The Dark Side of the Moon
The sound effects loop that Roger Waters made in his garden shed from coins jangling, paper ripping, and other cash-related sounds begins the B side of The Dark Side of the Moon, followed almost immediately by Water’s driving bass line – one of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable in the history of rock. Money was Pink Floyd’s most successful single from the album, and like many rock hits, it is based on a twelve-bar blues. The resemblance ends there, however: Money is set in the dark and serious key of B minor, with seven beats to the bar.
Money‘s three verses are a cocky paean to greed, a caricature of capitalist values. Waters lays the irony on thickly: clearly living one’s life in pursuit of money for its own sake or for the luxuries that great wealth can bring may interfere with the attempt to live consciously. Do greed and a distraction with materialism proceed from the irrational part of human nature?
After two verses Dick Parry’s bold tenor sax solo rips through the mix with a take-no-prisoners attitude followed by GIlmour in Hero voice, who delivers one of the most celebrated, scathing guitar solos on record. Gilmour takes three choruses, changing his tone each time, at turns, snarky, in-your-face, sneaky and underhanded, and finally walking tall over the rest of the band, projecting the smug attitude of the financially superior. Money makes the world go ’round. Waters returns to the mic to take us out with the final verse, and the band fades out as Richard Wright begins the serene organ solo that signals the beginning of
Us And Them
and the band enters quietly, once again in a slow tempo. The gentle chord progression takes the listener through incremental changes in harmony, and Gilmour, Wright, and Waters weave a subtly layered texture, a lush setting for Dick Parry’s sultry sax solo – completely different in character from the biting swagger he played with on Money.
If Money‘s message is delivered tongue-in-cheek, Us And Them is the very soul of irony. At nearly eight minutes it is the longest piece on The Dark Side of the Moon, and lulls the listener into a comfortable state that mimics the complacency with which we accept and condone conflict and violence. Like Time, each verse has two sections – verse and bridge – but the characters of these sections are reversed: this time it is the bridge that increases in intensity and a more dramatic harmonic progression, which relaxes back into indolence when the gentle changes of the verse return.
Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
The general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side
~ Roger Waters
A confident voice delivers a matter-of-fact description of how to defend oneself against personal physical attack – meet violence with violence – over a peaceful, introspective piano solo followed by a longer sax solo, wistful and yearning.
Down and out
It can’t be helped that there’s a lot of it about
And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?
Out of the way
It’s a busy day
I’ve got things on my mind
For want of the price
Of tea and a slice
The old man died
~ Roger Waters
Any Colour You Like
Now the Light is broken and scattered into constituent parts. Any Colour You Like follows Us And Them as soon as the last word is sung, and without any transition Wright breaks into a chaotic synth solo, snatches of melody repeating on a fading delay, overlapping and interrupting each other with little coherence.
When Gilmour takes over for his solo it is in neither Cosmic nor Hero voice, but with an edgy and uneasy vibrato. Mason plays broken rhythms and things begin to feel desperate by the time Wright reenters the texture, synthesizers crowding the mix as the jam winds to a close and a resolute transition into
as Gilmour plays arpeggios reminiscent of the opening of Breathe, Waters sings simply. Brain Damage‘s lyrics discuss insanity directly. At first the lunatic is referred to in third person:
The lunatic is on the grass
The lunatic is on the grass
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs
Got to keep the loonies on the path
~ Roger Waters
but after the bridge, the lunatic is “in my head” – confronted with the pressures of life, the dangers of travel and the mechanical modern world, the tiny scope of human life in the face of Death, the relentless progress of Time, a society that extols and rewards greed and condones violence to maintain the status quo, who is the lunatic?
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forbodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon
~ Roger Waters
Is insanity the inevitable response to a mad world? Who is mad? Is blithe acceptance a sane response to this situation? Is The Dark Side of the Moon the ultimate destination for each of us?
After a loony synth solo reminiscent of circus music, the band changes meter without pause, the moving final song commences, and the primary message of the album returns: despite all of this, despite the difficulties and the pressures and the insanity, this is all we have.
Eclipse is sung to the ancient chaconne – a musical form with roots in the seventeenth century that has been used by composers for hundreds of years to convey the most serious of emotions. Waters mines two lines from the first verse of Breathe (All you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be), to sum up human experience in seven verses:
All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet (everyone you meet)
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
~ Roger Waters
As the final chord resonates and the album comes to an end, the opening heartbeat returns, and as it fades a voice says faintly:
There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.
