Lunar Tunes

Q Magazine - April 1998

The songs had sold 120,000 on bootleg before Pink Floyd officially recorded them and it remains your favourite album of the decade. Still confused by the unusual aroma of his mateís older brotherís copy, Mark Blake wrestles with the Timeless Appeal of Dark Side of the Moon.

NEVER MIND THE MUSIC, it was the cover that got you interested. For anyone coming to Dark Side of the Moon in the late 1970s (it was still in the charts, nearing the end of a healthy 337-week run) its spooky, minimalist sleeve sent out all sorts of messages. Against the modish look of Elvis Costelloís My Aim is True or The Jamís This is The Modern World, Dark Sideís triangular motif and accompanying rainbow were synonymous with a musical stone age, at best ignored, at worst derided. However, to young - letís be frank now - ELO fans, with a sneaky regard for music before 1977 - not a popular stance in the days when rock music history was busily undergoing a Stalinist re-write - it promised all sorts of scary, grown-up delights.

Those old enough to have bought it when it came out in 1973 were already in the on the secret. But who were they, and what 13-year old ever spoke to anyone three or fours years older than them? Thus, to musically inquisitive adolescents Dark Side of the Moon was the ultimate older brotherís album. It was somehow different. For starters, it actually smelled different - although it was some years before the sweet, strangely herbal odour emanating from a mateís older brotherís copy was to be identified - there were no pictures of the band to be anywhere on its gatefold sleeve, and you never saw Pink Floyd on Top of the Pops; reason enough at the time to doubt whether they even existed. Normal kids didnít care and went on playing Dartsí Daddy Cool. The rest, undeterred by the non-communicative grunting of older siblings and a conspiratorial wall of silence in the music press, set about trying to hear this mysterious, aromatic album.

"We wanted to come down to earth a bit. I had something I definitely wanted to say." - Roger Waters

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON continues to shift - 29 million at the last count - and Q readers recently voted it at Number 10 in their Top 100 albums of all time. Its appeal seems constant, while artists as diverse as Radiohead and The Orb blithely namecheck the group as an influence. Part of its initial success must lie in the fact that it was a good deal more inviting than most of what was around in 1973. Those with nerves of steel should play it back with Emerson, Lake & Palmerís Brain Salad Surgery and Jethro Tullís A Passion Play - big news progressive rock albums from the same year. The difference is embarrassingly obvious. Pink Floydís own track record was not blotted by wanton self-indulgence, but they reigned themselves in this time around. By now, band members David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason were in their late twenties and early thirties and their unwashed hair and face fungus remained the only tangible links with what might once have been called The Underground. Bringing a white collar, almost clinical discipline to the task in hand, they plotted every stage of a record they had already hewn thoroughly on their í72 tour (and heavily bootlegged). Despite its concept album tag, Dark Side contained songs of both a manageable length and discernible structure. "We wanted to come down to earth a bit," offered bassist/songwriter Roger Waters. "I had something I definitely wanted to say."

So while Emerson, Lake & Palmer were busy whisking up a baroque soufflť, Floyd came up with Breathe, Time, Us and Them - Robert Johnson, in comparison - segueing everything with the futuristic warble of VCS3 synthesizers and a collage of background noises: a human heartbeat, cacophonous alarm clocks and the mumblings of Jerry Driscoll, the Abbey Road doorman. Not to mention great, deeply bluesy guitar solos that never outstayed their welcome. Implausibly, considering the cold, soulless acts they were lumped in with (anyone for Van Der Graffe Generator?), The Great Gig in the Sky, with its vocal gymnastics from session singer Clare Torry, added a gospel fervour to proceedings, while Watersí lyrics told a story of madness, disillusionment and general pissed-offednes - hot stuff for teenagers of any age.

Released at a time when hi-fi was becoming increasingly advanced, the album gave record buyers the chance to show off their stack while offering hours of musical listening pleasure when the headphones went on. "It still doesnít sound dated," agreed guitarist David Gilmour. "But I really donít see why it should achieve that longevity over some of the other great records that have been out."

THE REASON FOR its success isnít so difficult to gauge. Dark Side has offered something different to a succession of new audiences: be it On The Runís synthesized pre-rave doodlings, the perfect chill-out room vibe of Time, or the Storm und Drang heavy metal of Money. There are few displays of musical virtuosity - Johnny Greenwood shows off more on Radioheadís OK Computer than David Gilmour does over 16 Pink Floyd albums - and the rejection of an anachronistic sleeve shot depicting the band with waist-length hair and oily loon pants, remains, in retrospect, a genius move.

And, of course, thereís still that cover. While their peers were busy commissioning a veritable Sistine Chapel of dragons, space ships and pixies in stovepipe hats, Pink Floyd kept it simple, striking and ultimately timeless. No wonder everybodyís older brother wanted to keep it for themselves.

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