Pink Floyd’s Magnum Opus “The Dark Side of The Moon” Turns 50

The Dark Side of The Moon Album Cover, depicting light refracting through a prism


“The Dark Side of The Moon” Album Cover, depicting light refracting through a prism

Garrett Clarke, Senior Editor

On May 31, 1972, Pink Floyd began recording “A Piece for Assorted Lunatics” after they premiered the piece at the Brighton Dome on Jan. 20, 1972. What Pink Floyd premiered in 1972 is now known as “The Dark Side of The Moon”. The album’s lyrics bring up topics such as money/greed, time, death, mental illness, human empathy, and even the fear of travel/flying. The album was inspired by former member and co-founder of the band Syd Barrett who left the band after a combination of drug use and mental illness. After the stress of the two became too much, Barrett suffered a mental breakdown and fled the public eye. “Syd was the heartbeat of the band,” Roger Waters said.  

The album opens with “Speak to Me,” an overture of sorts. Beginning with a heartbeat that continues throughout the whole album increasing and decreasing in speed, followed by the ticking of clocks (Time), you hear a voice say “I’ve been mad for f***ing years absolutely years. Been over the edge for yonks, been working me buns off for bands. I’ve always been mad, like the most of us have. [It’s] very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad.” Of course, the term mad is being used to describe insanity or mental illness.

“Yonks” is a British slang term meaning a long time. Then there is the sound of a cash register (Money), Laughter (Brain Damage), and a Woman Screaming (The Great Gig in the Sky). The album has many spoken word sections in the background found on every song on the album except for “Breathe (In the Air),” “Time,” and “Any Colour You Like”. These come from bassist Roger Waters who was holding cards with questions, and several crew members found at Abbey Road Studios who were answering. The first card started the line of questions with one simple question “What is your favorite color” however as the interview went on the questions got even deeper. “When was the last time you thumped someone? Did you think you were in the right? Why did you do it? Do you still think you were in the right?” Moving on to their thought of death or dying “Are you frightened of dying? Why are you frightened of dying?” Then for the final questions, they were asked about their thoughts about the literal dark side of the moon and their thoughts on their mental state. “Do you ever think about the dark side of the moon? Do you think you’re going mad? If so, why?” and finally “What do you think of the dark side of the moon” sometimes the responses to these questions are easy to lose when listening to the album, so I will be sure to point them out when a song having one is covered. The scream of a woman is the lead into the album’s second track.  

“Breathe (In the Air)” is often played with “Speak to Me” on the radio because there are no lyrics on the album’s first track. But the album’s first line of lyrics serves as a reminder “Breathe, Breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care.” a reminder to take in your surroundings and to appreciate them. Everyone has their own experience in life that forms a unique perspective. “All that you touch, and all that you see is all your life will ever be.” The first verse captures many different reminders that mostly center around perspective and your environment, and the second verse seems to take on the idea of fulfillment or lack thereof. “Run, Rabbit Run. Dig that hole, forget the sun. When at last the work is done don’t sit down it time to dig another one.” When put into the perspective of a recording and touring artist whose work is seldom done until retirement, the fulfillment is often overshadowed by the need to record another record or perform another show. In the final chorus, we are told that it is important to take it slow, to go with the flow or “Ride the tide” and not to be hasty with our choices for when “Balanced on the biggest wave, you race towards an early grave.” The arpeggiated guitar with the lap steel makes for a perfect combo creating a peaceful feeling that comes quickly to an end.  

The third song on the album is the second of four tracks without lyrics (Including “The Great Gig in The Sky” which has vocals but not lyrics). This track introduces the topic of the fear of flying. The original title for this song was simply “Travel” or “The Travel Sequence.” This picture is painted with several different sounds that are there to make you nervous. From the sound of running through an airport to the voice heard from a loudspeaker. Richard Wright’s keyboard playing on this song is a highlight of this album because of how powerful it is. The keyboard in this song carries the whole emotion of the song. As the song ends, we hear the line “Here for today gone tomorrow.” Before the song ends, we hear an explosion. Assumed to be a plane and then silence. When the song was played live on tour, the band would have a model plane fly through the venue and appear to crash.  

