The Making Of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon
How Pink Floyd turned a tale of death, madness and disillusionment into one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.
Four decades after its release Dark Side Of The Moon is still a monumental achievement in the history of rock music. Despite never reaching No.1 in the UK, and spending just one week at the summit in the US, it has since notched up 591 consecutive weeks (that’s 11.4 years) on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, and sold more than 34m copies worldwide. Here’s how it happened…
Jan 3-15: Rehearsals move to the Rolling Stones’ rehearsal facility, a disused Victorian warehouse
at 47 Bermondsey Street, South London.
David Gilmour: We were there for a little while, writing pieces of music and jamming. It was a very dark room.
Nick Mason: We started with the idea of what the album was going to be about: the stresses and strains on our lives.
Jan 20: Pink Floyd begin a 16-date UK tour at The Dome, Brighton, which includes the first live performance of Eclipse, now renamed Dark Side Of The Moon – A Piece For Assorted Lunatics. The performance is cut short midway through Money due to technical problems.
Tony Stewart (NME): A pulsating bass beat, pre-recorded, pounded around the hall’s speaker system. A voice declared Chapter five, verses 15 to 17 from the Book Of Athenians. The organ built up; suddenly it soared, like a jumbo jet leaving Heathrow; the lights, just behind the equipment, rose like an elevator. Floyd were on stage playing a medium-paced piece… The Floyd inventiveness had returned, and it astounded the capacity house… The number broke down thirty minutes through.
Mick Kluczynski (Pink Floyd road crew): In those days we didn’t understand how to separate power sufficiently between sound and lights… It was the very first show any band had done with a lighting rig that was powerful enough to make a difference. So we had this wonderful situation where the fans were actually inside the auditorium, and we had [sound engineers] Bill Kelsey and Dave Martin at either side of the stage screaming at each other in front of the crowd, having an argument.
Jan 21 – Feb 13: The tour continues, featuring full performances of DSOTM.
Roger Waters: The actual song, Eclipse, wasn’t performed live until Bristol Colston Hall, on February 5. I can remember one afternoon rolling up and saying: “I’ve written an ending.” Which was what’s now called Eclipse, or Dark Side. So that when we started performing the piece called Eclipse. It probably did have Brain Damage, but it didn’t have ‘All that you touch, all that you see, all that you taste.’
Tony Stewart: A drone and a hissing sound filled the hall as Floyd went into a simple riff. Gilmour turned to Waters and spoke. We didn’t catch what he said, but it had a staggering effect. Waters removed his guitar, and both he and Gilmour left the stage.
Feb 17 – 20: DSOTM is performed during four shows at The Rainbow, Finsbury Park, London.
Nick Mason: It was a hell of a good way to develop a record. You really get familiar with it; you learn the pieces you like and what you don’t like. And it’s quite interesting for the audience to hear a piece developed. If people saw it four times it would have been very different each time.
Feb 23, 1972: Work on the recording of DSOM is derailed by the obligation to record Obscured By Clouds, the soundtrack to the film La Vallée, followed by sporadic touring.
May 24, 1972: DSOM sessions resume at Abbey Road studios. Working titles for existing songs include Travel (eventually Breathe), Religion (The Great Gig In The Sky) and Lunatic (Brain Damage). The first song worked on is Us And Them.
David Gilmour: It was mostly recorded in Studio Three, probably some of it in Two. We did an awful lot of work in both over the years.
Nick Mason: Recording was lengthy but not fraught, not agonised over at all. We were working really well as a band.
Roger Waters: I was definitely less dominant than I later became. We were pulling together pretty cohesively.
David Gilmour: Roger tried, definitely, in his lyrics, to make them very simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. Partly because people read things into other lyrics that weren’t there.
Roger Waters: Dave sang Breathe much better than I could have. His voice suited the song. I don’t remember any ego problems about who sang what at that point. There was a balance.
