Monday, August 1, 2011

The #9 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era--"Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd

Yesterday, Inside the Rock Era revealed the title of the #10 Album for All-Time* (Back in Black).  Today, another album shows up on the list.

The #9 Album of the Rock Era* is a prime example why you don't want to just look at chart performance in deciding album rankings.  You would expect most top albums to thoroughly dominate at the time they were out; this certainly was not the case with The Dark Side of the Moon.  While it did reach #1, it was only for one week.  The album also hit #1 in Canada and New Zealand.  You also want to look at weeks at #2 and weeks at #3 but even then, it lasted just four weeks at #2 and five at #3.  Good, but hardly reflective of a superior album.  Even weeks in the Top 10 (27) do not reflect the true value of the album.  You also don't want to look merely at sales, for if you did that, this album wouldn't be in the Top 10. 

A responsible and more credible way is to look at a multitude of factors, as Inside the Rock Era has done here.  When an album reaches #9 of All-Time with the less than stellar numbers above, what it does show is the time-tested power of singles in helping boost an album (or in this case the lack of them).  Pink Floyd released two singles from this album--"Money", which did not do particularly well, and "Us and Them" which went nowhere.  "Money" is not a particularly great song; the latter is.  So Pink Floyd had to do it the hard way.  For every Dark Side of the Moon that reaches #9 for All-Time with virtually zero help from single releases, there are 50 million albums that do not generate any kind of excitement or enthusiasm.

The single-biggest thing this album has going for it is the larger-than-life 741 weeks on the album chart as a best-seller (from 1973 to 1988).  In other words, it has never been a huge seller at any time, but rather just a steady supply of albums moving off the dusty shelves of music stores.  Word of mouth helped sell the album where the lack of radio airplay could not.  Even then, it took a good long while before the album sold a substantial number of copies.  Without the steady sales that allowed Pink Floyd to remain on the album chart for nearly 13 years, it would not be in the Top 10 for All-Time, plain and simple.

As mentioned, the album wasn't even a top-seller until the last 10-15 years when a new generation discovered it.  In fact, Dark Side of the Moon has sold eight million copies since 1991 and in 2002, 400,000 copies were sold, making Dark Side of the Moon the #200 album for that year, nearly 30 years after its release.  To date, 15 million copies and counting for this masterpiece in the United States.  The Track Rating* of 8.89 is not outstanding but still solid.  

The concept album features themes of greed, time, conflict and mental illness (or "things that make people mad", i.e. crazy, as lyricist Roger Waters said), as the band was still very much affected by the 1968 departure of founder and principal songwriter Syd Barrett, whose mental state continued to deteriorate.  Dark Side of the Moon was actually premiered several months before the release in concert appearances.  While at the Beatles' Abbey Road Studios in London, Pink Floyd was able to use the most advanced recording techniques of the time, including multitrack recording and tape loops.

Each side of the LP played continuously without pause.  "Us and Them" probes the isolation that depression brings and is one of the great tracks of the album.  "Time" and "The Great Gig in the Sky" are simply monumental masterpieces; "On the Run" is another excellent track.  Clare Torrey, a session singer at Abbey Road, is responsible for delivering the wordless melody on "...Great Gig".  The opening to "Money" was created by splicing together Waters' recordings of various things including clinking coins in a mixer, tearing paper, a ringing cash register, and a clicking adding machine, which were used to create a sound effects loop of seven beats.  This effect was later adapted to four tracks to create the "walk around the room" effect that you hear.

Engineer Alan Parsons was a key contributor, perfecting the use of doubletracking so Gilmour could harmonize with himself.  Parsons also featured flanging and phase shifting effects, amazing reverberations and the switching of sounds between channels (especially for the track "On the Run").  For the dialogue that is heard on the album, band members, roadies and people at the studio were interviewed about various questions dealing with "going mad".  

The prism design on the cover was inspired by a photograph that George Thorgerson had seen.  George Hardie contributed the artwork and Hipgnosis drew seven designs which he showed to the group.  The prism was by far the most popular.  The design includes Pink Floyd's stage lighting and reflects the album's lyrics.    The gatefold design includes the visual equivalent of the heartbeat sound that is used throughout Dark Side of the Moon.

Dark Side of the Moon:
(All lyrics by Roger Waters)

Side one
1.  "Speak to Me" (music by Nick Mason) --1:30
2.  "Breathe" (music by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright) --2:43
3.  "On the Run" (Gilmour, Waters) --3:30
4.  "Time" (containing "Breathe (Reprise)" (Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour (6:53
5.  "The Great Gig in the Sky" (Wright, Clare Torry) --4:15

Side two
1.  "Money" (Waters) --6:30
2.  "Us and Them" (Waters, Wright) --7:51
Gilmour, Mason, Wright) --3:24
4.  "Brain Damage" (Waters) --3:50
5.  "Eclipse" (Waters) --1:45

At the time of Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd consisted of David Gilmour on guitar, synthesizers and vocals, Nick Mason on percussion and tape effects, Roger Waters on bass guitar, synthesizers, tape effects and vocals and Richard Wright on keyboards, synthesizers and vocals.

Dick Parry was brought in to provide the saxophone on both "Money" and "Us and Them", as mentioned, Clare Torry contributed the great vocal on "The Great Gig in the Sky" and sang backing vocals and Lesley Duncan, Barry St. John, Liza Strike and Doris Troy sang backing vocals.

Dark Side of the Moon was recorded between June of 1972 and January of 1973 at Abbey Road Studios in London.  All four members of Pink Floyd aided with production.  Alan Parsons was the incredible engineer, Chris Thomas was the mixing consultant.  George Hardie provided illustrations and sleeve art while Hipgnosis provided design and photography and Jill Furmanovsky also contributed photography.  The album was released March 1, 1973 on Capitol Records.

Pink Floyd's epic Dark Side of the Moon falls in at #9 for All-Time.

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