An Analysis of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”

 

Regardless of your nationality, age, and interests, I have no doubt you are familiar with the preceding image. This symbol makes its way onto posters, t-shirts, and popular media with little to no explanation. It is simple, a prism upon a black backdrop, converting a beam of white light into a rainbow. This symbol serves as the cover art for one of rock’s most progressive and astonishing albums, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

While most are familiar with the title, not too many have heard a single song from it, let alone sat down and contemplated each song, nor the meaning of The Dark Side of the Moon. However, as most progressive rock fans know, Pink Floyd’s concept albums are arranged in such a way that every seemingly insignificant detail plays into the larger picture. Today, we’re going to discuss each detail, and how each one contributes to what The Dark Side of the Moon is and means. If you have not listened to the album in full, I would recommend you do so before or during your reading of this article, as it may help you to gain a better understanding of the overall atmosphere of the album. This is the first installment in a series of three articles, this one over analyzing Side A, the second, Side B, and the final one discussing the meaning of the madness. Keep calm and Breathe, my friends, as it’s Time for Us and Them to take a journey to The Dark Side of the Moon.

Speak to Me

When you first set the needle onto the black void of a record (or click the Play button; I won’t judge), it’s likely you won’t hear much for quite some time in. However, if you listen closely, you’ll hear a deep, pounding heartbeat as soon as the album starts. This is a sound you will come to know for the duration of the album, as it is a continuing theme. After this, the ticking of a clock can be heard, cash registers chime, and you are met with a few spoken quotes muffled by the sounds:

“I’ve been mad for f***ng years, absolutely years. I’ve been over the edge for yonks. Been working with bands so long, I think. Crikey…”

I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad, like the most of us are. It’s very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad.”

As the chaos ensues, as it crescendos, you are finally met with a scream, which leads you into…

Breathe

Ah, much better! Rather than the strange, ambient noise you are met with a pleasant (although rather psychedelic) instrumentation. The first (sung) lyrics in the song are as follows:

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and choose your own ground”

Not much sense can be made out of it, similarly to the following verse:

For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

These lyrics invoke a sort of existential theme, but nothing literal nor concrete can be made out of them.

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

This is when the lyrics seem to take a morbid and hopeless turn. The rabbit must constantly work without stopping, leading a bleak and restless life.

For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race toward an early grave.

This final verse seems to illustrate that such a lifestyle that the rabbit leads, of constantly hurrying, will only hurry him to his death. Perhaps, “Breathe” is an ironic title, as it seems as though the rabbit has barely enough time to do so.

On the Run

If the idea of leading a life such as the rabbit’s frightens you, this song will surely not make your favorites. On the Run is simply a collection of pounding synthesizer beats behind recorded sounds of an airport, including (but not limited to) heavy footsteps, panting, planes taking off, and a woman speaking over a public address system. This song heavily invokes the feeling of being late for a flight and was intended to induce anxiety in listeners. Surely, if the rabbit were a human rather than an allegory, this would be a document of his daily life.

“Live for today, gone tomorrow, that’s me…”

Time

As soon as On the Run ends, you’ll instinctively begin to turn up the volume to hear the sound of clocks ticking. If you haven’t yet listened to this song, I would advise you to do the opposite and turn the volume down, for as soon as the clocks stop ticking, loud, startling alarms and chimes begin to ring out, certainly startling any unfamiliar listener. Once this auditory assault is complete, the song begins with an ominous piano-and-percussion ensemble that lasts for approximately two minutes. Soon after, the guitar kicks in, and you’re hit with your first verse.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way”

Notably less subtle than the lyrics of “Breathe”, “Time” seems to encompass a similar theme: the wasting of time.

“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.”

Anyone who claims they’ve never been startled at the revelation of their age is most likely lying. Time is fleeting, and such is a startling realization. You’re young, free, and have the rest of your life ahead of you. Then the next day is your 50th birthday.

“So 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.”

You desperately try to find the fountain of youth. Surely you can’t be fifty! You try dying your hair, wearing trendy clothes, and caking your face with makeup, but nothing can stop it; it’s irreversible.

“Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.”

You’re not alone; everyone feels this way. You do, and I do. However, it remains unspoken of. You’re terrified, knowing that nothing can stop the flow of time, and you have to face this without the support of billions of others, facing the same, unmentioned fear. After all, it is the English way.

