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50th Anniversary: Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon

BY Miriam Sallon

24th Mar 2023 Music

50th Anniversary: Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon

Five decades on, we look back at the magic behind one of the most iconic albums of the century 

Pink Floyd is so synonymous with their ground-breaking album The Dark Side of the Moon, it’s hard to imagine them before its release. But this was in fact their eighth studio album. While they’d enjoyed previous successes, it was this recording that made them the household name they are today. Here are just some of the ideas that made this album so special. 

The concept of The Dark Side of the Moon 

The initial intention was to focus on the difficulties of being a musician, but once the songs started coming, it was clear this record was about so much more: capitalism, mortality, conflict and mental health. The latter was intended as a reflection of former member Syd Barrett’s own experiences with schizophrenia and a nervous breakdown, which led to him leaving the band in 1968. The song “Brain Damage” seems particularly on the nose, with the lyrics, “The lunatic is in my head, the lunatic is in my head” and, most poignantly, “If the band you're in starts playing different tunes I'll see you on the dark side of the moon”. 

"It was clear this record was about so much more: capitalism, mortality, conflict and mental health"

It was this expression of frankness that made the lyrics so fresh. Guitarist David Gilmour told Rolling Stones, "I think we all thought—and Roger [Waters, bassist] 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”. 

Writing and Recording The Dark Side of the Moon 

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While the finished album has a clean studio sound, it was actually developed live on tour in 1972, a year before it was recorded. Though a little unorthodox, this allowed the band to perfect the transitions, and make it feel like a cohesive whole.  

The album itself was recorded in only 60 days at what is now known as the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. 

Contributions 

One of the things that makes this album so unique is its guest appearances, both musical and conversational. Notable contributions include Clare Torry, a regular session singer at Abbey Road, who was asked to record wordless vocals to “The Great Gig in the Sky”. Given no further instructions, she tried a few different takes, and the band simply said, “Thank you very much”. 

"The iconic last line of the album, "There is no dark side in the moon really. Matter of fact, it's all dark", was a recorded interview with the studio doorman, Gerry O'Driscoll"

“I had the impression that they were infinitely bored with the whole thing, and when I left, I remember thinking to myself: ‘That will never see the light of day,’” she told author John Harris. Torry didn’t know she would be included on the track until she bought the album and saw her name credited on the sleeve. 

The iconic last line of the album, "There is no dark side in the moon really. Matter of fact, it's all dark", was a recorded interview with the studio doorman, Gerry O'Driscoll, and the band’s road manager, Peter Watts can be heard laughing menacingly on the opening track, “Speak To Me”. 

Paul and Linda McCartney were also interviewed but it was decided they were trying too hard, and they didn’t end up featuring. 

Final touches 


Photo credit: D-Kuru

The album was initially called Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics but it was soon discovered the name had already been used by another band, Medicine Head, and the album title was changed to Eclipse. After Medicine Head’s album sold very poorly, Pink Floyd decided to reclaim the name, only shortening it slightly.  

EMI had been previously disappointed with Pink Floyd’s album cover designs, expecting something more traditional. Designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell worked directly with the band, ignoring the label’s criticism and instead taking inspiration from keyboardist Richard Wright’s request for something simple and elegant, “like the artwork of a Black Magic chocolate box”. The final design was inspired by a photo of a prism found in a 1963 physics textbook. 

Reception 

Before it was toured or recorded, the album was played live to a room of journalists at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, North London. Opinions varied from, “bringing tears to the eyes” (Michael Wale, The Times) to the Melody Maker’s “wondering if I was in a bird-cage at London Zoo.” 

"The band boycotted the press reception [...] The audience looked on, instead, at cardboard cut-outs"

When it was finally released, the band boycotted the press reception because the album only had a stereo mix, rather than the finished quadraphonic mix. The audience looked on, instead, at cardboard cut-outs of the band. Despite this, the recording was well received, with Sounds’ Steve Peacock writing, “I'd unreservedly recommend everyone to The Dark Side of the Moon". 

The album went on to spend 14 years in the US charts and sold an estimated 45 million copies, making it the best-selling album of the Seventies and the fourth best-selling album of all time. 

The Dark Side Of The Moon 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is now available to buy

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