As you may have noticed, I got all excited about returning to The People’s Albums after a two-year hiatus in my last entry, and then failed to write a follow-up. This is mainly due to the fact that this entry was not an album I was particularly excited to write about, since it’s not only an album I’m all-too-familiar with, but is also one that is, quite frankly, boring. Not because the album itself is boring, but more because it’s such an unimpeachably classic and influential album that it’s going to be hard to say anything new or insightful about it. But hey, it’s worth a try…
Album: The Dark Side of The Moon
Artist: Pink Floyd
Release Date: March 1, 1973
Copies Sold In The U.S: 15 million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves To Go On A Trip
I am neither an expert on drugs or aeronautics, so perhaps I’ll be a bit out of my element with this line of thinking. But there is something to be said about the fact that the height of LSD and the mainstreaming of drug culture in the late ’60s coincided with the height of American space travel. Specifically, that a band who seemed to epitomize both phenomena the way Pink Floyd did could become immensely popular, even if they seemed anything but mainstream.
If there’s a commonality I can pinpoint between drugs and space, it’s that both offer this idea of people going outside of themselves. Again, I’ve never gone to space, but even thinking about the idea of going to space forces you to think outside of yourself, your immediate surroundings, and even your home planet, in the hopes of understanding something bigger than yourself. Also, again, I’ve never taken acid, but from everything I’ve heard about it, it’s an experience that forces you to experience something outside of the typical trappings of your own body and mind.
Pink Floyd has pretty much always been regarded to some extent as a “drug band”. Whether it’s the band’s early Syd Barrett era, or the hazy journey that is “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, pretty much all of the band’s early catalog has been categorized as something you might light up to before putting on your stereo. Though it’s never been as overt, the same could be said for the band’s space-iness, what with songs like “Interstellar Overdrive” or “Set Controls For The Heart of The Sun”. With The Dark Side of the Moon, it would appear that the Floyd’s desire to take listeners on both a drug-influenced and extraterrestrial trip coalesced perfectly.
Fortunately, this dedication to taking the listener on an album-length sonic journey lined up pretty perfectly with where music-listening tastes were at the time. This was the height of “album rock” – music that used up entire sides of LPs to tell a long, winding musical story. That said, most of these stories just involved lots of monotonous dick-wagging in the form of endless guitar solos, instead of the breadth of themes and sounds explored on an album like Dark Side. So despite being an album that you more or less have to sit down and listen to for the full 40 minutes to really get the experience, people were more open-eared than ever to indulge this kind of drawn-out listen.
Also, I’m not sure there are many albums that truly rise to this level of feeling like a “journey” or an “experience”, and thus it must have felt like something truly novel to record-buyers. Pink Floyd went all out with the production of this thing, enlisting a multitude of backing vocalists, experimenting with early electronic instruments, splicing in assorted interviews, and generally just making an album that sounds about as lavish and epic as you could imagine. Oh, and it probably sold a few hundred thousand copies based on its album cover alone. It’s just a stellar production all around.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
This is a very hard album to think about critically, just because I’ve always been led to believe it was a masterpiece. It’s hard to remember exactly when I felt obligated to seek out The Dark Side of The Moon, but I’m guessing it was around the time I discovered Seattle’s classic rock station, KZOK, as a teenager. The station played pretty much every track on Dark Side with some frequency (well, except “On The Run”), though because the album had this reputation as a monolithic album, I knew hearing the songs on their own wasn’t really doing justice to how they sounded strung together.
Luckily, when I finally put down the money to buy a copy on CD, I loved it. Granted, it wasn’t one of those teenage albums that I felt a special personal bond with, considering a weirdly large portion of my high school class seemed to also be getting into Pink Floyd around this time. Still, as someone deeply invested in the grandeur and majesty of classic rock, The Dark Side of The Moon easily scratched that itch. Also, more than any CD I bought as a teenager, it’s the only one I can remember listening to on headphones with the lights off and feeling like I was traveling through time and space (and while completely sober).
As an adult though, I’m not sure Pink Floyd has had quite the same resonance with me. I don’t return to their music a ton, perhaps because a lot of the later albums are built on a kind of misanthropy, or because a large portion of their catalogue requires a decent amount of commitment on the part of the listener. Though this may be more indicative of my aversion to most prog-rock, though Floyd has often felt like a band that has stood a bit outside the genre, even if they embody all of its trademarks.
That said, listening to Dark Side now is still a pretty thrilling experience. The band tries so many different things on this album, and somehow it all feels so cohesive. It’s no wonder this was a headphone favorite of mine in my youth, because there’s so much to enjoy about the production. Which is often spacious enough to let each instrument breath in the mix, but is also filled with so many little aural nuggets floating around in the background that you could listen to the album a thousand times and still find something new to enjoy.
Also, apart from maybe “Money”, there aren’t really any songs that feel overplayed despite how ubiquitous the album was for multiple generations of rock fans. Each song feels like it’s of apiece with the album as a whole, and yet you still can enjoy each song on its own as well. The fact that you won’t hear a lot of these songs in TV or commercials probably has also helped protect the album’s mystique for new generations of teenagers looking to see what that rainbow prism album is about. Luckily, they’ll be in good hands.
Would I Spend Money On This?
Yes, and I already have. The copy I bought in high school was the 30th anniversary edition CD that came with the stained glass window version of the iconic cover art. I also remember spending money on a DVD copy of the Classic Albums episode focusing on the making of Dark Side of The Moon, which I would still say is one of the better episodes of that series. Also, I’m currently listening to a vinyl copy of Dark Side as I write this, so yeah, not a hard question to answer.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll be here, to remind you, that an album as angsty as Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morisette sold a shit load of copies. Isn’t that ironic?