Formed in 1965, the English band Pink Floyd had already forged a successful career by the time they recorded their eighth album, The Dark Side of the Moon. Dark Side, however, launched them into an entirely different stratosphere. Released 50 years ago on March 3, 1973, The Dark Side of the Moon managed to be both a definitive artistic statement and a mind-boggling commercial achievement. Here are five reasons why the album remains an indisputable classic.
Dark Side has, to date, sold 4.5 million copies in the U.K. alone. For the U.S., make that 15 million certified copies between 1973 and 1998. Estimates based only on official certifications have it selling 45 million copies globally. At present, it’s the third best-selling album of all time.
An unexpected side-effect of the album’s success is that it indirectly helped create another classic piece of art. The band used some of their profits to help support the production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson were among the other supporters.
The album sat on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart in the U.S. for a record-melting 724 consecutive weeks between March of 1973 and July of 1988, a fifteen-year span. As of 2020, it had spent 950 nonconsecutive weeks on the list (yes, that’s a record).
Musician Alan Parsons, who served as engineer on the album, earned a Grammy nomination for his work. The album is widely regarded by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. The Library of Congress elected to preserve the album in the U.S. National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant;” consider for a moment that the album is so well-regarded that a country the musicians don’t even come from decided to make sure the record is preserved for all time.
3. Us and Them
Though Syd Barrett had been a founder of the band, he had departed by 1968. From that point, the band consisted of its four remaining members: Roger Waters (vocals, bass); David Gilmour (vocals, guitar); Nick Mason (drums); and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals). Nevertheless, Barrett’s shadow loomed large over Dark Side, as his ongoing mental health struggles had impacted the band. Waters decided that he wanted to write a concept album about the nature of both “lunacy” and the pressures and changes one goes through in life. The other three members were on board, and they began developing the album while on tour.
In addition to the core band, six other musicians contributed to the album. Clare Torry had a vocal feature on “The Great Gig in the Sky” and Dick Parry played sax on “Money” and “Us and Them.” Four backing vocalists performed throughout: Doris Troy; Lesley Duncan; Liza Strike; and Barry St. John.
The album shows every musician hitting amazing heights in terms of their work. The background vocalists had their day in particular on the final track, “Eclipse.” While the album was produced as a holistic piece of work (each side of the record actually functions as a continuous piece of music), the seven tracks with vocals are all played to some degree on classic rock radio to this day. “Money” was the biggest single in the U.S., hitting #13 on the Hot 100.
4. Any Colour You Like
The Dark Side of the Moon has been associated with a few urban legends over time. One of those is a story about Syd Barrett visiting the studio while the band was recording, but he’d changed so much that they didn’t recognize him. The thing is, that visit did happen, just not then; it happened during the sessions for 1975’s Wish You Were Here, another album with heavy references to Syd (particularly “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”).
The most pervasive urban legend is that if you start the album when the MGM lion roars at the opening of The Wizard of Oz, the music from the record syncs up perfectly with the action on the screen. That’s sort of true in some moments, but the notion that the band did it on purpose is entirely fabricated. Parsons in particular has disputed it in interviews over the years, but Waters offered perhaps the most succinct summation during an interview: “It’s bullsh*t.”
5. Speak to Me
Perhaps the greatest example of The Dark Side of the Moon’s classic status is simply its ongoing popularity. The album seemingly gets rediscovered every few years by the next generation of listeners. That is attributable in part to the universal nature of the album’s themes and its frankly worded examination of emotions and interior life. It’s a pinnacle moment for classic rock, and one that has reverberated in its influence on other bands, including the likes of Radiohead and The Flaming Lips. It established the band as masters of the concept album, something they would continue on other beloved works like The Wall. While Waters would split acrimoniously in 1985 and only join the others for a couple of special occasions, the legacy of what they created will stand the test of . . . well . . . you know.
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Thanks for this feature on the timely and timeless ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. It’s very simple and complicated at the same time. I appreciate the research on the band and its members included here, plus some key song selections.
I’ve been on my own Floyd expedition this weekend (prompted by the feature) listening to some pre and post ‘Moon’ albums overshadowed by the long shadow it casts. This includes ‘The Wizard of Pink Floyd’. I can understand Water’s viewpoint, but it’s not entirely b.s. There is something to it. There definitely is. Unfortunately the video stops at 58:18, so I don’t know how well it would be with the rest of the film, or not. Fascinating up to that point regardless.
I just saw ‘Which One’s Pink’ last month for the first time since 2016 at the Canyon Club and want to go again the next time they’re in town. They were wonderful. The music, the light show, everything. I hate cigarette smoke with a passion, but did enjoy the contact high from the warm scent of cannabis in the air. Not high as a kite, but high enough. Everyone was so pleasant and nice, not like in real life. No, this was a whole other zone of its own.