The 30 of silence is broken with a quiet but still noticeable ticking until the booming sound of clocks chiming intrudes the previously quiet environment of sound. After the sounds of chiming clocks which were recorded in an antique store fade, we hear Nick Mason on rototoms a type of drum that often turns off first-time listeners due to the length of the intro which is mostly a drum solo stretching 2:18 seconds before any lyrics are heard. This song is about the perception of time and how it will bring everything and everyone to its own inevitable end. No matter what, the seconds will always keep ticking away and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. So, knowing this, what will you do with your time? We see two perspectives through the song, a younger person, an adolescent who is not worried about not having enough time and sees that they may even have too much time. They see a need to almost waste the time they have been given. We see the narrator describe this through the line delivered as if we are being spoken to “Ticking away the moments that make of a dull day. You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown… And you are young, and life is long and there is time to kill today” the lyrics that follow begin the second perspective that evolves from that same adolescent to an older person realizing that they should not have wasted that time. “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you on one told you when to run you missed the starting gun” We see the narrator realizing their mistake which is unfixable because time can be expended but not created or regained, once you use a second a minute or any amount of time, it is gone. Before the next line, we hear David Gilmour play one of his best solos ever in my opinion, running from 3:17-4:43 towards the end of the solo we hear backing vocals from four background singers. These women were Doris Troy, Barry St. John, Lesley Duncan, and Liza Strike after the solo we return to the second verse where their voices are heard. “And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking, racing around to come up behind you again.” running toward this setting sun could be a metaphor comparing the end of a day to the end of a life “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death.” But we are running to recoup the time we wasted. At the end of the song, we see what is called “Breathe (Reprise)” it is called this because it was originally going to be the third verse to the song Breathe (In the Air). This song segues into the next track, which Richard Wright describes as a life turning into death, which leads me to believe that the lines “The tolling of the iron bell cause the faithful to their knees in a softly spoken magic spell” to be depicting a funeral with the ringing iron bell being a church bell and the faithful on their knees praying for their lost one alongside a priest providing a “Softly spoken magic spell”  

The A-side ends with a vocally amazing track performed by Clare Torry who was brought into the studio by audio engineer Alan Parsons. This song was originally known as “The Mortality Sequence” when it was played live before the album’s release. Some of the spoken words include “And 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.” shortly after, the vocal solo begins we hear Torry’s incredible vocals which were taken from three different takes. “Clare came into the studio one day, and we said, ‘There’s no lyrics. It’s about dying – have a bit of a sing on that, girl.'” Roger Waters told Rolling Stone magazine in 2003. Because the entire solo was improvised, Torry was not sure what to do in the moment but later figured “I have to be an instrument, and that gave me an avenue to explore.” Torry said in an interview. Thirty-one years after the album was released Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for damages and lost earnings, Torry was originally paid the £30 session fee. However, Torry claimed that she deserved half copyright of the song and said that she composed it. The High Court sided with Torry, and she was given her half share on the copyright and an undisclosed amount of money from an out-of-court settlement. A fun fact about this song is that in 1974 Richard Wright agreed for the song to be used in a Dole Banana advertisement.  

Cha-Ching! That is the sound that opens the B-side of this record, the sound of a cash register followed by other sounds of coins moving around and receipts being ripped. These sounds were created by splicing together audio of rattling coins, ripping paper, and ringing a cash register. This was mostly used on tour but was re-recorded on multitrack tapes for the album so that it could be used with the quadrophonic sound which is similar to stereo audio except the sound comes from four directions rather than just two. This song brings up topics of greed which is also seen on songs on Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here such as Have a Cigar, and Welcome to The Machine. These songs are mostly targeted at music labels who often take what a band would see as art as a chance for profit. But as for Money this song is about high-class people with more than enough money. This is depicted through many lyrics in which we are given examples of expensive items that are unnecessary “New Car, Caviar. Four-star daydream, Think I’ll buy me a football team.” These luxurious purchases show that these rich people are often just looking for ways to show off their wealth whether it is through their foods are even through owning extravagant things that normal middle-class people would not have or need. Of course, throughout the song we hear a unique time signature 7/4 with one of the best basslines I have ever heard. On this track it sounds like there are three separate guitar parts, the first is a riff that parallels the bassline, another is one that uses a tremolo pedal which rapidly increases and decreases the audio signals volume in a way that still provides a sense of rhythm, and the third is the solos all of which were played by Gilmour using track overdubbing. The song was originally intended to be a bluesy song rather than a rock song but Waters who wrote the song decided that the main riff would be a blues riff, if you listen to the demo of the song than you can hear how it was meant to be a slower more bluesy song, but the outcome was a song that was majority rock. One thing that sticks out about this song is the use of a saxophone from Dick Parry that is also found on Us and Them. As the song goes on, we hear some contradictions about money, “Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie.” This of course sounds like it is coming from the same person or type of person we heard in the song before. Another one contradiction is from the bible the song mentions Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” but mostly pays attention to that first bit of money being the root of all evil. “Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today. But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away.” Why get rid of evil when it is benefiting you? At the end of the song, we hear more of the voices, these being in response to the questions about being violent. “Yes, absolutely in the right.” “I certainly was in the right” “I definitely was in the right, that geezer was cruisin’ for a bruisin'” I don’t know I was really drunk at the time”. These lines talking about violence at the end never stuck out to me until I listened to the album in full. This song was the first Pink Floyd song I heard. I gained even more appreciation for the song and even the band after listening to the album in its entirety, it provided more context to the song that allowed me to further understand the song. The lines connect to the song after it as well which carries themes of violence.  

