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The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Welcome to the inaugural newsletter. I decided to kick things off with a classic album that pretty much everyone knows.
Before I start with this week’s newsletter, I wanted to thank you for being here. I wanted to get back to writing about music and have been doing so in the dark for quite a few months. I have been influenced by numerous music essayists, interviewers, and journalists over the years. This latest foray was influenced by Rob Harvilla from The Ringer, and his podcast “60 Songs That Explain the ‘90s.” While he only occasionally weaves auto-biographical material into the pod, those are easily my favorite parts of the podcast. It uses music as a backdrop to his real life, which in turn gives context to the music. This whole thing is kind of ripping him off, except, you know, these are my stories instead of his. These are the essays. Some of these will turn into podcast episodes. The podcast will probably be ready in a few months. I’ll let you know. On with the newsletter…
Let me tell you all the different ways that Dark Side of the Moon really sucks as I kick off this weekly newsletter I’m calling The Album of Record. I made a top-ten list and everything!
Just kidding, but there’s a reason I make this joke. I thought it was funny to start an essay about one of the most iconic, most successful rock albums of all time by being a reductive and lazy shock jock. Spoiler alert, it took me a long time to get into Dark Side of the Moon because I was once precisely that reductive and lazy.
Despite my personal history, Dark Side isn't debatable. Even if you don't like Dark Side, it's been decided that it doesn't suck. I'm going through this phase with my 11-year-old son at the moment where he thinks everyone's opinions are correct because they're personal. “The definition of the word opinion is that it can't be wrong! It’s MY opinion!” I think most kids go through this at some point. As a middle-aged person, I know opinions can absolutely be wrong, including my own. As we all know, you don't have to enjoy the Beatles, but the jury already came back. They're undeniably great according to our culture. Likewise, you don't have to personally like Dark Side of the Moon, but its quality can't be doubted. You can argue against specific Pink Floyd albums or periods in the band's career, but Dark Side is minted. I eventually got that. Someday my kid will too.
The boring Dark Side stats from the resume? It's considered one of the perfect albums of all time, front to back. Back in 2017, Classic Rock's readers named it the all-time greatest classic rock album. It spent 937 weeks on the Billboard 200. That's right. It's stint on the Billboard 200 was old enough to both vote and buy cigarettes before it fell off. Depending on the list and the year and how many revisions they've done to their work, it has been, uh, highly ranked by Rolling Stone. (Those lists used to infuriate me so much. What can I say? I was easily triggered. But now I laugh. Lists are a whole separate post for another day.)
Back to Pink Floyd and Dark Side... I was a huge music fan and nerd, and it still took me until I was about 16-years-old in 1995 to embrace the splendor of Dark Side. What was my problem? I didn't have any friends who were into it, and I didn't always like the people I knew who were. Yes, this is how tastes were made for me when I was a kid. Bands needed good champions. In my school, Pink Floyd didn't have great ones. Over the years, it's been a consistent theme in my life where I dismissed a band or artist because the fans I knew annoyed or bothered me. Pink Floyd was one of those bands.
Maybe it was unique to my high school, but there was just something about the whole vibe of the Floyd fans. These were the kids that probably smelled like cigarettes. They were just a little too excited about this one band. I loved all types of music, and I was a bit of a musical elitist, so any kids who seemed overly drawn to just one band were "not to be trusted."
In the summer of 1994, I remember specifically getting to know this kid from camp and asking him who his favorite bands were. He didn't have an answer off the top of his head, and he eventually said, "I'm really into Stay by Lisa Loeb." I just looked at him, speechless. It was a single that had come out just a couple of months before in May! I was aghast that someone wouldn't have a Top Ten Desert Island list at least mostly solidified. I admit I was a snotty teenager and a bit of an asshole, but I never looked at that kid the same again.
My friends and I were music fans. We liked all kinds of things and constantly listened to new things to tell each other about. But these kids? These kids were Floyd fans. They might also be into Zeppelin or some other bands, but it was Floyd first and everyone else in the distance. Look, in hindsight, it's really dumb and judgy. I'm not proud of everything I was as a teenager, but I have to be honest. This is who I was. I can also be fair and say that I was wrong, both in my judgment of the people and the music. I don't think I am alone here in having that experience, however.
