The Power of The Dark Side (of the Moon)
The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd is one of the most commercially and critically successful rock albums ever. In some ways it was a radical departure from Floyd’s earlier pieces. The band’s first album, The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, is a loosely connected set of shorter, more traditional song structures. The albums that followed, such as Meddle, would often feature long, extremely expansive pieces that were almost rock music symphonies. “Echoes” stretched out over 20 minutes long. But Dark Side is different. Rather than a collection of a few symphony-like songs, the whole album is of one piece. The songs swoop down and cross fade into one another and there is no real break between pieces. The songs are like movements. Listening to individual songs from the album is in itself highly rewarding. But there’s something otherworldly about listening to the album as one unified piece of music.
But the greatness of The Dark Side of the Moon goes much deeper than its structure. It’s songs are each a thing of pure beauty, incomparable expressions of the human condition. Yes, it’s an album about madness, but it’s about so much more as well. It asks the question: what is it to be a human being? What are the things in our lives that play into our deepest hopes and fears? What are our greatest sources of passion and dread? And how do they induce the madness that is so often mentioned as Dark Side’s theme? All of this is accomplished with musicianship of the highest level; writing that is at the height of rock music as an art form.
9 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About The Dark Side of the Moon
How did this iconic album come to be? The eighth studio album by Pink Floyd, the band could sense something very special indeed when they were writing and recording it.They were focused, and immersed in the idea of working on one coherent piece for their grandest musical statement yet. Here are 9 facts about the making of this incredibly special record:
1. The Idea for Dark Side was Hatched at Nick Mason’s House
At the end of 1971, Pink Floyd began discussing what would emerge as a new album. The band called a meeting at Nick Mason’s house in St. Augustine’s Road, Camden. Roger Waters had some song ideas: for example, the verse and chorus of the music that would ultimately be “Time,” and an interesting bass riff in the 7:8 time signature – which would, of course, become the foundation for “Money.”
2. The Dark Side of the Moon’s Original Concept was to be about the Pressures and Stresses of Modern Life
At this meeting, the theme of the “pressures / stresses of modern life” and also of their special touring life began to emerge. The band began to discuss what those were: the fear of dying, the seduction of money, and the issue of mental unbalance, which often led to madness. After developing a list of such topics, Roger Waters went off to work on lyrics for the new ideas.
3. The Album’s Full Title was to Be Dark Side of the Moon, A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.
The title Eclipse was also considered but was not favored. A band called Medicine Head had previously released an album called Dark Side of the Moon in 1972. That one wasn’t very successful and Pink Floyd decided to press on with their preferred title once they settled on it.
4. “Speak to Me” Previews the Entire Album
“Speak To Me” was designed as an overture to the new piece. It was meant to give people a sense of what was to come on the album. It was composed of snippets of each of the other tracks on the album, fading into one another. The heartbeat sound is a padded base drum, considerably slowed down from the actual tempo of a normal human heart. There’s also the sound of a giant piano chord being held underneath (one might think of the very end of The Beatles’ “A Day In the Life”) the rest of the ambient sounds, played backwards, heard as a slow crescendo into the tune as it crests into the next track… “Breathe.”
5. “On the Run” Is Basically a Piece of Proto-Electronica
“On the Run,” an instrumental piece, was played on an EMS Synthesizer. This instrument followed the development of the VCS3 synthesizer. “On the Run” had been developed on tour using only guitar and keyboards because they did not have the synthesizers available to them on the road. A variety of sound effects from the EMI studio library also aided in the creation of the piece. An echo chamber in the studio was utilized for the footstep sounds.
6. The Beginning of “Time” Was Recorded In an Antique Shop
The clock sounds at the beginning of “Time” were recorded in a real antique clock shop by engineer Alan Parsons (yes, that Alan Parsons, who eventually had his own “project” going on) with the variety of live clocks available there.
7. The Great Gig In the Sky Was Almost an Opera Piece
“The Great Gig In the Sky” was a composition by Richard Wright. Significant discussions were held about who to use for the female vocals on the song. Pink Floyd settled on Clare Torry, who provided more of the European sound that they were looking for rather than the straight ahead soul sound of some other performers considered. It was also a less avant-garde feel than the mezzo-soprano Cathy Berbarian suggested by Nick Mason. Torry actually apologized for being too over the top after her stunning performance, but the band thought she was fantastic.
8. Those Money Sounds Were Hand-Spliced Together
The seven sounds heard on the “Money” tape loop were devised by Mason and Waters in their home studios. These included a variety of effects heard with coin money, the tearing of paper, and an effect from the studio sound library that represented the cash register. The sounds were actually measured out on tape with a ruler to be the same length and then spliced together.
9. Paul & Linda McCartney Appear on the Album
After the recording of the principle music heard on the album, the soft spoken vocals heard underneath the tracks were recorded one night. The idea came from Waters, and he came up with a series of question on the topics of madness, mortality, and violence, and had them written down. The band then invited anybody available around the Abbey Road studio complex that were not members of Pink Floyd, to come in and record their answers to the questions. Among the voices recorded (though not used on the actual album) were Paul and Linda McCartney.
A process full of experimentation paid off with unbelievable dividends, as everything seemed to come together and clicked. Pink Floyd would suddenly be launched from a relatively small-time act to one of the greatest bands in music, selling more CD’s than they could imagine and taking the world by storm. Dark Side remained on the charts for an astonishing 741 weeks. But more importantly, it will be etched in our hearts forever.
We know, we know, it’s impossible to choose, but try anyway: what’s your very favorite track on The Dark Side of the Moon? Let us know in the comments below, or leave us a message on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/TributApparel or on Twitter at @tributapparel
Mason, Nick. Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. Philip Dodd, ed. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.