ON THIS DATE (39 YEARS AGO)
March 1, 1973 – Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon is released in the US.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
The Dark Side of the Moon is the eighth studio album by Pink Floyd, released on this date in March 1973 in the US. It built on ideas explored in the band’s earlier recordings and live shows, but lacks the extended instrumental excursions that characterized their work following the departure in 1968 of founding member, principal composer and lyricist, Syd Barrett. The Dark Side of the Moon’s themes include conflict, greed, the passage of time and mental illness, the latter partly inspired by Barrett’s deteriorating mental state.
The suite was developed during live performances and was premiered several months before studio recording began. The new material was recorded in two sessions in 1972 and 1973 at Abbey Road Studios in London. The group used some of the most advanced recording techniques of the time, including multitrack recording and tape loops. Analogue synthesisers were given prominence in several tracks, and a series of recorded interviews with the band’s road crew and others provided the philosophical quotations used throughout. Engineer Alan Parsons was directly responsible for some of the most notable sonic aspects of the album, and the recruitment of non-lexical performer Clare Torry. The album’s iconic sleeve features a prism that represents the band’s stage lighting, the record’s lyrical themes, and keyboardist Richard Wright’s request for a “simple and bold” design.
The Dark Side of the Moon was an immediate success, topping the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart for one week. It subsequently remained in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988, longer than any other album in history. With an estimated 50 million copies sold, it is Pink Floyd’s most commercially successful album and one of the best-selling albums worldwide. It has twice been remastered and re-released, and has been covered in its entirety by several other acts. It spawned two singles, “Money” and “Time”. In addition to its commercial success, The Dark Side of the Moon is one of Pink Floyd’s most popular albums among fans and critics, and is frequently ranked as one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
Following the release of Meddle in 1971, the band assembled for an upcoming tour of Britain, Japan, and the United States in December of that year. Rehearsing in Broadhurst Gardens in London, there was the looming prospect of a new album, although their priority at that time was the creation of new material. In a band meeting at drummer Nick Mason’s home in Camden, bassist Roger Waters proposed that a new album could form part of the tour. Waters’ idea was for an album that dealt with things that “make people mad”, focusing on the pressures faced by the band during their arduous lifestyle, and dealing with the apparent mental problems suffered by former band member Syd Barrett. The band had explored a similar idea with 1969’s The Man and The Journey. In an interview for Rolling Stone, guitarist David Gilmour said:
…I think we all thought—and Roger definitely thought—that a lot of the lyrics that we had been using were a little too indirect. There was definitely a feeling that the words were going to be very clear and specific.
Generally, all four members agreed that Waters’ concept of an album unified by a single theme was a good idea. Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright participated in the writing and production of the new material, and Waters created the early demo tracks at his Islington home in a small recording studio he had built in his garden shed. Parts of the new album were taken from previously unused material; the opening line of “Breathe” came from an earlier work by Waters and Ron Geesin, written for the soundtrack of The Body, and the basic structure of “Us and Them” was taken from a piece originally composed by Wright for the film Zabriskie Point. The band rehearsed at a warehouse in London owned by The Rolling Stones, and then at the Rainbow Theatre. They also purchased extra equipment, which included new speakers, a PA system, a 28-track mixing desk with four quadraphonic outputs, and a custom-built lighting rig. Nine tons of kit was transported in three lorries; this would be the first time the band had taken an entire album on tour, but it would allow them to refine and improve the new material, which by then had been given the provisional title of Dark Side of the Moon (an allusion to lunacy, rather than astronomy). However, after discovering that that title had already been used by another band, Medicine Head, it was temporarily changed to Eclipse. The new material premièred at The Dome in Brighton, on 20 January 1972, and after the commercial failure of Medicine Head’s album the title was changed back to the band’s original preference.
Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics, as it was then known, was performed in the presence of an assembled press on 17 February 1972—more than a year before its release—at the Rainbow Theatre, and was critically acclaimed. Michael Wale of The Times described the piece as “… bringing tears to the eyes. It was so completely understanding and musically questioning.” Derek Jewell of The Sunday Times wrote “The ambition of the Floyd’s artistic intention is now vast.” Melody Maker was, however, less enthusiastic: “Musically, there were some great ideas, but the sound effects often left me wondering if I was in a bird-cage at London zoo.” The following tour was praised by the public. The new material was performed live, in the same order in which it would eventually be recorded, but obvious differences between the live version, and the recorded version released a year later, included the lack of synthesizers in tracks such as “On the Run”, and Bible readings that were later replaced by Clare Torry’s non-lexical vocals on “The Great Gig in the Sky”.
