Pink Floyd made history on March 1, 1973, amid a heartbeat, ticking clocks, a cash register, maniacal laughter and a declaration that “I’ve been mad for fucking years.”
The Dark Side of the Moon was a generational achievement by any measure. Artistically Pink Floyd’s eighth album is a tour de force, a concise (about 43 minutes) and tightly conceptual work that’s nonetheless sprawling in its sonic ambitions, blending melodicism and intricate production into a piece best consumed from start to finish. The LP was also a commercial juggernaut, becoming one of the top-selling albums of all time with record-setting stays on the Billboard chart.
“I think we felt it was the best thing we’d done to that point, but there was no idea it would become what it has,” drummer Nick Mason told this writer in 2011, as the band was launching the Why Pink Floyd…? reissue campaign. “Obviously it resonated with people, then and now. It’s, timeless, I suppose – the music and also the subject matter. We didn’t start off and say, ‘Let’s make an album that will sell this many million copies and still be on the charts … years later. But it’s certainly nice that’s the case.”
Just the mention of Dark Side stirs so many memories, up to and including the lavish and existential packaging that came loaded with “party favors” and a gatefold layout for separating your seeds and stems. Over the years, this has become a rite-of-passage album, in the collections of both parents and children, younger and older siblings. Yet there’s seemingly always more to be learned, as you’ll see with the following 50 facts about The Dark Side of the Moon.
No. 1. Pink Floyd began working on The Dark Side of the Moon in late 1971, discussing it during a band meeting in Mason’s kitchen. Roger Waters came up with the concept of things that drive people “mad” – anxiety, travel, greed, ecological issues, mortality – while David Gilmour and Richard Wright concentrated on music.
No. 2. Dark Side was the first Pink Floyd album on which Roger Waters wrote all the lyrics. This was fine with Gilmour, who told Rolling Stone that he “never rated myself terribly highly in the lyric department, and Roger wanted to do it. I think it was a sense of relief that he was willing to do that.” Waters told Sounds in 1972 that “in concept, [Dark Side] is more literal, not as abstract as the things we’ve done before.”
No. 3. The album was recorded at EMI’s legendary Abbey Road Studios in London starting with “Us and Them” on May 31, 1972. Recording continued during October and then in January 1973, with touring and other projects in between. Sessions wrapped up on Feb. 9.
No. 4. Footage from the sessions, including songs such as “Us and Them,” “On the Run” and “Brain Damage,” was included in Adrian Maben’s 1972 film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.
Watch Pink Floyd Record ‘Brain Damage’
No. 5. Pink Floyd began performing The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety more than 13 months before its release, billing it as Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics. The first time was on Jan. 20, 1972, at the Dome in Brighton, England, though the group only got through “Money” due to technical problems. Its first full performance was the following night at the Guildhall in Portsmouth.
No. 5. Pink Floyd performed The Dark Side of the Moon throughout its European and North American tours in 1972, road-testing and refining the material. The nine-ton production included custom PA and lights, as well as backing tapes for sound effects. “In the Dark Side days, we actually were able to take the music on the road and sort of develop it, which became completely impossible a few years later because everything would’ve been out on bootleg six months before the album,” Mason told this writer in 2011. “Time” underwent the greatest change during this period: Pink Floyd sped up the tempo and changed the vocal arrangement between Gilmour and Wright.
Hear Pink Floyd Perform ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ in 1972
No. 7. One of the concerts from London’s Rainbow Theatre that February was recorded by a bootlegger and released less than two months after the concert, selling a reported 100,000 copies.
Hear Pink Floyd Live at London’s Rainbow Theatre in 1972
No. 8. Pink Floyd almost named the album Eclipse (A Piece for Assorted Lunatics) after the British blues-rock band Medicine Head released an album called Dark Side of the Moon in 1972 on John Peel’s Dandelion label. Medicine Head’s LP was a dud, however, so Pink Floyd stuck with its original title, confident there would be little or no confusion – albeit with the “The” in its title as a small measure of delineation. “I was against Eclipse,” Gilmour told Sounds in 1972, “and we felt a bit annoyed because we had already thought of the title before Medicine Head came out. Not annoyed at them, but because we wanted to use the title … But [Medicine Head’s] didn’t sell well, so what the hell.”
