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Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon – II-V-I: A Softly Spoken Magic Spell
I, Us and Them
David Gilmour sings the last line of “Money” and the energy of the song dissolves to a shuffling swing…
As the track fades, the question and answer calls between Gilmour’s guitar and vocal are joined by fragments from another conversation…
” I don’t know if I was really drunk at the time…”
Meanwhile, on the crossfade, a new dawn of colour slowly materialises.
Eventually, as a mass of suspensions and densely clustered notes clear, Rick Wright’s Hammond organ settles on the chord of D.
The gentle swirl of the Leslie effect wraps around this new glow of consonance then, having waited patiently for long enough, the rest of the band enter to begin the blissfully slow and relaxed instrumental opening to “Us and Them”.
This is a landmark moment on Dark Side Of The Moon.
Not only does the beginning of “Us and Them” provide the listener with some relief and respite after the rip-roaring guitar-and-drums feast of “Money” but it also gracefully announces the arrival of a long-awaited object…
Chord I of D major.
This is a significant structural moment as, from here on, throughout the rest of “Us and Them”, “Any Colour You Like”, “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”, the music is all harmonically centred around the keynote of D.
It marks the beginning of the end. Like seeing a ‘welcome home’ banner displayed somewhere before you’ve reached your destination.
But how do we know that chord I of D major is ‘home’ when we first hear it?
Perhaps, to see how this happens, we need to take a look at the whole journey…
II and V
There are many wonderful and startling harmonic twists and turns on Dark Side Of The Moon but a great deal of the album’s convincing cohesive quality could perhaps be put down to the predominance of one chord progression in particular.
E minor to A to D (along with its other eleven transposed forms) happens to be one of the most conventional and popular chord progressions in the history of western tonal music. Often it will be used at the concluding moments of a section due to its stable, resolving quality.
No surprise then that this very three-chord sequence, referred to by musical analysts as a II-V-I chord progression, is the one used repeatedly and to the same effect on Dark Side Of The Moon.
However one statement of the sequence is particularly interesting.
“Breathe”(E minor) to “Time” (A) to “Us and Them” (D)…
This long-term realisation of ‘E minor to A to D’ contributes to the overall sense of overall coherence. Spread out, as it is, to form the backbone of the entire album’s harmonic structure.
But why call it II-V-I?
Well, as any musical analyst will tell you, if ‘D’ is to be our ‘chord I’ then a visit to the chords of ‘E minor’ and ‘A’ immediately prior to it can be seen respectively as a statement of ‘chord II’ (a triad based on the second note of the scale) and ‘chord V’ (based on the fifth) in D major.
So there we have it in summary…II-V-I of D major.
A softly spoken spell under the surface which embraces the whole of Dark Side Of The Moon and another magical way of convincing our ears of its apparent unity.
A full chordal analysis of the album, song by song, should serve as support to the claims made so far. Not only will it help to clarify the points about coherence due to one particular chord progression but it will serve to expose some other interesting points too about Pink Floyd’s economy with material and a fondness for simplicity behind the mystique and the magic.
The Whole Of The Moon
SPEAK TO ME
Heartbeats, ticks and clanks.
Fragments of speech about madness.
Clare Torry’s scream.
Surely we can’t start talking about chord progressions here at this early point, can we?
Or CAN we?
It so happens (amid all the heartbeats, talking and screaming) there is a note.
A held note. The pitch of that encroaching helicopter-like drone is…B!!!
Pink Floyd, as we will see, are fond of preceding the new key of a song or section thereof with its dominant (or chord V). Unlikely as it may seem, this means of gravitiating to a new ‘place’ is already in evidence as the opening ‘B’ drone happens to be the dominant of the next keychord we hear…
E minor – A7
C – B minor – F – G – D7#9 – B/D#
Suffice to say, that opening sequence – E minor to A7 – is the true ‘daddy’ of sequences on Dark Side Of The Moon.
It’s the album’s motif, as we’ll see.
After being gloriously repeated more times than I’m willing to count, the hypnotic oscillation of E minor to A7 is only relieved by the second sequence ie. C – B minor – F – G – D7#9 – B/D#, which in contrast wanders unpredictably through a series of secondary dominants before resolving back on E minor.