The band’s lengthy tour through Europe and North America gave them the opportunity to make continual improvements to the scale and quality of their performances. Studio sessions were scheduled between tour dates; rehearsals began in England on 20 January 1972, but in late February the band travelled to France and recorded music for French director Barbet Schroeder’s film, La Vallée. They then performed in Japan and returned to France in March to complete work on the film. After a series of dates in North America, the band flew to London to begin recording the album, from 24 May to 25 June. More concerts in Europe and North America followed before the band returned on 9 January 1973 to complete work on the album.
The album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, in two sessions, between May 1972 and January 1973. The band were assigned staff engineer Alan Parsons, who had worked as assistant tape operator on Atom Heart Mother, and who had also gained experience as a recording engineer on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be. The recording sessions made use of some of the most advanced studio techniques of the time; the studio was capable of 16-track mixes, which offered a greater degree of flexibility than the eight- or four-track mixes they had previously used, although the band often used so many tracks that to make more space available second-generation copies were made.
Beginning on 1 June, the first track to be recorded was “Us and Them”, followed six days later by “Money”. Waters had created effects loops from recordings of various money-related objects, including coins thrown into a food-mixing bowl taken from his wife’s pottery studio, and these were later re-recorded to take advantage of the band’s decision to record a quadraphonic mix of the album (Parsons has since expressed dissatisfaction with the result of this mix, attributed to a lack of time and the paucity of available multi-track tape recorders). “Time” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” were the next pieces to be recorded, followed by a two-month break, during which the band spent time with their families and prepared for an upcoming tour of the US. The recording sessions suffered regular interruptions; Waters, a supporter of Arsenal F.C., would often break to see his team compete, and the band would occasionally stop work to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the television, leaving Parsons to work on material recorded up to that point. Gilmour has, however, disputed this claim; in an interview in 2003 he said: “We would sometimes watch them but when we were on a roll, we would get on.”
Returning from the US in January 1973, they recorded “Brain Damage”, “Eclipse”, “Any Colour You Like” and “On the Run”, while fine-tuning the work they had already laid down in the previous sessions. A foursome of female vocalists was assembled to sing on “Brain Damage”, “Eclipse” and “Time”, and saxophonist Dick Parry was booked to play on “Us and Them” and “Money”. With director Adrian Maben, the band also filmed studio footage for Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. Once the recording sessions were complete, the band began a tour of Europe.
ARTWORK, COVERS & OTHER THINGS
The album was originally released in a gatefold LP sleeve designed by Hipgnosis and George Hardie, and bore Hardie’s iconic dispersive prism on the cover. Hipgnosis had designed several of the band’s previous albums, with controversial results; EMI had reacted with confusion when faced with the cover designs for Atom Heart Mother and Obscured by Clouds, as they had expected to see traditional designs which included lettering and words. Designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell were able to ignore such criticism as they were employed by the band. For The Dark Side of the Moon, Richard Wright instructed them to come up with something “smarter, neater—more classy”. The prism design was inspired by a photograph that Thorgerson had seen during a brainstorming session with Powell.
The artwork was created by their associate, George Hardie. Hipgnosis offered the band a choice of seven designs, but all four members agreed that the prism was by far the best. The design represents three elements; the band’s stage lighting, the album lyrics, and Richard Wright’s request for a “simple and bold” design. The spectrum of light continues through to the gatefold—an idea that Waters came up with. Added shortly afterwards, the gatefold design also includes a visual representation of the heartbeat sound used throughout the album, and the back of the album cover contains Thorgerson’s suggestion of another prism recombining the spectrum of light, facilitating interesting layouts of the sleeve in record shops. The light band emanating from the prism on the album cover has six colours, missing indigo compared to the traditional division of the spectrum into red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Inside the sleeve were two posters and several pyramid-themed stickers. One poster bore pictures of the band in concert, overlaid with scattered letters to form PINK FLOYD, and the other an infrared photograph of the Great Pyramids of Giza, created by Powell and Thorgerson.
Since the departure of founding member Barrett in 1968, the burden of lyrical composition had fallen mostly on Waters’ shoulders. He is therefore credited as the author of the album’s lyrics, making The Dark Side of the Moon the first of five consecutive Pink Floyd albums with lyrics credited only to him. The band were so confident of the quality of the writing that, for the first time, they felt able to print them on the album’s sleeve. When in 2003 he was asked if his input on the album was “organizing [the] ideas and frameworks” and David Gilmour’s was “the music”, Waters replied:
That’s crap. There’s no question that Dave needs a vehicle to bring out the best of his guitar playing. And he is a great guitar player. But the idea which he’s tried to propagate over the years that he’s somehow more musical than I am is absolute fucking nonsense. It’s an absurd notion but people seem quite happy to believe it.
