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Everything Under The Sun Is In Tune

A Look At Pink Floyds The Dark Side Of The Moon Cover

“Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells…”

It’s as stark, clean, totemic and ambiguously powerful as the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. An unflinchingly black background, perhaps space, perhaps not, provides a hushed, mysterious canvas for a kind of magic to occur before our very eyes; beam of light enters a prism, godlike in its bearing, and is disbursed in a spectrum of colours. The spectrum travels across the gatefold and onto the back cover where it enters another prism, where the spectrum is dispersed once more into the beam of light to travel and merge back into its source on the front cover. A circular narrative of existence and energy played out on a record cover by a symbol that seems to have been plucked from an archaic, occult enchantment, like strange markings in a cave from thousands of years ago that still ring with electric energy, made concrete by being made modern in form and colour, housing songs of great depth and simplicity by four otherwise unassuming Englishmen. To hear the softly spoken magic spells indeed…

This is all the more fascinating when you consider that the only instruction given to the artists Hipgnosis (long-time Pink Floyd collaborators Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson) by the band (and then only keyboardist Richard Wright) was to “do something clean, elegant and graphic.” Yes, the cover is all of these, but also, and rather unintentionally, they gave us much, much more.

Similar to the also-iconic cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, the initial inspiration came from an image in a physics textbook (in a strange link to Joy Division, Hipgnosis also found and considered a black and white photo of the prism, leaping forward to Joy Division’s own stark science on their cover). This was then worked into a presentable idea which was shown to the band alongside another idea involving the Marvel character The Silver Surfer (imagine if the Floyd had picked that idea instead!) The band unanimously agreed on the prism.

The band, introverted with the press at the best of times, did little if anything in the way of interviews to promote the album. The cover became the promotion in itself. Its striking imagery and minimalism at odds with the over the top, overindulgent prog-rock sleeves of the time (do not say yes to ‘Yes’ unless you have to.) Record stores, realising the potential of the image to sell the record regardless of the content, took to creating imaginative displays of the record in their windows, nets of interlocking prisms to ensnare the passer-by with. As the album became a critical and commercial success, cementing the band’s place in rock history, the band were nowhere to be seen unless on a stage. As David Deal said, “Because the band members (Waters, Wright, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason) remained reclusive even as the album was turning into a massive bestseller, The Dark Side of the Moon cover came to symbolize Pink Floyd.” This was the only visibility of the band outside of a concert that the new or casual fan could easily get to. The image of the prism, therefore, took over from the image of the band. Hell, the prism became the band to most people.

An illustration of a prism dispersing a spectrum of light on the front of the Dark Side of the Moon album cover
Image Credit: Wikipedia

And it was the band that Hipgnosis had in mind when considering their design. One might suspect that the intention from the start was for the cover to connect with the themes covered on the record. But for Storm Thorgerson the prism represented something much more simple and connected to the band: “it related mostly to a light show. They hadn’t really celebrated their light show. That was one thing. The other thing was the triangle. I think the triangle, which is a symbol of thought and ambition, was very much a subject of Roger’s lyrics. So the triangle was a very a useful—as we know, obviously—was a very useful icon to deploy and making it into the prism—you know, the prism belonged to the Floyd.” So, the spectacle and the thought. But not that which was being thought about, that was communicating with millions of listeners on stereos across the world. As we know, a maker’s intentions cannot stop a work of art taking on a life, a meaning, of its own…

When I first listened to The Dark Side of the Moon, a couple of months short of 16 years old, I did so with the album cover in front of me. The two married together in complete reciprocation, as the best albums often do. I didn’t see the ambiguity, the possibilities, of the image at first. With the starkness of the light and the prism against the expanse of black, I saw space. Space was nothing new to the music of Pink Floyd, but in fact, this was the first and possibly only one of their album covers that depicted space at all. Previous imagery had featured the manipulation through photography of the physical world of nature and the body (Meddle), the acid experience depicted in beautifully marbled oils (A Saucerful of Secrets) and, of course, a cow standing in a field against a very blue sky (Atom Heart Mother). And yet, the content contained inside this cosmic cover was Floyd at their most human; the drudgery of the 9-5 working day, the cruel trick of the passing of time, the lure and power of money, mental illness, death. “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way,” they sang. And the prism watched ever on, unflinching, remote, without feeling, unable to intervene, marveling at its own magnificence.

How can the two marry—the human every day and ethereal magnificence? The key is in a suggestion made by bassist, lyricist and conceptual mastermind Roger Waters for the inner gatefold, an image not as immediate or as often discussed as the front cover but is as brilliant as you’d expect from Roger during this period. He wanted the strip of dispersed light to bend around into and travel across the inner gatefold, exiting onto the back cover and into another prism. As the light would travel across the gatefold, it would be intermittently interrupted into a wave – more specifically a heartbeat.

A spectrum of light refracting into a heartbeat on the inner sleeve of Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon album cover
Image credit: hipgnosiscovers.com

The human heart, in the broadest, most romantic sense, is a spectrum of tastes, desires, personalities. It too can be beautiful, ecstatic, mystic when allowed to show its full range. What stop us from reaching this state of the spectrum? The usual suspects; hate, greed, envy, violence, ignorance. All explored on the album, but Roger Waters had a name, a catch-all title for this group of potential blockers. See the lyrics to album closer ‘Eclipse’:

All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel.
All that you love
All that you hate
All you distrust
All you save.
All that you give
All that you deal
All that you buy,
beg, borrow or steal.
All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say.
All that you eat
And everyone you meet
All that you slight
And everyone you fight.
All that is now
All that is gone
All that’s to come
and everything under
the sun is in tune
but the sun
is eclipsed by the moon.

The Dark Side of the Moon. And there it is in a nutshell (or a lyric). That’s what the prism – the beautiful, eternal prism – means to me; it’s a clue, a suggestion, a lesson. We have the potential to transcend the everyday, to fulfil potential that we didn’t know we had, to become ‘magical’ in our abilities. But it does not come for free; we must be on the lookout at all times for the dark, the base and the basic elements of our makeup that distract us, sap our confidence, blind our awareness and leads to destroy or destruction. “And everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”

All of this from one image and a pocketful of lyrics. Amazing. Wondrous. Grasp the prism and gaze upon the sun.


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Chris Flackett

Written by Chris Flackett

Chris Flackett is a writer for 25YL who loves Twin Peaks, David Lynch, great absurdist literature and listens to music like he's breathing oxygen. He lives in Manchester, England with his beautiful wife, three kids and the ghosts of Manchester music history all around him.

3 Comments

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  1. I enjoyed your well-written article about my all-time favorite LP. “There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

  2. plus another connection between the cover and the music: the song title “any colour you like.”

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