Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
It’s hard to account for the sustained cultural relevance of Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s certainly not enough to say that it’s “good.” Lots of albums are good and yet eventually fade into the margins of history, supplanted by newer, shinier offerings. Dark Side, however, remains a rite of passage for millions of adolescents to whom it is passed down with sly smiles from elder siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins or close friends.
Everyone awakens to the album differently. Perhaps like me, your local planetarium rigs up the hi-fi sound system, busts out the lasers, you smoke a bowl in your friend’s beat up Honda Civic in the parking lot and have your mind thoroughly and blissfully shattered into a million tiny pieces as the alarm bells from “Time” bash at your cerebral cortex. Dark Side Of The Moon is much bigger than an album. It’s an experience.
“Philosophically it holds an appeal to each successive generation because it feels like it gives you permission to question things, maybe, which is something that is very appealing to us as we hit puberty and drift beyond it into real life,” Roger Waters told Billboard. “Contemplating the fundamental questions about the reality of what it is to be a human being is actually fun, in my view.”
To properly celebrate Dark Side Of The Moon’s 45th anniversary, I thought I might run through the 45 different things I love one of the most durable, immersive albums of its era.
1. That the band debuted many of the album’s tracks like “Speak To Me,” “On the Run,” “Time,” “Breathe,” live and in concert over a year before it dropped at the Brighton Dome in the UK on January 20, 1972.
2. That that live performance was originally titled Eclipse before they changed it to The Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.
3. The instantly identifiable cover designed by a pair of dudes who called themselves Hipgnosis. They also created the Floyd album covers to Wish You Were Here, A Saucerful of Secrets, and Animals as well as the Led Zeppelin albums Presence, Houses Of The Holy, and In Through The Out Door, and several records for Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles band Wings.
4. The fact that everyone in the band except drummer Nick Mason received a credit for playing a EMS VCS 3, a bulky, primitive synthesizer.
5. Pink Floyd super-fan Billy Corgan’s review of the album. “Dark Side is a concept record,” he told Rolling Stone. “It has a narrative theme: Beginning, middle and end. It goes somewhere and actually makes f*cking sense. There’s not a wasted ounce on the thing.”
6. That they didn’t choose the visionary engineer Alan Parsons to help them with a project, but were rather assigned to him after he’d been their assistant tape operator during the recording of their earlier record Atom Heart Mother.
7. The unrelenting heartbeat — actually a kick drum — that grows and grows and grows throughout the opening track “Speak To Me.”
8. The guy who drolly states, “I’ve always been mad. I know I’ve been mad, like most of us have,” over the repetitive clanging of a cash register.
9. The maniacal laughter that’s pierced with a terrifying scream just before the intro of “Breathe.” The screamer in question was the band’s road manager Peter Watts. You may know his daughter, the acclaimed actress Naomi Watts.
10. The rumor that if you start Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wizard Of Oz when the MGM lion roars for the first time that the two pieces apparently sync up with one another. Full disclosure: I haven’t tried this experiment myself, but this YouTube video is certainly compelling.
11. The ghostly, volume swells of David Gilmour’s guitar that cry and wail through the beginning of “Breathe.”
12. This sage piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to care.”
13. The scorn Roger Waters still holds for what he sees as his bandmate’s attempts to limit his vocal contributions on the album. “My memory is David and Rick were at great pains to point out how I couldn’t sing and how I was tone-deaf,” he told Rolling Stone. “Maybe their way of keeping me from being totally overwhelming was to point out that I might have vocal and instrumental inadequacies? And I’m not saying that I was ever a great singer with great pitch. I sort of made up for it by singing with a lot of feeling and character.”
14. The fact that “On The Run’s” working title was “The Travel Sequence,” which if we’re being honest kinda fits the song a little better.
15. The explosion near the end of “On The Run.”
16. The inevitable jolt when the alarm bells start going off approximately seven-seconds into “Time.”
17. The fact that “Time” is the last Pink Floyd song attributed to all four members of the classic lineup: Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Richard Wright.
18. The way Gilmour sings the opening line: “Ticking away the moments that make you a dull day.”
19. The gorgeous mix of heady guitar soloing and effervescent vocal harmonies that blend together just ahead of the final verse of “Time.”
20. The way the last minute of “Time” sounds like a totally different song while reprising the melody of “Breathe.”
21. Every single moment of Clare Torry’s incredible, non-verbal vocal on “The Great Gig In The Sky,” which I suppose is a metaphor for death.
22. The fact that Torry wasn’t even a fan of Pink Floyd when she was asked by Parsons to come in and work on the record. “If it had been The Kinks, I’d have been over the moon,” she later said.