Us and Them (Also known as “The Violent Sequence”) was unintentionally in the works since 1969 when it was going to be put in the film “Zabriskie Point” but was cut because the director Michelangelo Antonioni as Waters recalls said “It’s beautiful, but is a too sad, you know? It makes me think of church.”. This song is the longest on the whole album, totaling 7:49.  As the track begins, we are greeted by Wright on the piano before Parry joins on the saxophone again. All the verses begin with something that mirrors the title, for instance “Us and Them”, “Me and You”, “Black and Blue” etc. This song echoes many of the lyrics. The song describes the human psyche on war and how we often see the people we are at war against being evil, even though “Were only ordinary men” who are simply being put on the battlefield to fight who they are being told is the enemy. “God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do” Some of those who end up going to war do not want to, and simply do it because they must. The second verse introduces us with a double entendre line “Black and blue” which is used to describe the color of bruises, but with the connection with bruises this line also incorporates police brutality with the idea of the blue being their uniform and the black being an African American person. The lyrics fit in with the theme of unity that we see in the first verse, we are all one species so why don’t we treat each other the same? We return to the previously painted warzone “Listen son said the man with the gun, there’s room for you inside.” This could be depicting military members forcing enlistment into the military or it could be depicted someone returning to a safer area in a warzone. We then enter an interlude with a voice clip from Roger Manifold who was the only person who was formally interviewed because when it was his turn to answer the questions on the cards, the cards were nowhere to be found. His response describes an altercation and how he handled it “I mean, they’re not gonna kill ya. So, like if you give ’em a quick ‘Short, Sharp, Shock’ They won’t do it again. Dig it? I mean, he got off lightly. ‘Cause I would’ve given him a thrashing. I only hit him once. It was only a difference of right and wrong, innit? But really, I mean good manners don’t cost nothing do they, eh?” The end of this quote raises the question of would the world be any better if everyone was nice to each other, or do we need the conflict, do we need something to be resolved, can we not all reach a peaceful agreement? The song switches themes again, this time from racial inequalities to economical inequalities. “Down and Out” is part of the fifth verse after we hear Parry on the saxophone, his final appearance on the album. The phrase is used as a known and an adjective to describe someone to be without money or a place to live. The line can relate to people and to countries who go to war, often for resources that they need. But for people being in a state of poverty this lyric and the lyric following sounds like a reference to the top 1% who get richer far faster than the remaining 99%. “It can’t be helped but there’s a lot of it about.” If you look on the streets of any major city or even the surrounding towns one of the things you see the most are unhoused and often do not have anything beyond what they can keep on them. Wars, Conflicts, and battles have been a part of humanity since its beginning and only result in the benefit of one of the parties involved, from arguments to world wars conflict is inevitable but don’t you think that we would be better off without it?  

