Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" at 50: The album's vast soundscapes have never sounded better

To mark the occasion, a remastered edition of the album with deluxe coffee table book is out now

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published March 26, 2023 9:29AM (EDT)

Album cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon released in 1973. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Album cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon released in 1973. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

This month, Pink Floyd's mega-selling, time-eclipsing "Dark Side of the Moon" LP turned 50. To mark the occasion, a remastered edition of the album has been released, along with an elegant coffee table book of rare photographs and other ephemera. Over the past several years, music lovers have been treated to numerous box sets and deluxe editions celebrating one musical masterwork after another. But if there is one record that merits being feted, it's certainly "Dark Side of the Moon."

As with our finest novels and films, "Dark Side of the Moon" rewards its audience with every return visit, affording us with greater nuance and other subtleties that only the most superbly crafted artworks can provide. A significant part of the album's intricate construction and staying power can be attributed to the painstaking way in which it developed over the early 1970s. Pink Floyd performed "Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics," as it was known at the time, in a live setting for more than a year, giving the band numerous opportunities to make refinements before committing their ideas to magnetic tape.

And by the time Pink Floyd began working on the album at EMI's Studio 3 in May 1972, the conditions had aligned perfectly on their behalf. EMI's engineers had made numerous refinements of their own to the TG 12345 mixing desk. And the band's crew itself was second to none, with Alan Parsons acting as engineer. He was well-supported by Chris Thomas, who mixed the album. While relatively young, both men were wily veterans of the Beatles' studio years, having worked closely with George Martin on the band's final masterworks. As the coziest room in the building, Studio 3 seems like an ironic place to have birthed such an expansive album. Surviving footage from the overdubbing sessions offers a privileged view of the making of the album.

Watch guitarist David Gilmour accent the basic track of "Brain Damage" at EMI's Studio 3:

As the album came into focus during the band's final weeks in the studio, an incredible tapestry had taken form, thanks to all of those concerts in advance of the "Dark Side of the Moon" recording sessions. Incredible moments of high drama emerged in tracks such as "Time," "The Great Gig in the Sky" and "Us and Them." In the former, a fusillade of chimes, watches, ticking clocks, and Nick Mason's hurried drumbeat establish the song's mind-numbing pace. Listless and suffering from a diffused sense of identity, we find ourselves "ticking away the moments that make up a dull day," Gilmour sings, while "waiting for someone or something to show you the way."

Accompanied by Rick Wright's mournful piano, "The Great Gig in the Sky" acts as the album's terrifying centerpiece. Clare Torry's ethereal — and, significantly, wordless — vocal illustrates humankind's fear of dying, of joining that final "great gig in the sky." When it finally arrives on the heels of the free-form jazz fusion of "Money," "Us and Them" decelerates the momentum created by its predecessor — and the intricate ⅞ time sequence of "Money" — into a more soothing tempo. Like Ravel's Boléro, "Us and Them" slowly establishes "Dark Side of the Moon"'s pace so as to provide a dramatic backdrop for the song's interludes about an insular general's inability to recognize his soldiers' senses of particularity.

In an album that purports to be about death and madness, a song about the perils of war and militarism is especially apt. "Us and Them" reaches its dramatic pitch in the portions of the song that narrate a general in the act of sending his army into battle: "Forward he cried from the rear / And the front rank died," Gilmour sings. For the general, the soldiers exist as mere pawns on an impersonal battlefield: "And the general sat and the lines on the map / Moved from side to side." For the life of him, the general can only see his soldiers as nothing more than inhuman, insensate "lines" on a map.

The remastered edition of the LP only serves to provide even greater aural nuance to such an abiding work of art.

With the magisterial conclusion of "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse," "Dark Side of the Moon" reaches a level of magnificence rare attained by any other artwork ever. A virtual smorgasbord of emotions, sensations and ethical conundrums, "Eclipse" marks the climactic moment on the album when Pink Floyd challenges the listener to celebrate unity over division, community over individualism. The concept of the moon eclipsing the sun suggests that humankind can conquer the constricting mechanisms that rule our lives if we establish a genuine sense of community among our fellow "lunatics" across the globe.

"When the record was finished," bassist and lyricist Roger Waters recalled, "I took a reel-to-reel copy home with me and I remember playing it for my wife then, and I remember her bursting into tears when it was finished. And I thought, 'This has obviously struck a chord somewhere,' and I was kind of pleased by that. You know when you've done something, certainly if you create a piece of music, you then hear it with fresh ears when you play it for somebody else. And at that point I thought to myself, 'Wow, this is a pretty complete piece of work,' and I had every confidence that people would respond to it."

In the intervening years, audiences have never stopped responding to "Dark Side of the Moon." The remastered edition of the LP only serves to provide even greater aural nuance to such an abiding work of art. The album's vast soundscapes have never sounded better, the instrumental separation pleasingly reminding us that Pink Floyd was in peak musical form. The deluxe book affords us welcome insight into the evolution of the LP's cover art, which was designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis fame. The album's art design, which depicts a ray of light as it enters a prism, producing a rainbow spectrum that continues onto the album's back cover, has enjoyed almost the same level of iconic status as the music itself.

And as for the record's message, "Dark Side of the Moon" provides an ethical challenge that is just as prescient now as it was 50 years ago. If anything, its themes have become even more vital. As Waters remarked at the time, "The album uses the sun and the moon as symbols; the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the life force as opposed to the death force. I think it's a very simple statement saying that all the good things life can offer are there for us to grasp, but that the influence of some dark force in our natures prevents us from seeing them."

By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

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