I see a great deal of debate online about whether Dark Side of the Moon or it’s follow-up, Wish You Were Here, is the better album. The debates are fierce and extended. I have seen little discussion though, of just how similar they are to each other in structure and content.

I see them as so similar that they have always seemed like two versions of the same album. Dark Side is a rough draft, a precursor to the finished product, which is Wish You Were Here.

By any measure, Dark Side is a stunningly good album. It is one of the best ever. It is artistically brilliant and it was a massive commercial success, two traits that don’t always coincide.

In many ways, it was the wider world’s introduction to Pink Floyd. I can well imagine the members of the band and their immediate circle of close collaborators sitting around, when all was said and done, reflecting on how they could possibly make something like that happen again. It must have been incredibly daunting.

Consciously or unconsciously, I think they all concluded that the best strategy would be to build on and refine what they had already. To make a better Dark Side, to build on its many strengths, and to clean up and remove its few weaknesses, much as one cleans up a first draft of what will be a strong book or article.

In the end, they made a more confident, more patiently developed, and better structured Dark Side of the Moon. They made Wish You Were Here.

The openings

Both albums open with crescendos. Dark Side begins with the famous beating heart of Speak To Me, which gradually builds, and to which are added various natural and mechanical sounds. After a mere minute, it transitions into Breathe and its vocals. Likewise, Wish opens with Shine On’s slow build-up of strings and synthesizers, initially a mere distant, low drone.

The construction on Shine On is much more patient and confident than on Speak To Me/Breathe. There is no rush. They know the audience will wait and enjoy the putting together of the piece, that they don’t need to get to any payoff in a hurry. The audience has come to listen to them. The band is in charge.

It is over 2 minutes before we pick up the main theme, which washes over us in gentle waves. It is 4 minutes before The Four Notes (properly capitalized) launch us into the body of the piece proper. It is as if the opening of Dark Side had been uncompressed, freed of its anxiety.

The transitions

The first inkling for me that Dark Side was a rough draft of Wish, is that the transition between On the Run and Time (Dark Side), and between Shine On and Welcome to the Machine (Wish) are so similar. On the Run trails off into a low rumbling that sets us up to be startled by the bells and alarms of Time’s opening. As a child, I used to listen to that album side as I went to sleep, and I remember the bells often half bringing me out of my sleep before I realized what they were, and the rest of Time letting me slowly go back to hypnagogic bliss.

Similarly, Shine On trails off into a low hum, much more industrial than on Dark Side, and is interrupted by the sudden buzzing of Welcome to the Machine. But the buzzing here, while a sudden and startling departure, is nowhere as jarring as the bells of Time. The transition still makes its point abundantly clear, but doesn’t pull you out of your skull the way Time does. It is a cleaner, smoother revision of the main transition on the album. It is tidied up.

This is not the only similarity in the transitions. They are thematically related. Time and Welcome to the Machine are two sides of the same coin. The machine is busy and active. It accomplishes things. It produces hit albums that are artistically brilliant. The gears in the machine and their cogs are just marking time, until they are worn and swapped out. The machine produces. The gears merely grind.

The Finales

On Dark Side, The Great Gig in the Sky interrupts the flow between Time and Money, which thematically, should obviously follow each other directly. That mistake is not repeated on Wish You Were Here. Welcome to the Machine takes us tidily into Have a Cigar, which sarcastically extolls the dubious benefits of joining the mechanism. Money and Have a Cigar are closely related and occupy a similar position in the structure of the albums.

Us and Them with its musical extension (Any Colour You Like), and Wish You Were Here are interludes about relationships missed. In the first case, they are missed because they are not seen. Out of the way. It’s a busy day. In the second, they are missed because they are in the past.

From there, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, and Eclipse take us to the end of the album, much like Shine On parts 6-9. As in the case of their openings, the finale on Wish is much more developed, patiently crafted, confident and integrated. The three short pieces that make it up on Dark Side are comparatively rushed and underdeveloped. Their structure could carry much more weight than it ever does on the album.

So which is the better album? That question is irrelevant. They are one and the same. I enjoy them together, as I did while writing this post, as I enjoy reading successive drafts of the Lord of the Rings, or seeing The Godfather and its Director’s Cut.

One thought on “Summer post: Dark Side of the Moon is a rough draft of Wish You Were Here. Prove me wrong.

  1. Makes sense. I last heard Wish You Were Here in a cafe near the Temple of Apollo in Side, Pamphylia, on the day of the total solar eclipse in 2006. British visitors induced management to play it as they drank their beers. I was glad to hear this music I had adored in adolescence, though the total experience was odd, as when I had heard Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree from a Lesbian radio station while near Assos


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