The Dark Side of the Moon
Speak To Me
The opening track is a brief sound collage, little more than a minute long, which introduces and foreshadows some of the album’s themes in the manner of an overture. The opening heartbeat draws the listener into an intimate relationship with the music from the very beginning. It is nearly half a minute before snippets of sounds hint at what’s to come: clocks ticking (Time), a cash register (Money), the rotor sound effect (On The Run), lunatic laughter, and the first spoken words “I’ve been mad for fucking years, absolutely years” introduce the album’s primary themes as the sounds overlap, increase in volume, and build to a climax that features a woman screaming into
a suddenly calm atmosphere as the band enters quietly, altogether, in a slow tempo. David Gilmour’s otherworldly lap steel guitar solo soars above the rest of the band to produce a spacious effect in the short introduction to the song. Gilmour’s lead guitar often provides the melodic focal point for the listener throughout the album, featured front and center in the musical texture. He employs several different guitar “voices” on The Dark Side of the Moon, sometimes layering more than one. Here he enters initially in the gentle, undulating rhythm guitar voice used consistently throughout the album, then overdubs in “Cosmic” lead voice – extremely short phrases played very expressively with slow, deep pitch bends.
When Gilmour uses Cosmic voice, the music expresses the album’s primary theme. If The Dark Side of the Moon begins with the call to attend to what is most important in your life (your heartbeat), the first sung words reinforce this message and exhort the listener to
Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around, choose your own ground
Long you live and high you fly
Smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
All you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be
~ Roger Waters
This is your life. This is all you have.
The primary message of The Dark Side of the Moon is an urgent reminder to acknowledge, embrace, and cherish that which is most important. This state of consciousness is expressed by the music. The lyrics describe aspects of this state of consciousness, but it is the music they are a part of and the way they are sung that produces the extraordinary emotional and psychological response in the listener that is The Dark Side of the Moon.
Ever present throughout the album, but seldom acknowledged directly, are the symbols of Sun and Moon. Powerful, ancient, and common to the lives of every human being who has ever lived, these symbols are primal – and potent. Sun and Moon symbolize light and darkness, respectively, throughout the album, and they also symbolize what is seen – through the power of light – and what is hidden in darkness. In this way, Sun and Moon also refer to consciousness and unconsciousness, which can be expressed as the rational and irrational sides of human nature. The album’s title refers directly to that which is hidden in darkness: the irrational. How the irrational manifests itself, and derails one’s efforts to live consciously, is the subject matter of The Dark Side of the Moon.
The second verse introduces these secondary or contrasting themes which dominate the album: the pressures of contemporary life that frustrate and defeat one’s attempts to live consciously.
Run, rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one
Long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
Balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave
~ Roger Waters
Here, the Sun represents consciousness: due to the mundane pressures that we face each day, it is easy to “forget the Sun”, and in fact, attending to the mundane seems to demand that we do so. As drummer Nick Mason said, counting off on his fingers, “The pressures of life: the worries, travel, mortality, money, and so on…”
On The Run
It’s about travel and about the fear of death through flying, really, which I suffered from quite a lot early on in our career. I think most people who fly as much as we did go through cycles where you get scared of it, and then you reconcile yourself.”
~ Roger Waters
The Dark Side of the Moon 2003 Documentary
Part of what gives The Dark Side of the Moon such authenticity is that it expresses anxieties and fears that the members of the band were experiencing personally at the time it was written. Frantic, harried, and justly famous for the innovative use of synthesizer and sequencer technology (then in its infancy), On The Run is a collage that describes the stresses of travel, largely compiled through the use of musique concrète. A series of increasingly fraught episodes are layered over the hi-hat loop and travel sequence that relentlessly permeate the first three minutes of the piece, machine sounds building with increasing tension and panic to a violent explosion.
Although perhaps few of us have experienced a fear of air travel akin to that which members of Pink Floyd developed due to the sheer amount of time they spent touring in the early 1970s, most of us can relate to the desperation of being stuck in a rush hour traffic jam, the panic of rushing to make a connection in an airport, the sounds created by our mechanization of the world, and the feelings of fear and oppression – even terror – they can trigger in us.
