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Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon [1973, Harvest Records]
by: astrotomato Saturday 19 July 2003
"Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs,
Got to keep the loonies off the grass"
It's often said that the Stones' 1969 Altamont gig was the event that killed the hippy dream. The stabbing and subsequent death of an 18-year old man by a Hell's Angel security guard put the coffin around the flower that had til then bloomed so sexually and brightly.
If that was the event that killed the hippy dream, then the album that did it was probably Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. Having started as a rhythm 'n' blues band, inspired in equal parts by Bo Diddley, The Beatles and Stockhausen, Floyd had helped to define the burgeoning youth revolution of late 60s London. Following the innocent psychedelia of their first album (Piper At The Gates Of Dawn), the band soon found their group dynamic mirroring the death of the hippy dream, as main creative influence Syd Barrett lapsed into drug addled incoherence.
Floyd's subsequent 6 albums (Saucerful Of Secrets, Ummagumma, More, Atom Heart Mother, Obscured By Clouds, Meddle) charted more experimental fields, as the Pink Floyd Sound developed. You can hear musical hints of Dark Side in the previous albums, and the lyrical themes it explores as Roger Waters' penmanship improved from his initial trite rhymes ("Doctor Doctor! I'm in bed! Gold is lead!" - Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk) through the first signs of his morose side ("If I was a good man, I'd understand the spaces between friends" - If), his biting acerbicness ("Envy is the bond between the hopeful and the dying" - Green Is The Colour) and the subject that fuelled much of his later works, the death of his father in World War II ("He was killed like a mole in a foxhole" - Free Four).
Through their first six albums Floyd attained a measure of respected success, that just about paid the bills. In the live video "Live At Pompeii" in which the band play an audience-free gig in an ancient Roman ampitheatre in Pompeii, the band can be seen recording Dark Side.. in cut away studio shots, and talking about their early days when they survived on the "breadline and less". Dark Side Of The Moon so completely changed their personal fortunes and the musical canvas that it can probably be said to have caused the destruction of this Pink Floyd Mark II in 1985, 12 years after the release of the album.
So much historical context. Vaguely successful band records bunch of experimental albums, and then... Then Roger Waters, bassist, lyricist and self-styled leader of the band took his architectural training, his love of classical music and his bitterness at never having 'got' the hippy thing, and conceptualised a song-cycle that would deal with life and death, and all the bits in between. It would reflect the world around him and finally convince all those still dozing with a Love Generation hangover that real life was shit, your friends have gone mad, you can't pay the bills, drugs are f****ing you up, too and there's no bugger around to help.
This is a dark album, make no mistake, and in the societal feedback loop that exists with all cultural product, it both picked up on and defined the feeling of the times.
"For long you live and high you fly, but only if you ride the tide,
balanced on the biggest wave, you race toward an early grave."
Dark Side Of The Moon would never have been so successful if Waters' bitterness had never been tempered by the natural melodicism of guitarist Dave Gilmour and keyboardist Rick Wright. Rock purists claim that Gilmour never really became a 'classic' guitarist until he conceived his solo on 1979's Comfortably Numb (from The Wall), however this album shows him using his guitar and a new generation of electronic goodies to define a sound, and heighten mood and melody, in a way that his hero Hendrix, who had done similar things on Electric Ladyland, would have been proud of.
On the inspirational electronica of track On The Run Gilmour uses the slide guitar tricks he developed on previous album Meddle's One Of These Days (I'm Going To Cut You Into Little Pieces), pushing them through what were then state of the art sound treaters, balanced against the wubbling sound of early synthesisers to build crashing walls of explosive feedback, whilst Time sees the first truly great Gilmour solo, a plaintive teetering-on-the-edge-of-cliff dance that would inspire, years later, a new generation of guitarists - stand up and be counted Bernard Butler, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.
Meanwhile, Rick Wright's apprenticeship in Jazz and Experimental Composers saw him come to the fore for the first time, dropping funky organ breaks (oh yes) into Any Colour You Like and conceiving one of the greatest pieces of emotion music ever - the piano and voice duet that is The Great Gig In The Sky, a wuthering, wailing, sobbing track that had been dropped from the soundtrack to 1969's Zabriskie Point, and which, in Waters' song cycle, represented a raging against the rush of death, and the accumulation of life under us as the tower to achieve it.