As Us and Them ends the song segues into a 3:26 instrumental jam which is often extended when played live called “Any Colour You Like”. Out of all the instrumental tracks on the album, this one takes the cake, it the name comes from something that Henry Ford said about the Model T “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.” However, the idea for the title came from a visit to a man who was selling china dishes and other goods out of the back of his truck. “You can ‘ave ’em, ten bob to you, love. Any colour you like, they’re all blue,” The unknown man said. “Ten bob” means a five pence piece equivalent to a penny in the United States. But the quote gave Waters the thought how we often have the illusion of choice. This is not the first time we see color in this album because the first thing you see when you pick up a copy of this legendary record is the iconic album depicting a beam of light refracting through a prism. The album cover was designed by Hipgnosis a design duo who worked with the band as early as 1968 on their album “A Saucerful of Secrets” cover. They also worked with the band until 1977 for the album “Animals”. The idea to have light be implemented by the way their concerts often had a light show involved not the lyrics or themes present in the album although there are a few clear parallels between the cover and the lyrics. Us and Them discusses the themes of a lost unity, the white beam before hitting the prism could represent the first human ancestor which we all are derived from turning into all the several types of people we see throughout our lives and how their individual perspective and personality. It also parallels the title of “Any Colour You Like” of how we have this illusion of choice which could be depicted by all the separate colors coming out of the prism being what we perceive as our choices are all actually originating from one source, the beam of light. The album cover is one of the most well known album covers ever, yet many do not know the story behind the legendary album that in it is entirety sums up most of what you will experience during your life. 

This song was inspired by former member and co-founder Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett who had to leave the band due to a combination of his overuse of drugs and mental health issues that led to a mental breakdown. We can see the connection through the title of the song “Brain Damage” or it’s original title “Lunatic”. The lyrics follow this character of a lunatic the word lunatic is from the Latin word lunaticus, with luna meaning moon the word means intermittent insanity, often coordinated a full moon. But later gained the simpler meaning of someone who is mentally ill, or insane. The song has many references to Barrett and mental health. One of Pink Floyd’s first singles was titled “See Emily Play” a song which was like a nursery rhyme but mixed with psychedelic rock, many of Barrett’s songs would copy this happy childlike formula during his time with the band. We see a reference to this childlike behavior that we heard in his songs in the first few lyrics of the song “Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs”. The first chorus breaks the slow sweet pace of the verses “and if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and if there is no room on the hill, and if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” I think the dam breaking open is supposed to resemble the dark forebodings that are leading the lunatic in this song further into insanity. The following verse refers to lobotomies, which was common in the early 1900s until 1967. A lobotomy is a procedure that was often used to “cure” people of many different mental ailments but mostly schizophrenia. The procedure involved severing the frontal lobe from other parts of the brain. “You raised the blade, you make the change, you rearrange me till I’m sane.” We then see the main character fully lose conscious control and are no longer mentally present. “You lock the door and throw away the key. There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.” The last lyrics of this song are “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” They are another reference to Syd Barrett and his behaviors with the band right before his departure in which he would act sporadically and begin detuning his guitar in the middle of live performances, or another instance in which he came into the studio with a track in mind called “Have You Got It Yet?” where he would have them practice the song and then he would completely change the song in its entirety and sing the words “Have You Got It Yet?” This occurred during what would be Barrett’s final time in the studio with the band. 

The album’s climactic finale “Eclipse” begins with Wright on the keys The lyrics in this song reminds the listener that your life is made up of your choices or how you react to other people’s choices. Everything you interact with in your life is what makes you. Your choices are what make you unique and nothing like anyone else. The final track ties themes from most of the non-instrumental song on this album make an appearance on this final track making it similar yet very distinct from the opening track being that we get lyrics rather than sounds that unite the songs together. Back to one of the first lyrics on the album from “Breathe (In the Air)” “All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be.” “Time” represented by the lyrics “And all that is now, and all that is gone, and all that’s to come.” This shows up that the time we have used, spent, or wasted is gone. So what we have now and what is to come should be cherished. “Money” is seen in the lyrics “And all that you buy, beg, borrow, or steal.” and “Us and Them” being represented through “Everyone you meet, and all that you slight, and everyone you fight.” bringing up those topics of human interaction and violence. “Eclipse” has the last spoken words on the album “There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.” This provides us with more duality, which is seen mostly in “Us and Them”. Life requires duality like the simple idea that we need bad days to make the good days good. As Roger Waters put it “The album uses the sun and the moon as symbols; the light and the dark; the good and the bad; the life force as opposed to the death force. It is a quite simple statement saying that all the good things life can offer are there for us to grasp, but that the influence of some dark force in our natures prevents us from seizing them. The song addresses the listener and says that if you, the listener, are affected by that force, and if that force is a worry to you, well I feel exactly the same too.” I love the use of putting the climax of the album at the very end, Pink Floyd has a similar climax on their 1979 album “The Wall” with the last two tracks “The Trial” and “Outside the Wall” being the climax. 