Alan Parsons (engineer): The vocals would never take very long. Dave’s a great singer. It would never be more than a couple of hours, except sometimes he might give it up and come back another day.
Roger Waters: Rick [Wright] wrote the chord sequence for Us And Them and I used it as a vehicle.
Rick Wright: It has quite a simple chord sequence, except for the rather strange third chord, influenced by jazz – an augmented chord, hardly ever used in pop music then.
Roger Waters: The first verse is about going to war, how on the front line we don’t get much chance to communicate with one another, because someone else has decided that we shouldn’t. The second verse is about civil liberties, racism and colour prejudice. The last verse is about passing a tramp in the street and not helping.
Jun 7: Work begins on Money.
Roger Waters: I knew there had to be a song about money in the piece, and I thought the tune could be about money. Having decided that, it was extremely easy to make up a seven-beat intro that went well with it.
Nick Mason: Roger and I constructed the tape loop for Money in our home studios and then took it to Abbey Road. I had drilled holes in old pennies and then threaded them onto strings; they gave one sound on the loop of seven. Roger had recorded coins swirling around in the mixing bowl Judy [his first wife] used for her pottery. The tearing paper effect was created very simply in front of a microphone, and the faithful sound library supplied the cash registers.
Alan Parsons: He [Mason] was always the guiding light in matters to do with the overall atmosphere, and he was very good on sound effects and psychedelia and mind-expanding experiences.
Jun 8: Work begins on Time. The music is credited to the whole band but with lyrics by Waters.
David Gilmour: He [Alan Parsons] was a very good engineer, and he had one or two production ideas that were very good. In a clock shop in Hampstead he had recorded the ticking clocks and made these tapes up to offer us an idea, which was great.
Rick Wright: Those big, grand keyboard chords are mine. Dave used to complain I’d write in these hard keys and weird major and minor sevenths, which is difficult to play on a guitar.
Jun 25: Work begins on The Great Gig In The Sky but, again, recording is soon derailed because of touring, holidays and other commitments that keep the band occupied for much of the year.
Roger Waters: Are you afraid of dying? The fear of death is a major part of many lives, and as the record was at least partially about that. That question was asked, but not specifically to fit into this song.
Oct 10-12, 17, 25-27: Sporadic sessions are held in Studio 2, during the first of which Dick Parry,
an old friend of the band’s from Cambridge, overdubs sax solos to Money and Us And Them. Later in the month a quartet of female session vocalists – Doris Troy, Lesley Duncan, Liza Strike and Barry St John – are brought in to embellish Us And Them, Brain Damage and Eclipse.
David Gilmour: I asked Dick Parry to play beautiful, quiet, breathy sax. It’s lovely. I worked really hard on all the vocal harmonies and backing vocals.
Lesley Duncan: They weren’t very friendly. They were cold, rather clinical. They didn’t emanate any kind of warmth… They just said what they wanted and we did it… There were no smiles. We were all quite relieved to get out.
Jan 18: The final round of recording sessions begins in Studio 2, focusing on Brain Damage, Eclipse and the instrumental Any Colour You Like.
Rick Wright: “We’ve got nothing in this space… What can we do? We’ll have a jam.” And that’s what it [Any Colour You Like] was – it’s just two chords. It starts off with the synth, which sets the mood. And you have this extraordinary guitar solo from Dave.
Roger Waters: I wrote that [Brain Damage] at home. The grass [mentioned in the lyric] was the square in between the River Cam and King’s College chapel [in Cambridge]. The lunatic was Syd [Barrett], really. He was obviously in my mind.
Jan 21: Session singer Clare Torry overdubs improvised vocals to The Great Gig In The Sky. Work continues on the album throughout the month.
Clare Torry [vocalist on The Great Gig In The Sky]: When I arrived they explained the concept of the album to me and played me Rick Wright’s chord sequence. They said: “We want some singing on it,” but didn’t know what they wanted. So I suggested going out into the studio and trying a few things. I started off using words, but they said: “Oh no, we don’t want any words.” So the only thing I could think of was to make myself sound like an instrument, a guitar or whatever, and not to think like a vocalist. I did that and they loved it.