There’s another blissful repeat of the whole thing then the arrival of E minor for the last time marks the beginning of the next track….
ON THE RUN
Pink Floyd’s clear purpose here is to clear the palette, abandon convention and explore another mode of expression using non-pitch oriented sounds.
Harmony is not an issue here. Tension and release is brought about by all manner of effects and events which clash and conflict with each other within the sound collage.
And to resolve that …what else? But an explosion.
Out of which, as the dust settles, we hear….
Introduction: E – F# minor
Gilmour’s verse: F# minor – A – E – F# minor
Wright’s verse: D – A – D – A – D – C# minor – B minor – E7
Wright’s verse (last time): D – A – D -A – D – C# minor – B minor – F/B
CLANG, BANG, etc…
After the last several minutes of non-pitch oriented music our ears have been well and truly diverted from any sense of keynote left dormant from earlier.
What brings us back to the path? A single, bold E…
And so, we take up from where we left off at the end of “Breathe”.
Except things are certainly about to take a different turn.
That return of E sounds like an ominous new beginning rather than a reassuring return.
It lingers, decays then is followed by an equally bold, single F sharp (a fresh keynote to a chord not yet heard on the album so far) that also lingers and decays.
With each return to E then F sharp again, Rick Wright exposes more of the new harmony in his light, improvisatory tinkling on the keyboard and, as he does, the E turns out to be the keynote of E major.
So subtle. Just a light sprinkle of E major in Rick Wright’s right hand part and our perception of the path forward has shifted. At last, a gravitation away from the key of E minor (chord II of our overall harmonic structure, remember!) last stated at the end of “Breathe” which will ultimately take us to the next significant point in our long-term II-V-I realisation…A major…although not until the verse sung by Rick Wright.
So much else happens in this song (as with all the songs on the album!) but for the purpose of this analysis, let’s forward to the end…
Only when Wright’s verse returns to end the song do we gravitiate away from A major again with dramatic harmonic effect. In fact, it’s perhaps the most intense moment in the harmony so far. That is, a chord of F with B in the bass during the line ‘thought I’d something more to say” which leads us to a monumental sonic precipice.
We lean over the edge….and DOWN we land.
Back on the opening chord of “Breathe” again….
E minor – A7
C – B minor – F – G – D7#9 – B/D#
“Home, home again….”
The relief, after the hiatus of F/B at the end of the last song, is palpable.
Here we are…home again on good old ‘Eminor to A7’ for another visit of the opening song to close the ‘first act’ of Dark Side Of The Moon.
Yet, despite reaching this closing chapter, there is still the promise of a sting in the tail.
More on that in a moment but first…
Time to take a breather and summarise what has happened harmonically so far.
The chord progression – II-V-I – which serves as the backbone to Dark Side Of The Moon’s overall harmonic structure is well underway….
II is represented by the song “Breathe” which is in the key of E minor (chord II of D major).
V is represented by the song “Time” which is in the key of A (chord V of D major).
We still await the arrival of D…our chord I.
Even though a chord of D appears gloriously at the beginning of Rick Wright’s verse in ‘Time”…garnished as it is with flanged female choir, message-laden lyrics and the fresh sound of Rick’s lead vocal…we are yet to reach D (our ultimate chord I) as a keychord.
Why not? Well, because this moment only constitutes a ‘visit’ to D. The chord that follows it, A, is clearly the home chord for the song (so the D before is actually chord IV of A major!).
A firmer, resolutory D (as chord I of D major) will appear later, of course!
As well as this long-term album-spanning statement of a II-V-I progression, we have also had the beginnings of the II-V-I progression suggested on a more local level.
The chief example being the ‘E minor to A7″ progression of “Breathe” which imprints itself on the listener’s brain in readiness for a resolution on D that is yet to come.
Another more sneaky suggestion of II-V-I, albeit in a different key, is used as a device in “Time” to get from Wright’s verse back to the ‘F# minor – A – E – F# minor’ sequence for Gilmour’s fantastic guitar solo. Note how B minor (on the line “no one told you when to run..”) followed by E (on the line “you missed the starting gun”) could have been followed by A to complete a II-V-I progression but teasingly it resolves on the relative minor, F sharp, instead.
