Prior to 2019 my only familiarity with English group – Pink Floyd – could be found in the songs Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 and Money. I loved all four songs and have for many years but for some reason I never went further into Floyd’s back catalogue or even the group themselves. I had never listened to an album, never bothered to delve into their history. I had heard the name, Syd Barrett, but knew nothing else of their story.
If you search for Pink Floyd on YouTube you’ll find their songs, albums, documentaries and hundreds of reaction videos. A new generation of music lovers are discovering their music and having their minds blown by what they hear. Thanks to them I have decided to begin my own journey – a Pink Floyd pilgrimage, you could say – to find out more.
What drew me towards Pink Floyd was the countless comments I had seen from other Floyd enthusiasts, the same messages and appreciation for the group. They insisted that nothing else sounds like Pink Floyd, that listening to an album in its entirety was essential, that their music could help you drift into an alternate plain and that you must, simply MUST, have headphones on when you do listen to the Floyd. It sounded cathartic and I wanted to try for myself as a form of meditation, something I’ve never been good at. I did see plenty of comments suggesting listening to Floyd while high is the way to go, well, I won’t be doing that, dear reader, you will be relieved to hear though I am sure it’s an interesting experience.
My Pink Floyd pilgrimage began earlier this year by reading two books – Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd and Martin Popoff’s Pink Floyd: Album by Album. This gave me an insight into the group’s often turbulent history as well as their extensive discography. I have also watched a few documentaries on YouTube so gained a further insight into their work. There is, however, one thing left for me to do.
Each month I will be listening to a Pink Floyd album in full and writing a reaction on this blog. I will listen multiple times – all the way through – and with headphones on. I will NOT be pausing during a David Gilmour solo and I’ll see if I can figure out which one is Pink! I will begin with The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and conclude with The Endless River (2014). In all, there are 15 studio albums to get through. By November 2020 I will have been through the early days of the band with Syd Barrett as the leader, the middle years where a close-knit quartet gradually fell apart as Roger Waters seized control, and the later years when a more democratic David Gilmour led the group in its twilight years.
One final thing, dear reader. As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I am a novice, a mere apprentice and know very little so what I offer here are just my opinions of their music as I take it on board. I will attempt, and likely fail, to rank the albums in order of preference and try – big emphasis on try – to select the best song from each record even though I know they are to be treated as one long piece of music. If you have insights of your own to help me, or just want to share your own love and appreciation of these music legends then please throw a comment my way.
Time to grab the headphones and go on a journey…
Pink Floyd Pilgrimage #8: The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Moving into 1973 Pink Floyd put the finishing touches on their eighth album – The Dark Side of the Moon. They had completed Obscured by Clouds while working on this new record. That album had been put together quickly so wasn’t as polished as their work on Meddle but they had had more time with this latest effort.
***WARNING: THE POST CONTAINS SOME FLASHING IMAGES***
After making big progress with 1971’s Meddle, Pink Floyd had a very busy 1972 where they worked on two albums. We covered the sort of soundtrack album, Obscured by Clouds, last month but that was a brief foray away from the Floyd’s main project that year. Following up on Meddle, Roger Waters met with the band and proposed the idea of a concept album, a record unified by a common theme running through all tracks. What Waters had in mind was life itself, the pressures that come with it and the impact it has on one’s mental health, a nod to founding member Syd Barrett. The other members concurred that this would be a good direction to head in. Waters also proposed writing and working on the album through live shows, developing the tracks and honing them in front of an audience before they had even begun working in the studio.
Pink Floyd toured and worked on The Dark Side of the Moon throughout 1972 and at one stage the project was changed to Eclipse before being entitled The Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.
A preview performance to the music press in February 1972 was well received but the Floyd were not complacent and continued to improve their material during live sets. They worked on Obscured by Clouds in February and March that year before first getting to the studio to work on their eighth album in May and June. Further touring meant they did not return to the studio to complete recording until January 1973. Some of the tracks on the album we have today were worked on while touring, with additional pieces finalised in the studio. Going into 1973, the Floyd finished their latest album and listening to it as a whole were pleased with their accomplishment.
