Not Fade Away: Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ Turns 40
In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we take a look at one of the most iconic and best selling albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.”
Pink Floyd‘s 1973 masterpiece Dark Side Of The Moon opens with a piece called “Speak to Me.” An album about conflict, aging and madness, it was perhaps unlikely subject matter for an album that would speak to more people than almost any other record ever. The numbers and figures do the talking. Over 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone; over 700 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart, including one week at No. 1. Not bad for an album inspired, at least in part, by the mental deterioration of the band’s original leader, Syd Barrett, who’d been dismissed from the group years earlier. On one hand, Dark Side was haunted by Barrett. On the other, it marked the moment where they truly found their voice as a Syd-less quartet.
Why does it still stand the test of time? Somehow, the production on the album has never sounded dated, as many other albums from the era seem to. But also, despite the fact that Floyd was never seen as a band of relatable “every men” (indeed, they were so “faceless” that no one seemed to mind when their chief songwriter Roger Waters quit the band in 1985 and they went on to record without him), the lyrics were so universal that anyone, old or young, rich or poor, could relate. “Dig that hole, forget the sun/When at last the work is done/Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one” is as universal as anything in Springsteen’s catalog.
In 1997, this writer spoke to Pink Floyd’s keyboardist Richard Wright, who passed away in 2008, about the impact of Dark Side Of The Moon, and about a funny rumor about the album that had cropped up at the time.
This was still years before the ’70s lineup of Floyd – Wright, bassist Waters, guitarist/singer David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason – reunited for 2005’s Live 8 concert. Bad blood was still in the air between Waters and the rest of the group, particularly Wright, who Waters fired after 1979’s The Wall. But when thinking back about the making of Dark Side, Wright said, “I do have good memories of recording the album, it was a very creative time for the band. Roger, myself and Dave were all co-writing the whole thing.”
He explained that Floyd had been working out the album in front of audiences before they went into the studio. “Before it became Dark Side Of The Moon, it used to be a piece called ‘Eclipse’ that we played live,” he said. “Later on, we went to Abbey Road [Studios] and turned it into Dark Side Of The Moon.”
While Dark Side sent the band from being a cult favorite to stadium headliners, it was the beginning of the end of the group as an equal partnership among members. Waters would begin to exercise more control in the years to come.
“Yes, it was the height of the band as a democracy,” Wright said. “Although [1975's] Wish You Were Here had a lot of co-written material, from 1977’s Animals onward, it tended to be material written by individuals.”
Without Wright saying it, it was understood that the “individual” who did a lot of solo writing was Waters. “Dark Side was written in the studio all together,” he explained.
In 1997, a strange rumor about Dark Side Of The Moon began making rounds: Known informally as “The Dark Side Of The Rainbow,” it was a strange urban legend that said that if you played the Dark Side Of The Moon while watching The Wizard Of Oz, parts of the film and the album seem to correspond at certain places, such as the Scarecrow dancing during “Brain Damage.” (If you actually want to try this, start playing the album when the MGM lion roars for the third time before the film starts.)
Wright seemed amused by the idea that the band were thinking about the classic film while making their album.
“I have heard of this, but I have yet to check it out,” he said. “When someone first asked me about this, I thought they were taking the piss. But to possibly disappoint lots of people: There is no connection between Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wizard Of Oz.”
At the time of our interview, Floyd were three years past their last tour for The Division Bell, where they performed Dark Side in its entirety. Wright still had a great fondness for the album, aside from the obvious benefits that came from the album’s success. He said that he listened to the album when preparing for the tour.
“One thing that struck me was how fresh it sounded,” Wright said of revisiting the classic album. “It struck a nerve… people want to listen to the whole thing and have that experience. It’s not just a collection of pop songs. In the technical sense, the way we recorded it, the quality of the instruments and the voices, it’s outstanding. That’s not boasting. I’m very proud of it.”