Friday, March 23, 2012

Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" 39 Years Later

Today marks the 39th anniversary of the UK release of Pink Floyd's progressive rock classic, "The Dark Side of the Moon."  For people, especially men, of my generation, not much can be said about this record that hasn't already been said: upwards of 50 million copies sold, 14 consecutive years (!) on Billboard's album chart, continual play of its major songs on classic rock radio.  While I don't consider this the Floyd's best album—that honor would go to "Dark Side's" immediate successor, "Wish You Were Here"—familiarity has certainly not bred contempt, or even boredom.  That is the unfailing sign of a great record indeed.

"The Dark Side of the Moon" is justly famous for its innovative use of sound effects and meticulous production by none other than Alan Parsons, who had previously cut his teeth working on the Beatles' "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be."  Yet it is the songs themselves, thematically coherent and far tighter than previous efforts like "Ummagumma" and "Atom Heart Mother," that ultimately satisfy.  Songwriter and bassist Roger Waters's existential explorations of greed, consumerism, the passing of time, death, and mental illness—the last of which inspired by the LSD-derived insanity and departure of bandmate Syd Barrett—proved far more intelligent than anything else in the popular music of the day.  And the music!  The songs themselves are, on first listen, unassuming: slow- to mid-tempo rock, showing unmistakable influences from blues, jazz, and funk.  But it was with this album that guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour came into his own.  To this day, Gilmour's lethargic-but-searing solos remain sui generis in the rock 'n roll canon and continue to produce goose-flesh, especially when listening through a pair of good headphones.

My youthful introduction to this music came via the album's most famous song, the cynical "Money," which was played over and over on Philadelphia's WIBG during the summer of 1973.  Part of its appeal, no doubt, was its "naughtiness" quotient, enhanced by its inclusion, often erased, of the English equivalent of the Greek skybala.  But ultimately it was the music itself that grabbed this youthful music-lover by the throat and dragged him in: the unusual 7/4 time signature propelled by an inimitable Roger Waters bass riff, the funky Dick Parry tenor sax solo, and Gilmour's incendiary, double-tracked guitar solo in the standard 4/4 meter.

It wasn't until my college years that I ended up buying the album, and I was immediately regretful that I hadn't done so earlier.  It was then that I discovered what I now consider the album's best track, the existential classic "Time":
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say.
Particularly striking is Waters's allusion to Henry David Thoreau in the line, "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."  Perhaps such was particularly relevant in the first generation of British post-colonialism.  I, for one, see a much broader, even personal, application.  Education and preparing for life often take so much time that marriage and life itself are often postponed until more than half of our allotted three score and ten years are over—and yet we act as if that's not true.  Better, as St. Paul said, that we "redeem the time, for the days are evil" (Eph 5:16).

I leave you with a video of "Time" for your enjoyment and reflection:


  1. This is my number one album of all time. Even though I would take the Beatles as my favorite band overall, if I had to save only one record from a total musical apocalypse, it would be this one.

    There is a really great documentary floating around out there (you can get it on Netflix) featuring members of the band, notably Waters and Gilmour, discussing the album track-by-track. It is a must-watch for fans of the album or anyone interested in how truly magnificient albums - those with indefatigable legacies of influence and, as you say (and I agree), which never get old or seem boring now matter how many millions of times one hears them.

    I'd love to hear sometime how you have come to rate Wish You Were Here above DSOTM. We may have to agree to disagree, there.

  2. Thanks for letting me know about the documentary. I will definitely check it out. Choosing between DSOTM and Wish You Were Here is like flipping coins: it depends on the day. It tend to prefer the latter because it has less electronic filler and because the title track is, in my view, second only to Comfortably Numb in the pantheon of best Floyd tunes. But both albums are near the top of greatest rock albums ever recorded.