[Dark Side 

How To Listen to Dark Side of the Moon

by Alan Wood


On March 13, 1973, Pink Floyd released an album called " The Dark Side of the Moon" (henceforth refered to simply as "Dark Side"). So outstanding is this particular album, that I felt it nescessary to provide instructions to aid in its listening.


This page does not attempt to review the album, as several others have already done that. Nor does it attempt to give extensive information about the album, Pink Floyd, or anything else for that matter. I am not a musician, and I know little about music and the music industry. I simply listen to Dark Side often enough that I thought I should share my opinions with others.

[Prism symbol] The album

The first, and most important thing you should take into account when listening to Dark Side is that it is an album. Sure, there may be track listings, but those are to be ignored if you want to maximize your listening experience. Dark Side should always be heard in full. Only then can its full effect be felt. Plan your listening time. Make sure that you will not be interrupted while listening. If you must pause, try to do so at the end of "Great Gig in the Sky", right before the beginning of "Money", the only natural break in the album. I have personally listened to the album as a whole more than I have listened to any individual song. That is how I think it should be treated--as one album-long song.

The Listening Experience

Listening to Dark Side is an experience. Each time you hear the album, it is somewhat different. That is because there is SO MUCH to the album. Everything from the many different sound effects to the interview clips, to, of course, great music and terrific lyrics gives this album a special flavor, which is unique to your listening experience. As a result, I have compiled a list of common listening experiences I think differ widely enough to be worth mentioning:
Dark Side Listening Experiences:
  • The Basic Listening Experience:
    Listening to Dark Side on a tape, LP, rather lousy stereo, or through any other means that artificially restrict the quality of the sound.
  • The Enhanced Listening Experience:
    Listening to Dark Side on a CD with headphones on or at the acoustic center of a really nice stereo. Basically, any experience in which you can not only hear all of the sound properly, but are exposed to the dynamics of the album with regards to sound shifts and other quirks.
  • The A/V experience:
    Watching a Dark Side laser light show is the most effective means by which this is accomplished. However, any other visual effects (dark areas, rhythmically moving lights, etc...) can also qualify.
  • The Live Experience:
    Seeing Pink Floyd perform Dark Side (as always, in its entirety). There is no substitute.
  • The first time you hear Dark Side, I recommend you make it a basic listening experience. The reason for this is that the album is so good in and of itself that the first time you hear it, you should concentrate on the music and the lyrics. Feel free to listen to it on CD, but I would advise against paying too much indulgence to the effects. This will make each progressive step more enjoyable.
    After you've gotten familiar with the album, memorized some lyrics, and begun to enjoy it, go ahead and move on the either the Enhanced or the A/V listening experiences. My advice here is not as strong as above as to which path to take, but, if I had to make a decision, I would probably go to the Enhanced first, then the A/V. Each has something different to add.
    The first time I heard Dark Side on CD with headphones, I was stunned. I had heard it at least one hundred times prior, yet I still found myself in awe. Segments of the album that I had previously found less interesting were now amazing. "On the Run", in particular stands out as a completely different song when heard in Enhanced mode.
    A laser light show makes the album sound new yet again. A good show, in a planetarium, with other floyd fans, is, to me, almost worth the price of admission to a concert. You become transfixed in the music. I still now picture a laser-drawn image of a guy in a cage in someone's head when I hear "Brain Damage". If you do go, bring friends. Sing...loudly. Lie on the floor, not in seats... look straight at the dome. A good show will fill the dome with images, and you will go along with it.
    Whichever order you choose to proceed (A/V or enhanced first) will impact the second. If you first go for an enhanced experience, then go see a show, you will no doubt notice the peculiarities---small sounds, speech, etc---during the show. Similarly, as I described happening to me, you will associate images with some song segments if you see a show first. This is ok. The more often you do both, the more often you will appreciate each other's properties.
    Finally, go see Pink Floyd live, if you get the chance. Do not pass up this opportunity. Watching the instruments being played, hearing fifty to one hundred thousand people sing along, and having the visual effects the band itself brings makes the live experience something you will surely treasure for as long as you live. If you go, don't worry too much about seating proximity---Floyd does a great job with filling an entire stadium with sound. In fact, some of the more distant seats are sometimes an advantage as they tend to have better perspectives on the "massive" visual effects Floyd brings to bear at its live shows.
    A suggestion for all of you die hard fans: Go see The Machine. They are one of the best Floyd cover bands around. I saw them this year and truly enjoyed the experience. It is definitely not the real thing, but, on the plus side, you will more than likely have excellent seats at a very reasonable price.
    Also, it was recently brought to my attention that the original vinyl version of the album was one of the first to come out with Quadroponic sound. I've just recently acquired a vinyl copy of the album, and can tell you that there are a few noticable differences. However, even a mint-condition vinyl record on a terrific turntable, will, when heard at high volume with headsets, give some unwanted cracks and pops that you don't get on a digital CD. In other words, unless you want it for collection's sake, you're probably better off going with the CD than the vinyl.