The Dark Side of the Moon was released in March 1973. Would Pink Floyd be able to reach the heights of their sixth album, Meddle, or would this latest release prove to be a frustrating experience as with previous efforts?
Speak to Me
The opening track on the album is Speak to Me which is credited to Nick Mason though reasons for this do vary. An instrumental track that clocks in at just over one minute, there are no lyrics or sung parts to this. Instead, the album begins with the ominous sound of a heartbeat. Soon this is followed by a ticking clock and a cash register. We hear the peculiar sound of what might be a helicopter flying overhead. Add to this, some recorded dialogue from two different individuals and both making reference to madness. This opening segment closes with the sound of a woman screaming before shifting effortlessly into the next track.
It isn’t obvious when you first listen but Speak to Me is the equivalent of a movie trailer, a preview of what is to come. The segments we hear are lifted from other songs such as the clocks from Time, the cash registers from Money and the screaming woman from The Great Gig in the Sky, while that heartbeat appears in the denouement of Eclipse which closes out the album. In the space of just over a minute, Pink Floyd offer us pandemonium, unease and maladjustment by hurling a series of different sounds in our direction. It’s comparable to the world that we live in today, the fast-paced, physically and mentally draining path that is daily life with all its constraints and challenges. For such a short track, Speak to Me packs a punch and that transition into track two is mindblowing.
Breathe (In The Air)
The second track on the album is Breathe (In The Air) which was written by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright. This opening piece encompasses life itself and is a warning to appreciate it for what it is. We have one life, one moment on this world and we should not waste it. The lyrics tell us not to be “afraid to care” when it comes to taking a breath, that our experiences through our senses will be our whole life, and that we should ride the wave for as long as we can. We are warned not to ride said wave too high though for that is the fastest path to dying young. No sooner have the final words been uttered here than we move instantly into the third track on the album.
Breathe (In The Air) delivers a knockout blow early on in the album. The opening minute is slow and entirely instrumental. Pink Floyd are in no rush here. Then David Gilmour comes in with some of his best vocal work to date, urging us to “breathe in the air.” His voice is smooth but haunting as he expresses Roger Waters’ poignant lyrics about mortality. The song begins to feel more urgent, the intensity of Gilmour’s vocals gather pace but then we ease off again. This is a profound and powerful opening track and so much happens in less than three minutes it takes to get through the song, almost as if the Floyd want to emphasise the brevity of life despite all its opportunities and intricacies. Life and death is very much the opening theme explored here and before we even have a chance to take in another breath we are racing towards the next track.
On the Run
The third track on the album is On the Run, an instrumental, which was written by Roger Waters and David Gilmour. The main instrument used was an EMS synthesiser with a series of notes fed into it then played at high speed. This continues throughout the bulk of the track but there are additional instruments and sound effects as well. We hear a tannoy announcement which sounds like we’re in an airport, followed soon after by heavy footsteps, someone is running through the airport. Further sounds are akin to aircraft flying overhead before we hear a voice state: “Live for today, gone tomorrow. That’s me.” This is followed by laughter and chaotic sound effects.We hear the aircraft swooping overhead once more, followed by manic laughter and then an explosion, presumably of a plane crashing. The explosion segues into a sound reminiscent of thunder before the heavy footsteps return, the man is still running through the airport. The song concludes with that thunder slowly dissipating and in its wake comes the sound of ticking clocks which leads us directly into the next track.
After the beautiful Breathe (In The Air), The Dark Side of the Moon throws in the pandemonium of Speak to Me. The fast tempo, the man running through the airport, a flight to catch and a plane crashing. All of it is a metaphor for the fast pace and hustle and bustle that is life. We’re not drifting through life, we’re racing through it at a frightening pace, not having time to really stop for a breath as Pink Floyd have already told us we need to. On the Run is considered an early form of techno music and listening to it you get that avant garde meticulousness that the Floyd have honed in the studio on their previous albums. Gilmour is said to have started this one off with the synthesiser work but Waters then threw in his own influence to create the piece that runs through the majority of the track. It’s a great collaboration and an interesting musical interval before we shift into the next song.
