When I think of classic Vinyl records, the first album that comes to mind is Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon. It was the second album I ever owned – and it changed my take on music forever. I’m certainly not alone in this opinion. For 14 years after it’s release in March 1973, Dark Side of the Moon remained number one on the Billboard album chart. It quite literally changed the face of music for a generation and influenced music recording ever since.
So what is it that made this album so great?
Pink Floyd have always been masters of the concept album. Their albums are not merely a collection of songs, each album tells a story based on a particular concept. Dark Side of the moon looks into insanity, not only in the individual but in society as a whole.
Following the band’s original front-man Syd Barret’s mental break down and departure from the band , they were in limbo for several years. This had a profound effect on the band. It’s not too ironic then, that the band’s first truly successful album dealt with the issue of insanity. The album was, in a sense a cathartic experience for the band. Little did they know how universal the appeal of this concept would be.
The introduction to the album Speak to Me sets the tone with spoken word, a man talking about his madness. The voice over is backed by the pulsing rhythm of a heartbeat. The introduction moves into the second track Breathe, which looks at wasted youth and the realization that life is fleeting – before we know it time has passed us by.
As the album progresses we are faced with the juxtaposition that exists within society. In our attempt to conform to rules and norms, we lose direction. We lose sight of our real objectives in life. The climax of the story comes with the song Money, here we’re faced with the the irony of modern life. The song begs the question as to what is real sanity, pointing out how insane our concept of success is. It’s a cynical observation of the ideals and aspirations of modern society.
Following Money, the song Us and Them, continues to question the sanity of accepted norms. The song deals with war and conflict, again looking at the irony of civilized ideals. By the time we reach the song Brain Damage, which deals directly with the thoughts of an insane person, we’re left questioning. What is lunacy? Is it a sign of a deranged mind, or is it the world we live in?
The album was intended to be thought provoking both lyrically and musically.
One of the things that makes Pink Floyd so great is that they were pioneers of many musical and recording techniques. Many of these techniques have become common place today.
In the days when recording studios used 8 track tape to master recordings, Dark Side of the Moon was the first recording to make use of the infinite loop. Today this a common digital tool used by DJ’s and studios. Back then it had not been thought of.
In the introduction to Money we hear the continuous sound of a cash register and coins being dropped into it. Without the use of digital recording, this took some imagination. They recorded the sound of a cash register and coins dropping, then re-recorded it a few times. They joined the two ends of the tape together to make a loop, it was then fed through a reel-to-reel tape player. Using only one reel, the tape was looped around a broomstick and fed back to the same reel – playing continuously.
It was this type ingenuity that allowed Pink Floyd to achieve sounds and effects that were not heard of before. In the age of psychedelic music, Pink Floyd took the lead in creating new electronic sounds that changed music forever.