"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."
The success of Dark Side Of The Moon gave the kids of '67 the introspective leg-up to cope with the loss of their youth, and its themes are equally as relevant today. Post-War teenage revolution was dead (cf: the death of post Gulf War Britpop hedonism). The good times were gone, the world was a place of increased communication, and with it came an increased awareness that the promises of youth were a lie to protect you from the ravages of responsibility (cf: the boom of the 90s, resulting in the terror of fundamentalism, neo-conservatives and 'pre-emptive' actions).
These kids were no longer young, free and single. Burdened with kids, houses and jobs that didn't need a Jetsons' style jetpac to get to, the misery of the early 70s - the first energy crisis, the deaths of Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin - needed a voice for them to identify with. Today, 30 years after the release of Dark Side.., we are in a similar situation. Jeff Buckley is dead. Cobain is nine years cold. A new energy crisis is looming. The lyrics of Us And Them become ever more apposite:
"Us, and them
And after all we're only ordinary men.
Me, and you.
God only knows it's not what we would choose to do.
'Forward!' he cried from the rear and the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
moved from side to side. "
This is an album of universal themes, essential not just for its timeless lyrics, but also for developing Floyd's pioneering use of samples. Strewn throughout the album are snippets of interviews the band held with whoever was around the studios. Asking the interviewees to respond to simple questions ("When was the last time you were angry?" "Have you ever hit anyone?"), the vocal samples serve to subvert much of the melodic feel. Whilst you're carried away on the welling emotion of Great Gig.. you can just hear the creepy "If you can hear this whispering you are dying" floating under the music, for example.
Like all good albums, it's not just the music and lyrics that set this apart and make it essential. The artwork for the album cover has become one of the most recognisable images of all time. Against a matt black background, a green line traces a heartbeat across the gatefold of the original album format, turning white for the front cover, the line hits a prism and ejaculates into the 7 primary colours that form it. From another perspective, we could say that the rainbow of life from which the band and the idealism of youth are formed collapses and coalesces into a constricted narrow way, to become a fading heartbeat. The image is iconic, and still adorns many a student wall to this day.
As for me? Why, for me, is the album so essential? I grew up with this album. Born 7 months before it was released, my brain formed around the tones of this song cycle. This album was the soundtrack to my youth, and with the CD revolution, also the soundtrack to my adolescence. Listening to the songs still evokes memories that I can't often remember in any other way, in the same way that certain smells will trigger memories that remain otherwise locked away. Thirty years on I can - and do - still listen to this album, and it still sounds fresh. So many people have grown up being told that Pink Floyd are the supreme example of hippy prog rock, and yet when they're coaxed into listening to this album their attitudes change. The sarcastic ode to cash that is Money suddenly makes sense in the context of the album, the early warning against capitalism in Us And Them ("For want of the price of tea and a slice, the old man died") still rings true, and the bare bones philosophy of life in Breathe holds an allure that is hard for new listeners to escape:
"All you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be."
The best of our cultures transcends categories of mainstream or alternative and finds a place above all that. Lord Of The Rings is an example that is embraced by both Top 10 Book lovers and Alt.Cult Book lovers alike. Dark Side Of The Moon sits there too. On its first release it stayed in the US top 200 for almost 14 years.
If you haven't heard it, then "buy, beg, borrow or steal" a copy, close the curtains, settle yourself in front of the stereo, and give your life a treat. And if you want a multi-media treat, start the album at exactly the same time as a vid or DVD of The Wizard Of Oz for a bizarre coincidence in troughs and peaks of action and dynamism.
Well, the time is gone, the review is over... thought I'd something more to say.
[+] Dark Side Of The Moon was recently re-released to coincide with its 30th birthday. It is available in a quadrophonic mix (hey, the band invented it you know!) on Harvest Q4 SHVL 804, in both vinyl and SACD versions.
[+] All lyric quotes copyright Pink Floyd
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