The 1970s, coming after the maturation of the high-fidelity stereo market but before the advent of home video, provided the right cultural and economic conditions for the heroic era of the record album. What’s happening On, Blue, Blood on the rails, Exile on Main Street, Born for Run, Rumors, And I: that these and other releases from the 1970s always rank high on the best of all time lists can’t be a coincidence. But no other mega-selling album of the decade achieved the combination of commercial and critical success that Pink Floyd did. The dark side of the moonwhich was originally released fifty years ago yesterday — and which remains on the Billboard charts to this day.
“In 1973, Pink Floyd was a somewhat well-known progressive rock band,” writes neuroscientist and record producer Daniel Levitin. The dark side of the moon “catapulted them into global rock star status.”
His masterful engineering “powered the music from any sound system to become an all-encompassing, immersive experience” featuring songs that “flow symphonically into one another, with a fluid musical coherence as if written as part of a single melodic and harmonic gesture.” Lyrical themes of madness and alienation connect throughout,” enlivened by “an array of new electronic sounds, spaciousness, pitch and time bending,” as well as “clocks, alarms, chimes, cash registers, footsteps” and other elements you don’t normally hear in rock. music.
This description comes from an essay Levitin wrote for the Library of Congress in 2012 when The dark side of the moon was included in the US National Recording Registry. For the album’s fiftieth anniversary, National Public Radio’s Morning edition invited him to psychoanalyze it on air. “The themes of madness and alienation pervade the record,” he says, referring to the story of the late Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett. But “we can’t know for sure which specific lyrics were about Barrett, as opposed, more generally, to mental anguish,” a condition that must afflict anyone too deeply into the rock star lifestyle.
in The dark side of the moonLevitin hears Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters’ metaphorical treatment of the difficult decision to fire Barrett, as well as his realization that “life doesn’t start later. It’s already started. And the idea of ’Time’ was to take the reins and start directing your own destiny.” As with the album as a whole, the theme is not only manifested in the words, but also in the sound space: “Right away they play with time. You hear that knock-knock sound, like a heartbeat or a clock ticking. And you think that the one above is a negative. But once the instruments come in, you realize you’re out of rhythm and everything is upside down. And your sense of time is distorted.”
The musicianship is partially responsible for the album’s massive success, but only partially. Storm Thorgerson’s iconic cover, which can still be seen on dorm walls today, also had something to do with its success as a cultural phenomenon as well as a consumer product. But it’s hard to sell more than 45 million copies to date without hitting the zeitgeist in a favorable light: as Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason said, “it wasn’t just about being a good album, it was about being in the right place . at the right time.” And with the album’s heroic age long behind us, The dark side of the moon — a newly recorded version that Waters announced just this year — will not be overshadowed.
Pink Floyd’s entire studio discography is now on YouTube: Stream studio and live albums
The The dark side of the moon Project: Watch an 8-part video essay on a classic Pink Floyd album
Check out Pink Floyd’s Making of Documentaries The dark side of the moon and I wish you were here
Download Pink Floyd’s 1975 comic program for The The dark side of the moon Visitation
Pink Floyd’s live studio cover The dark side of the moonPlayed from start to finish
“The Dark Side of the Moon” and other Pink Floyd songs performed by Irish and German orchestras
based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.