A couple weeks ago was the 50th anniversary of the release of one of The Music’s most significant albums, Dark Side of the Moon.
The March 1, 1973, debut of Pink Floyd’s milestone album was particularly significant for me, because three days after it dropped, I saw the band perform that music, and others of their earlier works, live on stage at what was then called the Dane County Coliseum. But the 50th anniversary prompted me to revisit DSotM — and I had numerous other opportunities to hear the music from it, because Deep Tracks on SiriusXM was playing one cut every hour over the following weekend.
The music has held up very well. What Floyd was doing in the studio was on the cutting edge back then, and the sounds are still entrancing. (There’s an excellent documentary on streaming video that goes through in detail how they created this work of art.)
But I think a major part of the album’s power comes from the lyrics — even the one that doesn’t have any words (“The Great Gig in the Sky”).A couple of them, “Breathe” and “Money,” are rather simplistic, but some of the other lines are memorable commentaries on what it is to be human — “Time” for instance:
“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
“Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time. Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way The time is gone, the song is over, Thought I'd something more to say."
And on the culture at the time, from “Brain Damage”:
“The lunatic is in the hall. The lunatics are in my hall. The paper holds their folded faces to the floor And every day the paper boy brings more.”
The genius exhibited extended to the spoken comments and dialogue between the songs, and at the end of the album: “There is no dark side of the moon. Matter of fact it’s all dark.” And keyboardist Rick Wright’s turning studio session singer Clare Torry loose to scat-sing “The Great Gig in the Sky.” (Torry, recruited for the album by whiz-kid engineer Alan Parsons, eventually got song co-writing credit, and a well-deserved payoff.)
As for the album’s impact, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. DSotM is one of the best-selling LPs of all time, in the top 25 in U.S. sales; its popularity continued for a decade and a half, appearing on the Billboard 200 chart for 736 weeks. Parson’s engineering was nominated for a Grammy Award. The album ranked in the top 50 in Rolling Stone’s first two “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” lists, and still hung in at 55 in the magazine’s 2020 ranking, which downgraded many other albums of the ’70s.
And the concert 50 years ago? When I blogged about “My Favorite Concerts” going on five years ago, I ranked the Floyd show No. 1. The memories are dimmer through the fog of 50 years, but there are images that linger: the ushers looming up in the marijuana-smoke haze in the lobby, likely contact-high smiles on their faces; the fadeout and darkening of the arena at the end of “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” ending with a blinding flash of light; the “Dayglow Ladies, Disembodied Voices” (as I described them at the time) of the backup vocalists on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
The band played DSotM in its entirety, last thing except for the encore, an amazing accomplishment for a work that involved so much studio production. And it was likely the first time I had heard most, if not all, of the songs. I don’t think I bought the album in the three days between its release and the concert, so unless Radio Free Madison had an advance copy, and played cuts from it, it was new to me. Fifty years later, it’s an old friend