Having shifted approximately 45 million copies worldwide, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the biggest-selling albums ever. But how much do you know about the seminal 1973 release? Covering everything from A-list omissions to Grammy snubs, here’s a look at 40 facts about a record that changed the face of rock forever.
40. It almost had a different name
Pink Floyd’s masterpiece might have been named something else entirely had Medicine Head not flopped with their 1972 LP of the same name. After hearing that the British blues-rock outfit had also recorded an album called Dark Side of the Moon, David Gilmour and co. thought about releasing their opus under the name Eclipse (A Piece for Assorted Lunatics). However, the band members stuck with its original title when hardly anyone bought Medicine Head’s third LP.
39. It almost had a different cover
The Dark Side of the Moon’s cover image of a prism dispersing light into various hues is among the most recognizable sleeves in the history of popular music. However, it was very nearly something else entirely. Graphic designer Aubrey Powell initially put forward the idea of featuring Marvel Comics character the Silver Surfer on the cover instead. Yet Powell later admitted in an interview that he doubts the group would ever have been given clearance to use the image.
38. The group took just three minutes to choose its artwork
Pink Floyd didn’t waste much time in selecting the artwork for The Dark Side of the Moon’s cover. Storm Thorgerson presented the band with seven different images – but the four members spent just three minutes poring over them before settling on the iconic prism. The designer later revealed that the group hadn’t even wanted to consider any other option.
37. It received just one Grammy nomination
Although it’s now considered one of the all-time great rock albums, The Dark Side of the Moon was hardly recognized at the Grammy Awards at all. It received just one nomination at the 1974 ceremony, in fact, and even that was for its engineer, Alan Parsons, rather than the band themselves. And yet Pink Floyd have since claimed that Parsons wasn’t as instrumental to the record’s sound as is often perceived.
36. The group fell out with its engineer
The record may have made Pink Floyd millionaires, but engineer Parsons didn’t reap quite the same rewards. In fact, following the album’s release, a dispute arose between the two parties over the difference in the amount of money that they each received. Parsons later told Goldmine, “I did The Dark Side of the Moon as a staff engineer, which explains why I didn’t get rich. It was only in the immediate years after that where [engineers] were recognized for their contributions to recording.”
35. Clare Torry was surprised that the band used her vocals
Vocalist Clare Torry was plucked from relative obscurity by Parsons to appear on the track “The Great Gig in the Sky.” And the then-22-year-old initially believed she’d blown her big chance, too, when the group called time on her studio session following just a couple of takes. Yet in truth the Floyd had been wowed by her performance. Torry only discovered that she’d made the cut, though, when she saw her name credited while browsing a record shop.
34. Torry had to wait 30 years for her royalties
Three decades later, however, Torry brought a lawsuit against Pink Floyd after claiming that she was still owed royalties from her contribution to the record. The singer was paid just £60 ($75) at the time for improvising lyrics to “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Yet she received a much bigger payday 30 years on upon winning the case. Not only was she granted half of the track’s ownership rights, but she was also given the same split of its royalties.
33. It originally featured a recital from The Lord’s Prayer
“The Great Gig in the Sky” was, furthermore, very nearly an entirely different song altogether. Yes, the original version was named “The Mortality Sequence” and didn’t feature any female vocals at all. It also had many religious references, including excerpts from the Letter to the Ephesians, narration from a divisive BBC presenter named Malcolm Muggeridge and a reading of The Lord’s Prayer.
32. Paul McCartney was dropped from the record
Paul McCartney was one of many figures recorded answering questions that had been set by Roger Waters during the album’s conception. But the ex-Beatle failed to impress the band with his tongue-in-cheek responses to teasers such as “When was the last time you were violent, and were you in the right?” McCartney’s wife, Linda, also failed to make the cut. That being said, Henry McCullough, the McCartneys’ bandmate in Wings, did appear on the record, uttering, “I don’t know; I was really drunk at the time.”
31. But The Beatles do make an appearance
McCartney may not have made the grade on The Dark Side of the Moon as an individual, but a piece of music that he recorded with The Beatles does make a very brief appearance. During the closing stages of album finale “Eclipse,” a snippet of an orchestral reworking of the Fab Four’s “Ticket to Ride” can be heard in the background. The original was The Beatles’ third U.S. number one in a row after its release in 1965.
30. An Irish doorman makes a guest appearance
“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.” These are perhaps the album’s most iconic spoken words. But the Irish voice that utters them doesn’t belong to a famous face. Gerry O’Driscoll – a security worker at Abbey Road Studios, where the album was recorded – is the guy who managed to achieve what the McCartneys couldn’t.
29. Naomi Watts’ dad provided the manic laughs
Peter Watts – the band’s road manager and father of future Hollywood star Naomi – made several contributions to the record. Not only did he provide the manic laughs that appear on “Brain Damage” and “Speak To Me;” he’s also the voice behind the dialogue that opens “The Great Gig in the Sky” – which includes the line “I never said I was frightened of dying.” Tragically, though, Watts died from a drug overdose just three years afterwards.
