Skip to main content

Spend time on 'The Dark Side of the Moon' with Alan Parsons

From recommending soloist Clare Torry for ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ to coming up with the concepts (and sound effects) of the clocks and the cash register for ‘Time’ and ‘Money,’ respectively, Alan Parsons made an indelible mark on Pink Floyd’s magnum opus.

By Jeb Wright

Of all the skills that Alan Parsons has developed in years as an engineer, producer, production engineer and artist, it is perhaps his talents with a razor blade that perhaps came in the handiest during his work on Pink Floyd’s iconic masterpiece, “The Dark Side Of The Moon.”

Goldmine: Five years before “I Robot,” you went to work as an engineer on the Pink Floyd album “The Dark Side of the Moon.” From your standpoint, did you think you all were creating a masterpiece?
Alan Parsons: I knew it was the best Pink Floyd album. I didn’t think it would be one of the great albums of all time. Interestingly, I got an e-mail from Clare Torry; she is the vocalist on “Great Gig in the Sky.” It was exactly 40 years ago to the second that she did the session for “Dark Side.”

GM: What was your role on “Dark Side?”
AP: I did “The Dark Side of the Moon” as a staff engineer — which explains why I didn’t get rich. Engineers were considered unimportant in those days. It was only in the immediate years after that where they were recognized for their contributions to recording. It was very much a “do what you are told” type of job before that. I didn’t get any production credits for “Dark Side,” but I am happy with what I did contribute to it. I was there.

pink floyd publicity photo

(Actor, engineer, producer, musician — Alan Parsons does it all)

GM: What is the difference between an engineer and a producer?
AP: I was a production engineer — there are a lot of production engineers now. If you have a distinct producer and a distinct engineer, then they do have different roles. One is responsible for sound balance and microphone choice. The producer, if he has sound ideas, is responsible for communicating those ideas to the engineer. He is more concerned with the best performance and the artist’s choice of material. Ultimately, he is concerned with making a commercial record.

GM: Seeing as how primitive the industry was, sound-wise, during the “The Dark Side of the Moon” recording, the actual physical work must have been astounding.
AP: It was hard work. There were a lot of wires trailing down the corridors to other studios, because we would run out of equipment sometimes. Everything was done with tape at that time, including the effects. There was no such thing as digital effects then. We did everything with echo chambers and tape. We were really pushing the limits, but that was part of the fun. We were looking for new and interesting sounds that nobody else had done before. We were in a 16-track studio, but we would have to go to a second-generation tape. We would fill up the 16 tracks and then bounce them down and add more. I would say we were using an average of 25 to 30 tracks on the album.

Wizard of Oz cast

Don't ask Alan Parsons if he's ever watched "The Wizard of Oz" while listening to Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of The Moon." It makes him a little bit cranky, and he probably won't give you a straight answer. Publicity photo. Copyright 2009 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

GM: I want to talk about the songs. “Speak to Me,” “Breathe” and “On the Run.” Was a lot of the famous tape splicing going on to put those three together?
AP: The intro sequence, “Speak to Me” – we didn’t have names for the songs at the time and I am still not used to the titles — we called that “The Intro Sequence.” “On the Run” was called “The Travel Sequence.” There were probably edits, but we did a lot of stuff by punching in on the multi-track tape. We did the entire album on a 16-track machine, as it was the best that was available. It is pretty amazing that we were able to do that. Most of Side One was on its own master tape, and Side Two was on its own master tape. All of the splices were there on the tape.

GM: The beginning of the song “Time” has many clock alarms going off. Are you responsible for that?
AP: Yes. It was a recording I did for a sound effects record, originally. It was done for a quadraphonic sound effects album. Nobody took much interest in it. When I heard the clicking bass, I told them that I had this recording of these clocks that would fit in. I played it to them, and they loved it.

GM: Originally how did you make the clock sequence? Was there any studio trickery?
AP: The only trickery was that when I went into this clock shop — it was a little antique shop with lots of clocks in it — that was right down the street from Abbey Road. We got the shopkeeper to stop all of the clocks so I could record each one individually. I recorded each one individually, both ticking and chiming. We assembled a 16-track with each clock synchronized, so they all chimed at the same time.

GM: Tell me about “Great Gig in the Sky.”
AP: It was I that brought Clare into the studio. She had been doing vocals on sessions. She was essentially a session singer. I told them to call Clare, as she was great. I think she came into the studio the same day that we called her. She was essentially unknown. She had a name in recording circles, because she did jingles and that kind of stuff. She sang background sessions singing oohs and ahhs with other girls on
albums. I knew she was a really good solo singer, so I told them to give her a try. She was given almost no direction at all. She put a few of her own words in there … like, “Oh, baby” or something like that. That was the first take. Roger [Waters] actually came in and said, “No words. Just ooh and ahh.” She tried twice more, and then we compiled a performance from that.

Pink Floyd Dark Side of The Moon

Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon' has sold an estimated 45 million copies since its release in 1973.

GM: “Money” had the now-famous cash register included in the song.
AP: We had to assemble a loop that worked, timing-wise, for all of those different sounds. The only way to keep it in time was to take a piece of tape with the sound on it and measure it with a ruler. You would take the exact length of tape and then splice the next exact length of tape onto it. We would make circular loop that was supported with microphone stands around the machine, and we would roll the tape, and that was what the band played to.

GM: Were you the guy with the razor blade in your hand?
AP: That is the engineer’s job. I would use the razor blade right on the tape. In the digital age, it would have only taken 10 minutes. Now you can press record, and if you press it at the wrong time, you just go back and do it again, as it is all digital. On a tape machine, if you pressed record, then what was there is gone forever.

GM: “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” end the album. They are such great songs.
AP: It is worth making the observation that the “Lunatic Song” [“Brain Damage”] is the first time that Roger sings on the album. Everything up to that point had been David. A lot of people don’t realize that.

GM: Last one: My editor said I had to ask this, so please forgive me. Have you ever played ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ while watching ‘The Wizard of Oz?’
AP: Tell your editor that I will never do an interview for this magazine again [laughter]. With that, I rest my case.