August 27 – Bonus Bit : Pink Floyd

It’s that time again… my sixth piece for Hanspostcard’s Slice the life summer event whereby I, and nine other fine music writers, review ten great albums a piece over 100 days (or so.) Today, I look at one of the truly iconic pieces of the 1970s…

A different kind of album for my next pick. A piece of cultural bedrock that’s about as iconic as they come in pop (and rock) music but far from typical or easy to describe. Hope I have some headphones with me, because my sixth album is made to be heard through them – Pink Floyd‘s huge 1973 opus, Dark Side of the Moon.

My last pick, Scarecrow, was a somewhat unified-sounding collection of songs, and a good one at that. Dark Side of the Moon is unified-sounding, but to me doesn’t even seem a collection of songs. Rather, it is a work. It’s a full-blown symphony put into the context of modern instruments, 20th-Century concerns and rock sensibilities. So popular and renowned is it that if there ended up being aboriginal natives on the “desert island”, I bet they’d come on in and say “Oh, Pink Floyd” if I started playing the album; many a 90-year old with dementia could probably name the record just from looking at the iconic prism and rainbow album cover designed by rock’s best visual artist, Storm Thorgerson. But so meaningless are the song titles and breaks that I imagine half the diehard fans who’ve had the album in their collection for four decades could identify it with about four seconds played from anywhere in the record… but couldn’t name half the “songs” on it.

Pink Floyd were incredibly ambitious and energetic back in the day. Even though their original leader, Syd Barrett had succumbed to a combination of mental illness and drugs so much as to be kicked out of the band and relegated to the sidelines of society, the band had rolled along. Dark Side… was already their eighth LP in only six years of existence. Along the way, they’d veered from a rather band that favored rather pop-py, psychedelic short, standalone songs into a much more complex, prog rock outfit. As well, as Barrett’s departure initially left a vacuum in the band’s leadership, when it came to writing and charting their course, that role was more and more being taken over by Roger Waters. A few years later it was essentially Roger Waters and hired hands making music, but this still showcased the band when David Gilmour had considerable input and Richard Wright co-wrote five of the album’s pieces. Even drummer Nick Mason was credited with composing one song, “Speak to Me.”

Those who argue the record is a bit pompous and overblown wouldn’t necessarily get an argument from me. Then again, many things we love – fireworks displays, Macy’s parades, weddings, Christmas trees – could be said to be the same. It is the flash and over-the-top quality which makes them special. So too Dark Side of the Moon. And a note to those few rock fans who dislike the album – if it’s too orchestral, overblown and ethereal for you, at least thank it for punk. As much as any album, it was probably responsible for the likes of the Ramones and Sex Pistols who popped up a couple of years later more or less as a reaction to the “excesses” of contemporary rock as they saw it. It also probably can be thanked for leading to the Alan Parsons Project, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Dark Side… was rather unlike anything else on radio back then. It really highlighted Richard Wright’s keyboards and proficiency with synthesizers, a rarity still in the early-’70s. And it was an album of sound effects. From cash registers and clinking coins to helicopters to a cacophony of alarm clocks ringing and Wings’ member Henry McCullough’s random adlibbing “I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time” on “Money”(the record was recorded at the Abbey Road Studios the Beatles loved, during their days and later when working solo so presumably McCartney’s band was sharing the space with Floyd), there were lots of things going on. And a sonic landscape painted by Alan Parsons who did things like run numerous tape loops, play piano pieces backwards, bring in Clare Torry to add her lyric-less operatic wailing on “Great Gig in the Sky” and record it all on a state-of-the-art 16-track recorder. For all that, the band only gave him minor credit as “engineer” – most producers do far less and get more pay and more prominent notice on records – which, it’s suggested miffed him enough as to use his skills to make records of his own, which became Alan Parsons Project.

