Pink Floyd’s legendary 1973 opus, The Dark Side Of The Moon, is one of rock’s truly colossal titles. Remaining on the Billboard 200 for a staggering 14 years (from March ’73 through to 1987) it’s moved an estimated 45 million copies and has even outsold behemoths such as Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
The record’s stratospheric success seems all the more remarkable when you consider that this ominous, brooding disc’s common themes are death and madness. Indeed, ‘Brain Damage’ – arguably the album’s stand-out track – addresses the acid-fuelled mental collapse of the Cambridge quartet’s original leader, Syd Barrett.
Under Barrett’s tutelage, Pink Floyd first came to prominence in 1967. They chalked up UK Top 20 hits with ‘Arnold Layne’ and the otherworldly ‘See Emily Play’, and recorded their psych-flavoured debut The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. However, after Syd’s harrowing disintegration, his colleagues were forced to change tack.
After guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour permanently replaced Barrett, Pink Floyd wholeheartedly embraced prog-rock. They initially cut stoner favourites such as Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, which were long on atmosphere and preoccupied with meandering instrumental workouts, but the modest gold discs and comfortable cult status these albums provided would soon be a thing of the past.
Working in conjunction with engineer Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd compiled The Dark Side Of The Moon from protracted sessions at London’s Abbey Road studios from June ’72 to January ’73. The band were keen to push boundaries, and several of the LP’s most challenging tracks, such as the music concrète-esque collage ‘Speak To Me’ and the proto-electro curio ‘On The Run’, resulted from experiments with synthesisers and futuristic studio techniques including multi-track recording and tape loops.
The album also contained several of Pink Floyd’s most seminal songs. Introduced by an ingenious tape loop featuring jingling coins and the sound of a cash register, the Roger Waters-penned ‘Money’ was based around an infectious blues-rock groove and, after the song was edited down for radio play, deservedly rose to No.13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Elsewhere, Rick Wright’s plangent, mortality related ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ was dominated by an emotional wordless cameo from guest vocalist Clare Torry, while the haunting ‘Brain Damage’ featured lyrics and a memorable chorus (“I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”) alluding to Syd Barrett’s withdrawal from reality.
Presented in an iconic, Hipgnosis/George Hardie-designed sleeve depicting a prism spectrum, the album was greeted by rave reviews, with Rolling Stone declaring that it had “the true flash that comes from the excellence of a superb performance”. Released by Harvest (and distributed by Capitol in the US), The Dark Side Of The Moon has since been cited as an influence by artists as disparate as Rick Wakeman and The Flaming Lips, and continues to draw in new disciples.