Pink Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright wrote this song, which is about life, gradually descending into death. Hence the angrier and more intense first half with a dying person refusing to "go gently into that good night."The second half is gentler, as the dying person gives into the inevitable and fades away. In the March 1998 issue of Mojo, Wright explained: "For me, one of the pressures of being in the band was this constant fear of dying because of all the traveling we were doing in planes and on the motorways in America and in Europe."
When the band was working on Dark Side of the Moon, most of the songs didn't have titles. They referred to this as "The Religious Section" or "The Mortality Sequence."
This is one of a few Pink Floyd songs to use a female vocal. Alan Parsons, who produced the album, brought in a singer he knew of named Clare Torry. Parsons explained in Rolling Stone, March 12, 2003: "She had to be told not to sing any words: when she first started, she was doing 'Oh yeah baby' and all that kind of stuff, so she had to be restrained on that. But there was no real direction - she just had to feel it."
David Gilmour stated in Mojo, March 1998: "We'd been thinking Madeleine Bell or Doris Troy and we couldn't believe it when this housewifely white woman walked in. But when she opened her mouth, well, she wasn't too quick at finessing what we wanted, but out came that orgasmic sound we know and love."
In 2004, Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI seeking songwriting royalties for her contributions on this, claiming she helped Wright write it. In 2005, she won a judgment in the case, although terms were not disclosed. (thanks, Tim - PGH, PA)
Early on, this was just a piano sequence composed by Wright which the band didn't know what to do with. As the album came together, they resurrected it and turned it into a song. David Gilmour joined in later with his slide guitar and Torry's vocals were added as well. Wright explained to Uncut June, 2003: "I went away and came up with this piece, and everyone liked the chord sequence. It was a question of 'What do we do with it?' and we decided to get someone to sing. Clare Torry came in and she thought we were going to give her the top line and lyrics. We said, 'Just busk it.' She was terrified – 'I don't know what to do.' 'Just go in and improvise.' Which she did, and out came this extraordinary, wonderful vocal.
I didn't, when I wrote it, think, 'This is all about death,' cos I don't think I would have written that chord structure. I get so excited when I hear Clare singing. For me, it's not necessarily death. I hear terror and fear and huge emotion, in the middle bit especially, and the way the voice blends with the band. The way it was mixed helps."
This marks the end of Side 1 of the album, which further indicates death. (thanks, Sourabh - Logan, UT, for above 2)
This is one of the songs that synchs up to the movie The Wizard Of Oz. If you start the album at the third roar of the MGM lion, this will start just when the tornado scene comes on and end just when the scene is over.
Just before the last note of the song fades out, it speeds up so that it would fit on the album. Space was tight on vinyl records.
For the CD release of Dark Side of the Moon
, the beginning of "Money
" starts just before this song fades out to match with the connective nature of all the other tracks. (thanks, Adrian Martin - Brookings, SD, for above 2)
In 1994, this was used in European commercials for the headache pain-relief pill Nurofen. It's very rare for Pink Floyd to lend their music to commercials, but since Rick Wright wrote the song, he had the authority to allow its use. He re-recorded the song for the ad with Clare Torry again on vocals.
This song is mentioned in the movie School Of Rock when Mr. S (Jack Black) asks Tamika to "Listen to the vocals on The Great Gig In The Sky." (thanks, Leela - Balimore, MD)
The phrase, "If you hear the whisper you're dying" appears in the online game World of Warcraft - it's spoken by a Nether Stalker on Celestial Ridge (level 68-70) just after you kill Wind Trader Marid. (thanks, Chris - Brisbane, Australia)