography “Inside Out.” “They gave one sound on the loop of seven. Roger had recorded coins swirling around in the mixing bowl [his wife] Judy used for her pottery. Each sound was measured out on the tape with a ruler before being cut to the same length and then carefully spliced together.”
Another key component of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ are the vocal drop-ins heard throughout the album. Laughter, shrieks and random asides, initially planned as bridges or segues between songs, haunt the album, drifting in and out of the music. The idea was to stimulate people to speak in spontaneous words and phrases that would provide color and add a human touch to the record.
To this end, Waters devised a series of questions that reflected the album’s themes: Are you afraid of dying? When were you last violent? Were you in the right? What do you think of the dark side of the moon? The band was at Abbey Road putting finishing touches on the album when they asked these questions and more of anyone and everyone who walked through the studio: band crew, roadies, and studio staff. Paul and Linda McCartney, whose band Wings were similarly finishing up their album ‘Red Rose Speedway’ in the studio next to Pink Floyd, were interviewed. Waters, however, thought their responses too polished and contrived for the album, though Wing’s guitarist Henry McCullough made the cut. When asked when he was last violent and was he in the right, McCullough, recalling a fight he’d had with his wife the night before, responded “I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time.”
Perhaps the album’s most famous quote though came not from a celebrity, band member, engineer or roadie, but from a soft-spoken Irishman named Gerry O’Driscoll, who was the doorman at Abbey Road. When asked for his thoughts on the album’s title, O’Driscoll said plainly, “There is no dark side of the moon, really. As a matter of fact, it’s all dark.”
Sadly, for all its universal acclaim, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ marked the beginning of the end for Pink Floyd. Creating the definitive rock commentary on madness and isolation finished off the band once and for all, Waters told Chris Salewicz of Radio K.A.O.S. in 1987. “To be that successful is the aim of every group. And once you’ve cracked it, it’s all over.”
‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is complex and profound. Music meant to be felt and not simply heard. When I play the album these days, I still do so too loudly, but now I listen with more intent than I did back in the years after its release. Gilmour’s bluesy, ethereal guitar. Clare Torry’s mercurial vocals. Waters’ brilliant lyrics. I sear every note, every nuance, every heartbeat, each spoken word and demented laugh into my soul because when I depart this earthly plane, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is coming with me.
Side Note: March 29, 1980 Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ spent its 303rd week on the US album chart, beating the record set by Carole King’s 1971 No.1 album ‘Tapestry.’ The album remained in the US Billboard charts for 741 discontinuous weeks from 1973 to 1988, longer than any other album in chart history. After moving to the Billboard Top Pop Catalog Chart, the album notched up a further 759 weeks, and had reached a total of over 1,500 weeks on the combined charts by May 2006.