And now, back to that sting in the tail at the end of “Breathe Reprise”…
To close the song, the C – Bminor – F – G – D7#9 – B/D# sequence does not resolve on E minor as it did first time at the end of “Breathe”.
Rather surprisingly (or crudely, some would say), from D7#9 to B/D# (which prepared our ear for the return of E minor both times in the earlier song) we land unpredictably at B minor.
The band freeze in their tracks as if startled by the lack of preparation.
The new ‘surprise’ key chord fades…
GREAT GIG IN THE SKY
Wright piano: B minor – F – B flat – F/A
G minor – C7 – G minor – C7
F – B flat – E flat – C minor
F – B flat – E flat – B flat
Torry vocal: G minor – C7
G minor/D – C#dim – F#7 – Bminor
Wright & Torry: B minor – F – B flat – F/A
G minor – C7 – G minor C7
Rick Wright confirms the new harmony with his opening piano chord.
But there are soon plenty of further surprises in the pipeline as Wright’s introduction creates a sublime diversion from our main harmonic path with a ’round the houses’ series of secondary dominants.
Carrying the ear to somewhere completely new and alien.
And yet, this is not wholly unrelated to the whole design…
Note how there are realisations of new, transposed II-V-I progressions as miniature motifs of the big, main one (yet to be completed, of course!) during Wright’s piano introduction.
First of all, G minor – C7 – F.
Secondly, C minor – F – B flat.
Both are good examples of how the II-V-I progression smoothly transports the listener from one musical corner to the next.
Also, both exemplify Pink Floyd’s fondness for the progression itself on this album.
Other than that, note that the repeated G minor to C7 sequence which takes up most of “Great Gig In The Sky” and serves as a platform for the main event – Clare Torry’s truly remarkable vocal solo – is a transposition of another prominent two-chord progression heard before on the album…namely, the repeated E minor to A7 sequence which takes up most of the song, “Breathe”.
Note also that, whereas that two-chord sequence in “Breathe” isn’t yet followed by its third chord to complete a II-V-I progression (yet!), the transposition of that sequence as used in “Great Gig In The Sky”, is ie. Gminor – C7 – F.
This is a hint of what is to come surely.
Interesting to note further that, despite featuring Gminor – C7 – F somewhere as a II-V-I progression, “Great Gig In The Sky” ultimately ends on G minor to bring the song’s recurring two chord oscillation to rest and Side One of the album to a close.
This is a transposition of what happens at the end of “Breathe” where, after so many repeats of E minor to A7, matters comes to rest on E minor.
So much recycling going on here…
“Breathe” and”Great Gig In The Sky” may seem like two very different songs but harmonically there is so much in the latter that is recycled from the former (albeit in transposed form) which again helps to form connections and cross-references between distant points on Dark Side Of The Moon.
As well as that, there is no doubt about how effectively this recycling pays off in the hands of Pink Floyd. So much drama comes from the later visits as here in “Great Gig In The Sky”.
So, Side One ends.
Things are about to get a lot simpler.
Turnaround: F#minor – Eminor – Bminor
If Dark Side Of The Moon had been composed years later when the music would not have to be divided between Side One and Side Two of a vinyl long-player, then the probability is that Pink Floyd may have done something different here harmonically to smooth things over.
G minor, the last chord heard at the end of Side One, is a world away from the B minor which opens the first track of Side Two.
Nothing inherently wrong with that. Just that it clearly marks a division of sorts due to the limitations of the format for which it was recorded.
Anyway, just as “Great Gig In The Sky” constitutes a diversion from the main harmonic path, “Money” delays the return to the main road a little longer with its ‘blues in B minor’flavour.
With regard to harmonic progression, there really isn’t much else to add to that.
It’s a monster of a track. Rip-snorting guitar solos, thundering drums, great bassline…
But, for the sake of this analysis, we can ‘fast forward’ to the end where something very significant happens….
US AND THEM
Main sequence: D – D6 – Dminor#7 – G/D
Bridge: Bminor – G – C
As described at the beginning of the article, this is a sublime moment on the album where we suddenly get taken ‘home’ harmonically with the arrival of chord I of D major.
