After 50 Years, It’s Still Good to Visit ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’

Leo McAllister, Staff Reporter

Darkness, light, a prism, and a rainbow. Those objects comprise the cover of one of the most recognizable albums ever. Even if someone has never heard Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” they have most likely seen the cover artwork or some riff on it. The album was released Mar. 1, 1973, by Harvest Records.  Past the recognizable cover, insane sales, and an astounding 18 years spent on the Billboard 200, the record has many things going for it.

As with all albums, the songs give value, and with this record, value is not hard to find. The record opens softly, with silence slowly fading into a barely audible heartbeat. The beating continues, a cash register is added to the ever-broadening soundscape, and finally, a harsh British voice says, “I’ve always been mad; I know I’ve been mad.” The registers and the heart get louder and louder as we transition to the next song, “Breathe (in the Air).”

The registers continue. A shrill yell occurs for a moment, followed by a magical chord that sets the tone for a slow ballad about life that can be seen as a roadmap for the rest of the album. This is but one example of strategies Pink Floyd uses throughout this album, making seamless transitions between songs, which they use to create a satisfying flow from one idea to the next. 

There is an undeniably tight focus on the unique human experiences of life that won’t change. That humanity brings it a sense of relevance even close to 50 years after its initial release.

There is only one part of this album where that flow begins to drag. “On the Run” is an instrumental synth piece that supposedly represents fear of airplanes. This sentiment isn’t really found until the last few moments of this trudging track when the sounds of a plane crash are heard. The softly ticking clock sounds at the end lead to redemption as it effectively sets up one of the highlights of the album.

“Time,” a seven-minute lamentation on, surprisingly, the passage and wasting of time, begins with not a bass line or a catchy guitar riff but the sounding of what seems like dozens of clocks going off at once. An odd start to be sure, but a very fitting one. The song’s lyrics are one big warning to young people to not waste what little time they have left on this earth.

“You are young, and life is long, and there is time to kill today. Then one day you find 10 years have got behind you.” This song and “Breathe” connect. The album does a good job of connecting the songs and their themes, making the work feel like a cohesive whole.

While “On the Run” doesn’t do anything with its aimless instrumentality, “The Great Gig in the Sky” manages to bring forth emotion using vocalization without lyrics. The vocals by singer Clare Torry are packed with emotion and feeling, and while not as profound musically or thematically as other tracks, something is achieved here.

“Money” starts in a familiar way, with a clacking loop of cash registers. A funky bass line keeps time with the clacking until the music overtakes. The smooth sax work of Dick Parry gives it a jazzy rich sound when accompanied by the satirical lyrics musing about the “root of all evil today.” The track toys with ideas of corporate and individual greed. “Money” laid the groundwork for “Animals,” a later album by Pink Floyd that expounds on the ideas of greed and the troubles money is intrinsically associated with.

After the blistering pace of the previous track, “Us and Them” takes a step back and looks at the big picture with a shifting tune about conflict and how people aren’t so different from one another. This song, “Money,” and “Time” form the trifecta that allows the group to achieve the goal of making an album about life.

There is an undeniably tight focus on the unique human experiences of life that won’t change. That humanity brings it a sense of relevance even close to 50 years after its initial release. Ranging from the passage of time to the evils of money and greed to the ever-present strife and conflict that plagues the world, Pink Floyd paints these themes with a blunt brush of cynical expression highlighted with their signature high production values.