RELEASE STUFF AND QUAD
As the quadraphonic mix of the album was not yet complete, the band (with the exception of Wright) boycotted the press reception held at the London Planetarium on 27 February. The guests were, instead, presented with a quartet of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of the band, and the stereo mix of the album was presented through a poor-quality public address system. Generally, however, the press were enthusiastic; Melody Maker’s Roy Hollingworth described side one as “… so utterly confused with itself it was difficult to follow”, but praised side two, writing: “The songs, the sounds, the rhythms were solid and sound, Saxophone hit the air, the band rocked and rolled, and then gushed and tripped away into the night.” Steve Peacock of Sounds wrote: “I don’t care if you’ve never heard a note of the Pink Floyd’s music in your life, I’d unreservedly recommend everyone to The Dark Side of the Moon”. In his 1973 review for Rolling Stone magazine, Lloyd Grossman declared Dark Side “a fine album with a textural and conceptual richness that not only invites, but demands involvement”.
The Dark Side of the Moon was released first in the US on 1 March 1973, and then in the UK on 24 March. It became an instant chart success in Britain and throughout Western Europe; by the following month, it had gained a gold certification in the UK and US. Throughout March 1973 the band played the album as part of their US tour, including a midnight performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York on 17 March, watched by an audience of 6,000. Highlights included an aircraft launched from the back of the hall at the end of “On the Run”, which ‘crashed’ into the stage in a cloud of orange smoke. The album reached the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart’s number one spot on 28 April 1973, and was so successful that the band returned two months later for another tour.
WIZARD OF OZ
Dark Side of the Rainbow and Dark Side of Oz are two names commonly used in reference to rumours circulated on the Internet since at least 1994 that The Dark Side of the Moon was written as a soundtrack for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Observers playing the film and the album simultaneously have reported apparent synchronicities, such as Dorothy beginning to jog at the lyric “no one told you when to run” during “Time”, and Dorothy balancing on a tight-rope fence during the line “balanced on the biggest wave” in “Breathe”. David Gilmour and Nick Mason have both denied a connection between the two works, and Roger Waters has described the rumours as “amusing”. Alan Parsons has stated that the film was not mentioned during production of the album.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW OR WHAT THEY THOUGHT OF IT LAST CENTURY
One of Britain’s most successful and long lived avante-garde rock bands, Pink Floyd emerged relatively unsullied from the mire of mid-Sixties British psychedelic music as early experimenters with outer space concepts. Although that phase of the band’s development was of short duration, Pink Floyd have from that time been the pop scene’s preeminent techno-rockers: four musicians with a command of electronic instruments who wield an arsenal of sound effects with authority and finesse. While Pink Floyd’s albums were hardly hot tickets in the shops, they began to attract an enormous following through their US tours. They have more recently developed a musical style capable of sustaining their dazzling and potentially overwhelming sonic wizzardry.
The Dark Side of the Moon is Pink Floyd’s ninth album and is a single extended piece rather than a collection of songs. It seems to deal primarily with the fleetingness and depravity of human life, hardly the commonplace subject matter of rock. “Time” (“The time is gone the song is over”), “Money” (“Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie”), and “Us And Them” (“Forward he cried from the rear”) might be viewed as keys to understanding the meaning (if indeed there is any definite meaning) of The Dark Side of the Moon.
Even though this is a concept album, a number of the cuts can stand on their own. “Time” is a fine country-tinged rocker with a powerful guitar solo by David Gilmour and “Money” is broadly and satirically played with appropriately raunchy sax playing by Dick Parry, who also contributes a wonderfully-sated, breathy solo to “Us And Them.” The non-vocal “On The Run” is a standout with footsteps racing from side to side successfully eluding any number of odd malevolent rumbles and explosions only to be killed off by the clock’s ticking that leads into “Time.” Throughout the album the band lays down a solid framework which they embellish with synthesizers, sound effects and spoken voice tapes. The sound is lush and multi-layered while remaining clear and well-structured.
There are a few weak spots. David Gilmour’s vocals are sometimes weak and lackluster and “The Great Gig in the Sky” (which closes the first side) probably could have been shortened or dispensed with, but these are really minor quibbles. The Dark Side of the Moon is a fine album with a textural and conceptual richness that not only invites, but demands involvement. There is a certain grandeur here that exceeds mere musical melodramatics and is rarely attempted in rock. The Dark Side of the Moon has flash — the true flash that comes from the excellence of a superb performance.
~ Loyd Grossman, Rolling Stone, 5-24-73.
All lyrics written by Roger Waters.
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, Clare Torry) 4:36
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