Friday, December 2, 2011

From the Vault: Dark Side of the Moon

Author's Note: The following is a review I wrote on March 26, 2005 for an album that has had an immense impact on the course of my music education. It was written for a series of album discussions I kicked off on a site called the Mike Portnoy Forum. I have rarely visited the site since 2010.

Some albums have that effect on you. One of discovery and revelation. Dark Side is that album for many people. Floyd begged the question in 1975 as to which one is Pink. Roger Waters has always been the side of the fence I landed on. This album is proof of that.


"We all fight small battles between the positive and the negative in our everyday lives, and I'm obsessed with truth and how the futile scramble for material things obscures our path to a more fufilling existence. That's what Dark Side of the Moon is about. And despite the rather depressing ending with Brain Damage and Eclipse, there is an allowance that all things are possible, that the potential is in our hands."
-Roger Waters

The first time I heard progressive rock was through Dark Side of the Moon in March of 2000. I remember buying the album and putting it in my discman and turning off the lights in my room. From the opening of Speak to Me, to the guitar solo in Time and to the climactic Eclipse, I was carried away by the music. It was the first time I had heard an album like that. The experimentation and keyboards intrigued me and led me to buy their other masterpieces. Shortly thereafter, I became addicted to Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and other prog bands of that era. What I love so much about the Floyd and what sets them apart from all other bands, is that sweeping conceptual feeling that you get when you sit down and listen to their albums. That heartbeat on the album signaled a new found music for me and I've never looked back since. I view it more as a single composition than a collection of songs because of the thematic concept that flows throughout the album. There isn't a note out of place. Every song compliments the next while at the same time playing an integral part of the whole. It is as perfect as you can possibly get.

DSOTM made its live premiere at the Brighton Dome on January 20, 1972 under the name Eclipse. It's first performance used different track order than the one on the CD: I. Intro, II. Breathe, III. Instrumental Jam, IV. Time, V. Any Colour You Like, VI. The Mortality Sequence, and VII. Money. The Eclipse finale was yet to be written during that period. DSOTM made its first official live performance (this time in the same order as found on the CD) at the Rainbow Theatre in London on February 17, 1972.

Recorded at the same studio the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, DSOTM showcases unprecedented production value. Alan Parsons did a phenomenal job on the record. You can hear every nuance of Mason/Waters/Wright/Gilmour. What always intrigued me about this album is the continuous flow. This was made during a time where you had to flip the record over to hear Side B. It was as if Pink Floyd themeselves envisioned a future where that would no longer need to happen. It was way ahead of its time not only in sonic breadth and concept, but in song structure as well. On March 23, 1973 the album would be released to the public.

In order to understand the impact of the album you must understand what was going on at the time of its creation. David Bowie dawned his Ziggy Stardust persona and glam rock was at the forefront of popular music. Yes released Close to the Edge in '72 and that hit the Billboard at #3. There was an artistic edge that was prominent of the music that was being produced during this period. Then along comes an album that talks about what it is like to live the everyday life and its enduring hardships, and changes everything. It was a triumphant period for the genre of progressive rock.

Storm Thorgesen's Prism cover is one of the most recognizable symbols in rock music. When he gave the band a choice of several designs, the band chose the prism over all the others. Some of the best albums are ones that have no words printed on the front: Led Zeppelin IV, KC's In the Court of the Crimson King, Gabriel's Passion, Abbey Road, etc. I really like that Storm left the cover as just a prism in the middle with a spectrum. It gives the album more of a mystique.

"The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consumate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost."
- Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
The 30th anniversary Hybrid SACD Edition really brings out the subtle nuances you haven't heard on the original record. This mix synchronized the original tapes together and created a pristine sound. I have yet to listen to the quadrophonic mix and am really interested in hearing how that mix differs from the one found on the original LP.

The lyrics of Dark Side of the Moon are based around universal themes that encompass our everyday lives. Things that we take for granted: money and time, and inhumanities of modern life: madness, death and war. The primary theme that runs throughout the album is life. The sonic experimentation throughout the album is prevelant through the use of VCS3 machines and synthesizers and add to the harmonious keyboards. Gilmour's and Waters' guitar and bass performances are the strongest up to this point and Gilmour shows what a gifted guitar player he is during his solo in 'Time'. Nick Mason, as in most Floyd albums, creates subtle rhythms in his drum work, giving space for the music to breathe. Which leads us into our first song...


