Fifty years ago today, Pink Floyd released an absolute masterpiece. There’s no other way to describe Dark Side of the Moon. Moody and abstract, creative and dense, it’s unlike any other record I’ve ever heard. I can’t remember the first time I heard a song off Dark Side – they’ve just always been around, in the air, like oxygen – but I remember when I first listened through the whole album in one sitting. I was a freshman in high school. Some friends of mine from the church youth group, the Souders twins, had gotten me into Pink Floyd just the summer before high school started. And I got Dark Side for my birthday. As I sat on my bed, the CD liner notes opened up before me, I heard the first strains of “Speak To Me/Breathe.” That heartbeat. So simple. So evocative. And that sudden swell of sound, the noise and chaos, the swirling voices emerging and submerging again and again in the tidal wave of music…its fair to say that album blew my tiny mind.
Dark Side of the Moon is, in many ways, the ultimate exploration of the key themes and concepts of Floyd’s music. Alienation, loneliness, the oppressive atmosphere of society, and mental illness all come up in the lyrics.
Dark Side is one of the first albums I ever listened to where I didn’t feel like there was a single song I could skip. While I may not necessarily enjoy “On The Run,” I understand its purpose in the flow of the album, transitioning us into the epic “Time,” with its cacophony of bells and whistles as the clocks all strike the hour and drummer Nick Mason’s tick-tock inspired drum introduces the song proper.
The songs that always impressed me the most on this album are the same ones that always impress everyone. “Time,” with its earthy, mundane realizations that life will pass you by while you’re busy waiting for it to start and its soaring David Gilmour guitar solos, remains a favorite. “Money,” with its unusual time signature and cash register sound effects, could have become a bumbling, goofy track, but manages to retain a sinister feel throughout its runtime. “Us And Them,” with its wartime metaphor and that great sax solo. The closers, “Brain Damage” shifting seamlessly into “Eclipse,” those triumphant keyboard and drum flourishes as “Eclipse starts up,” and the roar fading away to reveal what we started the album with: the heartbeat under it all.
Yeah, all of those songs are great. But, for my money, the best of the bunch is “The Great Gig In The Sky.” Vocalist Clare Torry understood the damn assignment on this one. Her wordless howls of anguish, longing, and fear convey the awesome majesty of the song. No words are needed. Keyboardist Richard Wright proved his metal in this song. It’s simply full of great musicians playing with everything they’ve got, pushing the limits of pop songcraft well past the breaking point.
Dark Side of the Moon is a cultural touchpoint, even 50 years later. Every song on the album is fantastic. Every instrumental choice, every note sung, was carefully chosen for maximum impact. I’m honestly more than a little envious of people who get to hear this album for the first time with fresh ears, especially songs like “The Great Gig In The Sky.” If Pink Floyd had broken up after this album, never given us Wish You Were Here or The Wall, they’d still be considered one of the greatest bands of the 70s. Of all time, really. This album, more than anything else, is what solidified Floyd as a musical force. And all these years later, it still holds up.