September 4, 2016

“I’ve been mad for fucking years…”

And so begins, to a background of clocks ticking and various other sound effects, one of – if not the – largest-selling albums of all time, Pink Floyd‘s The Dark Side Of The Moon.

One of the great turning points in my musical life took place somewhere around 1971, where on a Sunday night my brother Mark and I were looking at the TV listings in the local paper (this was, after all, long before the days of cable and remotes – heck, we thought UHF was an improvement over the half-dozen or so VHF channels our TV offered us!) and saw that the local PBS channel had a show called “The Pink Floyd, England’s Experimental Rock Band”. Well, being of our ages and the times that sounded intriguing to us, and tuning in we were floored both by the photography (all kinds of barren lands being flown over by some kind of aircraft with a camera suspended from it) and music unlike anything we had heard before.

And from that very moment we became huge fans of Pink Floyd. Mind you, this was in the days before the band became a household name with The Dark Side Of The Moon – to us they were just a cool band that played really unique music. After that special, we headed over to W.T. Grants, or, journeying into Boston by train, to the Jordan Marsh on Washington Street – they had the largest record department we knew of – to see what Pink Floyd record we could buy next (back in those days you couldn’t just drop a credit card on the counter and buy everything you wanted; we had limited funds and you had to make your choices judiciously!).

At any rate, through one way or another, we quickly learned the history of Pink Floyd: led by their eccentric and wildly-artistic leader and guitarist Syd Barrett they had released on of the great albums of the psychedelic era, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn before Syd suffered a monumental mental breakdown attributed to the ingestion of massive amounts of psychedelic drugs and ended up being replaced by David Gilmour. While we weren’t conscious of the band’s progression since then, we both thought their 1970 album Atom Heart Mother was awesome, as were the following releases Meddle and Obscured By Clouds. In all of these albums we’d zoned into what separated Pink Floyd from other bands: spacey, eclectic music with a definite reserved and distant, if not dark, view of the world.

I believe it was on one of those trips into Boston that, looking in the Pink Floyd bin so familiar to us, we saw a new release with that iconic cover so widely recognized to this day. I remember it had to have been on a Saturday, because by the time we came home it was already dark, and we were astounded not just at the very cool packaging, but with the ultra two-sided poster and graphics that came along with it: I recall that poster was pinned up on Mark’s wall in a jiffy.

As for the music, we obviously thought it was great, a step ahead of anything the band had put out prior. What we didn’t know at the time was that both the music and Roger Waters’ lyrics had a general theme in mind:

Following Meddle in 1971, Pink Floyd assembled for an upcoming tour of Britain, Japan and the United States in December of that year. Rehearsing in Broadhurst Gardens in London, there was the looming prospect of a new album, although their priority at that time was the creation of new material. In a band meeting at drummer Nick Mason’s home in Camden, bassist Roger Waters proposed that a new album could form part of the tour. Waters’ idea was for an album that dealt with things that “make people mad”, focusing on the pressures faced by the band during their arduous lifestyle, and dealing with the apparent mental problems suffered by former band member Syd Barrett. The band had explored a similar idea with 1969’s The Man and The Journey. In an interview for Rolling Stone, guitarist David Gilmour said: “I think we all thought – and Roger definitely thought – that a lot of the lyrics that we had been using were a little too indirect. There was definitely a feeling that the words were going to be very clear and specific.”

The Dark Side of the Moon‘s lyrical themes include conflict, greed, the passage of time, death, and insanity, the latter inspired in part by Barrett’s deteriorating mental state; he had been the band’s principal composer and lyricist. The album is notable for its use of musique concrète and conceptual, philosophical lyrics, as found in much of the band’s later work.

Of course, everyone knows by now that The Dark Side Of The Moon became more than just an album – like, perhaps, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and the Eagles’ Hotel California, there comes a point where an album becomes more than just an artistic statement, it becomes a phenomena that transcends anything the artist had originally conceived or intended in their wildest dreams. It’s a crazy thing that even though Dark Side held the #1 spot in the USA for only one week, it remained on the Billboard album chart thereafter for an incredible 741 weeks straight – you do the math.

So what makes this album worthy of the #6 spot on my top ten all-time list? Well, for one thing, the quality of the music and the themes it expresses as mentioned above have always hit home for me. I believe there’s a little madness in us all, and in some of us a little more than we’re comfortable admitting to. I would argue (others may disagree) that there are no truly great individual songs on Dark Side; it’s the way the general theme of the album weaves in and out through the lyrics, the music, and the sound effects: taken together they create the mood that makes Dark Side the transcendent listening experience that it is.

The two songs that stand out to me are the last two on the album: “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”, and it’s here one has to note the similarities in the sound between The Beatles Abbey Road and Dark Side: not only were they both recorded at Abbey Road Studios, they were both engineered by Alan Parsons, later of the Alan Parsons Project. Both of these tunes have a very Beatles-esque sound to them, most especially on “Eclipse” where the multi-layered guitar notes played over and over by David Gilmour resemble closely those played by John Lennon and George Harrison on Abbey Road‘s “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”.

Lyric-wise, both songs get to the very heart of what Dark Side is really all about: madness, the passage of time, and the seeming futility of it all, In “Brain Damage”:

The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

…and, the breathtaking (no other way to describe it) lyrics of “Eclipse”:

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

At the song’s close, all one is left with is a heartbeat fading into nothing, and the words, “There’s no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.” The effect is similar to that at the close of Sgt. Pepper when, after that final sustained piano chord fades to nothing, all you’re left with is the sense of, “Wow”.

It’s another lyric from “Brain Damage”, the last chorus, that would point Pink Floyd in its next direction, for it hints at the loss of their old mate and creative muse, Barrett:

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

…and it would be that theme the band would soon explore to greater depth in their follow-up release, Wish You Were Here – an album you’ll be hearing about very soon, I promise!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:27 | Comments Off on The Great White Shank’s Top Ten: #6: Pink Floyd “The Dark Side Of The Moon”
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