The Great Gig in the Sky

Time never did stop for you, and, helpless to your constant aging, your body fell frail and weak, and you died. You have made it to The Great Gig in the Sky.

Lacking lyrically but still excelling vocally, this song is sung by Clare Torry, an English vocalist. Rather than singing choppy words, she utilizes her voice as an instrument, flowing with the sound of the instrumentals and singing no words at all. Rather, she grieves for your death in an unspoken, yet genuine way. On your journey through death, you hear some voices in the distance.

“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 got to go sometime.”

“I never said I was frightened of dying…”

All this time, you were frightened for no reason at all. Your fate was inevitable, and there is beauty in it. As your body fuels the birth of vegetation from beneath the ground, you transcend into The Great Gig in the Sky, awaiting your next adventure. Surely, you will use your time well.

The record falls silent, the needle popping as it weaves through the near-microscopic grooves, before you are engulfed in thick nothingness, left only to contemplate what you’ve just experienced. Side A has ended, but The Dark Side of the Moon is a vast one, and you know your journey has only just begun.

Carefully removing the needle as it creaks and pops along the center ring, you flip the disk over, replacing the needle. After the near-death experience the last side ended with, you hope that maybe this side will leave you with a more positive attitude. As you’re met with the chiming of a cash register and a few peppy bass notes, you are lead into the song…

Money

This song, sung by bassist Roger Waters, was actually not intended to be on this album. The record company wanted another song included on side B to extend the playing time, and this is what Pink Floyd came up with. Waters was particularly disappointed in this song, finding it too light-hearted and detached from the album’s themes. However, this song would prove to be one of Pink Floyd’s most recognizable (and digestible) songs. The first lyrics you hear are:

Money, get away 
Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay 
Money, it’s a gas 
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash 
New car, caviar, four-star daydream 
Think I’ll buy me a football team

These are certainly the bluntest lyrics featured on the album. Sung forcefully loud and featuring caricaturistic lyrics from the perspective of a greedy capitalist, the theme is easily interpreted from the start.

Money, get back
I’m all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack
Money, it’s a hit
Don’t give me that do goody good bull***t
I’m in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet

Money definitely serves as the album’s comic relief, but it isn’t afraid to tackle a persisting issue with zero subtlety, poking fun at the high class.

Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise
That they’re giving none away

The final verse of Money conveys its strongest message (or rather, idea) of hypocritical individuals promoting generosity, but only if they have nothing to do with it. After all, we all know (or are) someone who scowls at people refusing to toss a coin to the Salvation Army, but when no one’s looking, will gladly walk by without sparing a penny. Hypocrisy is an easy practice when you’re thought highly of, after all.

Us and Them

As the fast-paced and high-spirited instrumentation of Money begins to fade out, you’re next met with a slow, yet soulful saxophone solo that lasts for about a minute.

Us and them
And after all, we’re only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do

The theme of the song is not yet known by the listener, but from this first verse, one can easily tell that this is a notably somber piece. While the first verse is sung quietly, giving the listener the impression that it will be a continuously-peaceful song, the next verse is much louder, giving it a nearly gospel sound.

“Forward!” he cried
From the rear
And the front rank died
And the General sat
As the lines on the map
Moved from side to side

At this point, it is quite obvious that the song is about warfare, and certainly doesn’t have a glorious idea of it. The front rank is sent to die with little to no effect in the general, who can only sit and watch the whole ordeal unfold based on his orders.

Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who?
Up and down
And in the end, it’s only round and round and round

War is an unending cycle fought by sides that seem so different but truly are all the same. Soldiers are told to dehumanize the enemy, but that can be a difficult feat when they recognize that the enemy has a home with a wife, child, friends, and family. It is fought by ordinary men who have no love for what they’re forced to do.

“Haven’t you heard
It’s a battle of words?”
The poster bearer cried.
“Listen, son,”
Said the man with the gun,
“There’s room for you inside.”

A battle of words it is, indeed. This can be interpreted in many ways. One can see it as leaders of nations flaunting their power while thousands of innocent lives are destroyed. Perhaps, it relates to yellow journalism, and how the media thrives off of the horrors of war, trivializing them and desensitizing the world for its lust for money. Under the next saxophone solo, a few pieces of dialogue can be made out:

“Well, I mean, they’re gonna kill ya, so like, if you give ’em a quick sh…short, sharp shock, they don’t do it again.
Dig it? I mean he got off light, ’cause I could’ve given ‘I’m a thrashin’ but I only hit him once.
It’s only the difference between right and wrong innit? I mean good manners don’t cost nothing, do they? Eh?”

