From Washington Post,
April 28, 1992
One Giant Step for Pink Floyd
20 Years Ago, 'Dark Side of the Moon'
Began Its Cosmic Trip
It was 20 years ago today that Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon
went to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. It stayed there only
"I thought it was a good record," recalls Roger Waters, the British
band's songwriter and bassist. "It happened to strike a certain
chord at a certain time with lots of people."
Still, Waters and Pink Floyd had no particular commercial expectations
for Dark Side Of The Moon, based on the fact that none of their
seven previous albums had so much as dented the Top 40 in the United
States. "We'd have danced naked around the Lincoln Memorial if we'd
thought it would sell records," Waters says. And that wasn't in
Capitol's marketing plan, because there was no marketing plan.
This album didn't need one. Though its stay at the top was brief,
Dark Side hung around on the Top 200 chart for a while longer --
well, actually, for 724 consecutive weeks (740 weeks altogether).
It didn't drop off until July 13, 1988.
That 14-year stretch is considered one of pop music's untouchable
records (the next longest run: "Johnny Mathis's Greatest Hits" at
490 weeks). Michael Jackson's "Thriller" may have sold the most
copies ever -- 40 million -- but it only spent 122 weeks on the
Although it is still officially listed as having reached "gold"
status for sales of 500,000 copies, Dark Side Of The Moon, has sold
more than 25 million copies, including 12 million stateside. The
problem is that the Recording Industry Association of America didn't
institute its "platinum" status for million-sellers until January
1976, and refuses to certify anything retroactively. When Billboard
introduced a back catalogue chart in 1991 (to monitor sales of reissued
albums), Dark Side Of The Moon, entered and has been there ever
since, currently at that unfamiliar No. 1 spot.
While Dark Side Of The Moon, was charting, disco, punk and new
wave all came -- and went. As did Waters, who left Pink Floyd in
1983, later sued the other members to keep them from using the name
Pink Floyd, and remains harshly critical of their subsequent work
(more on this later).
Twenty years ago, Pink Floyd had envisioned a box containing bumper
stickers, posters and other treats, but Capitol was too cheap, particularly
since this was the band's last record before switching to Columbia.
(In fact, Pink Floyd took a royalty cut so that posters could be
included without raising the cost of the original record.) Now Capitol
has released a limited-edition commemorative edition of Dark Side
-- in a box, containing a newly remastered holographic picture CD,
a color booklet and postcards.
Dark Side Of The Moon, was released on March 31, 1973, its first
notes striking that certain chord (actually bouncing back and forth
between an E minor and A major on Breathe In the Air). As Waters
puts it, "it's gone on striking chords with people." It's become
something of a rite of passage for generations of rock fans, and
it still sells more than 1 million copies every year.
Certainly the reviewers at the time didn't spot anything special,
including British critics who called it "a stereo fetishist's wet
dream" and faulted the album for "too much sound effects, too little
In Rolling Stone, the Dark Side review ran below those for Judee
Sill's "Heart Food," Alice Cooper's "Billion Dollar Babies" and
"Best of Bread." The reviewer noted that the record "seems to deal
primarily with the feelings and the depravity of human life, hardly
the commonplace subject matter of rock," and called it "a fine album
with a textural and conceptual richness that not only invites, but
It demands involvement right from the start, actually, with the
slow cosmic heartbeat of Speak to Me. The songs that follow -- Breathe
In the Air, Time, Money, Us and Them, Brain Damage and Eclipse --
do seem obsessed with alienation, the banality of everyday life
and the inexorable encroachment of death, a world-weary pessimism
that the Times of London attributed to "the melancholy of our times."
"It was more realistic than a lot of pop music," Waters, who wrote
all the lyrics, says from London. "The end of the record is pessimistic,
except that it allows that all things are possible and that we human
beings, individually and collectively, must have our potentials
and possibilities in our hands. We make decisions and do things
that make our lives more positive or negative -- whether the positive
is couched in terms of the amount of love that we exchange with
our family or friends, or whether we allow the dark sides of our
past to overtake us and make our lives more negative.
"We all fight small battles in that war between the positive and
the negative, between good and evil, between God and the devil,
however you want to couch it, every day of our lives," says Waters,
who turns 50 this year. "I'm obsessed with truth and how the futile
scramble for material things obscures our possible path to understanding
ourselves, each other and the universe in ways that will make human
life more fulfilling for all human beings. That's what Dark Side
of the Moon is about, and what most of my records have been about."
When he says "my records," Waters is talking about Pink Floyd's
four post-Dark Side albums and his three solo albums following the
acrimonious split in 1983. Before Dark Side, the band still operated
in the shadow of singer-writer Syd Barrett -- who, along with Waters,
keyboardist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason, was a student at
Cambridge University, where Pink Floyd coalesced in the mid-'60s.
(The band took its name from two American blues singers, Pink Anderson
and Floyd Council.) With their electronic rock and mind-expanding
light shows, Pink Floyd became the darling of the London underground,
but Barrett lost his mind to drugs and left in 1968, replaced by
guitarist-singer David Gilmour.
