This is the third post of my Floyd series. First one here. This will serve double-duty as part three of the series as well as my thoughts on a masterpiece.
In March of 1973, Pink Floyd released what was to be their crowning achievement, Dark Side of the Moon. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard this album. I do recall though that it was de riguer to roll one and light it up before getting lost in the sounds.
I no longer do that but I still get lost in the sound. It’s all here on this album, brilliantly portrayed – madness, the encroaching of age, making the days we have on earth matter. Life itself. Death. The human condition.
Roger Waters said he came up with “the specific idea of dealing with all the things that drive people mad. The album would focus on pressures the band were experiencing on the road: the strains of traveling and the problems of living, often abroad for great stretches of time, and coping with (and without) money.” He (and the band) wanted the album to maintain their trademark bombast while at the same time using lyrics that were more direct.
In some ways it’s a tribute to fallen founder Syd Barrett, whose loss the band never quite seem to get over. And in some ways it’s just a meditation on what it means to be alive. And maintaining – or losing – one’s sanity under the pressures of everyday life.
And while these are largely band compositions, the lyrics are primarily if not entirely Waters.’ And they’re fucking outstanding:
“And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun.”
“And when the band you’re in
Starts playing a different tune
I’ll see you on the
Dark side of the moon”
I cannot tell you what every word on this album means or entirely what it’s about. But like the best art – and that’s exactly what it is – it washes over you and creates a mood, a feel. It creates that mood – there’s no “story” per se – and sustains it consistently throughout the course of the album.
Part of its genius is the inclusion of quotes interspersed (seemingly) at random throughout the album. (“I’ve been mad for fucking years – absolutely years”). These were taken from questionnaires the band handed to roadies (that’s road manager Peter Watts, Naomi Watts’ father you hear laughing) and even the studio doorman.
And the music. Fantastic. The whole band shines. Wright wrote the ethereal “Great Gig in the Sky” but the band didn’t know what to do over the chord progression. Engineer Alan Parsons suggested singer Clare Torrey. Not even much of a Floyd fan, she came in having no idea what the band were seeking.
After a few attempts at singing “Yeah, yeah, baby, ooh,” Gilmour (coaxing her with a can of beer) told her, no, they wanted a wordless solo. She then figured, well, let me pretend I’m an instrument. And after a couple of takes, nailed it.
And let me here heap praise upon guitarist David Gilmour, who is now and will likely always be on my top ten list. “I wanted a bright, powerful lead guitar tone that would basically rip your face off,” Gilmour says. Per Rolling Stone (#14 on their Top 100 guitarists list), he is a “fiery, blues-based soloist in a band that hardly ever played the blues – his sprawling, elegant, relentlessly melodic solos were as bracing a wake-up call as those alarm clocks on Dark Side.”
Listen to how perfectly his piercing guitar complements “Money,” a great song and just about the most awesome guitar solo in the recorded history of mankind. With the exception, of course, of all of Gilmour’s other solos. Don’t even get me started on “Brick in the Wall,” or “Comfortably Numb.” (A great sax solo here too. Saxophonist Dick Parry was a member of Gilmour’s earlier band Jokers Wild):
I’m not sure how well-known this is but the band played the entire album live numerous times, both before and after its official release. They came to my area often enough so, like the Who, they were another band I missed in their heyday for reasons I can’t explain. I’m happy I got to see The Wall.
Anyway, not sure what else to say. If you’ve been living in a cave for forty years and never heard the album, do yourself a big favor and stream it. If you haven’t heard it for a while, check it out again.
I will here quote from Wikipedia (bold is mine): “The Dark Side of the Moon was an immediate success; it topped the Billboard Top LP’s and Tapes chart for one week and remained in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. With an estimated 50 million copies sold, it is Pink Floyd’s most commercially successful album and one of the best-selling albums worldwide.”
However, there is some dispute as to whether it was really on the charts for 15 years straight. What is not in dispute is that with 889 weeks (over 17 years) inside the Billboard 200 chart, it is by far the album with the most charted weeks in history. (Second is a Johnny Mathis album).
It has twice been remastered and re-released, and has been covered in its entirety by several other acts (Phish, Flaming Lips for two). The Dark Side of the Moon is Pink Floyd’s most popular album among fans and critics, and has been ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time.”
One in every 20 people under the age of 50 in the United States owns a copy of this album. My kids became familiar with it somewhat as a result of the silly but fun connection somebody tried to make between Dark Side and Wizard of Oz. (Dark Side of the Rainb0w). Don’t remember that? Just as well. The band dismissed it as a “load of bollocks.”
But if you’re curious, the movie’s here.
Next and final post – Floyd puts out more great stuff. Then sue each other. Then regroup for a big night.
Sources: The Complete Pink Floyd, Wikipedia.