As the debris settles from the destruction at the end of the previous track one gradually becomes aware of clocks ticking in the distance, and as one comes nearer, they erupt in a cacophony of bells and alarms. The band enters, playing sparsely to an ostinato tick-tock loop over which Nick Mason performs an extended solo on roto-toms (small pitched drums). Like many of the songs on The Dark Side of the Moon, Time introduces a sonic texture not heard before on the album. The long introduction (more than a third of the track) sets a dark and foreboding mood that slowly builds in intensity until the band kicks into high gear for the first verse.
Time describes the course of a human life in three verses. Each verse has two parts: a bold first section (verse) followed by a gentler second section (bridge). Gilmour sings the verse and Wright’s lighter, higher voice is featured on the bridge – on the first and third verses. Verse one describes the indolent and wasteful attitude towards time exhibited by the young:
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
~ Roger Waters
In a panic, Gilmour roars into verse two’s guitar solo with a vengeance, striving to make up for lost time with the energetic action and ultimately fruitless activity of middle age. Gilmour’s solo runs the course of the entire second verse. Here he employs “Hero” voice – driving, forceful, uncompromising. It is remarkable how Gilmour’s Hero voice draws the listener into close identification immediately – personifying the listener and dragging him through a kaleidoscope of emotions. In the second verse of Time, the music is tinged with regret and a brief moment of wistfulness (the bridge) yet never ceases to exude strength and passion.
Verse three turns to the futility felt late in life when one finally realizes that the time we are allotted is finite, and running out…
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
~ Roger Waters
The Sun appears again, this time to illustrate the passage of Time through its movement across the sky, and the impossibility of regaining lost youth.
The band slows and segues immediately into a reprise of the album’s first song – “Home, home again” – the mood is now restful but exhausted. By returning to the previous song, the music evokes the familiarity and comfort of Home swiftly, consoling the listener briefly and preparing one inwardly for what follows next. The closing words are the album’s only reference to religion:
Far away across the field
Tolling on the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell
~ Roger Waters
Through this brief description, religious practice is acknowledged but reduced to an irrelevant superstition, sidelined by the more immediate concerns and perspective of The Dark Side of the Moon.
The Great Gig in The Sky
This song has no words. As the title implies, it expresses the emotions felt when confronting the reality of personal mortality. The Great Gig in the Sky = Death.
There is no other song comparable to The Great Gig in the Sky in all of rock.
Richard Wright begins with a mournful piano solo, and is joined after a few bars by GIlmour in Cosmic voice, who elevates the feeling of the music by repeating the album’s primary message: live consciously.
Before the now famous, wordless vocal solo begins a male voice is heard:
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. You’ve gotta go sometime.
Like On The Run, The Great Gig in the Sky went through evolution and development before arriving at the final version released on the album. In earlier permutations performed on tour before the album was recorded, it was solely an instrumental track, and at some performances, bible verses were read. The track was originally recorded without vocal, and Clare Torry’s deeply affecting, improvised solo was added later.
The rest of the band enters in full force when Clare begins to sing. Her solo builds to a climax – alternating between orgasmic ecstasy and sheer terror – then gradually, with acceptance, the intensity wanes and the piece gently comes to a close. Towards the end of the song, as Clare gasps and whimpers through the final bars, a female voice (3:33) says quietly:
I never said I was frightened of dying.
* * *
Despite the protests of the spoken quotes which frame it, Clare’s solo exudes passion, despair, and finally, acquiescence. Given the irony which permeates so much of this album and Roger Waters’ bent as a lyricist, it is clear that what is expressed by this singular song is in fact the opposite: not steadfast courage in the face of death, but the complex panoply of emotions each of us faces when confronting personal extinction. Miraculously, this song expresses love of life, fear of death, and ultimately a grudging acceptance of the inevitable in the most moving way.
On The Dark Side of the Moon