28. It premiered at the London Planetarium
The Dark Side of the Moon later became a soundtrack staple of the late-night planetarium show, most notably at the Burke Baker Planetarium in Houston. It even received its official premiere at the London Planetarium in what was a groundbreaking move in its day. But the album’s first airing in public didn’t exactly go smoothly. Its ten exquisitely produced tracks were played through a shoddy sound system, and Richard Wright was the only band member who made the effort to attend.
27. It effectively leaked a year early
The iconic album may have officially premiered in 1973, but hardcore Pink Floyd fans essentially heard most of its tracks a year earlier. You see, the band first began toying with ideas for the record while on tour in 1972. And as a result, they ended up playing early incarnations of most of its songs in front of a live audience. Much to the group’s dismay, too, one particularly savvy fan even made a bootleg of their performance at the Rainbow Theatre in London.
26. “On the Run” was its most radically transformed song
However, it’s unlikely that many fans would have recognized “On the Run” from its original live incarnation. Initially titled “The Travel Sequence,” the track was first performed on stage as a guitar-heavy instrumental. But when the band entered the studio to record it, they gave the track a full electronic reworking. During a chat with Rolling Stone, Gilmour claimed, “I always had an obsession with finding sounds that would turn something into 3D.”
25. It helped to finance a classic comedy movie
Pink Floyd were such huge admirers of seminal British comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus that they often interrupted the album’s recording to sit down and watch it. And the group even decided to thank John Cleese and co. for having entertained them during their studio downtime. How so? With cold, hard cash. Yes, Pink Floyd later used a portion of the money earned from The Dark Side of the Moon to finance the comedy troupe’s second big-screen outing, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
24. Its sessions were also interrupted by Arsenal F.C.
Monty Python’s subversive brand of comedy wasn’t the only outside distraction during the recording of The Dark Side of the Moon. Waters also used to call time on his studio sessions in order to watch his beloved soccer team, Arsenal. The bassist even slipped in a reference to the beautiful game in “Money”: “Four-star caviar daydream/Think I’ll buy me a football team.”
23. The band made another album during its recording
Pink Floyd also halted The Dark Side of the Moon’s recording for more professional reasons. You see, in February 1972 the group headed to France to work on the soundtrack for one of Barbet Schroeder’s early movies: La Vallée. However, following a dispute with the production company behind the film, their work was later released under the title Obscured by Clouds.
22. “Us and Them” was a film soundtrack reject
The album’s second single, “Us and Them,” was originally conceived as an instrumental for a cult movie that had been released three years earlier. Waters and Wright composed the song’s piano and bass parts for the official soundtrack of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. But after the Italian director rejected the piece – originally titled “The Violent Sequence” – the pair later decided to reuse it for their own record instead.
21. “Breathe” was inspired by a biology documentary
“Us and Them” wasn’t the only The Dark Side of the Moon number that had been inspired by a film project. “Breathe” was heavily influenced by a track from The Body – a science documentary for which Waters had penned the soundtrack three years previously.
20. It was the band’s first U.S. Top 40 album
Surprisingly, perhaps, not one of the band’s previous seven studio albums had managed to reach the U.S. Top 40. It’s true. Before The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s highest Billboard 200 chart position had been 46 – for 1972’s Obscured by Clouds. But following a much stronger advertising campaign by Capitol Records, the group finally achieved their breakthrough in style. Indeed, just two months after its release, The Dark Side of the Moon had made it all the way to pole position.
19. It’s spent more than 900 weeks on the Billboard 200
And after reaching number one back in 1973, the album has been a regular on the Billboard 200 ever since. In fact, as of December 2018, the record has spent an astonishing total of 937 weeks in the U.S. album chart. Even more incredibly, 741 of those were consecutive: The Dark Side of the Moon didn’t leave the chart following its March 1973 release right up until 1988.
18. It was once voted the best album to have sex to
The Dark Side of the Moon was also a massive hit in Australia, reaching number two in the charts there and going platinum a remarkable 14 times. In fact, folks Down Under appeared to like the record more than most. In a 1990 poll conducted by an Aussie radio station, Pink Floyd’s opus was ranked the ideal record to make love to.
17. The sounds on “Money” were recorded using actual money
Ever wondered how the band recorded the clanging sound effects that open “Money?” Well, in his memoir, Inside Out, drummer Nick Mason revealed that it was very much a DIY effort. He wrote, “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 [that his wife] Judy used for her pottery.”
16. Booker T. & the M.G.’s inspired “Money”
You may not immediately be able to hear much of their influence in the song, but the guitar sound on “Money” was inspired by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In a 2003 interview with Rolling Stone, Gilmour revealed that he’d wanted to incorporate a bit of the legendary R&B band’s sound into the track – but in a subtle way. The guitarist had performed “Green Onions” and various soul classics in one of his previous projects.
15. It spawned their first U.S. Top 40 hit
“Money” is also notable for being Pink Floyd’s first ever U.S. Top 40 single hit. The band had previously made the Billboard singles chart just once, reaching number 134 with “See Emily Play” in 1967. And the 1973 cash-themed track remained Waters and co.’s biggest single in the United States until “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” made it to the top spot six years later.