The album begins and ends with a heartbeat, showing that the album could be showing the cycle of life with the first heartbeats in “Speak to Me” being the first heartbeats of someone and the heartbeats at the end of “Eclipse” being their last. This continuous heartbeat also makes the album a loop, or a cycle similar to that of life. I did not listen to this album in full until 2021, not only did this change my thoughts on psychedelic music and ’70s rock, but it also changed my thoughts on my life and how I should spend my time and how I should connect with other people. This album genuinely changed me as a person. Many of the themes that are present in this album are still relevant if not more relevant today especially those from “Money” and “Us and Them” both those song are written closely around how we function as a society and whether or not we need to change how we interact with each other as a society and how we should handle people who are keeping billions of dollars for themselves when there are people who do not have beds to sleep in. “Us and Them” carries one of if not the most important lesson of all the songs on this album of how we should treat each other, because while life is not fair while shouldn’t it at least be nice life to live. 

Some of my favorite songs on this album are some of my all-time favorites. My five favorite songs are ones that I never want to stop enjoying. 

  1. “Time” became my favorite immediately after my first listen. The message the song carries really stuck out to me and influenced how I spend my time. After listening to this song, I felt like I needed to spend more time doing things I enjoy, like using my free time to hang out with my friends who I only ever saw at school. 
  2. “Money” was the song that exposed me to Pink Floyd and allowed me to further enjoy their vast catalog of music. From the bass line to the saxophone solo the song is amazing start to finish. It still holds up today as it explores themes of how the rich often spend their money in unnecessary ways. 
  3. “Us and Them” is an amazing song that is important in the sense that it tells us that we should all be equal, a simple concept the many seem to neglect even though we all live on the same planet. 
  4. “Any Colour You Like” is an amazing track that sounds like the band letting off steam after “Us and Them” The guitar has this sound that you do not hear on any other track of the album. My favorite version of this song is from a performance in 1974, At The Empire Pool in Wembley, London. This is because they take this 3:26 long song, and stretch it to 8:10, the song is a bit calmer and more relaxed but still sounds quite like the studio version but simply longer. It is simply one of my favorite instrumental tracks ever. 
  5. “Eclipse” This song is one of the best album closers of all time. “Eclipse” kicks in with one of Wright’s best keyboard performances on the album. The song closes the album by summing up several of the topics displayed throughout the album and provides ideas of perspective  

After the album’s release in 1973 the album spent 741 consecutive weeks on the billboard charts before falling off in 1988. That is 14.25 years, not only that the album as of it 50-year anniversary has totaled 971 weeks, about 18.5 years. “The Dark Side of The Moon” Holds the record for most consecutive weeks on the billboard charts and the most weeks on the billboard charts in total. The album has sold an estimated 50 million copies since its release, making it the third best-selling studio album. Lately the band has been put under scrutiny on Twitter when the band’s profile picture changed in celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the album to a straightforward design featuring the prism with the number 50 in the middle with the iconic rainbow filling the zero.(Shown Below) Twitter users did not take the new profile picture well even though it is only slightly different than what you would find on a copy of the album. 

Due to the rainbow often being associated with the LGBTQ+ community people misjudged the profile picture and claimed that the band was attempting to be woke or more liberal leaning. “Lose the rainbow, you’re making yourself look stupid,” a user said. “From this moment I don’t listen to this band,” another user said. The irony in this situation is that Pink Floyd was already a political band if you look at other albums like “Animals” which is based on the George Orwell book “Animal Farm” but instead of pointing out the flaws of communism the band pointed out flaws in their own European capitalist system, a theme also seen in “Money”. Not only was the band political, but Roger Waters, who wrote all the lyrics on “The Dark Side of The Moon” is very outwardly progressive. But if you listen to the song “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” written by Roger Waters which is a 11:28 track criticizing Mary Whitehouse a British conservative activist who was fighting to make more censorship in popular British media. 

Another “The Dark Side of The Moon” update is that Roger Waters announced that he would be re-releasing the album but recorded without the previous Pink Floyd members. Also available is a collector’s box set of “The Dark Side of The Moon” which will contain two 180g LPs one being the 2023 remaster of the album and the other being “The Dark Side of The Moon Live at Wembley Empire Pool, London, 1974” and two replica 7-inch singles of Money/Any Colour You Like and Us and Them/Time are included with smaller physical audio formats 2 CDs, 2 BDs (Blu-Ray Discs), 1 DVD, a 160-page hardback with rare photos, a 76-page book of sheet music, four posters, and two stickers and other merchandise. However, the box set comes with a hefty price tag of $299.98 from The Official Pink Floyd Site