The fourth track on the album is Time which was written by all four members of Pink Floyd. Roger Waters’ inspiration for the song is said to have been an epiphany of sorts he had at age 29 and came with the realisation that life was happening right now. Up until that point he had been waiting for it, for some sign to prepare him, only to discover all those years had already passed. In the song, the vocals are split between David Gilmour and Richard Wright. In the first verse Gilmour talks about wasting time and waiting for something to happen. Wright counters by talking of being young and how the days are carefree and seemingly endless. He then delivers the most chilling line in the song stating, “And then, one day, you find, ten years have got behind you.” He laments that we are not warned life is happening. In the second verse, Gilmour delivers a terrific metaphor of how we run in pursuit of the sun, to try and get time back and for the day not to end but we can never catch it. Instead, the sun sets and goes out of sight, still we run, but then it appears behind us for a new day has begun and we now try and fail to stay ahead of it. We age but the sun seems to remain constant, a beacon tormenting us daily. Simply brilliant imagery from Roger Waters. Wright finishes the verse by telling us time is slipping away and, most poignantly, the song is now ending and he expected to have said more about his life. The song doesn’t end there though, it seamlessly drifts into a reprise of Breathe and Gilmour takes the vocals. He sings of being old and the joy of coming home to sit by a fire, before finishing with an image of a distant bell tolling in a field, presumably the sound of our eternal passing on the horizon and we are helpless in trying to resist the summoning, we must all make that journey when our time comes.
On the Run sets the scene perfectly for Time with the fast pace there being replaced by a slow build up here. The sound of ticking clocks shifts to loud chiming before Nick Mason and Roger Waters guide us through the introduction to the song. Mason plays percussion with rototoms while Waters plays a haunting sound on the bass. The timing and interchange between the two is stunning. Pink Floyd are in no rush, they make us wait for around two minutes, building up to something, we don’t know what, but we do know it’s coming. We’re lured in, a song about how time passes us by hits us by taking those opening two minutes away from us, making us wait for Waters’ message about mortality. A cruel approach but an ingenious one, you have to say. The occasional reaction online has lamented this slow start and some YouTube reactions have even skipped it but, for me, it’s essential to go through. Radio friendly songs today would not get away with such a delay. Sadly. The song then kicks in proper as Gilmour and Wright takes us through that opening verse, their alternating vocals complementing each other wonderfully, just as they did when singing in sync on Echoes back on Meddle. Then, out of nowhere we get a guitar solo from David Gilmour. I have seen this referred to as an eargasm and they are not kidding. It is out of this world, it’s music that touches your very core and carries you along. For me, this is the best Pink Floyd guitar solo so far, even better than the legendary solos on Comfortably Numb. Gilmour’s playing takes hold and you drift along, losing yourself in the beauty of the music. Words simply do not do this moment justice. You have to hear it yourself to really appreciate and understand the feeling. Suddenly, Gilmour starts singing again and we go through the second verse, the race between ourselves and the sun, the one we always lose and the sun always wins. Wright closes it with the poignant final words before a smooth transition into Breathe Reprise. It is stunning, simply stunning, and Gilmour’s vocals here are incredible. His singing was great on previous albums but here he sounds so at ease and confident in his delivery. That transition between Time and Breathe Reprise is my favourite moment listening to Floyd so far. As Gilmour sings of being old in the Breathe Reprise I feel emotional every single time I hear it. The song concludes soon after and you sit back and marvel at, for me, 7 of the best minutes ever recorded in music. Unquestionably, the best song by Pink Floyd up to this point. Anything beyond this will struggle to match it.
