Not too long ago, someone made the comment that you didn’t understand music until you’ve listened to Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl with the lights out.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I understand it now as I am writing this in my office with the lights out and Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl. And what a treat it is!
Those who knew me in the 2000s knew I once had a Pink Floyd fetish that bordered on obsessive. Dark Side was the peak of their creative powers, with Wish You Were Here serving as a sort of coda to that album.
I’ve listened to Dark Side under all sorts of circumstances over the years that heightened the albums effect. I’ve never listened to it high. My experience with mind-altering chemicals that aren’t fermented or distilled is rather limited (and mostly boring.) Once, my cousin, a DJ for Akron’s WONE, pulled a rare evening shift during which he played the Floyd classic as a lunar eclipse progressed. I was out driving around and saw a jet fly past the reddened moon during “Any Colour You Like.” I called in and told my cousin how great the experience was. He asked if I was high. That would have been the night to do it.
I even did the infamous Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon sync, and yes, it really did work. It was mostly coincidence. Both Roger Waters and David Gilmour have expressed puzzlement over suggestions that this was intentional. It wasn’t, but it was trippy as hell to watch.
This time, I tried it after someone suggested this was the best way to enjoy Dark Side on vinyl. They were right. I bought the remaster at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, making the obligatory trip to Haight-Ashbury last week on vacation. I could just as easily have bought this in Cincinnati at Everybody’s Records or MetaModern, my two preferred places to feed my new vinyl addiction. But it was there, and I wasn’t about to walk out of a San Francisco institution without something. (Well, I’d already bought Yes’s Drama and an Amoeba Music T-Shirt.)
So how was this?
It’s been about 30 years since I listened to Dark Side on vinyl. I listened to the original CD release and thought it was brilliant. I thought David Gilmour was smart to record and mix in digital, then master in analog for A Momentary Lapse of Reason, keeping the tradition of Pink Floyd being masters of studio technology. And the Spotify version of Dark Side has its own reasons to give up 45 minutes to just chill.
But hearing it remastered on vinyl let me hear details you don’t hear on other formats. iTunes and MP3 in particular really gutted the music. Spotify and other streaming services have managed to put some of that back in, but there are details that, due to the nature of digital, just get lost. It’s really noticeable on “Any Colour You Like” and “Eclipse.” On the former, Waters’s bass shows through in a way I hadn’t heard since my 20s while the voices on the latter just blend so much better. I’m not an analog snob, but vinyl has gone from that format that sounds like Rice Krispies to a different way to listen to music. Not necessarily better. There are bands that try to get away with etching the iTunes version of their work onto vinyl. Just as those early CDs where someone plugged a turntable into a CD burner sounded like crap, so, too, does digital dumped unprocessed and unfiltered onto vinyl sound horrible.
This does not. I could listen to “Any Colour You Like” (and “Great Gig in the Sky”) on repeat for hours.
If vinyl allowed such luxuries.