Hear Medicine Head’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ Album
No. 9. EMI Records premiered The Dark Side of the Moon album on Feb. 27, 1973, during a media event at the London Planetarium, which showed a variety of interstellar images as the album played. Its PA system, unfortunately, did not adequately serve Chris Thomas’ precise mix. Wright was the only Pink Floyd member who attended the launch. The others were represented by life-size cardboard cut-out figures.
No. 10. The Dark Side of the Moon has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, according to Columbia Records. To date, the album has spent 971 nonconsecutive weeks on the Billboard 200, the most of any album.
No. 11. The LP’s chart reign began on March 17, 1973, when it debuted at No. 95 and then spent 84 consecutive weeks on the chart. Dark Side was Pink Floyd’s first Top 40 album in the U.S. and rose to No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Pink Floyd’s previous peak was Obscured By Clouds, which made it to No. 46 the previous summer.
No. 12. The Dark Side of the Moon‘s longest continuous run on the Billboard 200 was 593 consecutive weeks between Dec. 18, 1976, and April 23, 1988. Although it only topped the chart for one week, Gilmour lost a bet with manager Steve O’Rourke, after wagering the album wouldn’t even crack the U.S. Top 10.
No. 13. There is no dark side of the moon, according to Neil deGrasse Tyson. The famed scientist says he’s spent years trying to correct people’s incorrect beliefs on the subject. “I blame Pink Floyd for this. There is no dark side! There’s a far side, and there’s a near side, but all sides of the moon receive sunlight.”
No. 14.. The 10 songs on The Dark Side of the Moon were, unusually, recorded onto the same 16-track master tape reel, which allowed Pink Floyd to maintain the smooth flow of the transitions on the final product.
No. 15. The synthesized instrumental track, “On the Run,” was originally titled “The Travel Sequence” and was dominated by Gilmour’s guitar before the group created the electronic synthesizer pattern on an EMS Synthi AKS.
Hear Pink Floyd Perform ‘The Travel Sequence’
No. 16. The album’s lead single, “Money,” features a difficult 7/4 time signature but flips to a more standard 4/4 for the guitar solo. It was Pink Floyd’s first Top 20 hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1974, nearly 16 months after Dark Side‘s release. Interestingly the song was not released as a single in the U.K. until it was re-recorded in 1981 for the A Collection of Great Dance Songs compilation.
Watch Pink Floyd Perform ‘Money’
No. 17. The famous saxophone solos on The Dark Side of the Moon‘s “Money” and “Us and Them” were played by Dick Parry, a childhood friend of Gilmour’s who also performed on the Wish You Were Here track “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” He would not record with Pink Floyd again until 1994’s The Division Bell.
No. 18. The Stax-Volt group Booker T. & the MG’s was a source of inspiration for “Money.” David Gilmour told Rolling Stone in 2003 that he “was a big Booker T fan,” though he acknowledged that “getting specific about how and what influenced what is always difficult.”
No. 19. “Money” is the most-played song in Pink Floyd history. Pink Floyd performed the song 536 times from 1972 through the Live 8 reunion in 2005. Six other Dark Side tracks were among the Top 25, including: “Us and Them” at No. 2 with 449 plays; “Time,” No. 3, 480; “The Great Gig in the Sky,” No. 6, 400; “On the Run,” No. 7, 379; “Breathe,” No. 17, 283; and “Breathe (Reprise),” No. 18, 281, according to Setlist.fm.
No. 20. The track “Us and Them,” the second single from The Dark Side of the Moon, came from an instrumental piece in 1969 called “The Violent Sequence” that Waters and Wright composed for the soundtrack to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Antonioni passed on that song, though he used three other Pink Floyd pieces, “Crumbling Land,” “Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up” and “Heart Beat, Pig Meat.”
