What is Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” Really About?
I had never really listened to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon before, mostly because I hate The Wizard of Oz, and pairing the two (along with some weed) seems to be the only way anyone who didn’t grow up a prog-rock fan (or with one for a father) is introduced to the album anymore.
But as Dark Side turns forty this month (the album was released in March of 1973), it seemed that it might be time to remedy my ignorance of an album that spent 741 straight weeks on the Billboard charts. And, with a little help from Rap Genius, which is not only about rap-song analysis these days and which has pored over all but a couple of the Floyd record’s ten tracks, maybe understand what the fk all the fuss is about. So here goes nothing.
“Speak to Me”
What Rap Genius says: “The song itself features no lyrics (although it contains parts of the conversation tapes that Pink Floyd recorded, as well as a short snippet of Clare Torry’s vocal performance on ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’), and consists of a series of sound effects. It leads into the first performance piece on the album, ‘Breathe.'”
What I hear: A recording of someone contemplating his own insanity. But the slow rise of what sounds like a heartbeat, punctuated by a crying scream that blends into “Breathe,” suggests some type of birth, I guess. And the idea that insanity and birth go hand-in-hand is a bit ominous.
And now that I’m less than a minute into the eerie opener, I realize why weed is the drug of choice for Floyd fans. I’m too sober for this, so I go to the kitchen for a beer, but only have gin. That’ll do. Crank the volume.
What Rap Genius says: “Too many people get caught up digging holes one after another, it’s almost senseless. Ride the wave, but if you concentrate on getting the biggest wave, you’ll miss out on life and eventually get an early grave. Enjoy existence, because after your time is up, all your life has been are those laughs and tears, touches and sights, your memory.”
What I hear: Lyrics like “All you touch and all you see Is all your life will ever be” sound like a father’s depressing reflection on life, and a warning to his son about what’s to come. But it’s a mixed message, because you can either embrace the monotonous toil of digging endless holes in the hot sun, or you can run from that life and “Race toward an early grave.” Both are pretty fked up in their own way, and maybe that’s the point.
“On the Run”
What Rap Genius says: Nothing.
What I hear: The kid chose to run, apparently. The only words in this song are from an airport announcement, and another recording: “Live for today, gone tomorrow. That’s me. Hahahahaaaa!” Which sounds like something someone living in the moment would say as they race to the grave.
Wait, was that the sound of a plane crashing?
What Rap Genius says: “This song is about how time can slip by, but many people do not realize it until it is too late. Roger Waters got the idea when he realized he was no longer preparing for anything in life, but was right in the middle of it. He had just turned 28.
“Waters, as quoted in The Pink Floyd Odyssey, explained how this whole album was about the way modern life leads to madness:”
We thought we could do a whole thing about the pressures we personally feel that drive one over the top…the pressure of earning a lot of money; the time thing, time flying by very fast; organized power structures like the church or politics; violence; aggression.
What I hear: “Time” seems to be about those who choose to dig those holes, because it’s comfortable and because some of us are content punching a clock and “Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.” We think we have so much “time to kill” when we’re young.
But then, of course, the inevitable happens:
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
You wasted your life trying to be comfortable, rather than living the crazy fun life you dreamed of when you were young. And now that you want to run, it’s too late. You’re out of time and essentially fked. So this song feels like a rock ‘n’ roll midlife crisis. Who needs another drink?
“The Great Gig in the Sky”
What Rap Genius says: “In an interview for Mojo magazine in March of 1998, keyboardist Rick Wright mentions that this song is about life gradually descending into death.”
For me, one of the pressures of being in the band was this constant fear of dying because of all the traveling we were doing in planes and on the motorways in America and in Europe… The second half is gentler, as the dying person gives into the inevitable and fades away.
What I hear: The recording and title pretty obviously point to the fact that this song is about how we all eventually embrace our mortality. I don’t think most people do so as willingly as Rick Wright here — especially in the last line, “I never said I was frightened of dying” — but maybe that’s part of riding the wave.
What Rap Genius says: “Somewhat ironically, Floyd’s Roger Waters and David Gilmour are today each worth well over $100 million. Waters, to his credit, has done more than his share of ‘goody good bullshit’ with his dough and fame, including being an outspoken advocate for Palestine.”