The Great Gig in the Sky
The fifth track on the album is The Great Gig in the Sky initially written by Richard Wright but now also credited to Claire Torry. While Time looked at the fast way our life passes by, The Great Gig in the Sky looks at death and the impending mortality that we all face. It opens with dialogue talking about not being afraid of death and that it happens to us all. After the opening dialogue alongside Richard Wright’s piano work, we know we are building to something big and special and it duly arrives. Claire Torry enters proceedings emitting a series of vocals such as “oh” and “ah” but that really doesn’t do justice to how she sounds. Her vocals get gradually higher until they are near screams, the suggestion being that death is here and she is resisting it all the way to the end. After 2 minutes or so Torry’s vocals begin to ease and we hear the piano accompaniment more clearly before Torry returns though her voice is fainter. Slowly, her vocals begin to pick up but she sounds more content now than at the opening to the song, the acceptance of her sad demise growing more pronounced. There is a faint piece of dialogue, reiterating that there is no fear of dying, before Torry’s vocals return once more. She is quieter than ever now and she and the piano begin to drift away from us, beyond our reach as the final passing takes place. If you feel your eyes watering in those closing seconds do not be surprised.
The Great Gig in the Sky is notable for having no lyrics, instead guest singer, Claire Torry, was brought in to sing wordless vocals to complement the music. She takes us through a range of vocal work alongside the piano and additional instrumentation from the other members. Impressively, she had little direction with Pink Floyd not knowing what they wanted for the song, only that they wanted Richard Wright’s music. Torry would later say in interviews that she pretended to be an instrument and delivered those sumptuous vocals that so many Floyd fans enjoy to this day. Torry was paid only £30 for her work in the studio but in 2004 an out of court settlement was agreed with her by Pink Floyd and EMI which gave her a songwriting credit alongside Richard Wright. The Great Gig in the Sky will likely remain the finest piece Claire Torry ever recorded but what a stunning song to have helped bring to life. With the denouement of the song, we bring an end to Side One of The Dark Side of the Moon.
The sixth track on the album and the opener to Side Two is Money which was written by Roger Waters. This is the first song I have listened to on this journey that I was previously familiar with, in fact, it’s one I have known for many years, albeit in the edited single version. The song is sometimes misinterpreted as a celebration of money and all its benefits. In actual fact, Pink Floyd are taking the opposite stance and mocking the rich and the luxuries they have. Gilmour sings this one alone and in the first verse he tells us that money is easy, just get a decent job and all is well. He then talks of what money can buy such as a new car, caviar and even a football team should one choose to. The second verse continues the theme of greed with Gilmour telling others to lay off his money, dismissing the notion of good deeds through donations and insisting he needs all of it so he can buy himself a Lear Jet. The final verse is separated from the first two with instrumental solos before Gilmour’s vocals return. In the third verse he tells us that some say money is evil, that it should be shared, but doesn’t want to share any of his own wealth, you understand. The song concludes with Gilmour talking about asking for pay rises and the idea of not being surprised if those above refuse to acquiesce to this. After all, why would they want their share being eaten into?
