There are some albums that simply never go away. Dark Side of the Moon is one of them. Some people call it the Sgt. Pepper of the 1970s, but that’s misleading. Like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, Dark Side of the Moon is its own thing. Unlike Sgt. Pepper, it’s timeless.
Dark Side‘s secret is that it’s a progressive rock album without being overtly prog or overtly rock. The guitar work is raw blues with gospel-layered backing vocals. The playing, especially the drums and the keyboards are more jazz than anything else. And there is so much on this album that was never done before or done much since. “Money,” in particular, has a lot of space in it. David Gilmour plays guitar in spurts rather than wall-to-wall notes, even in his solos. Everything flows from Rick Wright’s keyboards.
And then there are those babbling sound effects. The cash register from “Money” alone too weeks for Roger Waters and Nick Mason to assemble in their sheds, then required, in the age of analog tape, all four members and engineer Alan Parsons to manage the tape loop. Today, it would simply be sampled, edited, and copied and pasted ad nauseum. But when everything is done on two-inch tape, it literally required using brooms, mops, and a bit of acrobatics to pull off.
The voices and sound effects have become hallmarks of Pink Floyd’s sound and that of Roger Waters’s solo work. Many who have tried to duplicate it do it ham-handedly. With the exception of The Wall, which was all angry bombast to begin with, the voices were subtle, part of the music, sometimes driving the beat.
The standout moment on this album is the wordless wail of singer Clare Tory on “Great Gig in the Sky,” a song with no lyrics but clearly about death. Orgasmic without being erotic, equal parts mournful and inspiring, it’s a type of music no producer would touch today, not with the LA Reids of the world avoiding improvisation the way most of us try to avoid food poisoning.
You couldn’t make Dark Side of the Moon today, Maybe in the nineities, when vintage equipment was the norm and there was a need to throw out studio trickery and overprocessing. Today, though, autotune is almost a badge of honor, and the happy accidents that made music like Floyd’s so timeless are edited out by soulless producers on laptops.
And yet Dark Side remains, rising back onto the charts periodically and never really leaving the public’s consciousness.