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Music

Ranking the songs of Pink Floyd album 'The Dark Side of the Moon'

On March 1st, 1973, Pink Floyd released their seminal album The Dark Side of the Moon. The group appeared to have peaked with this album after a journey spanning seven preceding studio albums over their first eight years. The group started with the strange, poetic psychedelic rock with Syd Barrett at the helm in the mid-1960s. But following Barrett’s departure and the entry of David Gilmour, the group began to deviate gradually from the dense and textured sounds of psychedelic rock into the equally artful sound of prog-rock that we became used to by the early 1970s. 

Following Barrett’s departure from the band in 1968, the new formation took a while to find its feet. It wasn’t until 1971, with the release of Meddle, that the group seemed to have found the sound they would master later in the decade. The album was the first balanced collection of tracks since the days of Barrett, and it was buoyed by the breathtaking epic, ‘Echoes’, which took up the whole B-side of the LP. ‘Echoes’ was the song that appeared to most embody what the group would go on to goldplate in The Dark Side of the Moon

The release of The Dark Side of the Moon marked the beginning of Pink Floyd’s reign as the masters of prog-rock, a throne they would perch upon for the rest of the decade. The album was groundbreaking on so many fronts; the impeccable composition of the perfectly diverse array of tracks makes it a treat for anyone interested enough in music to sit down for 45 minutes and spin the entire record in one sitting, with the volume at a maximum and distractions at a minimum. 

While the album ebbs and flows through several pace and style changes, such as the thumping blues of ‘Money’ to the slow, atmospheric composition of ‘Us and Them’, the songs are all intrinsically linked. A theme runs through the album; it communicates the anxieties of life the band members had been experiencing at that point in their lives. For instance, the struggles of having, or indeed, not having money, the fear of ageing and the relentless surge of time, and, of course, coming to terms with Barrett’s downfall into his LSD induced mental illness. The album has become one of the most iconic and successful rock releases of all time. The iconography was undoubtedly elevated by its timelessly slick cover artwork designed by Hipgnosis.

As a disclaimer, the following list is more like ordering different shades of blue than ordering the primary colours – presuming that blue is the greatest colour. There really isn’t a weak song on the album, and if you’re new to the Floyd and find yourself here looking for the best songs to dip your toes into the album, I implore you to listen to the album as a whole, not in the following order. 

Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ songs ranked:

10. ‘Speak To Me’

The one-minute prelude to the album is a perfect sign of things to come. It melds together traces from some of the tracks to come, beginning with the beating heart. The money machine sounds, the ticking clocks, the maddened laughter and Clare Torry’s screams all converge into a crescendo that flows seamlessly into the brilliant ‘Breathe’.

9. ‘On The Run

‘On The Run’ finds itself up so high, not because it falls out of favour, but because it’s an instrumental interlude as opposed to the forthcoming songs listed. The track sounds futuristic, even now, with its simple arpeggio that speeds up into a motorway of rushing anxiety.

The transition into a choppy electronic sound somewhere in the middle is a treat for the ears on a good sound system. ‘On The Run’ is by no means a poor song, and it shows some of the earliest successful meddlings in synth-heavy rock music. 

8. ‘Any Colour You Like

This song tends to remind me of old sci-fi films with its intergalactic keyboard voicings. Aside from the slightly dated synth sounds, the song is a fantastic relic of its time, when experimental sounds were the foundation of any prog-rock album worth its salt. Compositionally, the track is fantastic, and the production is impeccable.

Sonically, it isn’t a far cry from some of the psychedelic revival acts of the modern-day; the song often makes me think of Tame Impala and, less so, Mac DeMarco.

7. ‘Eclipse

‘Eclipse’ closes the album in a triumphant sounding conclusion that serves as the tail to the head that is ‘Speak To Me’. Its, somehow, conclusive instrumentals frame a summary of everything we’ve learned throughout the album. It is a musical delight with a textured orchestral flair that leaves the listener with optimism despite the concepts visited throughout the album.

It finally leaves us with the beating heart that we heard at the very beginning as if to say that life goes on. The perfect outro for the perfect album.

6. ‘Breathe (In The Air)

Following the introduction of ‘Speak To Me’, ‘Breathe (In The Air)’ comes as the first full song on the album and despite the appearances of its position on the list, it’s an absolute corker. ‘Breathe (In The Air)’ perfectly sets the tone for the album and leaves you ready for more. The guitar sections are mesmerising and otherworldly thanks to the extensive use of reverb and slide.

Conceptually, the song recognises the finite nature of life and encourages us to value living in the moment to the full. The song also addresses the rock ‘n’ roll demeanour of “live fast, die young” in the final lyrics: “And balanced on the biggest wave/ You race towards an early grave”. I believe the song wants us to focus on living life and not worry about catching the biggest wave.

5. ‘Brain Damage

‘Brain Damage’ captures the coming to terms with Syd Barrett’s struggle with mental illness. The vocal delivery is purposefully reminiscent of the style Barrett once contributed to the group and adds to the chilling impact of the song. Lyrically, this is one of the more unnerving of the songs on the album. The lyrics begin “The lunatic is on the grass”, but later on the lunatic is in the hall, and then finally in the narrator’s head.

To me, this cleverly portrayed a slip into paranoia and mental illness like something from a horror movie. ‘Brain Damage’ is also the song that carries the namesake of the album and is definitely integral to the DNA of the album. On another day, the song might easily have contended with any of the below.

4. ‘Money

Probably the most instantly recognisable track on the album is ‘Money’. The blues-heavy composition ostensibly earths the otherwise cosmic album to its roots in rock convention. It does so in the most pleasing way; the cash machine sounds at the beginning meet the cheeky bassline that leads toward the crashing convergence of Wright’s keys and Gilmour’s guitar.

The song is the most upbeat on the album and one of the most commercially accessible. The track was ironically the most commercially successful of the two singles released from the album as it looked to take a jab at the pitfalls of materialism and consumer capitalism. 

3. ‘The Great Gig In The Sky

‘The Great Gig In the Sky’ rounds off the first side of the record and leaves us with the chirpy contemplation of death. The song reaps its power from a stunning display from the late Richard Wright on the keys that erupt with the instrumental, thunderous, soulful and chilling vocals from Clare Torry.

The track seems to embody the beauty of life in the gentle piano intro; later, the intense vocals appear to embody the severity and finality of death. But perhaps there is an afterlife, and if it’s a Pink Floyd gig in the sky, that sounds fine by me.

2. ‘Time

The beginning of ‘Time’ sets the precedent of anxiety with its ticking clocks building in intensity before the alarm bells begin to ring. By the time they were recording The Dark Side of the Moon, the boys weren’t boys anymore. In their late 20s, the album’s erudite conceptual musings appeared to convey the group’s anxieties of growing older and gaining maturity.

Waters once explained that ‘Time’ came to him as he realised that he was well and truly in the thick of life. He was no longer preparing for the rest of his life, he was in it, living and breathing toward an inevitable end. The haunting existential crisis in the song is beautifully enshrined in a captivating sonic odyssey highlighted by a classic Gilmour solo. Prog-rock didn’t get much better than this.

1. ‘Us and Them

‘Us and Them’ appears on the record as the pinnacle of its power. After a gentle start with shimmering keys and guitar sections, the whole band converge as Nick Mason’s drums surge alongside Dick Parry’s saxophone into the powerful choruses filled with considered lyrics from Waters and fantastic vocals from Gilmour.

This track gathers all of the threads shown in the rest of the album together to create a beautiful tapestry where all of the band members are seen at their best.