WSJ: Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ Turns 50


Reposted from Wall Street Journal 

The British band’s 1973 album has a hypnotic rock sound and songs that explore the forces—greed, sadness and war, among others—that erode one’s sanity.

By Marc Myers, March 15th, 2023

When Pink Floyd fired co-founder, songwriter and frontman-guitarist Syd Barrett in 1968 as a result of his rampant use of LSD and subsequent mental illness, they never told him. Instead, they just didn’t pick him up on their way to a performance in England. Through trial and error, the band figured out how to fill Barrett’s creative shoes after they officially parted ways later that year.

By 1971, with the release of “Meddle,” few rock bands were dreaming on Pink Floyd’s scale. To cope with their Barrett guilt and growing creative differences, the quartet, with David Gilmour now lead vocalist and guitarist, began using their albums and concerts as a form of therapy. For their eighth studio album, bassist and lyricist Roger Waters envisioned an LP that would explore a single concept—the forces that chip away at one’s sanity.

The result was “The Dark Side of the Moon,” evoking both the mysterious, sunless lunar rear and the centuries-old belief that the moon influenced moods and was responsible for lunacy. Released 50 years ago, the album reached No. 1 on Billboard’s LP chart for a week but has since remained on the chart for nearly 1,000 weeks, selling more than 50 million units worldwide.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary, Sony Music is releasing a new deluxe boxed set of the remastered studio album on CD, LP and Blu-Ray and DVD audio, and for the first time in Dolby Atmos, as well as a CD and LP of “Live at Wembley Empire Pool,” recorded in London in 1974.

As a runaway bestseller, “Dark Side” had a considerable impact on rock and rock fans, scaling up expectations for album production and concert performances. Among those influenced by the early futuristic soundscapes and textured use of synthesizers and vocals were Steve Miller on his album “Fly Like an Eagle,” Brian Eno and David Bowie on their collaborative records, and 10cc, Kraftwerk, Radiohead and the Flaming Lips.

Yet “Dark Side” produced only one major Billboard pop hit—“Money,” which reached No. 13. There were no teeth-rattling rockers, and the entire album seemed to move in slow motion, as if weightless. Sales were driven by a confluence of external events.

The record arrived just as arena concerts were catching on. Pink Floyd widely toured music from “Dark Side” leading up to its release and again after it came out. Meanwhile, more affordable and better-quality component stereo systems maximized appreciation of the LP’s sonic quality and electronic effects. And manned Apollo moon landings had become routine, with two in 1972. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (1969), “Life on Mars?” (1971) and “Ziggy Stardust” (1972) along with Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (1972) had created a market for solar-system rock.

Though many at the time viewed the record as musings on the universe, Mr. Waters told Rolling Stone in 1987: “None of those pieces were about outer space. They were about inner space.” In 2003, he added in Britain’s Uncut magazine that the album was about “things that could impinge upon one’s life in an emotional or physical way.”

As a concept album, “Dark Side” still captivates, like an adventure story. One song drifts seamlessly into the next, relying on extended instrumentals to tie them together. The music is remarkably gentle and hypnotic, while the lyrics are of their time, examining such issues as madness, sadness, empathy, war, materialism and human existence.

Mr. Waters wrote the words for all 10 tracks, while the music was composed by different band members—keyboardist Richard Wright, Mr. Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and Mr. Waters, with vocalist Clare Torry co-credited on one. “Breathe (In the Air)” has a calming, inhale-exhale quality. Mr. Gilmour’s vocal here and throughout is euphoric. Lyrics urge listeners to live out their dreams now, before regrets set in: “Breathe, breathe in the air / Don’t be afraid to care.”

“Time” looks at how little of it there is in life to do something meaningful. The vocal overdubbing is expansive, and the lyrics chastise those who “fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.” The song features superb guitar work by Mr. Gilmour.

“The Great Gig in the Sky” centers on the fear of death. Ms. Torry was brought in to wind down the song and came up with a wordless, howling vocal.

Laced with sounds of an old cash register, adding machine and tinkling coins, “Money” is a reverb-heavy, anti-greed screed in 7/4 time. Mr. Gilmour toughens up his vocal and provides a searing guitar solo with Dick Parry on sax.

The high point is Mr. Wright’s misty “Us and Them,” originally written for the film “Zabriskie Point” (1970) but rejected as too sad. Reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Because,” the lyrics are about the senselessness of war.

In the closer, “Eclipse,” the moon is once again taken to task for being a drag: “And everything used under the sun is in tune / But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”

Despite the lyrics’ now clichéd plea for a better world, “The Dark Side of the Moon” remains a radical, large-canvas synthesizer-and-choral masterpiece. Sadly, Mr. Waters’s antisemitism, recent pro-Putin harangues and seemingly irrational acrimony toward former band members have undercut the album’s tranquility.

The bigger Pink Floyd became, the more they ran afoul of the traps that “Dark Side” warned about, including greed, wasted time and dashed dreams. Blame it on the moon.

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