Rock History

Cover Story – “Dark Side of the Moon” by Hipgnosis

By Michael Goldstein

Subject: Dark Side of the Moon – an illustration produced by Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, producers, with design by Storm Thorgerson and illustration by George Hardie) for the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1973 Harvest/Capitol Records release titled “Dark Side of the Moon”.

This album is Pink Floyd’s commercial-meets-conceptual equinox. No.1 on the Billboard album charts in March of 1973, this recording went on to achieve a record 741 weeks (or 14 whole years) on the ‘Top 200 Albums’ chart. It is the longest-charting album ever (beating its nearest rival by five years), with well over forty million copies sold to date (one of the top-five best-selling LPs ever).

The album has been re-released a number of times on CD and in collector’s edition vinyl record packages. The 1992 remaster was sold as the “20th Anniversary” box set and then, in 2002, a 5.1 channel Dolby Surround version – mixed from the original studio tapes – was released as the “30th Anniversary” edition. In 2003, a collector’s vinyl version of the 30th Anniversary package was released which included reprints of the original poster, stickers, and Storm Thorgerson’s new 30th Anniversary artwork.

In the words of Storm Thorgerson –

“The idea itself was cunningly cobbled from a standard physics textbook, which illustrated light passing through a prism. Of significance was the simple, elegant layout against black – standard textbook illustrations did not do this. Also important to the art direction, was the fortuitous decision to listen to Rick Wright, who suggested we do something clean, elegant and graphic, not photographic – not a figurative picture. And then to connect this idea to their live show, which was famous for its lighting, and subsequently to connect this to ambition and madness, themes Roger was exploring in the lyrics… hence the prism, the triangle and the pyramids.

Of minor significance was the complete appropriateness of the artwork to the record. The design is simply a mechanical tint lay, which means we drew outline shapes, black on white, and indicated what colours were to appear when printed. The prisms were airbrushed black on white and reversed by the printer.

The refracting glass prism referred to Floyd light shows – consummate use of light in the concert setting. Its outline is triangular and triangles are symbols of ambition, and are redolent of pyramids, both cosmic and mad in equal measure, all these ideas touching on themes in the lyrics. The joining of the spectrum extending round the back cover and across the gatefold inside was seamless like the segueing tracks on the album, whilst the opening heartbeat was represented by a repeating blip in one of the colours.

Pink Floyd. in their infinite wisdom, perused our 7 complex detailed roughs for this cover in a drab basement room at Abbey Road – submissions over which we at Hipgnosis had toiled for weeks – but managed to decide within 3 minutes which one they liked. No amount of cajoling would get them to consider any other contender, nor endure further explanation of the prism, or how exactly it might look. ‘That’s it’, they said in unison, ‘we’ve got to get back to real work’, and returned forthwith to the studio upstairs.

‘It all connects, somehow, somewhere.’. says Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, ‘We knew that the package – the record and the cover and everything together – was going to be far, far stronger than anything we had done before.’

To look back now and reflect upon how the actual artwork itself had no colour, being just a tint lay, and how the spectrum was missing a colour anyway, and how the whole design was only cobbled from a standard physics textbook diagram (albeit cunningly), and how there was another album called “Dark Side Of The Moon” (released in 1972 by British blues-rock band Medicine Head, which didn’t sell well at all! – MG) only a year previously, all of this just goes to show how such matters pale if a design feels ‘appropriate’. How fitting it is to be fitting!”

— Storm Thorgerson (via MediaBitch, his PR firm – thanks to Robin Headlee for her help in gathering materials for this Cover Story)

dsommachinehead0507.jpgThe “other” ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, just for fun…

About Storm Thorgerson (again, in his own words, in the third-person) –

“Born, if that’s the word, in Potter’s Bar Middlesex, in 1944. BA – Honors in English and Philosophy from Leicester University (63 – 66) and finally an MA in film and TV from the Royal College of Art, London (66 – 69). Formed Hipgnosis in 1968 with Aubrey Powell (Po), a graphic design studio specializing in creative photography and working mainly in the music business designing album covers for many rock ‘n’ roll bands including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, 10cc, Yes, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabbath, Paul McCartney, Syd Barrett and Styx, amongst others. Started a series of books on album cover art with Roger Dean called “Album Cover Album’ and, with Hipgnosis, wrote and designed ‘Walk Away Rene’ in 1978 and ‘The Goodbye Look’ in 1982, about their own stuff.

In 1983 Storm, along with Po and Peter Christopherson, formed Green Back Films and embarked on producing numerous rock videos including material for Paul Young, Yes, Nik Kershaw, Robert Plant, Interferon, Nona Hendryx, Big Country and many others and also long forms for Barry Gibb (Voyager), Yumi Matsutoya (Train of Thought), and Channel Q – a heavy metal compilation for Polygram Records. Green Back and its partners went up in smoke in 1985.

Storm went solo (because he had to) and continued making videos (“Learning To Fly” for Pink Floyd won “best director” at Billboard), and tried his hand at commercials (Tennant’s ‘One Great Thing’ won Golden Rose in Scotland). He continued designing album covers for Pink Floyd, Catherine Wheel, Alan Parsons, Anthrax, amongst others, and branched out into documentaries, making “Art Of Tripping” for Ch 4 in 1993, a two part exploration of the connections between drugs and artists. In 1994 Storm directed six short films for Pink Floyd which were screened at concerts during their world tour, and also an hour long science documentary on the Hubble Constant for Equinox called “The Rubber Universe”. In 1997 he compiled a book of his images for Pink Floyd called ‘Mind Over Matter’ published by Sanctuary Books. And in 97/98 he wrote and directed an hour long documentary for Discovery channel about the (non) existence of Aliens subtitled “Are We Alone?” (Or was it We Are Alone).

Storm continues to design album covers (Phish, Ian Dury, Cranberries, Pink Floyd, Catherine Wheel, Alan Parsons, Ween etc etc), to execute assorted graphics for DVDs, websites, programs, T-shirts and so on, and to direct the occasional film. He has written and designed several books including “100 Best Album Covers” (Dorling Kindersley) and “Eye Of The Storm” (Sanctuary Books).

To see all of the Storm Thorgerson-related items in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click here:

To see all of the Pink Floyd-related items in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click on the following link:

About “Cover Stories” –

Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday, you’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

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