The point of Pink Floyd's 'Speak to Me' (and is 'The Dark Side of the Moon' pretentious?)

Why you might not want to skip the odd intro of Pink Floyd's 'The Dark Side of the Moon,' or skip 'The Dark Side of the Moon' itself
An artwork issued from the album cover The Dark Side of...
An artwork issued from the album cover The Dark Side of... / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Not to be confused with the recent song “Speak To Me” by Depeche Mode or "Speak to Me" by Amy Lee, "Speak to Me" is also the opening track on Pink Floyd's iconic album The Dark Side of the Moon, released in 1973. It's not a conventional song in the sense of "Wish You Were Here" or "Have a Cigar," and that might lead some new listeners to regard it as "filler," and they might even skip it. So what is that opening track's purpose? The album in question is known for its concept and thematic continuity, with "Speak to Me" serving as an introductory piece that sets the tone for the entire album, which is sometimes called an "overture."

"Speak to Me" acts as a sonic collage, incorporating various sound effects and snippets of dialogue. It serves as a prelude to the album's overarching themes, providing a transition from silence to the musical journey that unfolds in the subsequent tracks. Though the album has no single “main theme,” hearing various elements weaving together in a brief, relatively subtle introduction will help avid listeners understand the album is sort of a puzzle. Perhaps it's not the most complex puzzle ever devised, or perhaps it's as complex as life itself. That's up to listeners to decide.

While not everyone is a huge Pink Floyd fan, it seems even non-fans might, at the very least, appreciate that it's a band that tries to convey deep messages through lyrics, and through musical instrumentation itself. That art is not totally lost nowadays, but it's one of the reasons some people consider albums as "classics" while others merely exist. So yes, this intro track is more of a head-scratcher than a toe-tapper, but that's sort of the point. To be fair, this album is also far from being the most experimental anyway, as it actually has plenty of catchy sections, as well as the occasional callback to this odd intro.

Exploring "Speak to Me..." Does it speak to you?

The heartbeat sound that starts the album becomes a recurring motif throughout The Dark Side of the Moon. The track seamlessly flows into the second song, "Breathe," and jointly contributes to the overall concept of the album, which explores themes such as the passage of time, mental illness, and the human experience. The heartbeat, in particular, is often interpreted as a symbol of life and mortality. Of course, sometimes "Speak to Me" and "Breathe" are treated as one track, and other times they are treated separately.

"Speak to Me" is a brief (but, in some perspectives, integral) part of the larger sonic landscape created by Pink Floyd in The Dark Side of the Moon, and it plays a crucial role in establishing the atmospheric and thematic elements that characterize the album as a whole.

"Speak to Me" and the ironies of calling Pink Floyd boring and pretentious

I like Pink Floyd, but must admit to not being a "superfan." At the same time, I roll my eyes a bit at those who dismiss Pink Floyd as "pretentious," or even boring (lots of artists face the "pretentious" label if they are a little different). Though taste is subjective and relative, if you're not able to examine albums and songs within certain contexts, you're not going to get it. For example, Pink Floyd is not a 100 MPH punk rock band and explores themes of loneliness, mental exasperation, ennui, and nostalgia, in a psychedelic/progressive rock vibe in a different way from, say, the Ramones, or a modern rapper, or what have you. You need to be open to this band's basic form, so some of the band's perceived quality depends on you, the listener.

Is that a pretentious defense of Pink Floyd from a fanboy, or more of a basic fact? And that same question applies to this album itself, as well as this little overture. On top of that, one of the ironies is that, actually, Pink Floyd themselves dismiss one of the more pretentious and off-the-wall claims about this album — that it pairs perfectly with the film The Wizard of Oz. Guitarist David Gilmour dismisses the idea as something concocted by someone with too much free time. The album's engineer, Alan Parsons, simply noted: "...[If] you play any record with the sound turned down on the TV, you will find things that work..."

Sure enough, a person might eschew the Wizard of Oz connection but argue that "Actually, man, The Dark Side of the Moon foreshadows the resignation of President Richard Nixon (who was forced to resign the presidency under threat of impeachment in 1974). Hear that heartbeat? That's Richard Nixon's heart racing after feeling the heat, man." A person might dismiss these types of claims as frivolous, stupid, endearing, and annoying, or see them as profound demonstrations of how people like to make connections between things that are either coincidental or have no real connection other than a forced one.

The ingredients of "Speak to me"

For those interested in the technical aspects of "Speak to Me," it was apparently Pink Floyd members Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright engaging in tape effects, tape loops, reversed piano, and merging different sounds related to other tracks. The result sounds a bit off-kilter, as if crashing together, but perhaps too quietly to be called a sheer cacpphony.

"Speak to Me,” like the entire album, is not nearly as good if heard alone. This album truly is better experienced in a single continuous listen; and if that sounds too pretentious, keep in mind that people regularly allow that for “binge-worthy” TV shows. or The Wizard of Oz.

You can hear the whole album, courtesy of Pink Floyd's official YouTube page

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