Money is an intricate song that opens with sound effects in the form of clattering coins, paper being torn and a cash register in full flow. When the music starts we get a memorable bassline from Roger Waters to lead the way and this is prevalent throughout much of the track. Gilmour and the rest of the band soon come in and we hear the first verse. Between this verse and the second we have a loop of the sound effects for money. After the second verse we have a real treat with the instrumentals. First up is a saxophone solo from Dick Parry, testament to the Floyd’s continued experimentation in the studio. Parry dominates proceedings for a time before deferring to some stunning guitar solos from Gilmour. They gather intensity before hitting a lull for a brief period, then all of a sudden the energy rises once more as Gilmour is in full flow. We continue to hear that defining bass line from Waters that sounds simple but is anything but. Gilmour then takes us through the third and final verse. As he sings the closing line, “That they’re giving none away”, he repeats the word “away” and the song enters the outro and begins to fade. We can hear the music and Gilmour’s vocals diminishing but mixed in with the sounds are recorded dialogue. The story goes that Roger Waters wrote questions on cards and had a random group of people in and around the studio come in and respond to the questions. The best answers were retained with one example, Paul McCartney (yes, the former Beatle), being one whose answers didn’t make the cut. Waters’ questions selected were about whether an individual had been in a fight and whether they were in the right. The answers closing out Money are some assured individuals insistent they were in the right, one talks about someone “cruising for a bruising”, another contributor was “really drunk at the time” so can’t really answer. This outro moves along and effortlessly transitions into the next track on the album. It’s so subtle that you might not even realise Money has ended and the next song has begun. Hearing Money again is a great privilege, to hear it in its full-length is even better. Isolated it’s a great song, but here in the context of a whole album it’s a song I have found new love for. Before, I liked the song but it’s not one I listened to often. After going through this album, it’s a song I’m struggling to stop playing. Brilliant lyrics from Roger Waters but very much a collaborative effort with David Gilmour really making his mark both vocally and musically, while Richard Wright, Nick Mason and Dick Parry really bring the whole message of anti-materialism to life.
Us and Them
The seventh track on the album is Us and Them which was written by Roger Waters and Richard Wright. The song began as a piano melody Wright composed back in 1970 when the group were working on the soundtrack for Zabriskie Point. Director, Michelangelo Antonioni, deemed the piece unsuitable for his film and it stayed on the backburners until coming back to the fore for this album. In the song David Gilmour has lead vocal with Wright joining him at key moments. The song has a heavy emphasis on human interaction, particularly negative experiences. The first verse explores the “us and them” approach and reasons that we’re all just people and ergo the same. The verse then shifts into the senselessness of war with generals moving lines on maps while out there on the battlefield men charge to their deaths without knowing why. The second verse switches the focus to “us and them” in terms of racial relations, discussing colour and the reality that we should not distinguish in such a way. The final verse changes the subject again and this time the “us and them” seems to be a gulf in wealth. An individual ignores the pleas of an old, homeless man for they are too busy, lost in their own thoughts, and need to get on with their day. Tragically, the song concludes by stating that the mere sparing of small change could have kept the homeless man alive for another day but instead he perishes on the streets. Us and Them is about the chaos and conflict that exists between us all as one race. Whatever one’s attitude on religion, race, gender, sexuality, disability etc we are all human beings, we are all the same, it is only “us”, there is no “them”, but because we create the latter as a dominant mentality, mankind will always be at war with one another.
Us and Them is the longest track on The Dark Side of the Moon and as with previous songs it holds a universal message. We’ve had life and mortality on Side One, before switching to greed and avarice, but now we have war and confrontation. The song opens with the fading out of the dialogue that concluded Money. As this dissipates we hear Richard Wright introducing the new song with the hammond organ. Piano work begins to come in, gradually the rest of the band, and there is a welcome return from Dick Parry on the saxophone once more. Each of the verses has a similar structure with Gilmour singing the opening four lines slowly and quietly, his words repeating in an echo effect. That opening quartet builds to the intensity of the next four lines and that music rises and Gilmour and Wright sing together with backing vocalists – Lesley Duncan, Doris Troy, Barry St. John and Liza Strike – throwing in some stunning harmonies. Gilmour sings great alone but with Wright the emotion that comes through will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. Two verses we have like this before a beautiful piano section from Wright. Pink Floyd then inject some of their recorded dialogue in at this point. An individual talks about fighting another man and offers advice on how to go about it, to be polite and land one vicious blow so he gets the message but not go over the top. We barely have time to dissect the words before a fabulous saxophone solo from Dick Parry kicks in. We then have the vocalists return with combined harmonies but no words and it sounds truly incredible in conjunction with the music, especially Parry’s flowing saxophone. Man, the dude can play! Finally, we shift to the final verse and when it reaches the emotional climax we wonder how it will end. The answer is abruptly. No sooner have Gilmour and Wright delivered the last line than we are hurled into the next track. The editing here is masterful and seamless once again. Us and Them is a magnificent song with Richard Wright and Roger Waters demonstrating the quality they were capable of when working together, which wasn’t often enough sadly. Waters’ lyrics hit so hard you may want to weep at times. In that opening verse he rips at your heart by talking of men being told to advance into battle and the leading line are all killed. Such pointless slaughter while their superiors are miles away ordering numbers, not men, forward. In the final lines, Gilmour sings of the homeless man and his sad fate, “For the want of the price of tea and a slice, the old man died.” A simple act of generosity can be the difference between life and death yet human nature does not always abide by such values. Us and Them is both a testament to mankind’s inability to live in peace and the senselessness of our need to fight one another, as we have always done throughout history. The only surefire way to stop human beings going to war is to no longer have our species on this world we are gradually ruining by our own hands.