While Waters suggests the album is a concept about “empathy” and the “human experience” (hence the heartbeat sounds which open and close the album) it’s a stretch. Then again, pretty much any record not about UFOs is likely about the “human experience,” is it not? Some of the lyrics are fine and contain great little bon mots – “don’t be afraid to care”, “ Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today” – the thing that ties it together and makes it memorable is the actual music and the way the album rolls up and down, but steadily forward like a tide. The songs all segue together quite like many symphonies but unlike most rock albums. So much is the effect that it sounds quite jarring and well, wrong, to hear a track like “Time” or “Eclipse” isolated and played as a single track on radio, or to get one of the early editions of the CD release which had tiny breaks between each track. Don’t get me wrong. The songs on it are quite great; “Time”, “Us and Them” and “Breathe” are the absolute standouts to me that rank at or near the top of anything the band ever did. Still, this is an album to be listened to from start to finish, 43 minutes at a time.

Wright notes “it was not a deliberate attempt to make a commercial album (although) we knew it had a lot more melody than previous Floyd albums.” I believe that. Melodic yes, outwardly commercial no. It came out at a time when “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” and “Crocodile Rock” were smash hits. It would seem Pink Floyd went out of their way to make a work that would get overlooked and ignored and against all odds, had turn into a hit. A hit it was by the way; their first #1 album in the States, Canada and New Zealand; a record 900+ weeks on the Billboard album sales chart and up there with Thriller and Rumours with its worldwide sales nearing 50 million. But that isn’t what makes the album great any more than the omnipresent “laser shows” run in tandem with the music at planetariums everywhere in the ’80s and ’90s were. It is just a great record.

To get ready for this review, I listened to it again a couple of times in the car. It sounded ok. Huh? That’s not too complimentary, is it? But that’s the point. Dark Side isn’t an album to be heard in six minutes snippets when driving through city traffic on a hazy, 95 degree afternoon. It’s an album to lie back and become absorbed by, let take you away for three-quarters of an hour. There’d be no traffic jams on a desert island and I’ll have records to listen to in short bursts to pump me up and get me going. This is the quintessential, “turn the motor to idle, and slow it down and chill out for the night” kind of record we all need sometimes.


15 thoughts on “August 27 – Bonus Bit : Pink Floyd

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    Very well written Dave. This album I’ve known since I was a kid. I didn’t know every song back then but everyone was wearing this T-shirt. This one and the Wall are the two albums they did that transcended beyond rock audiences. Most everyone knew about this album that didn’t necessarily listen to it.
    The chart run was crazy for this one.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        It was a very good pick… heck I last had an album on Aug 17th and because of the draft order…my next one isn’t until Wednesday! I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve written 2 reviews and another half review for another…so I’m stacked up and ready. Unless I change my mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Luck of the draw, eh. I was one of last in round 5 & one of first in this, so I only had 3 days in between (Cinci & I ended up flipflopping yesterday & today because I somehow didn’ t attach file in first e-mail to Hans) but I think next is well into Sept. Have 3 or 4 I’ m thinking about for next couple. Interesting to see all the picks so far!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. badfinger20 (Max)

        I’m seriously thinking of taking a band twice…I think you know what band it is…anyway I’ll decide in the last round. I have most of mine planned out now but I’m thinking hard making sure I’m not missing any album.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry I missed this yesterday. It’s a fantastic write up, really. Interesting observation about how older, long-time fans might have trouble naming the actual song titles. I’m one of those people, so I chuckled. This album is beloved across social lines. I remember a party I hosted in college once, attended by a rather varied group of people. By the end the of the evening I had put this on and cranked the volume, and someone else turned the lights down and a bunch of us strange dudes from different walks of life just sat around on the floor listening without saying a word, passing a bottle of Jim Beam around the room.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you!
      that sounded like a good party… I’m more of a beer guy than Jim Beam, but I guess by the end of the night the effect is similar! It’s definitely a night-time, when all else is quiet kind of an album.


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