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Game Changers: Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

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The Dark Side Of The Moon:
Produced By Pink Floyd
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios
Mixed By Pink Floyd with Mixing Supervision by Chris Thomas
Engineered By Alan Parsons

When it came to recording one of the most recognizable albums in history, as you can imagine, it is a story that is both captivating and groundbreaking. The making of The Dark Side Of The Moon had the members of Pink Floyd dig deeper creatively and musically than they’d ever gone before, and the recording staff that was involved in the making of the album became nothing short of innovators.

Floyd had always pushed musical and recording boundaries whenever possible, even on their earlier albums The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and Meddle they had started to see how far they could go musically and lyrically, but with The Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd both re-defined the band and introduced to the world to the idea of a concept album.

The band at this time were lead by bass player Roger Waters, he had taken over the lyric-writing and the general direction of the band when founder member Syd Barrett left the group in the late ’60s due to mental health issues. Barrett had been replaced by lead guitarist Dave Gilmour, and the rest of the band consisted of Nick Mason on drums and Richard Wright on keyboards and synthesizers. As a side note, this was also the first album that Waters had recorded with the band as the sole lyricist.

The band set up camp in the former home of The Beatles, Abbey Road, and between May 1972 and January 1973 Floyd toiled away at the recording process with Abbey Roads purpose-built top of the line recording equipment.

In the past Pink Floyd was recording on 8 and even 4-track recording systems. But making the move to Abby Road allowed them to use the studio’s solid-state TG12345 desk which became the heartbeat of the recording. With the ability to record 16 tracks it allowed the band to record more instruments and effects into their songs, they could experiment with multiple vocal tracks and guitar parts, which brought a bigger and lusher landscape to their sound.

Couple that with the Studer A80 tape machine (which was also had 16 tracks), and Abbey Roads’ single EMT plate reverb, plus their Fairchild limiters they were setting the standard for modern recording which is still used to this day.

So, how did the album evolve, and where did the musical inspiration come from? Musically, the album grew from a series of extended studio jams and through playing live. Coupled together with phenomenal musical contributions from the band, and the thought-provoking lyrics from Waters, Pink Floyd wrote an album that touched the soul while exploring the slow descent into madness, war, death and wealth, seamlessly.

When it came to the actual recording sessions, these were hampered by the bands live commitments, and the band stuck to their gig schedule rigidly.

Even though the recording seemed to be a stop and go affair, the album’s engineers understood the workload and stuck with it. One of those engineers was a young 23 years old Alan Parsons, now hailed as a production genius, his reputation certainly wasn’t hurt by his hard work on the recording of The Dark Side Of The Moon. Parsons had previously worked on the Beatles’ Abbey Road, and had worked with Floyd as an engineering assistant on their album Atom Heart Mother, more importantly with regards to workflow, Parsons was used to the working dynamic within Pink Floyd.

When it came to recording the album, first up was the wonderful: “Us And Them.” Keyboard player Richard Wright had originally written the track as a piano piece for a movie soundtrack, but with the addition of newly released synthesizers (EMS VCS 3 and the Synthi AKS) and some innovative instrumentation the track, Us And Them became a stand out on an album full of amazing material.

The EMS Synthi AKS became the most advanced of the synths to featured on the album, and you can hear it front and center on the instrumental track, “On The Run.” With a built-in sequencer, the EMS Synthi AKS was the real deal. It allowed the player to create patterns, alter the speed, and play with the onboard sounds by changing its parameters.

For On The Run, David Gilmour played an eight-note arpeggio throughout the song and applied a sweeping filter that helped to create the tracks unrelenting melody.

Even though Gilmour played the AKS on the track, it was bassist/ singer Roger Waters who came up with the arpeggio that would eventually make the final recording for the album.

The AKS was also used throughout the album, in fact, the sound effects like the Doppler sirens and explosions you hear on Dark Side were created using the synth. Maybe without the AKS, Dark Side of the Moon could have been a more organic affair and would have sounded completely different.

Along with the AKS, the EMS VCS-3 was used extensively in the recording process. Fantastic for creating loops, it was also used for its bank of sounds on tracks like “Any Colour You Like” and “Time.”

Another stand out, and perhaps one of the bands most recognized and popular songs was the next to be tackled: Money.

Opening up with groundbreaking tape effects, the tape loop used to create the intro ended up being some 20 feet long and contained recordings of coins being thrown into a food mixing bowl, the ripping of paper and the ringing of a till. This tape loop was physically held up by attaching it to microphone stands in the studio. As we said, groundbreaking.

For tracks like “Money,” David Gilmour’s new guitar set up was perfect. Gilmour used a 1970 Strat for certain songs but he also had a custom Lewis guitar with twenty-four frets built to achieve the high-pitched squalls, you can hear those on his double-tracked solo on “Money.”

When it came to the overall keyboard set up, Richard Wright had seriously expanded. Along with AKS and VCS-3, he had also brought in a Wurlitzer that he decided to run through a wah-pedal, you can hear this on the track “Money.” With the addition of Minimoogs, a Fender Rhodes, and a Hammond organ, the album was colored with hi and low tech keyboards throughout.

As for the other tracks on the album: Speak to Me, Breathe, On The Run, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage and Eclipse, all were produced and written impeccably, and fit the album like a proverbial glove.

With all the tracks finally recorded it was now time to mix. Even though Parsons had his own idea of how it would come together (instruments and vocals compressed, and drums sounding as natural as possible) he ultimately let the band take the lead with the final mix.

The rest, as they say, is history. The album is now considered to be one of the greatest albums in rock history, it has sold over 45 million copies and has charted for over 900 weeks.

Audiophiles the world over still use The Dark Side Of The Moon as one of their ‘go-to’ albums. Beautiful in both sound and musical composition, this album is, without doubt, a ‘game changer.’

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