What I hear: This song seems to be about how we evolve in our relationship with money. At first the motto is simply, “Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay.” Then we think about everything we could do if we made more.
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team
As we make more, we try to protect the “stack” we’ve worked so hard build.
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
I’m in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet
And at some point, maybe when we’ve made too much or not enough, we become conflicted about our relationship with money and possessions.
Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
“Us and Them”
What Rap Genius says: “The people you fight against in a war aren’t really evil… We’re all just ordinary men. We wouldn’t choose to fight, but we have to in order to defend our countries… Who is right and who is wrong is really a subjective idea. Both sides believe they are doing what is right.
“You have victories and defeats, but in the end, you’re just watching people die over and over again.”
What I hear: Shit just got real. But I don’t think “Us and Them” is as much about war as the metaphorical lyrics would suggest. Instead, it’s probably more about choosing sides of our day-to-day battles. What’s interesting is how the song argues that we all start out as “only ordinary men,” but quickly join together in packs. Why? “God only knows.”
Some of us take the easy way out, content to sit on the sidelines while barking orders at the people who are really fighting:
Forward he cried from the rear
and the front rank died.
But some go to the front lines with their words, others with weapons:
Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words
The poster bearer cried.
Listen son, said the man with the gun
There’s room for you inside.
We try to build up the idea in our minds that the fight is worth something, but really, it’s all just a pissing contest. And people are sacrificing their lives for trivial bullshit:
And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about?
Out of the way, it’s a busy day
I’ve got things on my mind
For the want of the price of tea and a slice
The old man died
“Any Colour You Like”
What Rap Genius says: Nothing.
What I hear: I have no words and no context to go off of… So I’m just going to assume that this song is about race. And sex. And rock ‘n’ roll.
What Rap Genius says: “Roger Waters has stated that the insanity-themed lyrics are based on former Floyd frontman Syd Barrett’s mental instability, with the line ‘I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon’ indicating that he felt related to him in terms of mental idiosyncrasies.”
“This line is an obvious reference to the title of the album, and a reminder that the song title briefly bore that reference, too (it was originally called ‘Lunacy’). As is explained in the book Speak to Me: The Legacy of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon:
The image of the dark side is used by Waters to Establish empathetic links between those who perceive themselves to be “full of dust and guitars,” at odds with time, or the world, or themselves.
“The dark side of the moon refers back to the recurring theme of sun/moon, light/dark, good/evil throughout the album. He is relating to the listener by saying he’s not alone in his faults; there are others with similar issues who can relate and connect through that common flaw.”
What I hear: I’m sure it’s about the descent into madness. If this is album is a chronological biography — and that’s how I see it — then to me this song is about someone who’s old now and sees the flower-power college kids laughing and protesting on the grass as lunatics. But no more so than the politicians “in the hall” whose insanity ends up in the paper every day.
But now that you’re like the older man “Breathe,” reflecting on his own life, you realize you might just be insane, too.
The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
Because you’ve changed your ideals so much along the way that you’re no longer who you once were. And everyone’s views are insane to someone else.
You rearrange me ’til I’m sane
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me
And if you change your mind now, then you just prove your own insanity. And at this point, you might as well embrace it and head to the dark side.
What Rap Genius says: “Roger Waters explains in Pink Floyd: Bricks in the Wall:”
I don’t see it as a riddle… 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 seizing them. The song addresses the listener and says that if you, the listener, are affected by that force, and if that force is a worry to you, well I feel exactly the same too.
The line “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” is me speaking to the listener, saying, “I know you have these bad feelings and impulses because I do too, and one of the ways I can make direct contact with you is to share with you the fact that I feel bad sometimes.”
What I hear: “All you touch and all you see” as well as everything else under the sun — good and bad, love and hate, and everything you can beg, borrow, and steal — is eclipsed into darkness. And actually, there never was a dark side of the moon to escape to on your journey into insanity.
Matter of fact, it’s all dark.
So you can either die young in a blaze of glory, or you can work your entire life against the clock just to scratch together enough money to live until you die, all the while growing disillusioned about your own thoughts and beliefs while you watch people die for nothing. And whatever path you chose, both decisions are equally insane.
I was wrong. Gin was not strong enough.