Hear Pink Floyd Perform ‘The Violent Sequence’
No. 21. An early and different version of “Breathe” was recorded for the film adaptation of Anthony Smith’s 1968 book The Body, which Waters worked on with his friend Ron Geesin. It features the same opening lyric as the Dark Side track. The Music For the Body album was released in 1970 in the U.K. only.
Listen to Ron Geesin’s Version of ‘Breathe’
No. 22. “Brain Damage” dates back to the sessions for Pink Floyd’s 1971 album Meddle and was initially titled “The Dark Side of the Moon,” and was later changed to “Lunatic” before the band settled on its final name.
No. 23. “The Great Gig in the Sky” was originally titled “The Mortality Sequence.” Rather than female vocals, it featured readings from the Book of Ephesians, a recital of the Lord’s Prayer and spoken passages by Malcolm Muggeridge, a controversial BBC religious broadcaster.
Hear Pink Floyd Perform ‘The Mortality Sequence’
No. 24. The Beatles can be heard on The Dark Side of the Moon, for those with astute ears. A portion of an orchestral version of “Ticket to Ride” can be heard in the deep background while Abbey Road doorman Gerry O’Driscoll intones the lines: “There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.”
Hear ‘Ticket to Ride’ on ‘Dark Side’
No. 25. Paul McCartney was almost part of Dark Side, too. He was among the people hanging around Abbey Road, as work continued on Wings‘ Red Rose Speedway album at the time. The band interviewed him for the spoken passages on the album, but the timbre of his responses didn’t fit. Waters told John Harris, author of The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece, that McCartney “was the only person who found it necessary to perform. … He was trying to be funny, which wasn’t what we wanted at all.” Linda McCartney was also interviewed and not used, while Wings guitarist Henry McCullough intones the line, “I don’t know. I was really drunk at the time.”
Remembering Paul McCartney’s ‘Dark Side’ Interview
No. 26. Pink Floyd road manager Peter Watts provided the laughter heard on the tracks “Speak to Me” and “Brain Damage.” Watts, who passed away in 1976, was also pictured in the Ummagumma album package. He was the father of actress Naomi Watts (King Kong, Mulholland Drive, Birdman).
No. 27. For The Dark Side of the Moon‘s cover, Wright requested a “smarter, neater – more classy” design from George Hardie and Hipgnosis, which had handled covers for Atom Heart Mother and Obscured by Clouds. The band was presented with seven options, from which they chose what became the iconic prism/color beam image. Waters, meanwhile, suggested having the color spectrum continue into the package’s gatefold.
No. 28. The Dark Side of the Moon was packaged with two posters – one bearing an infrared photograph of the Great Pyramids that Hipgnosis’ Storm Thorgerson took at midnight – and two pyramid-themed stickers.
No. 29. Among the images Hardie and Hipgnosis considered for The Dark Side of the Moon‘s cover was the Marvel Comics superhero the Silver Surfer. Hipgnosis’ Aubrey Powell told biographer Harris that “We were all into Marvel comics, and the Silver Surfer seemed to be another fantastic singular image. We never would have got permission to use it. But we liked the image of a silver man, on a silver surfboard, shooting across the universe. … Very cosmic, man!” Joe Satriani, for one, is happy it would be around for him to use 14 years later on Surfing with the Alien.
No. 30. A significant figure in Dark Side‘s success was the late EMI executive Bhaskar Menon, who was so taken with the album that he marshaled Capitol’s full attention and marketing muscle behind it. Menon also convinced Pink Floyd to release edited single versions of “Us and Them” and “Time” to court radio play. Mason said in the 2003 documentary The Making of the Dark Side of the Moon that Menon “was absolutely terrific. He decided he was going to make this work and make the American company sell it – and he did.”
Listen to the Single Mix of ‘Us and Them’
No. 31. Among the beneficiaries of The Dark Side of the Moon‘s success was the comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, whose BBC2 comedy sketch show was a favorite of Pink Floyd’s and watched during breaks in the recording sessions. The band joined Elton John, Led Zeppelin and George Harrison in contributing to the fund for the first Python feature film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in 1975.