Any Colour You Like
The eighth track on the album is Any Colour You Like which was written by David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. This is an instrumental but it has been open to different meanings, especially when considering the title. On the one hand, it taps into the idea of making choices with one view expressed being it is about the fear of decision making. A more popular viewpoint is that it comes from a phrase used by sellers such as “any colour you like, they’re all blue.” Henry Ford allegedly used the phrase when referring to the Model T and said, “any colour you like, as long as it’s black.” In essence, one is given the impression that they have a choice when in actual fact the decision has already been made for them. Another way of looking at the title is that as individuals we make our own decisions, many of them anyway, and that we can shape our own paths in life, adhering to the lessons the album has thrown at us thus far.
Any Colour You Like has no writing credit from Roger Waters on this occasion as he was apparently on holiday when this was put together. Consequently, his bass recording for Breathe was used with this instrumental sometimes considered a second reprise of that song. The instrumental is 3½ minutes long and opens with some synthesiser music from Richard Wright before shifting to guitar work from Gilmour with the accompanying bass and drums in there for good measure. This comprises the bulk of the song before the synthesiser music returns to the fold. The effects on the track were considered ambitious and experimental at this time with the Floyd once again deploying an avant garde approach in the studio despite the album, as a whole, being more structured around a central theme. It’s an interesting piece, though not as strong as the previous tracks that we have had up to this point. It forms a great transition from Us and Them leading to the final two tracks on the album. As with the end of Us and Them, Any Colour You Like segues effortlessly into the next song on the album which leads us towards the denouement.
The ninth track on the album is Brain Damage which was written by Roger Waters. Having explored life and death, money and greed, us and them, Pink Floyd change perspective and move into mental health and illness. Partly inspired by founding member, Syd Barrett, Waters takes the vocals here and sings of a “lunatic on the grass”, misinterpreted as a drug reference, but instead pointing to individuals that stand on grass when signs are there telling them to keep off. The song goes on to say these people need to be kept on the path, presumably both literally and figuratively i.e. keep on the path and stay off the grass, but also to keep them on society’s defined straight and narrow path, the one of what is allegedly sanity but in today’s world how does one differentiate between sane and insane? In the chorus Waters’ throws in metaphors of mental illness with dams breaking, not being able to stand on a hill to avoid the cascade of water and a head exploding with “dark forebodings” before insisting he’ll see this person (Syd?) on the dark side of the moon. The title to the album therefore refers not to the other side of the moon as we know it but to another side of our minds, where we descend when mental illness takes hold in this unforgiving world we navigate in our daily lives. Waters has described in interviews how the image is of the dark side of ourselves, the shadow to the light, the bad to the good that some of us explore, others avoid while more still are tempted by the lure of that half. In the second verse, Waters sings about mental illness in his own head and how society performs a lobotomy to try and repair him. In the end he is locked away, the key is thrown aside and someone strange remains in his mind. When we revisit the chorus, Waters’ references Syd Barrett again when mentioning a band one is in playing different tunes. This alludes to later Pink Floyd shows with Syd Barrett where they would be playing one song, while Barrett would be singing something else. Brain Damage soon draws to a close, leading us into the final track on the album.
