Friday, March 1, 2013

We're Only Ordinary Men: Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is 40

 Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd
Dark Side of the Moon
Rating: *****

By 1973, Pink Floyd had been through a lot. From lineup changes to unsuccessful albums, the band were still going despite not being very popular. However on March 1, the band released their eighth studio album Dark Side of the Moon. Not only was the album a success in their homeland of England but Pink Floyd had finally made it big in the United States. Four decades later, Dark Side of the Moon is seen as one of the greatest albums of all time as well as one of the most successful albums of all time.

            Pink Floyd were formed in 1965 in England. The band consisted of guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett, bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Richard Wright. The band started playing in clubs, including the UFO Club. The band caught the attention of EMI, who signed the band and in 1967, released their debut single “Arnold Layne”. The song charted at #20 in the UK charts and the follow-up “See Emily Play” charted at #6. The band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released in August 1967. The album was praised for its child-like approach and the songwriting of Barrett. By late 1967, the band were losing contact with Barrett as he became addicted to LSD. The man they once knew was no more. Barrett’s bizarre behavior hit its peak when during one gig, Barrett stood still for the entire show.

            In 1968, the band added guitarist David Gilmour as a fifth member to substitute for Barrett when he wasn’t around. Before the band could complete work on their second album, Barrett announced he was leaving the band. Aside from releasing two solo albums in the early 1970s, Barrett became a recluse until his death in 2006. With Barrett gone, the band had lost their main songwriter. Still, Pink Floyd went on. The albums that were released after the debut and before Dark Side were…

A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
More (1969)- soundtrack to the film of the same name
Ummagumma (1969)- a double live-studio album
Atom Heart Mother (1970)- include the 22 minute self-titled suite, composed with Ron Geeshin
Meddle (1971)- included the 23 minute track “Echoes”
Obscured By Clouds (1972)- another soundtrack but for the film La Valle

            All of these albums were group efforts but still, the band had yet to make an impression on US audiences. Recording for Dark Side of the Moon began in June 1972 and ended in January 1973. The album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London.

            Of the four band members, it was Waters who pitched the idea/concept for Dark Side of the Moon. The album was originally titled Eclipse but was soon changed. The songs on the album would all have a common theme: the everyday life of a human being. This would include things such as money, time, religion, and even insanity.

Song-by-song review

1.      “Speak to Me/Breathe”- The first part of this song is called “Speak to Me” which serves as an introduction to the sounds and music that will be heard throughout the album. This then goes into “Breathe”, a calming and sooth psychedelic track. The keyboard playing of the late Rick Wright stands out and it should. According to Wright, he was inspired by the chords used in Miles Davis records and the emotion of them. As for lyrical themes, it seems to be about the freedom of being human and making choices. It’s a great track, with great double-tracked vocals from Gilmour.

2.      “On the Run”- The song that you hear on this album isn’t what the band had originally planned. When Dark Side was being written and performed, “On the Run” was originally titled “The Travel Section/Sequence”. It was more of a psychedelic guitar jam accompanied by keyboards. The band were looking for something different and they found this in a synthesizer (or an EMS VCS 3 to be exact). It works for the track as well as the album.

3.      “Time”- “Time” is a song that is considered one of the band’s best songs. Personally, it’s my favorite song from the album as well as my favorite song by Pink Floyd overall. The clocks that set off at the beginning of the track were all recorded individually in an antique shop. The two minute passage after the clocks has Mason on Rototoms while the tick tocks are coming from two strings off of Waters’ muted bass. The lyrics for “Time” are pretty simple. It’s a about how time just seems to fly by and before you know it, you’re older. Gilmour and Wright share lead vocals while Gilmour wails during the guitar solo. The song does go into a brief reprise of “Breathe” at the end, which is nice. Overall, it’s my favorite Pink Floyd song.

4.      “The Great Gig in the Sky”- This soul-ridden track was originally titled “The Morality Sequence” when it was played live by the band in 1972. Wright would play his Hammond organ to the sounds of preaching via tape. So in short, “The Great Gig in the Sky” is the religious song on Dark Side. The song was recorded as a basic band jam and was left as that until Alan Parsons brought in singer Clare Torry. Torry went in the studio and recorded the improvised vocal track that you hear on the album. Torry’s vocals do give the track a sort of gospel feel in some ways. In subsequent years, Torry sued the band for not receiving co-writing credit for the track, being that the vocals were improvised. Subsequent reissues of Dark Side credit Torry as a co-writer as a result.

5.      “Money”- “Money” was to be the lead single for the album when released in 1973. The song opens up with one of the most recognizable bass lines ever written. According to Waters, “Money” was originally a blues track in a demo Waters recorded before it became a rock track. Waters described the demo as “Transatlantic” but also “prissy and very English.” “Money” is also notable for its strange time signature of 7/4. The song is basically about money and how one spends it. The song also features a saxophone solo from Dick Parry and a great guitar solo from Gilmour.

6.      “Us And Them”- One of the best known songs off of Dark Side was actually written several years before it was recorded for the album. Pink Floyd helped provide the soundtrack for director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point in 1970. Wright was asked to compose a piano track for the violence sequence in the film. When Antonioni heard the final product, he didn’t like it and complained it was “too sad” and made him “think of church.” The piece wasn’t used until the band were working on Dark Side. Using Wright’s piano piece, the band pretty much made it into “Us and Them”. The song, according to Waters, asks the question whether or not the human race is capable of being humane. The song becomes more powerful during the chorus/bridge where Gilmour and Wright share lead vocals, accompanied by female back-up singers. It’s a beautiful song and very much in the vein of progressive rock.

7.      “Any Colour You Like”- Of the nine songs off of Dark Side, “Any Colour You Like” is sort of the forgotten track from the album: there’s barely anything written about the track. It is an instrumental and it’s a pretty good one. Gilmour’s guitar playing is great and very psychedelic as well. There is dispute over the song’s title but for what it is, it’s a good song.

8.      “Brain Damage”- The album starts to wrap up with “Brain Damage”, a song that explores the last theme of the album: insanity. According to Waters, the song was obviously inspired by Syd Barrett and how he went crazy. Waters also says that the song is about “the notion of being different.” The chorus uses the album’s title, which has resulted in people incorrectly referring to this song as “Dark Side of the Moon.”

9.      “Eclipse”- This is the second part of “Brain Damage” which brings the album full circle. It almost serves as the bookend to the album, mentioning all of the themes covered on the album. It’s a brilliant way to end the album with the band just letting it all out in this full-blown psychedelic track. Abbey Road Studios doorman Gerry O’Driscoll is the man who gives the speech at the end about if there is a dark side of the moon.

 When released on March 1, 1973 Dark Side of the Moon sky rocketed to the top of the charts. It was a huge success, selling millions and millions of copies. It held the #1 spot on the Billboard charts for just one week but the album stayed there on the charts for an impressive 741 weeks. It’s up there with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and AC/DC’s Back in Black as one of the best selling albums of all time, having sold 50 million copies.

            With the success of Dark Side, Pink Floyd were able to continue with their career. Forty years later, Dark Side of the Moon is still seen as a classic album. It’s also amazing for a band that was pretty much unknown to all the sudden release an album that millions buy. With this exposure to classic rock music in the last decade or so, perhaps a whole new generation of people will go out and buy this album.

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