Today marks the milestone of being 40 years ago that one of the great rock records of our age was released in America, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The record from the British quartet, who created sonic platters of transcendent and translucent sights and sounds, psychedelic rock done multi-tracked and highly adventurous, was a concept album which quadrophonically reached the entire universe on a collective level, both on the mainstream and the cult, creating genres and subgenres of lifestyles and became one of the greatest selling records of all time in the process.
By the time Dark Side of the Moon was released on March 1, 1973, Pink Floyd had already been a sonically swinging juggernaut, a blues unit mixed and melded with drug-laced and addled sounds and flavors of the late 1960s, utilizing jams and instrumentations that when played, created aural emotional tunnels within its listener to be pushed and lifted to different planes within themselves. They became out-of-body experiences in a metaphorical and even literal sense, even more so if one ingested many narcotics that were on hand and in a strange way, like Bob Marley’s work, came to be associated with Pink Floyd by that proxy, something that the band, however, had never consciously promoted.
But that remains the truth, and there are and have been just as many people who swear by Dark Side of the Moon as being THE ultimate drug record, a perfect companion piece to their lifestyles of libations, marijuana, and psychedelic drugs primarily. You will, on your travels through life, meet just as many people who will exclaim and trumpet how amazing the album is when listened to in a state of being “high” as much as being sober and for some, even more so. The sonic collage of a patchwork of sounds and the easy to digest, yet still intense, haunting, and direct instrumentation created by the group, seems to make this possible, whether it was a conscious decision or not. Dark Side of the Moon is one of the top five “headphones” records of all time, and it becomes a completely different and immersive experience for most of one’s five senses when listened to in that manner. During its original wave of much talked about and dissected success during the 1970s, scores of listeners would swear by hearing it only in that manner, and hi- and lo-fi record players and 8-track players across the planet would be blasting Dark Side feverishly and constantly, albeit quietly, since the sounds were challenging the listener through their headphone jacks on their receivers, supplying them with their own personal “headtrip.”
But Dark Side of the Moon remains so much more than just a sonic-gram for the post-hippie and decadent individual. It’s an adventurous record to the hilt, which has as much to do with its fervent lyrics as anything else, penned by the great Floyd bass player/singer Roger Waters. Already dabbling with themes of the personal on prior records, but still mainly speaking of surreal detachment, on Dark Side, which remained the first instance in which he spoke of a more humanistic, personal detachment that one experiences from all the facets of life one has to deal with, Waters describes the kind of intimidating, yet essential and paramount factors we all go through, which shape our well (and sometimes not so well) being. A practice he would soon use for the rest of his tenure with Floyd (on great follow up albums to Dark Side like Wish You Were Here, Animals, and the major masterpiece The Wall, which stands side by side with Dark Side of the Moon as the apex of Floyd’s talents), Waters’ lyrics are anything but lyrical. They are more like mini-operas of syntax, each and every one in a rhyming sense, exposing in full raw unapologetic glory, trials, and foibles of our existence, be it the urgency of having to get personal and universal achievements done (“Time”), or fascination and obsession and ultimately warning of ruination with financial and capital gains (the memorable hit “Money”), violence and untrusting wanton of individuals and one’s forcibly having to survive in a sink or swim manner (“Us and Them”), paranoia and schizophrenia (“Brain Damage”), and even instrumental allegories which speak of death (“The Great Gig in the Sky” with some powerfully stratospheric vocal chanting supplied by session singer Clare Torry), repetitive strains of endless labryrinthian serpentine confusion (“On the Run”), and an interlude of self-examination and free floating charm (“Any Colour You Like”). But ultimately before the proceedings begin and we are asked to go down the helter-skelter of facing the record’s message, we are given pause by way of a heartbeat (which opens and closes the record), and asked to reflect and relax before taking flight (“Breathe”).
The musicality which accompanies the aforementioned songs which make up this record are also as eclectic and highly original as the lyrical content included within. Anchored by a taut rhythm section in Waters’ bass playing and drummer Nick Mason’s perfectly slotted in drum lines, and underpinned by the late Richard Wright’s keyboards and piano passages which add dimensions to each song, it’s ultimately the guitar noodling of David Gilmour (who also contributes lead vocals on many of the songs) that makes this album the one that it is. His playing on Dark Side, equal parts intense, superb, quiet, out and out rocking and sometimes mixes of all four elements, put him squarely on the levels of some of the greatest men ever to play the instrument. Whereas the prior Floyd albums were good (Saucerful of Secrets, More, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle), and they were successful on a cult level of loyal fans which made the Floyd audience base grow bigger and bigger with each subsequent Floyd release, it took Dark Side of the Moon to make the world really stand up and take notice of what grand musicianship Pink Floyd had, their playing, and their songwriting craft. It put them under a microscopic standard of pressure that forced them to have each release post Dark Side to have to contain the same elements, and it may have been pressures that eventually splintered the communal fabric of the group which is so evident on Dark Side.
With its memorable black cover with its triangular prism which takes a simple beam of white light and morphs it into a series of rainbow-laden lines stretching into perpetuity, a cover which is now instantly recognizable and synonymous with the album, Dark Side of the Moon ushered in an era in which rock and roll became a somewhat thinking man’s game. For sure, the progressive rock movement and even The Beatles already laid down the blueprints for this kind of thing, but a lot of it was too highbrow for the layman. That progressive rock scene, although mired in somewhat successful and mostly superb instrumentation, ultimately had its collective and metaphoric noses in the air, with holier than thou stances which truly alienated its audiences and made the common bonds divided more than anything. But with Dark Side of the Moon, it’s almost as if Pink Floyd singlehandedly brought this kind of music to the masses, the layman, the everyman, and not by dumbing it down by any means. In fact, if anything, it lifted it up, and showed people that there was something to be gleaned from listening to rock and roll records and that while of course it was fine to simply spin an album and have a good time (ala Chuck Berry or Little Richard), that rock and roll could also be a vessel in which to expose everything one could about our fears, nightmares, wants, desires, rants and raves, and needs. And it could be done without being fascist preachy or teachy. Dark Side of the Moon succeeded on that level and so many more; the messages included within were really just a bonus for an album that already hit the high notes in terms of instrumentation, musicality, production, and achievement. There are so many other records which are considered the all-time best, that don’t even come close to hitting the main targets that Dark Side of the Moon hit again and again.
So today, dust off your old copy of Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl, or listen to any of the newly remastered versions of the record, which sound rich, robust, and flawless, one of the few times remastering actually enhances the original genuine article. For most, it will be playing it for the ten-thousandth time, a record which could actually be played a million times, and still never lose its out-of-the-sleeve newness, never tarnish its reputation or give one a sense of boredom after being spun so many revolutions. That alone speaks in volumes of the grand performance and conquest of one’s senses Dark Side of the Moon is able to attain. Breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care. Happy 40th Dark Side, here’s to the next 40, 80, 120 years, and beyond.