No. 32. Alan Parsons was an engineer on Dark Side, after having worked on Atom Heart Mother in 1970 as a staffer at Abbey Road. He also engineered Wings’ Red Rose Speedway, which was being recorded at about the same time. Parsons declined an offer to work on Dark Side‘s follow-up, Wish You Were Here, to launch his Alan Parsons Project with Tales of Mystery and Imagination in 1976.
No. 33. Parsons received a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, for his work on The Dark Side of the Moon. (Pink Floyd would not get its first Grammy nominations until 1981.) The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2012 was added to the National Recording Registry by the U.S. Library of Congress
No. 34. The Dark Side of the Moon was nominated as Best British Pop Album at the first Brit Awards in October 1977, losing out to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The ceremony was held in conjunction with Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, and honored work done during all 25 of her years.
No. 35. Parsons also recommended Clare Torry, an EMI staff songwriter with ambitions to sing, for the soaring wordless vocal segment in “The Great Gig in the Sky.” She was paid double the usual session fee because her vocals were recorded on a Sunday.
Hear Clare Torry Discuss ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’
No. 36. During the compact-disc explosion of the late ’80s, a rumor spread that one pressing plant in Germany only made copies of The Dark Side of the Moon and nothing else. The report has never been corroborated.
No. 37. Reports spread a decade later that The Dark Side of the Moon could be synced to MGM’s The Wizard of Oz and provide a perfect soundtrack to the 1939 film classic. The cash register on “Money” first “chings” as Dorothy enters Munchkin Land, for instance, and “Brain Damage” coincided with the Scarecrow’s brainless dance sequence. Fans began calling this “collaboration” Dark Side of the Rainbow, but Pink Floyd members have maintained it was purely coincidental. “Yes, we actually had Judy Garland in the studio with us,” Mason quipped to this writer in 2011 before denying that the band did any such thing. “You immediately start thinking ‘Who on Earth spends that much time fitting it together? I’ve seen some of it; it is remarkable, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind that the brain is absolutely brilliant at knitting together any piece of music with any visual cue.” Parsons concurred, telling Rolling Stone in 2003 that “it’s such a non-starter, a complete load of eyewash.” Parsons said he tried it himself and was “very disappointed.”
No. 38. While completely agreeing with Mason and Parson, Waters shared his favorite The Dark Side of the Rainbow myth during a 2022 appearance on the Joe Rogan Show. “A cop in Louisiana [is] following a bus and it was weaving about the road a bit, and so he pulls it over. … [He] puts the bike up on the stand, opens the door, [then] nearly falls over [because] there’s so much smoke coming out through the bloody door. He goes in, he goes through and he’s trying to find people with dope because it’s just full of marijuana smoke. Eventually, he gets to the back of the bus where there’s a private compartment. He opens the door and goes in, and there’s Willie Nelson. And the story is that Willie Nelson is listening to The Dark Side of the Moon and watching The Wizard of Oz on the TV.” Waters added: “And I don’t believe it for a minute, but I like the story!”
No. 39. Not long after the Star Wars saga returned to theaters with 2015’s The Force Awakens, fans began to notice that the movie also synced up well with The Dark Side of the Moon. An early sequence in which key villain Kylo Ren is torturing a Resistance pilot to gain information lines up with “The Great Gig in the Sky” (“I’m not afraid of dying / Anytime will do”), right up to the song’s scream, which is unleashed just as Kylo’s prisoner opens his mouth.
Watch ‘The Force Awakens’ Synced Up With ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’
No. 40. Soon-to-be-disgraced pop act Milli Vanilli sampled part of Pink Floyd’s “Money” for a track of the same name from their 1989 debut album All or Nothing. The song was also sampled on Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “I Need Money” from its 1991 debut album Music For the People.
