The ‘Have you heard’ series is a look into significant albums across multiple genres. We will explore what made these albums tick and why they’re worth listening to today.
There is little chance that you haven’t heard or seen The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. The album’s cultural impact has been felt for decades since its release. It is one of the highest-selling albums of all time over multiple formats, and features album art that can at this point only be described as iconic.
The Dark Side of the Moon was welcomed as one of the greatest albums of all time almost as soon as it released in 1973. It spent over 900 weeks on the Billboard Charts and there are few critics that have ever tried to deny its landmark status. Any opinion about the music itself is, of course, highly subjective and the album has been critiqued for not sticking to Pink Floyd’s earlier psychedelic rock-infused approach to making music. But the introduction of the world to this side of Pink Floyd’s music, one that is more easily palatable, has remained relevant for well over 40 years.
The Dark Side of the Moon does not feature a signature Pink Floyd weirdness that is incredibly easy to find on their earlier albums. There are no 20-minute-long cuts of songs like “Echoes” or “Atom Heart Mother”. No odd names like Ummagumma and no references to aliens whatsoever. This, in part, is why the album was as successful as it was. By making a more accessible album, the band ensured that as many people as possible enjoy it.
But just because the album was the most accessible Pink Floyd album at the time, did not mean it was a bland pop record. The band and Sound Engineer Alan Parsons saw to it that the album still took bold steps in terms of audio, instrumentation and songwriting.
The album opens with “Speak to Me”, one of the three instrumental tracks on the record. The song blends seamlessly into “Breathe (In The Air)” which deals with the idea of life passing one by as they are busy working. The third song on the album is the synthesizer-laden “On The Run”, which is one of the places on the record where Parsons’ work shines brightest. Another such moment occurs at the beginning of the very next song. “Time” starts out with a barrage of alarm clocks all going off at the same time. Such an effect would be relatively easy to create with the tools available to producers today, but in 1973, Parsons had to painstakingly record the sound of each clock separately before blending them at a studio. The sheer magnitude of this intro alone likely earned him the Grammy he received for this album.
Aside from its innovative approaches to audio, the album is also well-remembered for the themes that it dealt with. Songs like “Money”, “Us and Them” and “Brain Damage” deal with themes that are still relevant today. “Money” is a scathing portrayal of the excesses of the wealthy that fits into Pink Floyd’s recurring theme of capitalist critique. “Us and Them” is a song about the senselessness of war. “Brain Damage” is about the deteriorating mental health of founding member Syd Barrett.
Each song on The Dark Side of the Moon fits into a bigger picture that Pink Floyd try to paint. The composition on the album as well as the innovative approaches to recording made the album as iconic as it is today. Even today, the subject matter of the songs is incredibly relevant.