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In March 1973, when I was finishing eighth grade (ouch), a song came floating through the AM Top 40 radio favored by my sister that sounded quite unlike most anything else my tender ears had yet to hear.
It rocked, at least a little, and lyrically decried materialism and pursuit of the almighty dollar; a message I was pretty familiar with, having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which even then was quite the liberal bastion. The song was “Money” by a band I’d never heard of with a funny name: Pink Floyd. With my semi-hard earned allowance, I bought the 45 and repeatedly played it, doubtless much to my parents’ annoyance.
As I quickly discovered, unlike the above radio edit, the actual 45 was uncensored. Thus, I became extraordinarily adept at quickly “adjusting” the volume level downward at the second verse’s conclusion lest my modest record collection be immediately diminished by one. My parents were quite strict in the morality department. But, I digress.
I didn’t buy the album at the time, which frankly is just as well due to it most likely being a bit more than my freshly pubescent mind could have handled. I was moody enough back then. While during the ensuing years, I heard everything on the album many times over courtesy of San Francisco freeform FM stations, it would be 15 years or so before I bought a copy on one of those newfangled CD thingys.
The album’s lore sales-wise is unparalleled. As of March 24, 2023, it has been on the Billboard charts 975 non-consecutive weeks, 736 of those consecutive. Its estimated worldwide sales to date are at least 40 million copies and more likely over 45 million, a number challenged solely by the number of remastered rereleases on CD and vinyl assorted record labels have tossed the fans’ way. With the album’s 50th anniversary this month — its original release came on March 1, 1973 — yet another remaster and release has hit the stores. Sonically, it differs little from the other remasters over the past decade or so. Therefore, we’ll look at the album itself; pick any release or rerelease you like.
If the Grateful Dead mastered music by which to get stoned, Pink Floyd conquered the kingdom of ‘Who Needs Drugs When You Can Listen To This.’
While “The Dark Side of The Moon” is more concisely song-oriented than its predecessors, the album retains the freeform, meandering muse of earlier Floyd works such as “Meddle.” Sonic effects such as ofttimes barely audible spoken word fragments shape “The Dark Side of The Moon” into something that, despite its construction as multiple individual pieces, is best experienced as a whole.
Rock’s grumpiest old man Roger Waters wrote all the album’s lyrics, none of which advance nor hinder its artistic quality. While much traditional and digital ink has poured forth over its content, nothing said on the album has a lasting impact. Collectively they are a dour lot, as evidenced by this snippet from “Breathe:”
Long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be
Waters make King Solomon’s weary musings in Ecclesiastes sound like a pep talk.
Musically is where the album stakes its claim as one of rock’s outstanding artistic achievements. The mostly subdued fills and flourishes characterizing the work gracefully lay atop thoughtful, thought-out melodies, whose memory worthiness far outstrip Waters’ cynical sputterings. Neither Waters nor David Gilmour possessed quality singing voices, but in the context of the album’s tenor worked nicely.
What artists wish immortalization for and what they are often associated with only sometimes coincide. In a television interview, the late Frank Zappa illustrated this point by discussing the late Jim Morrison of The Doors. Zappa discussed how Morrison sought acknowledgment as and for the lizard king. Zappa then added, “What is he actually remembered for? ‘Come on, baby, light my fire.’”
Whatever Roger Waters’ ambitions for “The Dark Side of The Moon” may have been, it is the music he and his bandmates composed that has remained; a mixture of brooding and soothing constructed for late-night musing. So, it has always been and will always be, even after (or if) humanity sets foot on the dark side of the moon.
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