I did three or four takes very quickly, it was left totally up to me, and they said: “Thank you very much.” In fact, other than Dave Gilmour, I had the impression that they were infinitely bored with the whole thing, and when I left I remember thinking to myself: “That will never see the light of day.” If I’d known then what I know now I would have done something about organising copyright or publishing; I would be a wealthy woman now. The session fee in 1973 was fifteen pounds, but as it was Sunday I charged a double fee of thirty pounds. Which I invested wisely, of course.
Rick Wright: It [Eclipse] is a great ending. The music grows, it gets bigger, it goes up in decibels. We would lift it up and up. If I ignore the depression of the words, which I tend to do, I think there’s hope in it, because of the music.
Roger Waters: It was something I added after we’d gone on the road. It felt as if the piece needed an ending. It’s just a run-down with a little bit of philosophising.
The most innovative addition to DSOTM came as the sessions were ending, when Roger Waters hit on the idea of posing questions to Abbey Road staffers, Floyd crew members and other studio visitors. Their answers were recorded, and then edited and woven into the tracks at various points throughout the album.
Roger Waters: We did about twenty people. The interviewees all had cards with questions printed on them like: ‘Have you ever been violent?’, ‘When was the last time you thumped someone?’ and ‘Were you in the right?’ and so on.
David Gilmour: He [Roger] wanted to use things in the songs to get responses from people. We interviewed quite a few people that way, mostly roadies and roadies’ girlfriends, and Gerry [O’Driscoll], the Irish doorman. We also had Paul and Linda McCartney interviewed, but they’re much too good at being evasive for their answers to be usable.
Gerry the doorman said: “There is no da’k side o’ de moon, really, it’s all da’k.” And stuff like that, when you put it into a context on the record, suddenly developed its own much more powerful meaning.
Roger Waters: The slide guitar was just something that Dave was into at the time. A brilliant sound.
Jan 24-27, 29-30: In the latter part of the month, Waters completes the album’s ‘overture’, Speak To Me, and work continues on the as yet uncompleted other pieces.
Roger Waters: I thought the album needed some kind of overture, and I fiddled around with the heartbeat, the sound effects and Clare Torry screaming, until it sounded right.
David Gilmour: The On The Run sequence came in at the very last minute when we were nearly finished recording. We replaced another sequence, which was more of a guitar jam thing, and the little synthesiser piece came along when the synthesiser arrived. Someone turned up with a VCS 3 synthesiser and showed us how to work it, and that came from that.
Alan Parsons: Often I’d carry on experimenting after they had gone. The footsteps were done by Peter James, the assistant engineer, running around Studio 2, breathing heavily and panting.
Feb 1: The final Abbey Road session is held in Studio 2.
David Gilmour: We’d finished mixing all the tracks, but until the very last day we’d never heard them as the continuous piece we’d been imagining for more than a year. We had to literally snip bits of tape, cut in the linking passages and stick the ends back together. Finally, you sit back and listen all the way through at enormous volume. I can remember it. It was really exciting.
Mar 4: Pink Floyd begin a North American tour at Madison Coliseum, Madison, Wisconsin. However, rather than the cerebral complexities of Brain Damage or Eclipse, it is the rootsy funk of Money that wins the band a new audience.
David Gilmour: It started from the first show in America. People at the front shouting: “Play Money! Give me something I can shake my ass to!”
DSOTM was released in the US on March 17 and in the UK on the 24th. Four days later it hit No.1 in the US Billboard chart. In the UK it peaked at No.2.
Roger Waters: We’d cracked it. We’d won the pools. What are you supposed to do after that? Dark Side Of The Moon was the last willing collaboration. After that, everything with the band was like drawing teeth; ten years of hanging on to the married name and not having the courage to get divorced, to let go. Ten years of bloody hell. It was all just terrible. Awful. Terrible.