“The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd (1973)

A bunch of random noises. A heartbeat. Disembodied voices. A scream.

So starts the album that stayed on the charts for 741 consecutive weeks, back when that actually meant something. No half-decent record collection of the era was complete without Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” usually on its second or third copy.

Since its release, that’s the album the typical audiophile plays to demonstrate the fidelity of his sound system. So back in the days of vinyl, you had to pick up a pristine version every once in a while. Thus its longevity among the top-sellers.

Then came the compact disc, and the sales kind of plunged. But thanks to constant reissues, including the “Immersion Edition,” the album still racks up enough sales to help earn Pink Floyd’s surviving members plenty of … well, “Money.”

“The Dark Side of the Moon” came together as the band was working with director Adrian Maben on the film “Pink Floyd at Pompeii,” which contains scenes of members working on the eventual album. Accused at the time of relying too much on machines to make music, bass player Roger Waters contends in the movie:

It’s like saying, “Give a man a Les Paul and he becomes Eric Clapton.” But it’s not true. And give a man an amplifier and a synthesizer, and he doesn’t become us.

The synthesizer – specifically, the EMS VCS 3 – indeed is the dominant instrument on “The Dark Side of the Moon,” helping to build a sonic structure that sounds contemporary nearly 40 years after the fact. The oscillating “On the Run,” which also integrates the sounds of footsteps and airport-like announcements, remains a particular favorite among listeners who strap on a pair of good headphones.

“On the run” is a Waters euphemism for insanity, a phrase he used in composing “Free Four,” a deceptively jaunty song about death that appears on “Obscured By Clouds” (1972). Insanity turns out to be a recurring theme on “The Dark Side of the Moon”: how the foibles of everyday life eventually drive you out of your mind.

Thus, many of the album’s songs sport short titles alluding to simple concepts: “Breathe,” “Time,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” the final track, which lent its name to the project in its formative stages.

The final line of “Eclipse” – “But the sun is eclipsed by the moon” – inspired the eventual title, which turned out to be the same as a 1972 LP by British blues band Medicine Head. If you never heard of that, you’re not alone.

The two individual tracks with longer titles are among the best on “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Midway through the LP’s second side is “Any Colour You Like,” which elaborates on the “Breathe” backing track to create a heavily processed soundscape: Richard Wright’s keyboard is fed through a VCS 3, and David Gilmour overdubs two guitar parts through a Uni-Vibe pedal effect.

The album reaches its pinnacle with “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which segues out of “Time/Breathe [Reprise]” as a quiet, melodic piano piece by Wright. About a minute in, singer Clare Torry, 22 years old at the time, starts wailing, as directed by the band and session engineer Alan Parsons. Torry’s vocal explorations are among the most spine-chilling in rock history, culminating with a high-pitched screech at the song’s climax – the choice of that word is deliberate – before a relatively relaxed denouement.

Anyone who listens to the radio is familiar with most of the rest of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” but it should be pointed out that Gilmour’s slide-driven solo on “Time” is one of the best from a consistently inventive guitarist.

Regarding the album’s unparalleled chart success, the band members never have been so sure about the reason. As noted in the late Nicholas Schaffner’s book “Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey,” they’ve been quoted as saying:

  • “No idea at all. After we’d made it, actually sitting down listening to it for the first time in the studio, I thought, ‘This is going to be big. This is an excellent album.’ Why it goes on and on selling, I don’t know. It touched a nerve at the time. It seemed like everyone was waiting on this album, for someone to make it.” – Richard Wright (1943-2008)
  • “It hit a chord, obviously. It still doesn’t sound dated; it still sounds good when I listen to it. But I can’t really say why it should achieve that longevity over some of the other great records which have been out.” – David Gilmour
  • “I don’t think there is a clear reason for it. It’s almost certainly a number of different things, which comprise the record itself and what’s contained on it. Plus being the right record at the right time, and generating its own momentum, because people start to think, oh, that’s the one that’s been there awhile.” – Nick Mason, drummer
  • “There’s all this stuff in it about how this is your life and it’s all happening now, and as each moment passes – that’s it. It talking about the illusion of working towards ends which might turn out to be fool’s gold. The philosophy that’s embodied in it has got a little meaning for a lot of human beings. It deals with the Big Picture.” – Roger Waters

Schaffner seemed to like the explanation by British journalist Chris Charlesworth, who put forth: “It’s a great record to fuck to. Millions of people across the globe have fucked to ‘The Dark Side of the Moon.'”

Hmmm … sounds like as plausible an explanation as any for 14 straight years on the charts.


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