    Breaking it all down

    This section is devoted to guiding you through the album. I stated earlier that you should listen to Dark Side as if there were no tracks. In this section, I will use the track names as a convenient method of addressing particular segments of the album which have different flavors and/or peculiarities.
    The beginning encapsulates the whole album right away. "Speak to Me", the short opening track is masterful in the way that it slowly introduces a great deal of turmoil, and then supersedes that with a flurry of sound effects that grows progressively louder and finally culminates in the delicate balance of "Breathe". You cannot help but let yourself go as the "Speak to Me" transforms into "Breath". It is as if someone took all of the madness and made it stop. It tries to suck you in right away....let it.
    "On the Run" is a piece that is particularly effective in the enhanced listening experience. The way sounds move from side to side in your head, the way the amplitude of the sounds change, slowly but deliberately, and the way the background sounds stay constant as the foregrounds absolutely simmers with activity makes this track very unique. Give yourself the proper mind-set and you will be able to "feel" the guy walking through your head.
    The early middle portion of the album starts with a bang and ends in the soft sounds of a "magic spell." "Time" is widely regarded as one of the best tracks on the CD, and there is good reason. The lyrics are powerful and meaningful, and the music manages both to go along with the lyrics and remain faithful to the album. As "Time" melds back into "Breath, reprise" few even notice the change. Learn the lyrics to "Time". Singing along is both relaxing and exhilarating. It also has the effect of making you tired, thus perfectly preparing you for "The Great Gig in the Sky". This is a part of the album where you should relax to the point of almost loosing consciousness (unless you're driving, of course). The music casts a trance over its listener...it is a very therapeutic experience.
    "Money" is a track that begins on a tangent to the rest of the album. It is the most popular single off of the album as well. It is also my personal favorite song on the album. Not that I think the lyrics are particularly good. In fact, though their meaning is made clear, the lyrics, both in "Money" and in "Us and Them" lack the complex arrangement that makes "Time's" lyrics all that much more memorable. However, the music in the middle section of "Money" is outstanding. This is particularly true during live experiences, where the band customarily goes off on various different tracks while playing the middle part, then re-unites back into the original melody. Kudos for Nick Mason's drum work here...it is not particularly complicated from what I can tell, but it does give the song a whole new dimension.
    After "Money", there is the smooth transition to "Us & Them", which, in turn, transitions into the rest of the album. "Us & Them" is a moody song. If you are in either a depressed or low-activity mood, then you might really enjoy "Us & Them". I used to think it was one of the best tracks on the album. Now it is my least favorite due to its rather drawn out sequences, though I still enjoy the carefully crafted lyrics which are barely understandable during the "loud" phases of the song. Lines like "And the general sat, and the lines on the map moved from side to side" truly show off Roger's talent as a lyricist. Overall, relaxed is the best way to enjoy this song.
    The home stretch begins with the transition song, "Any Colour You Like". This is the most underrated song on the album. Listen to this song very, very carefully and you will notice the care put into making the effects work in a musical fashion I have not seen on any other album. To my delightful surprise, the live version of this song from Pulse gives a prolonged version that is no slacker compared to the original.
    Finally, you come to the last two songs. Almost always grouped together (and they should be), "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" are perfectly complimentary. The imagery provided in "Brain Damage", especially when enhanced with an A/V experience, is provocative and insightful. "Eclipse" then enhances that imagery even more, reducing the rest of the album and "all that has gone" into a single, culminating moment. Learn the words to "Eclipse" and sing along. Then just let yourself go with the monotonic rise and climax of the album, and listen to the heartbeat as it slows to a close. Truly remarkable.

    Enjoying the album

    Once you've gone through all of the main experiences, Dark Side does not then become a boring, run of the mill album. Dark Side is an album you can enjoy over and over again. Listen carefully to the background speech. Pay attention to the incredible details in "On the Run" and "Any Colour You Like". Fall asleep to "Great Gig in the Sky". Investing in a CD version of this album is a definite must for those who do not have it. Dark Side is sometimes regarded as the best album ever made. There is good reason. Listen and find out for yourself.

    Oh, and I've gotten a lot of mail regarding the Dark Side/Wizard of Oz Correlation. Honestly, I have yet to try it, but those of you want to can click on the above link for information on how to do it.

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    © Copyright 2018 Alan Wood.
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