Pink Floyd’s Classic Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Yes, the album does synch astonishingly well with The Wizard of Oz, but that’s just one of the remarkable things about Pink Floyd’s historic Dark Side of the Moon, which was released 40 years ago. The disc also pushed the envelope on multi-tracking and tape looping, as well as mixing, making Dark Side as much an accomplishment of engineering as musicianship and ushering in the era of the studio engineer as star.
In the case of Dark Side engineer Alan Parsons — who was also responsible for inviting powerhouse singer Clare Torry to wail on the LP’s “The Great Gig In the Sky” — that was literal. He became a cult artist and then a hit-maker with the studio group he led between 1975 and 1990 under the name the Alan Parsons Project.
But in the long run what’s even more remarkable than the sonic beauty and innovation of Dark Side of the Moon is that it froze one of the greatest rock bands at their creative peak in a confluence of imagination, virtuosity and poetic lyricism that is now forever trapped in amber — becoming a permanent benchmark of excellence and humanity for future generations of listeners and musicians.
Of course, the concept album was well-established by the time Dark Side of the Moon reached record shops, but the recording’s perfect weave of storytelling and sound still make it a truly exceptional member of that camp. Bassist-singer Roger Waters’ lyrics achieved a poetic high in experimental rock, comparable to Dylan and to Hendrix’s most emotionally rich lyrics, like “Drifting” and “Castles Made of Sand.” Also contributing to the disc’s humanity is a variety of voices — recordings of the band’s road crew, the studio doorman and even Wings’ guitarist Henry McCullough (“I don’t know. I was really drunk at the time.”) — responding to questions Waters had written on flash cards. The cards were lost partway in the recording process, leading to interesting ad libs like “When was the last time you were violent?”
Ultimately, the disc’s sides tell an open-ended story about the trials and joys experienced over the arc of a lifetime, with the surging tides of the music sustaining the tales of yearning, fear, satisfaction, doubt, vision and transcendence.
Dark Side of the Moon was embraced by both listeners and the music industry upon its release, climbing quickly to number one. The album continues to sell thousands of copies a week and has reached a total of more than 34-million sold around the world. Staring with its March 1973 release, Dark Side spent more than 11 consecutive years on the Billboard album charts.
According to Pink Floyd legend, only one thing could stop the progress of the Dark Side recording sessions at London’s Abbey Road studios — the weekly broadcast of British comedy TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The band members were such big fans that they invested part of the profits from the album into the comedy troupe’s first film, the gutsy, hilarious satire of religion and English culture Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
As for Parsons, his efforts on Dark Side of the Moon earned him the first of his eight Grammy Awards — so far — for engineering.