23. Roger Waters distinctive 7/4 bass riff on “Money,” which has to rank Top 10 all-time, right?
24. When Gilmour sings, “Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit.” I also always appreciated the fact that my local FM classic rock radio station never bleeped or dropped the “bullshit” growing up.
25. That Roger Waters dabbled with the idea of embracing socialism, but ultimately preferred nice cars instead. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, this is it and I have to decide whether I’m really a socialist or not,” he told The Observer. “I’m still keen on a general welfare society, but I became a capitalist. You have to accept it. I remember coveting a Bentley like crazy.”
26. Dick Parry’s tenor sax solo in “Money.”
27. David Gilmour’s incredible guitar solo in “Money.” As he once told Rolling Stone, “Once you’ve had that guitar up so loud on the stage, where you can lean back and volume will stop you from falling backward, that’s a hard drug to kick.”
28. The guy who says, “I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time” in the outro of “Money.”
29. That the legendary Italian director once rejected the inclusion of “Us And Them” into his film Zabriskie Point because it was reportedly, “Beautiful, but too sad… it makes me think of church.”
30. That Wright recorded his elegant grand piano piece in the middle of “Us And Them” along with what he thought was the rest of the band playing live in a different studio, but was actually a pre-taped performance. One of the rare instances of a prank gone terribly right.
31. That the title from “Any Colour You Like” was apparently derived from some street vendor patter Waters latched onto as a kid. “If they had sets of china, and they were all the same colour, they would say, ‘You can ‘ave ’em, ten bob to you, love. Any colour you like, they’re all blue,” he recalled to author Phil Rose. “Metaphorically, ‘Any Colour You Like’ is interesting, in that sense, because it denotes offering a choice where there is none. And it’s also interesting that in the phrase, ‘Any colour you like, they’re all blue’…which, if you think about it, relates very much to the light and dark, sun and moon, good and evil. You make your choice but it’s always blue.”
32. The specter of one-time frontman Syd Barrett who was sacked from the band in 1968 and subsequently suffered a total mental breakdown. His presence permeates throughout the songs on Dark Side Of The Moon like a unnamed ghost, but never so explicit than on the penultimate track “Brain Damage,” and in particular the line “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes / I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”
33. That out of the tragedy of Syd’s breakdown, emerged one of the greatest and most impactful musical writers of the 20th century. “I didn’t start writing until Syd went crazy and couldn’t write any more. Who knows what might have happened if he’d been able to carry on,” Waters wrote in the Big Issue. “If something happens to someone you love, and are very close to, as happened to Syd, it drives home to you that there but for the grace of God go I. You never know what’s around the corner. Life is very short. It focuses your attention on making the most of the very short time you have.”
34. The backing vocals of Doris Troy, Lesley Duncan, and Liza Strike on “Brain Damage.”
35. The triumphant vibe of “Eclipse,” which take it from me, is an absolute monster to witness live at one of Waters more recent shows.
36. Waters’s line “And everything under the sun is in tune / But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” A sort of good and evil juxtaposition.
37. That the last voice you hear on the record is that of the doorman at Abbey Road, Gerry O’Driscoll, who rather wisely notes that, “There is no dark side in the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”
38. That Paul McCartney was one of the people interviewed by Waters to be included on the album, but supposedly his answers weren’t strange enough to make it into the final cut.
39. The strong heartbeat at the end that slowly loses a little bit of oomph with every pulse before fading away entirely.
40. That Gilmour and Waters were already vying over the control of the band, which at least on this record, ended up strengthening the finished product. Take the mixing process for example. “I wanted Dark Side to be big and swampy and wet, with reverbs and things like that and Roger was very keen on it being a very dry album,” Gilmour told Guitar World Magazine. “We argued so much that it was suggested we get a third opinion. We were going to leave Chris [Thomas] to mix it on his own, with Alan Parsons engineering. And of course on the first day I found out that Roger sneaked in there. So the second day I sneaked in there. And from then on, we both sat right at Chris’s shoulder, interfering.”
41. That sometimes the band would cut recording off early to watch television if there was something good on. “If it was football night, we would always finish early,” Alan Parsons remembered. “If it was Monty Python night, we’d do the same. Roger was very into football. He was into playing it as well. There was a Pink Floyd team.”
42. That the band abstained from attending a press reception heralding the album a week before it’s release. In their absence, attendees were given cardboard cutout version of the four members of Floyd.
43. That the “Dean Of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau ultimately awarded the album a lowly “B” grade, calling it a “kitsch masterpiece. Taken too seriously by definition, but not without charm.”
44. That it hit No. 1 on April 28, 1973 and remained in the Billboard Top LPs and Tapes charts for 741 consecutive weeks, staying there from 1973 to 1988.
45. That Roger Waters played the entire album from front to back in front of a crowd of molly-addled hipsters at Coachella 10 years ago.