It begins with the beating of a human heart — strong, steady, pulsing.
Thirty-three years later, Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” — which the group’s Roger Waters is playing in its entirety on his current solo tour — is just as healthy, one of the most durable albums of the rock era.
Since its release during March 1973, “Dark Side” has sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and still moves about 1 million copies each year. The album set a record for its 591-week consecutive run on the Billboard charts, beating out “Johnny’s Greatest Hits” by Johnny Mathis.
And with the advent of Billboard’s Top Pop Catalog chart for older albums, “Dark Side” has spent a total of more than 1,500 weeks on one chart or another.
Its continued steady sales are what make “Dark Side” a phenomenon, though. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” reached a point where it stopped selling shortly after its release, even though it’s tied with the Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975” for the best-selling album of all time. But “Dark Side,” like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” and Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, is one of those rare rite of passage records, a seminal work that gets as much radio airplay as a new release and generates interest with each succeeding generation of rock fans.
And with current favorites such as Radiohead openly citing Pink Floyd as an infl uence and the residual excitement from the group’s reunion at 2005’s Live 8 concert in London, interest in the band’s work remains high.
“I think there was more confi dence about the songs being slower and not panicking to fi ll every second with interesting, inverted chords,” Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood said of the lessons he gleaned from listening to Pink Floyd albums.
That’s certainly music to the ears of Waters, Pink Floyd’s bassist and chief lyricist. Waters, who quit the band in 1985 and subsequently sued his former mates when they continued without him (it was settled out of court), often worries that “Dark Side’s” sales and chart figures get an inordinate amount of attention, often at the expense of the album’s musical sensibility.
“People seem to be very conscious of its achievement,” Waters, 62, explains. “I’m actually less impressed by the numbers ‘Dark Side’ has done than by other things, the musical things. It was the fi rst complete work I’d ever worked on. It has a certain roundness to it that was quite bold in its day.”
Making a statement
Pink Floyd began working on “Dark Side” during June 1972.At that point, the group was a minor but still prominent act on the rock scene; Syd Barrett, who fronted the band on early hits such as “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” was gone, a victim of substance abuse (he died this past July). David Gilmour had been in his place for several years, and the group had developed a reputation for inventive, experimental and atmospheric music found on albums such as “Meddle” and fi lm scores such as “Obscured by Clouds.”
But no one mistook the group for a hit singles factory like the Beatles or Rolling Stones.
All of Pink Floyd’s members concur that they approached “Dark Side” with the intent of making a strong musical statement. Songs were crafted from leftovers for other projects and bits of music found on rehearsal tapes. Then Waters hit on the idea of a theme — hanging all the songs on the idea of insanity, “how the pressures of life can, in the right sequence and circumstances, really drive somebody mad,” he says, acknowledging that the impact of Barrett’s emotional disintegration was a strong inspiration for the album.
The group knocked the album together at London’s Abbey Road studios in between touring obligations; footage from the recording sessions was included in the fi lm “Pink Floyd Live at Pom peii.” Finished in Febru ary 1973, the piece was originally titled “Eclipse,” after one of the album’s songs, but eventually came to be known as “The Dark Side of the Moon,” taken from the lyric to the song “Brain Damage.”
What caught listeners fi rst about “Dark Side” was its sonics — the instruments and sound effects fl oating from speaker to speaker, the cash register synced to the rhythm of the hit single “Money,” the rich, ambient wash of sound that seemed to coat the air when “Dark Side” was played.
“A lot of attention was paid to how the songs would sound,” says Alan Parsons, who engineered the “Dark Side” sessions. “There was probably more time spent on that than on the actual writing of the songs.”
But, Waters counters, it was all part of the process of arranging the songs in order to take relatively simple melodies and give them maximum impact.
“There were a lot of things that were quite imaginative,” he says. “The drums are very quiet, much quieter than on modern records. It gives you more of a chance to listen to the other stuff that’s going on ... that are maybe even more interesting than drums.
“The other thing I notice is that certain parts of it, specifi cally the introduction to ‘Time,’ is very long and drawn out. You keep expecting the song to start, but it goes on and on.These days, music is only allowed to last a short space of time because we’re so concerned with ours and our audiences’ span of attention. It’s nice to allow things time and space to happen in.”
At the time, however, Pink Floyd had no idea what impact “Dark Side” would make.
“How could you anticipate anything like what it’s become?” says Gilmour, 62, who continues to lead Pink Floyd, which last toured during 1994. “We were happy with the album. I think we felt it was our best work. But that there would be so much interest in it this many years later, we couldn’t have imagined it.”
Storm Thorgeson, who designed the covers and packages for most of Pink Floyd’s albums, also remembers a confidence in the fi nished album.
“But I don’t think they thought they’d done the record they’d done — even to this day,” he says. “I think they were unbelievably surprised at its reception and gratifi ed, and have been, subsequently.
“I mean, it changed their lives.”
There’s no doubt about that. “Dark Side” lifted Pink Floyd from underground favorite into the upper sales strata and the concert realm of arenas and, ultimately, stadiums. Ironically, the group stopped playing “Dark Side” in its entirety in 1975, but dusted it off, sans Waters, during its 1994 world tour.
“It’s something we talked about doing years ago with Roger,” Gilmour says. “It was a great show back then, and we were kind of sorry we’d never recorded it live or fi lmed it. We did discuss it as we were getting more and more grumpy with each other, but it never came to be.”
Fortunately, the 1994 performances of “Dark Side” were preserved on the live album “Pulse,” as well as on home video and DVD.
So, what’s made “Dark Side” so durable? Most of those associated with it won’t hazard a guess.
“I think it’s inexplicable,” says designer Thorgeson, “and maybe that’s good. Who wants everything to be explained?”
But contemporary pop star Dave Matthews, who calls “Dark Side” “one of the albums that was a turning point for me,” has a theory.
“It’s definitely a journey,” he explains. “It’s not stuck in one sound. It doesn’t just serve to give you a feeling of anger or a feeling of joy. It runs a gamut, and that’s something that’s real special. There hadn’t been anything like that before, which is evident in how long it’s lasted.”
PINK FLOYD NOW AND...AGAIN?
There’s been more Pink Floyd action in the last 16 months than there has been in the past decade. But there’s still no Pink Floyd.
The group lit up the world in July 2005 when Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright — the quartet that made “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “The Wall” and other rock classics — reunited for the first time in 25 years at the Live 8 concert in London. Multimillion-dollar offers for a tour followed, but the group has remained steadfastly apart.
“It’s just not something that is big in my mind, at all, at the moment,” says guitarist Gilmour, 62, who’s led Pink Floyd since bassist Waters’ acrimonious departure in 1985. “I’ve kind of left that behind. I’m very happy and satisfi ed with the little team I’ve got around me these days, and I don’t see myself going back to the Pink Floyd thing.”
Part of Gilmour’s team is keyboardist Wright, who appears on the guitarist’s latest solo album, “On an Island,” and toured with him this year. Mason, the group’s drummer, has appeared with Waters’ band this year for the bassist’s solo dates, at which he’s playing “Dark Side” in its entirety.
Waters holds out the hope that Pink Floyd may reunite again “if we get an opportunity to do something like (Live 8) in the future.” And Gilmour says that, if nothing else, the (Live 8) show allowed the four musicians to put their differences to rest.
“Roger and I are at least now on speaking terms,” he notes. “It’s good to get rid of those negative vibes in your life, and, hopefully, they are now put to bed and we have a bit of closure.”
Roger Waters performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday (February 18th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $79.50 and $59.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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