As Any Colour You Like comes to an end, we switch instantly to Brain Damage and the music reverts to a slow pace. Roger Waters’ vocals soon come in and they are akin to his work on Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, distant but more discernible here than on that earlier track. David Gilmour apparently encouraged an unconfident Waters to take the vocals on this song. After going through the opening verse and chorus, Waters’ vocals are accompanied by laughter as he begins the second verse. This effect comes from Floyd’s then road manager, Peter Watts. Watts’ laughs once during the second verse and returns at the conclusion of the song by informing us he isn’t sure what to say before breaking into laughter once again. Further laughter closes Brain Damage and leads us directly into Eclipse. The two songs are often considered as one ensemble piece but for the purposes of this blog I have divided them, even though I agree with the assertion that they work best as a whole. Brain Damage is another great track on The Dark Side of the Moon, addressing a serious subject in mental illness and how mankind is susceptible to this, even more so today than ever before. There is the sadness and frustration here of the so-called “lunatics” being perceived as individuals that are broken down and in need of repair, but Waters reflects how a lobotomy does not help the individual in the song here, it seems to exacerbate their problems, even to the point of creating a more frightening reality. The shadow of Syd Barrett hovers over the track and you can imagine how hard it would have been for Waters not to have been thinking of his friend when composing this piece. The rest of the group support Waters well here while the backing vocalists – Lesley Duncan, Doris Troy, Barry St. John and Liza Strike – return to bolster Waters in the chorus sections. It’s a strong song but you barely have time to appreciate it, being one of the shorter tracks, and because of the seamless transition over to the concluding song – Eclipse.
The tenth and final track on the album is Eclipse which was written by Roger Waters. In this closing song. Waters takes the lead vocal again. There is no verse and chorus structure here, only 13 lines with similar repetition spread across the majority of them. Waters uses the refrain “All” and “And all” to list the many ways that we as human beings interact with and experience the world. Examples include our senses, things we destroy, what we create, people we meet, those we fight and the list goes on. Waters goes through all of these facets of human existence and closes the track with the summation that all of these things are in harmony beneath the sun but ultimately “the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” This can be interpreted as existence is fleeting and that all we are and live is engulfed by darkness in the end, that life is a mere flicker in time and that we should seize it and live it for all that it is. Other thoughts have suggested that the moon eclipsing all of these experiences suggests in the grand scheme of things they are not important in the end, though we attach such desire and meaning to them regardless. Roger Waters stated in an interview that the closing section repeats the idea of the dark side of the moon, that there is a dark force within all of us that threatens to overshadow and eclipse all aspects of our life. He goes on to say that he is aware of this, just as we are, and that it’s okay to fear this dark side, as he does as well. However you want to extract meaning, Eclipse is an apt conclusion to the themes explored on The Dark Side of the Moon, bringing everything together in one final, brief, but beautiful, judgement.
Eclipse is one of the shortest tracks on the album. It flows seamlessly from Brain Damage into the start of this song and, as already stated, the two songs are often played together and that has often been the case when they have appeared on radio. Waters’ vocals kick in very quickly as he delivers all 13 lines back to back. Richard Wright and David Gilmour provide harmonies. We also have the return of the four backing singers – Lesley Duncan, Doris Troy, Barry St. John and Liza Strike – and as with Us and Them and Brain Damage you simply can’t underestimate how valuable their contribution to the music is here. As Waters takes us through the track, his vocals retain that distance of Brain Damage but it’s still powerful enough to come through as the intensity of the song builds and builds.When Waters delivers the final line the music quickly recedes and we are left with the sound of the heartbeat that first began The Dark Side of the Moon when we opened with the song, Speak to Me. Gerry O’Driscoll, doorman at Abbey Road Studios and who had dialogue back on The Great Gig in the Sky, returns here by informing us the moon has no dark side, all of it is dark. With the dialogue over, the heartbeat gradually fades and we come to the end of the album. At this point it’s a good idea to sit back, take in what you have experienced and reflect on everything around you.