14. “Money” has an unusual time signature
“Money” was also one of the first songs with a 7/4 time signature ever to grace the Billboard charts. Interestingly, though, Waters claims that Gilmour had initially had reservations about adopting such a relatively unusual approach to the track. “I would do things, and Dave would say, ‘No, that’s wrong. There should be another beat. That’s only seven.’ I’d say, ‘Well, that’s how it is,’” Waters told Rolling Stone. “A number of my songs have bars of odd length.”
13. The Floyd haven’t performed the record in full since 1994
Two members of the band have performed material from The Dark Side of the Moon as solo artists, with Waters even tackling it in full during the mid-’00s. But you have to go as far back as 1994 for the last time that Pink Floyd as a group took the record out on the road. Its ten tracks were performed in their entirety by the Gilmour-fronted version of the band on their final tour.
12. “Brain Damage” is about Syd Barrett
Much of The Dark Side of the Moon explores the theme of mental health. And the track “Brain Damage” was inspired by Syd Barrett. The singer-songwriter and guitarist was one of the group’s founding members, but he was ousted in 1968 largely owing to his deteriorating mental state. The lyric “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” appears to refer to the problems that Barrett had during his later period with the group.
11. Several bands have recorded track-by-track tributes
The Dark Side of the Moon has been given the full cover-version treatment by numerous artists over the years – with the Flaming Lips perhaps the most famous act to have released their own version of the record. But it’s also been reworked by a cappella collective Voices on the Dark Side, dub outfit Easy Star All-Stars and bluegrass group Poor Man’s Whiskey.
10. The band refute the The Wizard of Oz connection
Of course, The Dark Side of the Moon has also been the subject of a hugely popular theory involving The Wizard of Oz. Some fans believe the record was composed specifically to align with the 1939 big-screen adaptation starring Judy Garland. The band have, however, repeatedly dismissed the rumors – albeit Waters has admitted to finding them “amusing.” Engineer Alan Parsons has also revealed that he didn’t hear anything about the movie during the album’s production.
9. It was the band’s first album to feature Waters as sole lyricist
Having served as co-lyricist since the band’s 1968 album A Saucerful of Secrets, Waters went on to take full control of the words for The Dark Side of the Moon. The bassist specifically aimed to make the record’s lyrics far less open to interpretation than anything that the group had written before.
8. Waters and Wright both bought country houses with its profits
With sales of approximately 45 million, The Dark Side of the Moon turned the members of Pink Floyd into millionaires. But while Mason decided to splash the cash on a string of expensive vehicles, Waters and Wright each chose to invest theirs in property. Both musicians bought lavish rural houses with the money that they’d made from the record.
7. Waters describes Mason’s opening songwriting credit as charity
The Dark Side of the Moon’s opening track, “Speak to Me,” is credited solely to Mason. However, Waters claims that the drummer’s contribution was minimal to say the least. According to Yahoo Entertainment, the bass player once said, “God, I resent giving that to him now. ’Cause he had nothing to do with it… It was like a gift. It was all right at the time.”
6. Neither Waters nor Gilmour consider it their best album
Despite the record’s monumental success and influential reputation, neither Waters nor Gilmour believe The Dark Side of the Moon to be the band’s best work. The former favors The Wall, while the latter prefers Wish You Were Here. Gilmour once told Guitar World that his personal Pink Floyd pet sound has “a better balance” between the words and the music.
5. It made Waters’ wife cry
Waters may not be The Dark Side of the Moon’s biggest fan, but the album certainly had an almighty impact on his then-wife the first time that she heard it. According to the bassist, his partner at the time, Judy, shed several tears once the record had finished. Newsweek has reported that he told author John Harris, “I thought, ‘That’s a very good sign. We’ve definitely got something here.’”
4. Waters claimed it finished the band off
Following The Dark Side of the Moon’s release, Pink Floyd went from playing 15,000-capacity venues to giant football stadiums. Yet in a 1987 interview with Radio K.A.O.S.’s Chris Salewicz, Waters claimed that the overwhelming response to the record essentially finished the band off. “To be that successful is the aim of every group,” he said. “And once you’ve cracked it, it’s all over.”
3. Waters claims he felt pressured to let Gilmour do the singing
Gilmour took the main singing duties on four of The Dark Side of the Moon’s seven vocal-led tracks; however, Waters claims this was only because of psychological tactics. In 2011 the bassist told Rolling Stone, “My memory is David and Rick were at great pains to point out how I couldn’t sing and how I was tone-deaf. Maybe their way of keeping me from being totally overwhelming was to point out that I might have vocal and instrumental inadequacies.”
2. Each side of the record is a continuous piece of music
Although The Dark Side of the Moon is listed as having ten separate tracks, it technically consists of just two long continuous pieces of music. You see, each side of the seminal record segues its five songs together to represent particular phases of life. And to continue the theme, the album also starts and concludes with the sound of a human heartbeat.
1. The band considered recording another concept album instead
The Dark Side of the Moon might not have existed at all had Pink Floyd stuck with their original idea for a concept album. How so? Because the group initially thought about recording an LP on which they would eschew their usual instruments for an array of household objects. One track from this aborted project – provisionally titled Household Objects – was later released as part of a 2011 boxed set.