This whole Floyd fan conundrum might also be related to being a second-wave fan. Let me quickly use Pearl Jam as an example. I'm a first-wave Pearl Jam fan, and so are most of my peers. We were around for Ten at the very beginning. Fast forward to today. What's strange is introducing Pearl Jam to my kids, who could be, what, third-wave fans? The key is sharing it and not making them hate it as "dad's" music. I have one friend who overplayed Pearl Jam in front of his kids until his oldest decided that Pearl Jam were "trash." While it makes me laugh, I understand the dynamics completely. I was once that kid using the 1980s or 90s equivalent of calling second-wave music "trash" because it dared to be older than my current generation of contemporary art!
I was born six years after Dark Side came out in 1973. Anyone is likely to have an unpredictable relationship to an album that’s not specifically of their time. So how did I finally come around on Pink Floyd and Dark Side of the Moon? I had some friends who convinced me that we had to experience Dark Side of the Rainbow.
(I’m guessing you know Dark Side of the Rainbow, but if you don’t, click the link for a quick primer.)
Let's just say that we were already deep into our teenage years of experimentation. I was 16 or maybe 17, and we all got together with a stereo and a rented VHS of The Wizard of Oz." (Please be kind! Rewind!) We certainly had some "mood enhancers" on hand. As soon as the third lion's roar started, we pressed play on the CD player. Over the next 42 minutes and 53 seconds as Dark Side of the Moon coincided to a creepy degree with The Wizard of Oz, we were mesmerized. Nobody talked. Nobody moved. Nobody got a glass of water or went to the bathroom. We all sat staring and listening.
In 2021, it's hard to grasp the level of attention we were able to devote to what was unfolding in front of us. We didn't have cell phones, and the idea of looking at a second personal screen while something was playing on the bigger communal screen wasn't even in our imaginations yet.
It's easy to dismiss Dark Side of the Rainbow now, but as an impressionable teenager, I felt like we just witnessed something mystical and magical. This was a happy conspiracy, not one of those dangerous ones!
Dark Side of the Rainbow has been dismissed by Pink Floyd and those who were part of the production as something for people with “too much time on their hands.” It seems glib to be so dismissive of something that people enjoy, but it’s their art, so they get to cast it however they wish. As for the coincidences in the film, I'd say it's just a happy accident created by the mind's tendency to want to find connections and ignore contrary evidence. I consider it in the same category of mind games when you go to look at a car, say a Nissan, and then wherever you go, you start seeing Nissans everywhere.
But back then, it felt like it was possible as the ultimate musical Easter Egg that we had the good fortune of being alive to experience. If nothing else, Dark Side of the Rainbow accentuated two iconic works of art and put them on display uniquely and unforgettably. For the album, it meant that whoever was watching was going to be listening intently to the lyrics and all the sonic changes that happen from song to song. It certainly worked for me. I didn't even like Pink Floyd before watching the movie. I came to adore that album afterward. I must have listened to it non-stop for a month afterward. The obsession spread to the rest of their musical catalog. I shouldn’t have needed such a goofy presentation to “get it,” but that’s how these things go.
I never quite got to the same level of fandom with any of the rest of their work. However, after finally buying in with Dark Side, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, Meddle, Animals, and the rest were all like finding additional treasure.
Back to Dark Side...
Once I was awake to Pink Floyd, I felt stupid for staying in the dark as long as I had. There's no weak spot on the album. I'm one of those weird people who doesn't totally love "Money," but it feels unnatural to skip it. Every damn song is precisely where it's supposed to be, and if you hear one of the songs on the radio and it's not part of a song block, and the next one doesn't start playing, it feels weird. There are only so many songs and albums like that in existence where they belong all together all the time. I think of Queen's "We Will Rock You," and "We Are the Champions" that way, but that's just two songs. Dark Side of the Moon is an album among very few to ever be released that stands as a complete record for its fans.
I often wonder what it must have been like to experience Dark Side as a Pink Floyd fan when it came out. According to a Rolling Stone article I found, the band played Dark Side songs for an entire year on tour before the album came out. It's hard to imagine something like that in the YouTube/cell phone generation where every live show is essentially recorded from multiple angles at all times by fans. I think about those types of details. What was it like to buy the record, bring it home, and put it on the record player for the first time? As a kid, I could at least listen to new music on the way home in my car. Kids today don’t even have to go to the store. So what was it like for superfans before me?
I'd love to hear about your Dark Side of the Moon discovery story. Unless you haven't gotten it yet. If so, I hope I was a worthy champion of The Dark Side of the Moon. Better yet, give me your address. I'll come over. We'll hang and watch the Dark Side of the Rainbow together.