Sunday, 1 September 2013

Favourite Album: 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd

The fourth of a series of articles (originally published in the ‘Fight Club’ issue of Portsmouth Point magazine) exploring favourite music albums. Today, Mark Richardson explains why Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' is his favourite album.

“By the way, which one’s Pink?”

The title comes from ‘Have a Cigar’, a song that appeared on the 1975 album Wish You Were Here, the long-awaited follow-up to this issue’s piece on music, namely Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Yes, I know there are other albums being dissected elsewhere in this notable organ, dear reader, (“Mum! He’s being old fashioned and condescending towards me!” “Darling, he’s just trying to inject a little old-fashioned style into his writing.” “Well, it’s not working.” “True, but bless, he is getting on”). I hear tell of stories that suggest that OK Computer is being considered, for instance, at least one horrified whisper expressing shock that there are no Beatles’ records in the offing, and another pondering the delicious possibility that Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica might be offered for your delectation. (“Now he’s just making up words!”) How wonderful if the last rumour were true. But I just thought it was worth highlighting a classic piece of vinyl that might have missed your attention, and which definitely ought not to be missed.

Why now? Well, by the time you read this, April 18th is likely to be but a vague memory. No doubt lots happened that day, but one of them was important enough to be given some prominence on national news, which was the death of Storm Thorgerson, for over forty years the designer of numerous album sleeves. As soon as the news finished, I put on the LP the bulletin used as its iconic example of his work, and an album which I just HAD to listen to again. It was, of course, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

Technically, I did not put on any LP: I fired up my iTunes library and used the Remote app to beam the MP3 version throughout the house. Vinyl is all very well, but digital is more user-friendly when making an unprompted choice. The system played not only Dark Side but also continued with the rest of the Floyd playlist. By the time it got to the soundtrack album More my wife politely asked why we were listening to this rubbish, which was a fair point: the band’s reputation will not rest on that album. Indeed, their output has been incredibly diverse, and I parted company with the Floyd experience with Animals, and my decision was confirmed when The Wall came out. Whatever Floyd had become, they weren’t mine any more.

There are two reasons why the album is worth talking about here: firstly, it’s both a tour de force, being a mixture of soul, electronica, jazz, English lyricism, songs both poppy and trippy, and a culmination of many distinct elements from their previous work; secondly, it’s a sustained body of work, not a loosely-connected bunch of songs, a work that may well come to symbolise the music business of the sixties and early seventies, as well as the cultural life of an aspect of Western life in general and that of Britain in particular.

From the opening heart-beat, which segues into a variety of elements that are later to be found in the rest of the record and which in turn launches into ‘Breathe’, through the stereo-busting electronica and found noises of ‘On The Run’, into the clocks chiming at the start of ‘Time’ (with its famous lyric ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’) to the concluding wordless singing of session singer Claire Torry at the end of ‘Great Gig in the Sky’, the first side of the album was jaw-dropping in its ambition, its reach, its musicality and its feel. This was an English band, for goodness’ sake. Oh yes, they had been clever, jokey, brimming with incredible ability and originality. But playing with ‘feel’? That was new.

The second side starts with more found noises, this time cash registers. The use of the non-musical noises recorded elsewhere and then added in later is a signature element of the band, and the discordant noise of money being collected is a deliberately offensive and ironic opening to the second side. What is here? Well, as with the Beatles before them, in ‘Taxman’ on Revolver, it’s a song about success. But whereas the Beatles’ song was, excuse the pun, a bit rich, banging on about how much tax they had to pay as a result of fame and fortune to an audience who had to pay for the album and who were never going to be asked to pay such an exorbitant level of income tax, this song is mocking the culture of consumerism. We then move into the patient ‘Us and Them’, which contains oblique references to the war, perhaps WW1, and then we cut straight into ‘Any Colour You Like’, with delicate keyboards and shimmering guitar, which then moves into the darker reaches of ‘Brain Damage’ with its references to lunacy, lunatics being a term that was coined because it was thought that mental instability was connected to the phases of the moon, and then the final moments of ‘Eclipse’, where everything is undermined, as ‘everything under the sun is in tune’ (which is great) but ‘the sun is eclipsed by the moon’ (not so great). Finally, with the muttered observation that ‘as a matter of fact there’s no dark side of the moon: it’s all dark’, we are back to the heartbeat of the opening, and the journey is over.

Conceived as two long songs, one on each side of the album, the LP marked the band’s turning point from being an ‘underground’ and counter-culture band to being a wildly popular stadium act, whose last appearance was part of the Live 8 Hyde Park concert in 2005. It was quickly used as a favourite demo disc for retailers selling hi-fi equipment, and its most lucrative song, of course, turned out to be ‘Money’. With hindsight, it was their last record as a unified group: in the future lay bitterness, feuding and contempt: dark, not pink. Oh, and Thorgerson himself never liked that cover!

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