We continue our albums series with a look at Pink Floyd’s 1972 masterpiece Dark Side Of The Moon.
“There is no dark side of the moon… as a matter of fact it’s all dark”
So what is your favourite album? For music lovers that age-old question is one that most will tell you has no clear answer. Such are the vagaries of musical taste that it does little more that elicit a response loaded with provisionals and caveats. It’s not easy when so many great examples exist. However when push comes to shove, and if I simply had to choose because, say, someone stuck a gun to my head and demanded an answer (what a situation to find yourself in) then my answer would be Dark Side Of The Moon.
Why? Well that really is asking something, but y’know, as you’ve now got a gun to my head I’ll attempt to explain…
I can’t remember the first time I heard DSOTM, but I do remember two things: firstly that in my final year at school I borrowed a cassette copy from a girl I knew which I’m fairly sure I never returned (sorry Naomi!), and secondly that when I got a CD player for Christmas not long afterwards it was one of the first that I owned.
And even then, before I had properly engaged with the timeless themes of mortality, conflict, insanity, the brevity of life and the merciless nature of time running through it, I was awed by the musical journey that it took you on, the ebb and flow, the range of moods, the rich and rewarding melodies and chord changes, those soaring and beautifully lyrical guitar solos…
A few years later, as a bored late-teenager in a small rural town, the album’s conceptual side began to make more sense. Like when Gilmour sang the opening verse of ‘Time’:
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way”
What?? That was my life perfectly encapsulated in four lines. The sense of waiting around to die conveyed in that and other parts of the album is nothing revelatory, but the way lyricist Roger Waters spoke about it was in terms that were plain enough to be grasped by my naive young mind. I could relate, I understood. It spoke to me.
And it has continued to speak to me, becoming a constant musical companion, one I’ve never tired of or moved on from like so much of the other music I was listening to at that age. Often, teenage musical obsessions are outgrown, left behind, only for you to look back on years later with a vague sense of embarrasment. Some of it grows with you though, revealing itself in layers as you return to it again and again and again.
For example, it wasn’t until sometime in my mid-20’s that I can remember being moved to a flood of tears by the emotional swell of the first ‘loud’ part of The Great Gig In The Sky, as Clare Torry’s vocals soar higher and higher over Richard Wright’s beatific chords. It was later than that when I noticed, I mean really tuned in to, the perfect weight of the drop of the rhythm section over Wright’s organ after ‘Money’ fades in to the start of ‘Us & Them’. A small detail, but one that I now consciously appreciate every time I listen.
Ultimately, DSOTM works so well because it is an album, as opposed to a collection of songs, something conceived as a whole and presented as such. It’s not something I can listen to in part. If I’m in, I’m in for the whole ride, from heartbeat to heartbeat, as intended. In this age of increasingly fragmented listening it’s one of those records that still reminds me of the beauty of the album as a form of expression. 40 minutes, 10 songs, no filler – a perfect statement.
I could talk, as so many have already done, about the making of this album, or I could mention its status as one of the biggest selling albums of all-time, but I’m sure you’ve probably already heard all of that too. All I can say about an album that so much has already been said about is how I feel. There’s a clip in the Pink Floyd concert movie ‘Live At Pompeii’ of Floyd in Abbey Road studios working on what would become DSOTM where Waters says about music that the only thing that ultimately matters is whether or not it moves you. Forget the intellectuality of prog-rock, the only important thing, really, is whether music elicits some kind of visceral, emotional response.
And he’s right too. For all that this is a concept album none of that would matter if the music itself wasn’t so deeply and consistently rewarding, Pink Floyd made many great records (and indeed, many Floyd fans prefer their next release Wish You Were Here) but for me this is their masterwork, the album where the promise of their earlier post-Barrett records bloomed. DSOTM is a profound, soulful, beautiful record that sounds as good to my ears now as it ever has.
Is it my favourite album? Maybe. Can I think of a better one? No, I can’t. Now please, put the gun down…