Pink Floyd’s album “The Dark Side of the Moon”, fifty years old this month, is a cultural landmark, one of the most famous records of all time. But how did an LP covering conflict, greed, death, mental illness and the need for human empathy become a classic, iconic record, remaining on the US Billboard charts for 741 consecutive weeks and selling forty-five million copies?
“The Dark Side of the Moon” is a real concept album, genuinely thematic, and not just a number of arbitrary songs. Roger Waters (bass guitar and vocals), wrote the lyrics: about the stresses and pressures of life, touching on wealth, armed conflict, wasted lives, mortality and madness — expressed as the dark side of the moon. The songs represent good and bad, or in Waters’ own words: “All the good things life can offer are there for us to grasp, but the influence of some dark force in our natures prevents us from seizing them.”
Many Reasons for Success
There are many reasons for the album’s success. The strength of the songwriting captured people’s imagination, and the lyrics were clear for both native and non-native English speakers. The musicianship was impeccable, especially after one year performing the songs in concert before making the record. The production, in Abbey Road Studios, was state of the art, and hi-fi stereo was just becoming a mainstream consumer item — “The Dark Side of the Moon” became “one of the definitive test records that people could use on their hi-fi systems,” according to Nick Mason, the group’s drummer. People said that it was also a great record to have sex to or to listen to on stereo headphones while taking drugs!
The Album Era
The early 1970s were the beginning of the album era, and many record buyers were teenage boys. Waters felt that it was “the simplicity of the [album’s] ideas that appeal to a generation going through puberty and trying to make sense of it all.” A critic agreed, adding “particularly if you accept (as most women do) that most men never get much further than puberty.”
The album became immediately famous for its groundbreaking sound. There were synthesizers making helicopter noises, phrases added between tracks using the voices of the group’s roadies and the Abbey Road studio staff, and clocks recorded in an antique timepiece shop.
The release of “The Dark Side of the Moon” is often seen as a pivotal moment in the history of rock music. It marked a high point in the album era. The record made the group members — Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason — extremely rich. It also helped increase album sales generally. The LP is eternally popular, selling 250,000 copies a year. Its 50th anniversary will take sales near the fifty-million-copies mark.