40 Years Ago: Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”

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“Dark Side Of The Moon” internet wallpaper

— John Michaelson | Eagle Media

On March 1, 1973, Harvest / Capitol Records (in the U.S.) released The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. It was later released in the U.K. (and worldwide) by Harvest / EMI Records on March 24, 1973.

The album was released under the official title of The Dark Side Of The Moon, although most people erroneously shorten it to just “Dark Side Of The Moon”. It was released with the universal catalog number of SHVL 804 and was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London, England by members of Pink Floyd, and by engineer Alan Parsons, between June 1, 1972 and late January of 1973.

Dark Side of the Moon … Cameron's (current) favourite album

Album cover and record to Dark Side Of The Moon [1973]

INITIAL RELEASE & CHART

Based on the overall sales figures of Pink Floyd’s previous albums, Meddle (1971) and Obscured By Clouds (1972), Capitol Records (in the U.S.) gave the band an ultimatum to come up with a more marketable album (looking to cash in with potential singles sales viable for radio airplay). However, Roger Waters remained dedicated to his typical style of recording, and chose the conceptual album of non-marketable singles, even though Capitol found marketability in the singles, “Money” and “Us and Them”. Some sales markets found a single release for the track, “Time”.

Reluctantly, Capitol Records in the U.S. released the single “Money” (censored of the lyric, “bullshit”). However, within the next two weeks, Capitol re-issued the single with the uncensored lyric to radio stations and in an unedited form. Many stations kept the original edited and censored version for radio airplay, which ran 4 minutes and 21 seconds (the album version ran 6 minutes and 22).

By 1991 the album spent a historic 741 weeks on the Billboard album charts despite only hitting #1 for one week and has sold well over 7.7 million copies. The album has been released numerous times in various CD, vinyl and tape releases — including a 20th anniversary issue and and a 30th anniversary SACD remaster and as part of several box sets.

RECORDING

Recording of The Dark Side Of The Moon began on June 1st of 1972 with Abbey Road staff engineer, Alan Parsons (who had formally worked on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be albums). Some argue that Parsons ended up more as a producer of the album, while it is just known that all four members of Pink Floyd ran the recording boards.

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Pink Floyd band members at Abbey Road Studios, London, England [circa 1972]. Left to Right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, Nick Mason

First song recorded was “Us And Them” between June 1, 1972 until June 7, 1972 (when “Money” was recorded). The remainder of 1972 would see the recording of “Great Gig In The Sky”, “Breathe” and “Time”.

The band would break for the holidays and then resume recordings in early January of 1973 to work on the tracks “Brain Damage”, “Any Colour You Like”, “On The Run”, “Eclipse” and “Speak To Me”.

Dick Parry [right] with Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason

Dick Parry with Nick Mason

In the last week of January of 1973, saxophones were overdubbed on the tracks “Money” and “Us and Them” by noted player Dick Parry, and Clare Torry would record her notable vocals for “Great Gig In The Sky” during this time, as well.

RELEASE

On Wednesday, February 28, 1973, a total of 500,000 copies of the album were shipped out to give it an official release date of Thursday, March 1, 1973. A press conference and reception was held at the London Palladium on February 27, 1973. The band reported to show lack of interest in the event, but gave interviews after the album played in its entirety.

Most music trade publications gave the album positive reviews and sales, although slightly slow at first, quickly caught on with the single releases of “Money” and “Us and Them”.

By June of 1973, “Money” peaked on the U.S. Billboard charts at #13 and by February of 1974, “Us and Them” would hit the U.S. Singles charts at #101

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U.K. Side 1 label to Dark Side Of The Moon

Single wise, Pink Floyd would not chart as successfully again until 1980’s “Another Brick In The Wall, Part II” from The Wall album, which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Singles charts.

COVER ARTWORK

The cover was designed by Hipgnosis and designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. They were asked by the band to come up with something “smarter, neater and classy” (as opposed to the confusing and ‘messy’ covers of the previous releases, Meddle in 1971 and Obscured By Clouds in 1972.

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30th Anniversary CD version of Dark Side Of The Moon [2003]

Storm Thurgerson’s ‘prism’ idea was inspired by a similar photo he had seen during a brain-storming session with Powell. It was Hipgnosis employee, George Hardie that designed the cover, with the acceptance of all four band members (despite coming up with an additional 6 more designs).

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UK Harvest labels [Side 1 and 2] of Dark Side Of The Moon

However, many criticized Powell for his simplistic design and felt the album deserved a more ‘artsy’ cover, much like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967). But Powell was confident that the prism design was as ‘artsy’, if not more, than the Beatles cover, comparing more to the Beatles so-called “White Album” in 1968.