"Been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been over the edge for yonks, been
working with bands so long. I think crikey..."
Sound/Word- This is a great way to start the album off. It begins with a heartbeatwhich represents the beginning of life. The sound samples from 'Money', 'Brain Damage', and 'Great Gig In the Sky' enter one by one and represent the things that a person's life must overcome and endure in order to exist in the world. Alan Parsons shows his genius studio producing through the multilayered effects that quickly segue into Gilmour's soft guitar line. I think of this track as the album's collage. When you hear the lyrics "Dig that hole, forget the sun", it is open to interpretation. The sun is a prime symbol of the album and represents truth and all that is good in life. "Balanced on the biggest wave, you race towards an early grave"


"Leave for today, gone tomorrow. Ha ha ha!"

Originally titled the Travel Section and created from a guitar and keyboard improvisation. Definitely the most sonically experimental track on the album. The techniques involved in recording this track involved the VCS3 being fed a series of notes and speeding it up. You can hear a female announcer announcing flights at an airport which goes well with the message of the song. Toward the end of the song, there's the sound of a plane crashing. In concert, a Spitfire model airplane was used to crash from one side of the arena to the other and create an explosion. Did I mention how amazing PF's live concerts are?! An interesting note about the '72 performance of this track is that it went under the name 'The Travel Sequence'. My interpretation of this song is that we are on the run from our own inevitable fate. Time brings us closer to this. Which is our next song on the album.


Sound- The clocks and alarm bells in the beginning are effective in correlation to the theme of the song- alerting people as to how quickly life can slip away. The middle section features one of Gilmour's best guitar solos and is a nice bridge to the final section. The solo's very blues-influenced but at the same time very ethereal. In an era of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, Gilmour makes his presence known with this amazing guitar solo. The themes of 'Breathe' are reprised in the 3rd section of the song.The reprise ties in very well with the 1st section lyrics and is about the later years of one's life and that they should "lay their bones beside the fire" and take it easy.

Word- Roger Waters' best lyrical contribution to the band. The lyrics ring true for every generation and dwell on the fact that time is the one thing we wish we had more of as we grow older. It is my personal favorite off the album mostly because I can relate to it the most. There are many things that I've passed up in my life that I wish I had a second chance at doing. And as I grow older, time goes faster. I look at some of the threads on this forum: one more record store closed, Tower Records gone, etc. and it is a reminder of how much we should cherish those memories in our lives. We all have a limited lifespan and it is up to us to make the most out it. This track to me encompasses the whole philosophy of how time is the one thing that people strive to have more of and we should cherish every moment of it.


"And I am not frightened of dying any time will do I don't mind. Why should I be
frightened of dying? There's no reason for it. Gotta go sometime."

Originally titled The Mortality Sequence. Listen to the vocals of Claire Torry. Her voice permeates every square inch of this wonderful song that echoes the crashing waves seen in video during their live performance. The chord progression of this song is beautiful. This track is all Wright's and showcases his gentle piano touches. There are very spiritual overtones in this track as well. Claire Torry sued the band for royalties to the song in 2002 and lost the case. This is a very hard song to nail down in terms of replicating Claire Torry's vocal performance. When Theresa Thomason performed the DT cover version at the Hammersmith, she not only nailed it, she hammered, stamped it and sent it home to Old Pink. The unexpected pitch bend at the end of this song is similar to the end of DT's The Answer Lies Within.


Sound- The poster child for the 7/4 time signature. And surprisingly the biggest hit off the album. Roger Waters bass sounds very good on this track. It is the first appearance of the saxophonist Dick Parry, who the Floyd would use on their next album, Wish You Were Here. Gilmour's guitar solo begins and the song goes to 7/4 time. After this it goes back to 4/4 and it becomes a full out rocker. It is reminiscent of a section in DT's Beyond This Life (6:27- 6:55).