It’s only fitting that, in a song about mindless violence, there is a quote about mindless violence. It’s hard to tell exactly what the speaker is referring to, but it is obvious that he is speaking very aggressively about letting someone off “light” by hitting them, while he could have horrifically brutalized them.

Down and out
It can’t be helped but there’s a lot of it about
With, without
And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?

Often times after long years of warfare, it’s hard to remember what started it all. Perhaps it started for a legitimate reason, but now it’s just fighting because that’s how it’s always been. After all, change can be difficult to accept, even when it’s for the better.

Get out of the way,
It’s a busy day
And I’ve got things on my mind
For want of the price
Of tea and a slice
The old man died 

While gunfire tears the bodies of soldiers apart and generals command them from the safety of their offices overseas, the most easily forgotten casualties are those lurking in the slums, broken by the economic collapse, left to starve while more pressing matters are at hand. Even when the war has ended, and a nation claims its victory, everyone has truly lost.

Any Colour You Like

As the last lyric of Us and Them fades into oblivion, you are next met with a psychedelic synthesizer tune with a complex guitar solo. This particular song features no lyrics and therefore has no direct message. However, the song title may offer some insight into what the writers were thinking as they composed the piece. Bassist Roger Waters once said in an interview:

“…Any Colour You Like’ is interesting, in that sense, because it denotes offering a choice where there is none. And it’s also interesting that in the phrase, ‘Any colour you like, they’re all blue’, I don’t know why, but in my mind it’s always ‘they’re all blue’, which, if you think about it, relates very much to the light and dark, sun and moon, good and evil. You make your choice but it’s always blue.”

While perhaps a bit pretentious, this idea is notably intriguing. It is not at all conveyed in the music, so there’s not much thinking to do about it, but it is still a lovely piece of instrumentation to be enjoyed by all ears.

Brain Damage

As the synthesizers fade out and a slow-and-steady guitar takes its place, you’re immediately hit with the following lyrics:

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

Indeed, it is confusing. No matter how hard you contemplate what this means, you’ll likely never come to a conclusion. However, it is notable that these opening lyrics, similarly to Any Colour You Like, have a secret meaning. The lunatic is on the grass refers to a sign that Roger Waters saw on a particularly lovely piece of grass telling people to stay off. Waters interpreted the idea of keeping people off something so attractive was insanity, and these lyrics were a sarcastic way of conveying this.

The lunatic is in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more

The theme of insanity is strong in this song, and while it is never stated who the “lunatics” are, it is likely that the concept of them stems from Waters’s experience.

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 forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

For the first time in the entire album, the album’s title is said. We will not discuss what The Dark Side of the Moon means until next week, but feel free to hypothesize what it may stand for as you observe the accompanying lyrics.

The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me ’till I’m sane
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.

Still, the theme of insanity is apparent. This verse may well be referring to Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder), or may be interpreted vaguely as mental illness itself. The lyrics You raise the blade, you make the change/You re-arrange me ’till I’m sane have a somewhat romanticized sound to them, which may tie into the romantic elements of mental illness conjured by the rest of this song. This verse plays into the idea of dependence quite a bit, and it could be suggesting a romantic dependence of one’s mental illness.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

Curiously enough, the lyric about one’s band playing different tunes comes from Pink Floyd’s original leader, Syd Barrett, who suffered from drug-induced schizophrenia. On stage when he wasn’t in a catatonic daze, he would randomly begin playing the wrong songs on his guitar. Barrett’s mental deterioration was taken very hard by the band, and many songs and lyrics (the song Shine on you Crazy Diamond, for example), are homages to Barrett and his mental illness. After this verse, some maniacal laughter is heard beneath the instrumentation, as it transitions into…

Eclipse

Easily mistaken for a continuation of ofBrain Damage, Eclipse is this album’s finale. It is only about thirty seconds long and primarily consists of a continuation of Brain Damage’sinstrumentation. When the lyrics kick in, they are sung continuously without stopping, and, while they are not fast, some lyrics may be lost on a first-time listener.

