PINK FLOYD'S DARK SIDE OF THE MOON,
AGED 25 on March 24, one of the great monumests of rock25 on March 24, is one of the great monuments of rock history - as overwhelming aesthetically as it is statistically. That is, it's pretty dazzling that the album has sold around 29 million copies worldwide, already the biggest album by a British band ever, but is still shifting a million more every year; that despite never reaching Number 1 in the UK, it stayed in the Top 75 for 310 consecutive weeks from the day of its release and, even now, puts in a periodic appearance during the record token season (Number 72 again just after New Year '98); that in America, where it did make Number 1 just once, it swanned around the Billboard Top 200 for 740 straight weeks, more than 14 years; that when Billboard introduced an American Back Catalogue chart in the early '90s, it went straight to Number 1 and has stayed in the Top 5 ever since.
But it remains even more impressive to listen to it. What's more it's not at all a sign of age or an admission of guilt in the court of cool to admit admiring it or, perhaps, loving it. Since punk gave Pink Floyd a generational kicking, Dark Side Of The Afoon has persuaded successive new waves of musical modes that their veteran credentials hold good. If anything, the '90s have regarded them withparticular fondness. When dance music exploded and declared everything that went before obsolescent, the chart-topping Shamen were suddenly observed, hands aloft, proclaiming Pink Floyd a major source and inspiration. When Britpop reasserted the primacy of three-minute song, guitar and good time, there were Radiohead wafting airily through the jostling crowd with the weird, engrossing OK Computer, and a skein of reviewers enquiring who they'd been consorting with on the dark side of the moon, ha-ha.
Pink Floyd are influential yet. Dark Side Of The Moon is the reason why, their sine qua non. Without it, they might have remained a fascinating eccentricity of the post-hippy
era. After all, to return to those commercial indicators of status, none of their six previous albums had sold more than 250,000. Their 1967 Top 10 single, See Emily Play, proved their last hit for 12 years. In America, their albums had never risen higher than Atom Heart Mother's Number 55 in 1970.
The question "Why Dark Side Of The Moon?" is honestly unanswerable except by generalities. The key appears to be the acute balance of opposites. It's full of electronics, technology, sound effects, svnthesizers. snace. intellectualitv. but it's also full of soul, bigemotions, voices singing and speaking from the heart, guitars andsaxophones doing the same. It's full of great big noises - and quietness that's almost subsonic.
Then there's the language. Quite consciously, Roger Waters concentrated on symbols of simple, fundamental extremes: "the sun and the moon, the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the life force as opposed to the death force," as he once put it. And somehow this did not rome across as an academic exercise, an ABC of poetic imagery - perhaps because of what he expressed once when explaining what the album's title, taken from the song Brain Damage, meant to him: "The line 'I'll see vou on the dark side of the moon' is me speaking to the listencr, saying, I know you have these bad feelings and impulses, because I do too, and one of the ways I can make contact with you is to share the fact that I feel bad sometimes."
But plenty of artists can explain their work quite lucidly. It doesn't necessarily mean their music will touch millions for a quarter of a century. Part of the album's power must lie in the background and experience of the four members of Pink Floyd. All of them middle-class, they had been touched bv the mental discipline and orderliness of a decent education; Roger Waters and Nick Mason studied architecture and Rick Wright classical piano.
But only up to a point. Then they veered away into the electronic underground of late '60s London. Although they never lost the quintessentially English emotional reserve they all share, Pink Floyd learnt to dig out of themselves a sliver of the wildness of their friend Syd ', Barrett, the endless improviser, and they learnt to bring to bear some of the hard feelings they admired in R&B (Gilmour's forte) and traditional blues (which Waters grew up with via the cultural milieu ofhis mother's radical politics).
Beyond such rationalisation, naturally, lies an unfathomable 90 per cent of the music, the music makers and the way their listeners respond to them. For sure, Pink Floyd thought they had made a great album and then millions of other people did too. But within that satisfactory outcome, many of the detailed ramifications had nothing to do with the band's character or intentions.
Dark Side Of The moon was widely enjoyed as great drug music, the soundtrack to a perfect trip on the listener's narcotic vehicle of choice. It was widely assumed that Pink Floyd wrote and recorded the album while similarly loaded. But, interviewed by MOJO for this feature, David Gilmour insists that this is one of the great, enduring misconceptions about Pink Floyd. "Roger's and Nick's largest indulgence was alcohol, mine and Rick's might have involved the occasional reefer," he allows. "But at that time we were nothing like our image. I'm not sure Roger's ever taken LSD - it certainly wasn't on our menu after Syd left [April, 1968]. We've never got away from that reputation, though, not to this day."
By late 1971, when they started to write Dark Side Of The Moon, Gilmour was the only unmarried member of Pink Floyd. Mason and Wright both had their first children. They were serious men with serious lives making a serious album. But success took it beyond their control, beyond their plans, beyond anything they meant (or thought they meant). The fate of The Great Gig In The Sky, closing vinyl side one, perhaps best illustrates how far music can get away from its creators. Conceptually proposed as the track about death, in the '70s it was known to be the favourite backing tape for Amsterdam sex shows. Then in 1990 Australian radio listeners voted it The World's Best Song To Make Love To. And in 1994 Neurofen adopted it, through a facsimile re-recording, as their soundtrack to a godawful headache and its cure. Magic is a funny business.
PINK FLOYD'S DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (2)