* * *
Psychedelia, Consciousness, and The Dark Side of the Moon
Psychedelia was (is) a subculture that was part of the larger counterculture movement of the 1960s, although its origins predate the counterculture by a decade or so. LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) was first synthesized by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann in 1938, who discovered its hallucinogenic properties and also conducted research on naturally occurring psychedelics psilocybin and psylocin. By the 1950s, the CIA was using LSD in “mind-control” experiments and this and other psychedelics were used (along with other drugs) by members of the Beat Generation literary movement (Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, and others).
By the 1960s LSD, psilocybic mushrooms, mescaline, and other hallucinogens were being promoted as vital elements of the new psychedelic movement led by figures such as the author Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary, a prominent psychologist who was fired from Harvard University after he conducted experiments with LSD and psilocybin from 1960-1962.
A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness. The scope and content of the experience is limitless, but its characteristic features are the transcendence of verbal concepts, of spacetime dimensions, and of the ego or identity. Such experiences of enlarged consciousness can occur in a variety of ways: sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, religious or aesthetic ecstasies, or spontaneously. Most recently they have become available to anyone through the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, etc. Of course, the drug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.
~ Timothy Leary
The Psychedelic Experience, 1964
Altered states of consciousness and psychedelic experiences brought about through hallucinogenics were cultivated by some as a means for spiritual development, but ultimately used by many merely for recreation.
In the late 1960s psychedelic culture surged in the United States and the United Kingdom, popularized by a pantheon of rock acts led by The Beatles themselves – Sgt. Pepper is steeped in psychedelia. One of the most famous songs on the album is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Many bands on both sides of the Atlantic contributed to the culture through their music by experimentation with new instrumentation, musical structures, improvisation, and endorsement of the psychedelic lifestyle: The Grateful Dead, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, The Jimi Hendrix Experience… The Doors took their name from the title of a book by Aldous Huxley that was popular in the 1960s, The Doors of Perception, which described his experience with mescaline in 1953. Huxley in turn had taken his title from William Blake:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-1793
Like The Doors, Pink Floyd were founded in 1965. Their early albums document the heavy influence of psychedelia on their music and stories about founding guitarist Syd Barrett’s erratic behavior and mental instability (ostensibly aggravated by heavy LSD use) are well known. Barrett left the band in 1968 and was replaced by Gilmour. Pink Floyd’s music continued to exhibit strong psychedelic characteristics through the rest of the 60s and 70s, including long instrumental excursions and experiments with musical structure and unusual sounds.
In the terminology of psychedelia, The Dark Side of the Moon is a “trip” – an extended psychological, emotional, even spiritual experience that offers the participant new perspectives and understanding, catharsis, expanded consciousness… and ideally, a renewed or enlightened sense of one’s relationship to oneself, others, and the world. What is so remarkable about the album is that it delivers an extended experience that is satisfying in many ways beyond anything that had been achieved before by a rock band, and this artistic success reaches far beyond the psychedelic genre. The album is beloved by millions who have never ingested a hallucinogen, nor wanted to.
The Dark Side of the Moon wasn’t created in a vacuum. Other bands were expanding the purview of rock beyond the conventions of pop music and recording concept albums around the same time – The Who released the rock operas Tommy in 1969 and Quadrophenia in 1973, Yes released the acclaimed album Close to the Edge in 1972 – but despite critical and commercial success by these and other efforts, none achieved a lasting popularity or broad appeal that even approach that of The Dark Side of the Moon.
Pink Floyd continued to make concept albums until the departure of Roger Waters in 1985, and while the albums that followed The Dark Side of the Moon continued to explore some of the same themes – insanity, alienation, scenes from Waters’ and the band’s own experiences – the mood of these albums darkened and exhibit little of the hope that is present on The Dark Side of the Moon.
Perhaps the greatest irony of The Dark Side of the Moon is that while it is the crowning musical achievement of the psychedelic movement, the profound state of consciousness it lauds is not the sublime, transcendent experience described and sought by the movement, but a reordering of one’s priorities towards a sincere appreciation and awareness of what we already have. “Everything under the sun is in tune” – but the irrational side of the psyche and the mad world we have created because of it obscure our vision.
On The Dark Side of the Moon