Against the fading, retreating B minor of “Money”, Rick Wright superimposes the upper end of a suspended dominant seven without its keynote, A.
Like a clearing of mist, the ‘home’ chord of D emerges. A truly magical transition and one which answers all questions asked by the use of harmony so far on the album.
Here is the album’s chord I. And, as if to celebrate and make the most of it, the D remains at the foot of the texture throughout most of the song while the upper harmony notes change. The melancholy effect of the Dminor#7 chord enables Rick Wright and Dick Parry to add some delightful turns during their solo.
For all its dynamism and power, the bridge sequence – B minor to G to C – is merely a sidestep.
D is ‘home’ from here on and the end is in sight…
ANY COLOUR YOU LIKE
Dminor – G7
Bflat – Aminor – Eflat – F – C7#9 – A/C#
Yet again, this shows Pink Floyd’s fondness for revisiting and recycling earlier material.
Yet again, it’s done creatively.
This time as an instrumental featuring an enthusiastic exchange of solos between guitar and keyboards over several repeats of D minor to G7 (another transposition of the E minor to A7 sequence from “Breathe”).
Unlike earlier transpositions, this two-chord oscillation somehow does not suggest the beginnings of another II-V-I progression. The D minor is simply prolonging the keynote of D as our ‘home’.
We feel at rest harmonically.
And yet…the concluding sequence to the song (again a transposition of the second sequence from “Breathe”) resolves this time surprisingly in the major.
That is, the opening D major of the next song.
Verse, part one: D – G7
Verse, part two: D – E/D – A7 – D (D7 when going to Chorus)
Chorus: G – A – C – G
Bridge: G – Bminor – Eminor – A
We may have stayed at ‘home’ with the prolongation of D but here’s another twist.
The first part of the verse – D to G7 – is yet another transposition of “Breathe” but in the major key!
Note how the second part of the verse confirms our global II-V-I sequence for the album in true form and at a local level with the sequence of E/D (that’s E with D in the bass) to A7 to D.
Most significant of all though, to end the song we hear a final, confirmatory statement of the II-V-I progression which (as I’ve said often enough now!) is the backbone to the whole thing.
As a fitting conclusion to the album, this track links with the next via E minor to A to…..
D – D7/C – Bflat – A7
Celebrating our ‘home’ chord of D for one final time, this circular sequence draws Dark Side Of The Moon to a close with all the stateliness and pomp that such a huge journey deserves.
Finishing on (what else?) a final, resounding D.
So there is more contributing to our sense of Dark Side Of The Moon’s coherence than just the recurrence of ideas such as heartbeats, loops, spoken word fragments, lyrics about madness and mortality etc.etc….
And it arguably comes down to one of the most tried and tested sequences in western music.
Yet this is done without us taking much notice and across such a long span of time.
Eagle-eyed readers may have noted how the four chord progression which straddles the final moments of “Brain Damage” and the beginning of “Eclipse” – namely, B minor to E minor to A to D – matches the progression from “Speak To Me” to “Breathe” to “Time” to “Us and Them” if we include the B of the opening helicopter drone!
So maybe the signature chord progression was VI-V-II-I all along!
I’ll let you argue that one out amongst yourselves….
To finish, I want to draw attention to how the long-term harmonic structure of Dark Side Of The Moon organises the shape of the album into neat symmetrical proportions. “Breathe” and “Breathe Reprise” bookend the opening sequence of songs where our chords II and V dominate. In turn, this forms a bookend balanced by another at the other end of the album where the latter four songs of the album are centred round the harmonic keynote of D (chord I).
Between these two ‘song suites’ seemingly bound as they are by harmonic relationships, “Great Gig In The Sky” and “Money” function as a spectacular interlude to the process.
Creating bookends to an album was something that seemed to be a signature trait of the 70s Pink Floyd from here on…
Wish You Were Here of course was bookended by “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 1- 5” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 6-9”.
Animals was bookended by “Pigs On The Wing 1” and “Pigs On The Wing 2”.
Something even more ingenious, of course, was used on The Wall to create that sense of departure and return. That is, by making the beginning of Side One follow on from the end of Side Four so that ‘this’ would be where ‘we came in’….
Beat that for coherence!
©2006 David Sanderson
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