Hear Milli Vanilli Perform ‘Money’
Hear Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch Perform ‘I Need Money’
No. 41. Film composer Hans Zimmer used “Eclipse” as part of the trailer for the 2020 remake of the science fiction favorite Dune. “[Zimmer] wanted to pay homage to the original, very back-phrased sound,” collaborator Edie Lehmann Boddicker later explained, “There’s a kind of joy happening in the track, a lot of hopefulness. It’s not despondent, just very peaceful and sounding not of this planet.”
Watch the ‘Dune’ Trailer
No. 42. Pink Floyd’s 1995 live album Pulse includes a performance of The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, recorded during U.K. and European concerts in 1994 to support The Division Bell. It was the first time the band had played Dark Side in full in more than 10 years.
Listen to Pink Floyd Perform ‘Great Gig’ in Concert
No. 43. Twenty years after his acrimonious departure from Pink Floyd, Roger Waters launched his Dark Side of the Moon Live tour in June 2006. Each night’s second set was dedicated to playing the album in sequence. He played 119 shows over the next two years and was joined by former bandmate Mason at shows in New York City, Los Angeles, London and a handful of other cities.
Watch Nick Mason Join Roger Waters to Perform ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’
No. 44. A radio play inspired by the LP aired in 2013 on BBC radio. Darkside was written by acclaimed British playwright Sir Tom Stoppard in honor of the album’s 40th anniversary. “I used a lot of the album – well, all of it other than the lyrics, as a kind of underscore,” he told the BBC. “I was picking up emotional cues from the music.”
Watch the ‘Darkside’ Radio Trailer
No. 45. The Flaming Lips issued their version of The Dark Side of the Moon, re-recording the entire album in 2009 with help from Henry Rollins and Peaches. “It’s a big deal for bands to even have a phase one and maybe a phase two, but Pink Floyd had a phase three and phase four, frontman Wayne Coyne explained in 2011. “There were just these unpredictable elements in there that made them so humanistic.”
Watch The Flaming Lips Perform ‘Breathe’
No. 46. Allman Brothers Band veteran Warren Haynes‘ side project Gov’t Mule switched things up with Dark Side of the Mule. The 2015 live album was recorded during a three-hour show on Halloween 2008 in Boston and featured a big chunk of The Dark Side of the Moon but alongside other Pink Floyd classics.
Hear Gov’t Mule Perform ‘Dark Side of the Mule’
No. 47. Gov’t Mule and the Flaming Lips are far from the only artists to cover The Dark Side of the Moon. Phish performed the album at a 1998 show in Utah, while Dream Theater tackled it in 2005 in London. The album was given the Rockabye Baby! lullaby treatment in 2006, delivered a cappella style by Voices on the Dark Side in 2007 and given yet another twist with 2013’s Dubstep Side of the Moon.
No. 48. Numerous TV shows have borrowed The Dark Side of the Moon‘s name for use as episode titles over the years, including Supergirl, Frasier, Impractical Jokers and Supernatural. When a Russian version of the American TV series Life on Mars launched in 2012, they changed the title to The Dark Side of the Moon to reflect Pink Floyd’s underground popularity in the ’70s-era Soviet Union.
No. 49. Pink Floyd announced a massive box set reissue in 2023 to celebrate The Dark Side of the Moon‘s 50th anniversary, featuring remastered stereo and 5.1 mixes along with a new live record taken from the band’s 1974 show at London’s Wembley Empire Pool. They also contributed to a new photo book commemorating the original tour, and new visuals were created for a full-album planetarium show set to be shown at museums across the world.
Watch ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ Planetarium Trailer
No. 50. A few weeks after the 50th-anniversary edition of The Dark Side of the Moon was announced, Waters revealed that he had re-recorded the entire album without the rest of his Pink Floyd bandmates. “I wrote The Dark Side of the Moon. Let’s get rid of all this ‘we’ crap!” Waters declared during an interview with The Telegraph. “Of course, we were a band, there were four of us, we all contributed – but it’s my project and I wrote it. So … blah!”
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