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Inside gatefold cover of Dark Side Of The Moon

The original album was released with a ‘gatefold’ cover (meaning that the album  opened out to appear as two albums) with the cover ‘prism’ design continuing, but upside down. Inside of the fold-out was one piece of artwork depicting a cartoon ‘heartbeat’ within a rainbow, and the lyrics to the seven songs that had vocals.

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Pink Floyd in 1973 (from left to right): Nick Mason [drums], David Gilmour [guitars], Roger Waters [bass] and Richard Wright [keyboards]

A poster was included on initial presses showing a Pink Floyd collage on one side, and Egyptian pyramids on the other [shown below].

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Collage poster released with Dark Side Of The Moon

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‘Pyramid’ poster released with Dark Side Of The Moon

Also on initial releases, postcards were included in the album, as well. The extensive packaging was a trend for album releases throughout the early/mid seventies.

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Dark Side Of The Moon Postcard #1

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Dark Side Of The Moon Postcard #2

CONCEPT

The Dark Side Of The Moon was a symbolic tribute to former Pink Floyd member and founder, Syd Barrett, who had shown signs of mental illness before leaving the band in 1968. David Gilmour replaced Barrett that year and quickly the band moved from the Psychedelic Pop they were known for, in such singles as “Arnold Layne” and “Bike”, to fuller album cuts and concepts.

Some argue that Meddle (1971) and Obscured By Clouds (1972) were both precursors to the The Dark Side Of The Moon release; however it has been said that Dark Side Of The Moon was completely an entity of it’s own, despite the issue of mental illness has been recorded by Pink Floyd before.

Although both albums are easily comparable to each other, The Dark Side Of The Moon was more intricate and deeper in concept and arrangement.

Roger Waters will further explore the issue of mental illness on future releases, Wish You Were Here (1975), The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983), with the latter two both inspired by Water’s father and the conflict suffered while serving at war. Wish You Were Here was also said to be inspired by Barrett and his departure and mental health.

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Syd Barrett [circa 1972]

Whether it was “Great Gig In The Sky” (a metaphor for death) or “On The Run” (displaying the stress and anxiety of travel, inspired by keyboardist Richard Wright’s fear of flying) most songs were not initially written as a conceptual album. As Roger Waters once explained, all of the songs’ mental health concept fell into place as time went on in the writing and recording process.

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U.S. label to the single to “Money” [1973]

“Money” was inspired by greed, capitalism and consumerism (which is seen as ironic, considering that the single for “Money” created much wealth to the band due to it peaking at #13 on the Billboard Singles charts).

“Us and Them” explored isolation while “Brain Damage” was the least ambiguous of all tracks, with obvious lyrics dealing with the mental illness concept (most notably the lyrics, “The lunatic is in the hall“).

ADDITIONAL TRIVIA

Members of Pink Floyd gave financial backing to the members of the British comedy troop, Monty Python for their first movie, Monty Python & The Holy Grail. The band members received no credit for their financial support to Monty Python (by request) but were given original master copies of the film as a ‘thank you’ for their assistance.

It was argued that during the recording sessions, Pink Floyd band members would take time off to watch the TV series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was during those breaks that engineer Alan Parsons would cut and edit recordings up to that point.

The success of The Dark Side Of The Moon would give engineer, Alan Parsons, enough financial backing to record his 1976 debut album, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination (which was a collection of songs re-imagining the works of Edgar Allen Poe).

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Alan Parsons at Abbey Road [circa 1973]

Eventually, “Time” was released as a single a year after the albums release, on February 4, 1974 and was backed by “Us and Them” in the U.S. However, some releases noted “Us and Them” as the A-Side.

It was once told that there was a pressing plant in Germany that only pressed copies of the CD version of The Dark Side Of The Moon every Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm constantly. As of late there is no word on whether or not the pressing plant is still in operation.

There is a myth that the album, when played in its entirety, will perfectly sync up with the 1939 MGM motion picture, The Wizard Of Oz. However, any syncing of the two is purely coincidental, as Pink Floyd members and engineer Alan Parsons strictly affirm. Drummer Nick Mason once joked that the album was actually intentionally synced to The Sound Of Music.

DARK SIDE OF THE WIZARD OF OZ

As mentioned, the syncing of the 1939 MGM film, The Wizard Of Oz and The Dark Side Of The Moon is purely coincidental and unintentional.

This myth began in 1995 when a writer at the Fort Wayne Gazette wrote an article relating to synchronicity. It was later enhanced by Boston disc jockey, George Morris, who made distinct claims of its intentions. Eventually, the legend was further enhanced by MTV News reports.

