“Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon 50th Anniversary” (published by Thames & Hudson)

Before the real madness set in

Rock history offers the established facts that “The Dark Side of the Moon” album from 1973 is Pink Floyd’s masterpiece, a hi-fi buff’s dream with some 50 million copies sold, a number surpassed by very few others. For the true Floyd fan, it can be seen as more than fine music, rather as a time when four mates still found joy in being together and creating new sounds, in sharing a joint and in going out on the road, before the lunatic got in their own heads.

It was one of the last times before bass player and emerging songwriter Roger Waters let his ego burst and destroy the harmony, his “me and them” mentality reflecting his very own accusatory title “Us And Them”. Those better times can be seen in this lavish coffee-table book of the several tours between 1972, when live workshopping of the new music began, and 1975, when the album was out and being played in full at spectacular concerts on three continents.

Here, in 150-plus, one-a-page photographs, many of them said to be rare and unseen, are the boys, the gang, tackling the world together – backstage, at soundchecks, onstage and after-show in some 150 concerts in Britain, Japan, North America and continental Europe. The hair is long, the smiles are plenty, and if anything is flared, it is the trousers not the tempers.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” was perhaps the last time the four fellows – David Gilmour on guitar, Nick Mason on drums, Roger Waters on bass and Rick Wright on keyboards –  truly worked together on a creative and open basis, before Waters became commanding and pushed his ideas and lyrics to the extent that joint endeavour lessened. He left the band in 1985 and lost a legal battle to prevent the others from using the Pink Floyd name without him.

In the glossy book, true togetherness can be seen in a terrific photo in Belsize Park in London sometime in 1971 when the lads are obviously bombed out of their skulls on some fine dope, possessed of the giggles. Like the rest of the shots, it’s black and white – in colour the eight eyes would surely have been nicely bloodshot. In other pictures, Gilmour and Waters, those future antagonists, enjoy a game of backgammon in Edinburgh, all the band play squash in the Scottish city and Waters enjoys golf in Manchester, each occasion during a 1974 tour.

Here too are the foursome  in the restaurant car of an inter-city train on that same British Winter Tour. Tedium can’t always be avoided though, as they read the papers, smoke lots of ciggies, tune up and generally hang around chatting with a few mates, their backing singers and saxophonist Dick Parry while waiting for showtime. Then playing amidst their nine tons of equipment, quadraphonic sound system, custom-built lighting rig and clouds of dry ice.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” was Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album, released on March 1, 1973. Recording of the new material began in May 1972 in Studio Two at EMI Studios (as Abbey Road was known) in St John’s Wood, London, and continued over 38 days in the next seven months as they created the LP that, for many, is their defining work.

Its working title briefly changed to Eclipse: A Piece For Assorted Lunatics after the band discovered that British blues rockers Medicine Head had named their 1972 album Dark Side of the Moon”. However, once the Medicine Head album came and went nowhere commercially, Pink Floyd reverted to the desired title.

Their album had an interesting genesis. A few months before the band began recording sessions at Abbey Road, they workshopped the new material at a series of shows. The book’s list of tour dates begins at the Brighton Dome on January 20, 1972. Unfortunately, 26 minutes into this performance, as the band attempted to keep time with the backing tape of “Money”, an electrical fault brought everything to a halt.

This part of the show did not resume, and the band had to revert to old material they had got sick of, such as “Atom Heart Mother”. An audience tape exists of the Brighton disaster. As a result, their work-in-progress was actually unveiled in its entirety the next night, along the coast in Portsmouth Guildhall, then Bournemouth Winter Gardens, Southampton Guildhall, Newcastle City Hall, Leeds City Hall, Coventry Locarno Ballroom and Bristol Colston Hall.

Waters added a new rather depressing ending to the suite in Leicester De Montfort Hall on February 10, about the sun being eclipsed by the moon, and after further shows in Sheffield City Hall and Liverpool Empire Theatre, the British tour ended with four concerts at the Rainbow Theatre in London.

A bootleg of all four Rainbow performances, Tour 72”, began circulating even before the real album was recorded and it apparently sold more than 100,000 copies. It shows that the suite of songs is beginning to audibly cohere. While the bootleg likely helped build anticipation for the eventual “The Dark Side of the Moon”, it certainly displeased the band. In response, this would be the last time that they played any new material extensively before its release.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” tackled big topics: madness, commercialism, war, the inevitability of death, the triviality of daily life, the importance of seizing the moment. The perspective is dour. In “Breathe (in the Air)”, life is a “race towards an early grave”. In “Time”, every sunrise brings you “one day closer to death”. On February 27, 1973, EMI Records debuted “The Dark Side of the Moon” to an invited audience of press and others at the London Planetarium.

While hit singles often drove album sales in 1973, Dark Side” was a rare example of a runaway success before a single was even released. The album had already sold a million copies by the time “Money” appeared as its first single in May. In one aspect of its mind-boggling success, some listeners synced it up to the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”, claiming to find moments where the two artworks appear to correspond. Of course it was nonsense, but there are strange people around who have spare time to do things like this.

As well as all those attractive photographs, Thames & Hudson’s deluxe book reproduces a “Caught in the Act” concert review of “Floyd’s space odyssey” from the Melody Maker music publication, a 1974 tour ad from New Musical Express, the full 1972-75 tour listing, song lyrics, and artwork and paste-ups showing the evolution of the cover art. This was designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of art design group Hipgnosis, and drawn by George Hardie, with the gatefold sleeve going on to enjoy almost the same iconic status as the music itself. Concluding the book is an ad for that January-February 1972 British tour that got the whole ball rolling.


Three footnotes –

1) Here at The Budapest Times our favourite Floyd album is “Obscured by Clouds”, a soundtrack from 1972 for the French film “La Vallée”.

2) The self-proclaimed mastermind Waters is today completely re-recording the whole album without any participation from the former bandmates he now maligns, thus dumping their vocals, lyrics and instrumental work, including guitar solos. It seems that many of we 50 million are too thick to have ever properly understood his meanings and we need to be corrected. The Budapest Times awaits with extreme trepidation, but almost certainly won’t listen to it anyway.

3) A 50TH anniversary is a worrying moment for those of us ancient enough to recall the album’s release and who saw the band play the whole thing live at Earls Court, London, in May 1973. Earls Court was a cavernous exhibition hall that hosted the Motor Show and other big events. David Bowie played the first ever rock show there on May 12, 1973 and bombed with poor visibility (the stage was on ground level) and an inadequate sound system. This sparked speculation that Pink Floyd, coming in on May 18 and 19, might cancel. However, their advanced equipment was well up to the task for the 18,000 audiences over each of the two nights. I still remember how during “On the Run” six searchlights, three each side, swirled round and round, backwards and forwards, over the crowd then suddenly all focused on a spot high in the roof at the rear, whereupon a replica airplane was seen to start its journey over the mesmerised audience, every head turned upwards, to hit the back of the stage and explode exactly as the instrumental climaxed. And “Money” with the cash registers in stereo from speakers at each side of the auditorium. And “Any Colour You Like” when all the music was coming from stage front until David Gilmore stepped forward and thumped his guitar, the resultant sound bursting unexpectedly from the rear of the auditorium and hitting 18,000 people like they’d just been knifed in the back. What a night.

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