All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
All that you love
All that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
All that you give
All that you deal
All that you buy
beg, borrow or steal
All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say
All that you eat
everyone you meet
All that you slight
everyone you fight
All that is now
All that is gone
All that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Everything in existence lies beneath the sun and her glory, who keeps all in order. However, the moon lies above her, rendering her efforts futile. Rather than beneath the sun, we are beneath the eclipse.

The record grows silent for quite some time before the needle screeches to a halt. The same heartbeat from the beginning of the album can vaguely be heard, as well as a barely-audible whisper:

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

As the creaking record comes to a halt, you’re left speechless. Catatonic, really. Your adventure had introduced you to the hardworking, yet doomed rabbit forced you to watch his time-prompted demise, and took you to the Great Gig in the Sky. You contemplated the role that Money plays in society and realized that Us and Them may not be as different as you may have initially thought. You were given the choice of Any Color You Like (of which all were blue), and finally concluded your journey with a trip to The Dark Side of the Moon. Now you find yourself back in your bedroom, sitting within the ocean of orange shag carpet in front of the phonograph, staring wide-eyed at the mechanism, unsure of where exactly you went and how you got back. What and where exactly is the Dark Side of the Moon, and what does it all mean? Why exactly was this album created? In the previous editions, we discussed the contents of The Dark Side of the Moon and what they mean. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at the “big picture” and analyze what product is yielded when each piece is put together into the elaborate puzzle of said album. The album may be complete, but your adventure certainly is not. Let us take one final journey to The Dark Side of the Moon.

Album Art

Your first contact with The Dark Side of the Moon was likely with the album art, featuring a prism upon a black backdrop converting white light to a cascading rainbow.

This cover, created by Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis. Thorgerson identified the prism itself as being symbolic of a light show, and the triangular shape, being of thought and ambition, which was inspired by the lyrical works of vocalist and bassist Roger Waters. The design itself can be credited entirely to Hipgnosis, as minimal instruction was given from the band, the most descriptive being from keyboardist Richard Wright who suggested “something clean, elegant and graphic”. Perhaps it is this simplicity that causes the artwork to remain so remarkably memorable. It is somehow both quiet and bold in such a way that conveys a sense of mystery and otherworldliness. Because of the freedom given to Hipgnosis, the band has encouraged fans to conjure their own interpretations of its meaning, refusing to give their own.

Side A vs. Side B

Despite both sides being of the same album, they are notably different in their storytelling methods and meanings. Side A, of course, tells the story of a person’s unfulfilling life, one dominated by long days of work and travel until death spares the cycle from continuing on. Side B, on the other hand, seems to leave the initial storyline, favoring an abstract description of society’s downfalls and insanity. Perhaps, is it that the issues tackled in side B are the direct cause of the events of side A? The rabbit in side A is driven by a lust for success and capitalistic desire. Despite these storylines seemingly having no relation, the relation may be a direct, cause-and-effect one.

Background

As founder and lead vocalist/guitarist Syd Barrett was forced to leave the band due to his developing schizophrenia and Pink Floyd’s style began to shift, the band was haunted by existential thoughts and contemplation of what sanity truly was. When the band met up to discuss a new album in 1971, Roger Waters suggested creating an album about things that “make people mad”. All band members shared a desire to touch upon Barrett’s condition and include themes about insanity. After long hours of recording and re-recording, the world finally received Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which would serve as the band’s most profitable album, being the one to finally solidify Pink Floyd’s status as a mainstream band.

Now that we’ve discussed some important points about The Dark Side of the Moon that may help us to better understand the intentions behind it, it’s time for us to ask the biggest question, the one we’ve been building up to this entire time:

What is The Dark Side of the Moon?

To put it simply, The Dark Side of the Moon is darkness. It is the darkness that looms over humanity and prompts us to commit horrific acts against our world and even each other. It is violence, it is greed, and it is insanity. However, it is the last piece of barely-audible dialogue that reveals yet another meaning to the title:

There is no dark side of the moon. Matter of fact it’s all dark.

There is no dark side of the moon, since the light side doesn’t exist. Moral dualism is a primitive concept, and has no truth to it; there is no such thing as good or bad. Society is a blend of grays, consisting of both good and bad traits and behaviors. Violence, greed, and insanity don’t exist simply on a dark plane of being; they inhabit all of man, whether one is a mass murderer or the Pope. It is merely a matter of suppression and submission to one’s natural drives that determines how one is classified in society. No matter how good you are, you still live within the collective darkness, but that’s okay. After all, you’re only human.

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