With Meddle, Pink Floyd made huge advances on their previous work, completing the final shift away from the psychedelia of their time with Syd Barrett. The Dark Side of the Moon eclipses (excuse the pun!) everything that they have done before. Individually, every song is superb on here, simply flawless. There is not a bad track in sight. That said, I do understand and appreciate the gospel laid out by Floyd enthusiasts that The Dark Side of the Moon is essentially one song that happens to be around 40 minutes. At a push you’d say it’s two songs with Side One and Side Two in its original format. The tracks seamlessly flow into one another so beautifully that you might not even realise you have changed songs, that’s how effective the whole piece is. The production is outstanding. This album is more than 40 years old but sounds incredible, so fresh, so vibrant and original.
Having listened to the group’s earlier work, you get the feel of their long and arduous journey through songwriting and recording techniques, the thousands of hours spent in the studio and on stage perfecting their sound and the endless experimentation. It all sounds bold, it sounds different, it sounds fantastic from start to finish. The recorded voices do not seem remotely out of place here. Whereas before some sound effects seemed random, here the recordings all belong in those moments, especially that transition from Money to Us and Them. Speaking of Money, this is a song I have known for years, one of the few by Pink Floyd, but hearing it in the context of this album as a whole, is like listening to it for the first time. It’s a different song, a different feel. Since experiencing The Dark Side of the Moon, I have sampled individual tracks in their own right and they sound great but as part of the album they sound completely different, so much better. The ambiguity of the early Floyd material is gone and lyrically Roger Waters has not just advanced his craft but put his finger on the pulse of what it is to be human and the challenges that life brings to so many of us. Once he was in Syd Barrett’s shadow, but here he has carved out his own path as a brilliant songwriter. The Dark Side of the Moon is unquestionably Pink Floyd’s masterpiece up to this point. Can any other Floyd album top this? If it does, it will be up there with the finest albums ever made, just as this one is. No pressure, guys!
For me, the album is at its strongest at the end of Side One and opening of Side Two with The Great Gig in the Sky, Money and Us and Them being outstanding tracks. However, I have to give the plaudits to Time. The slow build up, the terrific back and forth between Gilmour and Wright, Waters’ frightening but stunningly relevant lyrics that will only become more terrifying the older one gets. To cap it off that amazing transition into a reprise of Breathe is incredible and Gilmour’s vocals for this closing segment grip my heart tight and my eyes well at the poignancy as he delivers Waters’ words. Not only my favourite song of the album but my favourite song by the Floyd up to this point, my favourite Gilmour guitar solo and my favourite collaborative effort between the four band members. What more can one ask for? Simply perfection.
Backed up by the release of Money as a single, The Dark Side of the Moon was a phenomenal achievement, exceeding all expectations and selling a monumental 45 million copies worldwide. In doing so it became one of the most successful albums in music history and was critically acclaimed as well, opening doors for millions of new fans to come flooding in. It would spend 14 years (1973-1987) on the Billboard 200 chart in the US. For Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, The Dark Side of the Moon made them all very wealthy with big homes and fancy cars being just some of the items the members would purchase in the months that followed and who could blame them?
Pink Floyd had survived the departure of their creative genius and talisman, Syd Barrett, in 1968, to mental illness and heavy drug use. They had soldiered on for the next five years with seemingly little confidence and contrasting success, experimenting in the studio, honing their craft and taking a small but loyal audience along with them for the ride. Now, in 1973, the group had finally made it. They had achieved the unthinkable with their eighth album, going beyond what most bands can only dream of. Millions of new fans would be flocking to the Floyd’s shows from now on and record companies would now be circling like vultures with dollar signs glittering in their eyes. Going forward, the Floyd were now faced with a very different world to what they had known before and it would not necessarily be for the better.
Pink Floyd Roll of Honour
1) The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
2) Meddle (1971)
3) The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
4) A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
5) Atom Heart Mother (1970)
6) Obscured by Clouds (1972)
7) More (1969)
8) Ummagumma (1969)