Can I call one of the most iconic, respected, and revolutionary albums of all time underrated? I’d argue that The Dark Side of the Moon remains as such. Pink Floyd’s magnum opus changed music forever. It was potent enough to galvanize anti-war and pro-equality riots all across Earth. It utilized the best of everything from analog synthesizers to saxophone solos to Alan Parson’s genius production. It is often considered by critics and magazines to be the greatest album ever. It created two of the century’s best songs, Time and Us and Them, as well as impressive radio hits like Money. And as a concept album, it explored topics like greed, spacetime, death, mental illness, grief, isolation, loneliness, and existential despair in a time when these topics were stigmatized. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin were special, but Pink Floyd pursued a more novel art form—with meditative, ambient, abstract textures. Fifty years later, Pink Floyd still transcends all comparisons.
Beginning with a disjointed, fragmented, tone-setting 1-minute intro in Speak to Me, the album then segways into Breathe (In the Air). This song could not be more antithetical to the one before it. It is impeccably smooth—from its revolutionary slide guitar to the soft drums to the magical production—with highly poetic lines.
“For long you’ll live and high you’ll 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.” -Breathe (In the Air)
The album then returns to a more abstract, avant-garde sound—with a disorienting On the Run, an instrumental song about keyboardist Richard Wright’s fear of travel. We are then sucked into the universe of Time. The intro to the song was recorded in an antique store, as we hear clocks clammer through the room in unison, only to fade away as a tick-tock, muted bass strings, and rototoms transition to an early Nick Mason drum solo. David Gilmour’s lead vocals then kick in, contemplating the relentless passage of time; looking back on life, childhood, and the future; and taking control of your destiny, complimented by vocals from Wright and a higher-pitched female ensemble.
“Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying at 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 gone behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” -Time
Gilmour then erupts into a phenomenal guitar solo, which plays over the verse and bridge progressions. With an echoing, memorable resonance, the song then meanders through themes and recognizes the finiteness of time, only to evolve into a reprise of the aforementioned song Breathe (In the Air)—making Time a combination of two songs—which revisits the themes explored in the bulk of both songs. The song then fades peacefully away in an outro, as if it is conceding its eternal fate to the passage of time itself.
But despite Time’s historic nature, The Dark Side of the Moon does not follow it with subordinate tracks. The following four are all masterpieces. The first of these is The Great Gig in the Sky. With beautiful piano keys, trademark slow guitar work from Gilmour, and some harrowing, non-lexical vocals from Clare Torry, the song manages to pierce the hearts and minds of millions with a devastating sense of emotion—despite containing no lyrics. Then comes the album’s hit single, Money. Opening with the tape loop of money-related sound effects (e.g. the ringing of a cash register or jingling of coins) that mirrors the effect of the clocks at the beginning of Time, Money establishes a memorable bass-line and an unusual 7/4 time signature. After two verses about the greed, temptation, and hedonism of money, the song erupts into a saxophone solo—only to be followed by an even more gratifying guitar solo. Then Gilmour continues about the eternal polemic and social construct of money. We then meet Us and Them.
Cool, dazzling, jaw-dropping, and unbelievably beautiful, Us and Them reminds the world that we’re all the same: we’re all equal—we’re all humans. It’s a powerful message, one that reverberated in a time marked by global Cold War proxy wars, like the Vietnam War. But despite the powerful message, it is a rather quiet song in general tone and dynamics. It begins with the harmonies of an organ, segwaying into a jazz-heavy blend of guitar, drums, piano chords, and a subtle introduction of saxophone notes, as Gilmour sings about the injustices of war—and how governments across the world ignore these pleas, while the masses get distracted by materialism and consumerism. The steady song then picks up and culminates at the end of the verse. The second verse arrives, exploring civil liberties and racism. We hear another culmination at the end of the verse, leading into another memorable saxophone solo. Then the final verse condenses the song’s many themes into a metaphor about someone who passes by an old man in the street who needs help but ignores his pleas. The final words: “The old man died.”
A pioneer in terms of psychedelic songs, Any Colour You Like follows Us and Them. This instrumental song is—for lack of a better expression—a total jam sesh. Using advanced effects for the keyboard and guitar to combine synthesized tunes, Uni-Vibe guitar effects, and a funky guitar solo, the band fires on all sonic cylinders here. In most albums, this song might pass as a peripheral moment—but on Dark Side of the Moon, it’s a natural follow-up to the arsenal of profound songs preceding it. So indeed, in Any Colour You Like, the band basically just kicks back and belts out fun, groovy, trance-inducing sounds.
Sadly, this game-changing, defiant, idiosyncratic triumph of music transitions toward its end after Any Colour You Like. Brain Damage explores themes of instability, insanity, and mental health—particularly in light of former bandleader Syd Barrett, whose mental health and extreme drug use drove him to isolation for the rest of his life. Lead vocalist Roger Waters echoes “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon,” indicating that he—and we humans in general—can relate to Barrett on an abstract basis. The album ends with Eclipse. Sung by Waters again (with Gilmour’s harmonies), it features a loud, repetitive melody that gradually builds up. But in a twist of thematic irony, the album’s narrative seemingly concludes that the summation of everything we are and everything we do as individual human beings are very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There are countless theories on the meaning of that conclusion—some optimistic, some pessimistic, and the rest—so I won’t adulterate your experience with mine.
“All that you touch and all that you see
All that you taste, all you feel
And all that you love and all that you hate
And all you distrust, all you feel
And all that you love and all that you hate…
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” -Eclipse
My biggest takeaway from the sum of all the themes and messages in The Dark Side of the Moon: Just breathe, don’t let time or money or brain damage spoil your life, don’t let the “us vs. them” mindset control you, and enjoy each day until your final eclipse arrives. And maybe, if we all team up together, we can change the world. But that’s my interpretation. Like the “dark side of the moon” itself, this masterpiece is an enigma. It demands you to find your own truths. Anyone who hasn’t heard all of it should sit down and listen to it one night with a clear mind and nice headphones. You will likely keep listening to it for the rest of your life.