Word- This song applies so much to the corporate side of the music business. We live in a world where the dollar is what people would rather be after than creating a piece of art. A big irony is that it became the Floyd's first commercial hit while having lyrics that deal with materialism and money being "the root of all evil today." They also show the vinyl on a manufacturing conveyer belt. Pink Floyd released the song as a single and it was their first US Top Forty hit at #13.

"I was definitely in the right. That geezer was cruising for a bruising"


Sound- Wright opens this song up with funeral procession-like piano. The majority of the song is particular mellow. The echoes "Me, me me and you, you, you" are subtle nuances that strengthen Gilmour's delivery of the lyrics. During the Gilmour parts, Dick Parry plays some nice laid back saxophone parts that add to the beauty and mood of the song. To me the most effective aspects of this song is when it escalates into the harmonized backing vocals being played along with the saxophone parts by Dick Parry. The 'saxophone outburst' solo at 5:44 is particularly noteworthy. Nick Mason's drumwork suits the mood beautifully. It is clear that his strengths lie in not what he does but what he doesn't do.

Word- Originally written by Richard Wright as an instrumental and to be used in the film Zabriskie Point. The scene that is was to be used in was a UCLA riot scene. It was originally titled The Violent Sequence This song deals with how people want to categorize themselves into groups. From the enemies of a war, a different race or even the homeless. Roger Waters provides lyrics that dwell on how destructive we can be and whether the human race is capable of being human. It is noted for being a song that ties in with the death of Waters' father during WWII and the impact it left on his life. This is most likely why he chose war as the center of the theme is this song. This event would later influence sections of The Wall and fully manifest itself in a good portion of The Final Cut.

"Forward he cried, from the rear and the front rank died And the General sat and the lines on the map moves from side to side."


Sound- The second track that uses a VCS3 synthesizer. It is completely guitar and keyboards. The composition shares the same beat as Breathe and in musical terms is a second reprise of the beat in the beginning of the album. This is the transition into madness and it shows because of the psychadelic nature of the music that harks back to their times with Syd Barrett. DT did a really good job covering this song at the Hammersmith.


"And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon."

Madness is the key theme in the song. The primary influence of the track was Syd Barrett (R.I.P.) and his decline into madness. I love the playful insanity to this tune. The video that plays in concerts to this song shows various leaders (Bush, Arafat, and Stalin) and correlate with the first verse of the song with the lunatic being on the newspaper. The harmonizations on this track are beautiful. The lyric "the lunatic is on the grass" was written for a song during the Meddle sessions. That song was called Dark Side of the Moon! There's another lyric here I mentioned in italics under the title 'Brain Damage'. That is very much about Syd and how he went on to write new material after his duration with the Floyd. This song with Eclipse never fail to deliver the overpowering emotion that comes with each listen. If I had 5 minutes to live, I would listen to this song along with the next one.

"I can't think of anything to say...hahahaha... I think it's marvelous....hehehe..."
Thump, thump, thump, thump...


...BOOM! The climax.
This song sums up everything about the album. It recalls the themes of Breathe. The symbolic nature of the sun, the moon, time, and the heartbeat representing the cycle of life. What makes this album timeless is that it addresses the human experience and how madness, war, greed, and conflict tear us apart from the realization that we are but mere fragments in a larger part of life. The sun (symbol of goodness) is eclipsed by the moon. The album ends just as it begins, only this time the heartbeat stops which signifies death. The album is really much about life. It really is an amazing moment and one of the best album closers of all time.

"...and everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the moon."

Dark Side of the Moon was an album that catapulted the Floyd to stardom and in Mike Portnoy's words "changed album-oriented rock" when it was released. I don't think even Pink Floyd can comprehend the kind of album that they created. In the music world, most popular albums are given a label, make the billboard charts and end up being forgotten. That's not the case with this gem. Albums like this one are rarely made: one that is innovative in sonic experimentation and lyrics but at the same time pummeling the listener with overwhelming emotion. As a result, it has touched millions around the world and is one of the biggest artistic statements of the last 50 years. It has an enduring legacy that is kept alive by both fans that are in it for the long run and fans that are newcomers to the band. It's universal message that although obstacles get in the way, we have the potential to overcome them. It is an album that will speak volumes to generations for years to come and showed that the genre of progressive rock was more than capable of captivating the heart, challenging the mind and moving the soul.

"There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it's all dark."

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