Dark Side of the Moon
Speak to Me
Breathe in the Air
On The Run
Breathe Reprise
The Great Gig in the Sky
Us & Them
Any Colour You Like
Brain Damage

    If you believe that every great band is destined to make a "masterwork" album, then this is that album for Pink Floyd.  Every lesson they learned in every previous recording session is in evidence in the quality and depth of this record.  If you only listen to one Pink Floyd recording in your life, this should be it.  If you don't like it, you're likely to find all other Floyd recordings unsatisfying.  Ironically, many self-styled purists found this album too "commercial" when it was first released, and pronounced it unacceptable.  I find it to be the culmination of everything the band had been striving for, as though they had finally found their "voice".  I will say that this is the album that seems most likely to produce "converts".  If you only buy one Pink Floyd album in your life, or if you have, up to now, resisted finding out what Pink Floyd is all about, BUY THIS ONE!
    This is a concept album {CPFS} about the things that drive people "crazy", like competition, the rat race, not enough hours in the day, lust for money, war, etc.  Throughout the cycle, the band is either satirizing those things we take too seriously, or slowly losing its own mind, and, as listeners, we'll accept either result as long as the musical experience continues.  The band members, due to their close association with Syd Barrett, had much more awareness of mental instability than the average person, and they seem haunted by their inability (or inactivity) to do anything to improve Syd's condition.  A related technique that was used on this album was to interview a variety of individuals with interesting accents (as well as "interesting" ideas) about sanity and living life to its fullest.  Bits of these interviews are scattered throughout the album, and pop up at the most unusual times, adding to the eerie feeling that we are all less than fully sane. {CPFS}  In spite of this, don't write this album off as the ravings of a lunatic-fringe rock group.  This is an awesome collection of musical ideas that leads inexorably to the feelings we all have from time to time of not being "quite right".  Other bands have tried the same concept, but all other efforts fail by comparison to strike the perfect balance between reality as we know it, and the "dark side" of us that we might wish to keep hidden.
    DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was, for many years, the ultimate "system-test" album.  If you purchased the best stereo equipment in the world, and wanted to show it off for your friends, you bought a fresh copy of the album, and played it for the group.  If someone heard something in the album they had never heard before, your system was a great success.  (Another irony is that recent remasterings of the original tapes for play on "oldies rock" stations have done artificially what many of our systems could not do, and you can now hear much of the interesting background work, it having been moved forward by current techniques.)  This is also an album you should not listen to without headphones, since you will miss a great deal of the experience unless you have exceptional stereo equipment and a silent house.  By the way, the above use of the album was at least partially responsible for it remaining on the Billboard best-seller lists longer than any other album in history, some 736 consecutive weeks!  (That's over 14 years for those of you who are mathematically challenged.)(Cal Ripken who?)
    This may also be a good time to mention another of those cult stories about Pink Floyd.  There are a large body of individuals who have played DARK SIDE OF THE MOON while watching The Wizard of Oz, and will swear that the two fit together perfectly.  I don't buy it, but you might want to try it out for fun.

    The playlist begins with Speak to Me, which has another of those long, slow-building intros that the Floyd use on nearly every album. {CPFS}  Fading in from a heartbeat, this odd instrumental segues into Breathe, beginning two loops {CPFS} within the album.  Pay attention to the chord patterns within Breathe, because virtually the entire album is built on variations of this combination. {CPFS} After the band goes On The Run, literally and instrumentally, through an airport, we are reminded of the fleeting nature of Time.  According to my friend Dan Ondrusek, these are the greatest lyrics in rock music history.  I will agree that they are very poignant and thought-provoking, especially as you grow older.  A reprise of Breathe completes the first loop, in an unexpectedly perfect way.  Every song on this album defies the usual categorical terms that apply to types of music, so you must accept that all of the music here is archetypal Pink Floyd, and cannot really be classified as anything else.  By that standard, call Breathe a Pink ballad, On The Run a purposeful dreamscape, Time a funky Pink ballad, and let it go at that.
    There are several personnel additions on this album that give it some of its special quality.  That Alan Parsons engineered this project (har-har) gave it some of its unique personality (he won a Grammy for it in '79).  Dick Parry's saxophone adds a 5th lead instrument to the troupe, and gets a sweet workout here, and on later albums as well, particularly WISH YOU WERE HERE.  The third addition is Clare Torry, who provides a vocal presence that becomes part of the special soul of this album.  Pink Floyd is always thoughtful in its choice of ambient sounds and special effects {CPFS}, but Clare was a particularly inspired choice for vocals here. The Great Gig in The Sky, though mostly instrumental, is a tour-de-force performance for Torry, who provides what might be interpreted as a melodic representation of a person in the greatest throes of mental anguish.  In just a short time, she runs the gamut from pain to ecstasy, from playfulness to insanity.  I don't know how she prepared for such a performance, but it may be the most emotional and effecting piece of vocal music ever done without words.
    Money continues the theme of "things that drive us crazy" in a way that few other rock bands would even attempt.  If you've only heard one Pink Floyd song on the radio, this is probably it, and you may never have noticed that most of it is in 7/4 time.  This was the Floyd's first Top-40 Single in America, and climbed to #13.  In another of the unusual ironies in the universe of Pink Floyd, the satirical lyrics were misunderstood by many listeners, who thought the band was serious about wanting all the great things money can buy.  The most amazing thing about this song is the way the ambient sounds of cash registers, coins jingling, and money bags being tossed around get worked perfectly into the rhythm of the music. {CPFS}
    Us & Them may be the most subtly aggressive musical rebellion against war ever recorded.  Reading the lyrics leaves no doubt that the band detests war (and the economic and social reasons for it), yet the echo effects and choral singing they use brings the message home in such a pleasingly melodic way that it takes a long time to realize just how important the message is. {CPFS}   Considering the timing, it's surprising that this piece only went to #101 in the US.  (Somewhere, in his heart of hearts, Roger probably decided at this point that, from now on, he'd have to hit us upside the head with a hammer when he really wanted us to hate something.  And he did.)  The segue into Any Colour You Like, begins a musical odyssey that carries us through to the end of the album.  As with most Pink Floyd albums, you may not be certain when you are progressing from one musical idea into another (unless you are watching the digital indicator on your CD player), and then suddenly, there you are. {CPFS}Brain Damage is the first song on the album to confront the issue at hand, and delve into their thoughts about insanity itself.  The band can't resist their usual irreverence toward serious subjects, but in doing so, they also remind us that we seldom give serious problems the respect they are due.  In a lilting tune, they make clear that we're all a little crazy, and that we might join Syd at the asylum any day now.  The album closes with Eclipse, in which the band does its best to destroy any illusions we still hold about our reality.  In a triumphal, universal chorus that uses their repetition technique {CPFS} to marvelous effect, Pink Floyd reminds us that everything we think we know to be true is all tied up into one neat package that we may have misplaced.  Then the heartbeat fades out into the nothingness.

    DARK SIDE... was recorded in June of 1972, but had been played before a live audience at least as early as February of that year.  (Like the Marx Brothers, Pink Floyd liked to try out interesting experiments on live audiences before committing them to permanent media.)  The album was released in 1973, and became #1 on both UK and US charts, and easily qualifies as one of the Top 10 albums of all time (my list).  I know that my friend Bill Baran and I each wore out our first copy, and bought at least one more to replace it.  (I hope he still thinks it's as cool as I do.)
Return to the Main Page
Read Another Album Review
What are the Characteristics of Pink Floyd's music?
What Debates are raised by the Pink Floyd sound?
Check out the Glossary
Read the Worksheet
See the Listening List