Finally by 2000, TV mogul Ted Turner went as far as to play the movie and the album together, to much criticism, on his network, Turner Classic Movies channel. The viewing has not been repeated since.

TRACKS

Side 1:

1. Speak to Me (Mason) 1:30
2. Breathe (Waters, Gilmour, Wright) 2:43
3. On the Run (Gilmour, Waters) 3:36
4. Time / Breathe (Reprise) (Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour) 7:01
5. The Great Gig in the Sky (Wright, Torry) 4:36

Side 2:

1. Money (Waters) 6:22
2. Us and Them (Waters, Wright) 7:46
3. Any Colour You Like (Gilmour, Mason, Wright) 3:25
4. Brain Damage (Waters) 3:48
5. Eclipse (Waters) 2:03

TRACK NOTES

Clare Torry is listed as a co-writer on the track, “Great Gig In The Sky” due to her improvised vocals on the track, by the request of Roger Waters. She sued EMI and Pink Floyd in 2004 for proper songwriting credit. Despite being paid £30 in 1973 for her contribution, Torry received a court ruling for royalties and credit for all post-2005 releases of the album.

The vocal parts of “Great Gig In The Sky” were improvised in one take. Two more takes were recorded but not used.

The ‘football team’ in “Money” actually refers to a soccer team. North Americans confuse the terminology as a team that plays for the NFL.

Legend has it that Roger Waters wrote questions down on flashcards and had various people answer the questions, recording their response, for use at the end of “Money”. Some of those people speaking include a roadie, a doorman to Abbey Road Studios and Paul McCartney guitarist, Henry McCullough. Paul and Linda McCartney were interviewed with questions to be added on the album, but their responses were not used.

Other “Money” spoken responses includes; Chris Adamson, (a roadie who was on tour with Pink Floyd) who recorded the snippet which opens the album: “I’ve been mad for fucking years—absolutely years”. However, it was Pink Floyd’s road manager, Peter Watts (father of actress Naomi Watts) that contributed the repeated laughter during “Brain Damage” and “Speak to Me”. And it is Watts’ wife, Patricia Gleason who spoke the memorable lines, “cruising for a bruising” (some argue that it was Linda McCartney saying the lines).

In most cases, “Time” and “Breathe (Reprise)” are listed as two separate tracks. However, according to original track listings, “Breathe (Reprise)” actually serves as a coda for “Time”. It is a reprisal for the track, “Breath” and was initially titled “Home Again” during the recording process.

“Brain Damage” has no true ending. It stops cold and segues immediately into “Eclipse”. Because of the time signature and key progression of “Eclipse”, the two songs are almost always heard as one song.

“Eclipse” is sometimes erroneously known as “The Dark Side Of The Moon” (due mainly in part to the outstanding lyric, “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”)

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Clare Torry [circa 1974]

ALBUM PERSONNEL

Pink Floyd

  • Roger Waters: Bass, Vocals, Synthesizers, Tape Effects
  • David Gilmour: Guitars, Vocals, Synthesizers
  • Richard Wright: Keyboards, Synthesizers, Additional Vocals
  • Nick Mason: Drums, Percussions, Tape Effects

Backing Vocals

  • Clare Torry
  • Lesley Duncan
  • Doris Troy
  • Liza Strike
  • Barry St. John

Additional Vocals

  • Clare Torry on “Great Gig In The Sky”

Additional Musicians

  • Dick Parry: Saxophone on “Us and Them” and “Money”

Production

  • Alan Parsons: Engineering
  • Peter James: Assistant Engineering
  • Chris Thomas: Mixing Consultant
  • George Hardie: Album Artwork, Illustrations
  • Hipgnosis: Artwork Photography, Design
  • Jill Furmanovsky: Photography

VOCALS BY

David Gilmour

  • Breathe
  • Time
  • Money
  • Us and Them

Roger Waters

  • Brain Damage
  • Eclipse

Richard Wright

  • Time (harmonies)
  • Us and Them (harmonies)

Clare Torry

  • Great Gig In The Sky (lead)

Instrumentals

  • Speak To Me
  • On The Run
  • Any Colour You Like

REMAKES

Many question why the re-recorded version of “Money” in 1981 for the album release of A Collection Of Great Dance Songs.

David Gilmour re-recorded the entire song structure (including drums, bass and keyboards) with Dick Parry reprising his saxophone solo, albeit slightly different. Current Pink Floyd producer, James Gutherie, worked the recording sessions with Gilmour in order for CBS/Columbia Records to obtain new licensing rights to the track, originally owned by Capitol/EMI Records.

The guitar solo was re-recorded slightly different (on purpose) and the drum track differs greatly as David Gilmour could not simulate Nick Mason’s original drum lines and patterns correctly.