For the next several years, the band was best known for its exploratory
jams and movie soundtracks, its sonic architecture serving as a
blueprint for the progressive rock movement. What it lacked was
"Nobody else in the band could write lyrics," says Waters. "There
were no other lyricists after Syd. David's written a couple of songs
but they're nothing special. I don't think Nick ever tried to write
a lyric and Rick probably did in the very early days, but they were
According to Waters, who is seldom reticent in criticism of his
former band mates, when he told the others his ideas for Dark Side,
they went, 'Okay, that's a good idea.' In the 'histories,' it always
comes out sounding like 'we' did this and 'we' did that and 'we'
decided it was going to be a concept album.
"But there was none of that. There was never any question of sitting
around and discussing what we might do. I have to say it's not all
my work -- I only wrote all the lyrics and two-thirds of the songs.
Gilmour's contribution was very slight. The other major influence
is Rick Wright, who did the music on Us and Them and the instrumental
Great Gig in the Sky."
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios on its brand-new 24-track equipment,
the album came together over a nine-month period, and as it developed,
"it sounded special," Waters recalls. "When it was finished, I took
the tape home and played it to my first wife, and I remember her
bursting into tears when she'd finished listening to it. And I thought,
yeah, that's kind of what I expected, because I think it's very
moving emotionally and musically. Maybe its humanity has caused
Dark Side to last as long as it has."
There was also the sound of it -- the album's only Grammy went
to Alan Parsons for "Best Engineered Album of 1973"; it launched
his own recording career with the Alan Parsons Project.
One thing that struck Waters when he listened to it recently was
"how loud the sound effects -- the cash registers [on Money], the
clocks [on Time] -- were mixed. The record very much focuses on
important information, so if it's a vocal you can hear it, if it's
a guitar solo you can hear it and if it's a sound effect you can
hear it. That's because the drums are very quiet all the way through
the record. That's one thing about the record that sounds really
old-fashioned because these days we tend to have drums up really
loud, which leaves less space for other information."
Waters says that Dark Side's sonic reputation -- not only was it
the most popular tool to demonstrate hi-fi equipment in the '70s,
but it was voted the most popular soundtrack for sex shows in Amsterdam
-- is overblown. "I think the sonics derived directly from the ideas
and because of the ideas. Space is the important thing in good-sounding
records, and certain elements were allowed to exist very much in
their own space. That's why the record sounds good."
It looked good too, with its now-famous cover, by the Hipgnosis
design firm, showing white light refracting into a rainbow prism,
homage to the old light shows (it made Rolling Stone's list of the
100 greatest album covers of all time). Oddly enough, Dark Side
of the Moon almost required a different name because a band called
Medicine Head had released a similarly titled album the year before.
That album stiffed and Pink Floyd dropped its alternate title, "Eclipse."
There also was a downside to Dark Side. Though its records had
never sold particularly well, Pink Floyd had built a loyal cult
following through its mind-bending performances, which attracted
reverential audiences. But with the success of Dark Side, the audience
changed not just in size -- the band was now playing in sports arenas
and stadiums -- but in character. Instead of listening, it began
demanding the group's first and only hit single, Money.
"That's why after 1977 I refused to play stadiums," says Waters,
"because the larger the audience, the whole thing becomes more about
commerce and less about communication, music, human feelings and
Those same issues exacerbated the tensions that had been building
within the band, though Waters says the line in Brain Damage that
gave the album its name -- "And if the band you're in starts playing
different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon" -- is
actually about Syd Barrett. But after Dark Side, he says, "It started
to turn sour."
Waters believes Pink Floyd was finished at that point, but it made
four more albums, the most notable being 1979's "The Wall," which
also still sells 1 million copies a year. "The Wall" is a musical
autobiography whose central image and theme is the absence of communication
in the modern world. By then Waters was perceived, by Gilmour in
particular, as a dictatorial egomaniac and control freak given to
overly serious themes and grand theatrical gestures, and 1983's
Final Cut was also a final straw. Rick Wright left the band and
Waters said he could no longer work with Gilmour and Mason. When
those two announced their intentions to record and tour as Pink
Floyd, Waters sued them (unsuccessfully) over the rights to the
band's name and assets.
That situation had its own ironic precedence in the scathing line
from 1975's Wish You Were Here album, in which a greedy would-be
manager says he loves the band and asks, "Which one's Pink?" The
band always had a shadowy public profile, and people apparently
didn't know who Waters was or what he did, a fact brought home following
a 1975 concert at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. To avoid the
traffic crush -- the stadium is reached by several bridges -- Pink
Floyd simply walked back to their hotel through the crowd. "And
not a single person recognized any of us," says Waters.
That may explain why Pink Floyd tours still sell out stadiums while
Waters plays to half-empty arenas, why his three solo albums haven't
done well commercially, while Pink Floyd's 1987 album, Momentary
Lapse of Reason (which Waters calls "a clever forgery") was double
platinum, and why, when Waters staged The Wall in a wall-less Berlin
in 1990, many papers simply attributed the event to Pink Floyd.
"I know David and Nick are in the studio now to record a new album
for next year, and that they'll tour," Waters says. "As far as the
public is concerned, that is Pink Floyd. The idea of separating
any of the work from the brand name is extremely inconvenient, not
only to the consumer but to the business, to everybody, really,