The numbers attached to The Dark Side of the Moon are pretty impressive. More than 50 million copies sold worldwide, 15 straight years on Billboard’s album chart, consistently ranked in the Top 10 of many best-albums-ever-made polls. But Pink Floyd’s achievements with their eighth LP go deeper than that. In a way, their 1973 epic changed the way people made and listened to albums. There’s still no better head trip — legally at least — available.
Following original leader Syd Barrett’s breakdown and departure from the band in the late ‘60s, Pink Floyd took off in a different direction. The psychedelic tones Barrett brought to the music were still there, but the albums became headier — sturdier in ways that the always-delicate Barrett couldn’t conceive or articulate. Through a series of musically complex and exploratory records, the four remaining members of Pink Floyd connected personal themes to space age freakout music.
Everything leading up to The Dark Side of the Moon, which was released in March 1973, was mere prep work. With their 43-minute opus, Pink Floyd delivered a masterpiece on death, madness and the post-war problems of kids who came of age in the ‘50s. In a way it’s a tribute to Barrett, whose mental breakdowns were well-known and well-documented at that point. But it’s also a tribute to a generation of young twenty-somethings searching for reason and purpose. The Dark Side of the Moon doesn’t necessarily have the answers; the best it can muster is a we’re-all-crazy-here shrug. And maybe that’s enough.
But the album’s 10 songs land with a massive force. From the opening heartbeat instrumental “Speak to Me” to the soul- and mind-cleansing closer “Eclipse,” The Dark Side of the Moon made deep, heavy records — ones without obvious radio singles, even though “Money” almost hit the Top 10 — a commercial mainstay for the rest of the decade. Its influence still resonates indirectly (think Radiohead’s string of artsy, musically complex records) and directly (the Flaming Lips covered the entire album in 2009) with artists. It set up Pink Floyd for the rest of their career. It made headphone listening a required luxury. It’s the aural equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And it’s still blowing minds.
Shine on …
Initial speculation surrounding Pink Floyd‘s ‘The Endless River‘ suggested that it was based on a mix of early-’90s ambient tracks called ‘The Big Spliff,’ constructed by the band’s longtime engineer Andy Jackson. Instead, as as Nick Mason tells Rock Cellar, Pink Floyd’s final album went through a number of additional updates on its way to your ears.
He said that Jackson’s work had been considered at one point as a possible second disc to be paired with 1994’s ‘The Division Bell,’ which grew out of the same sessions. A looming world tour, however, kept Pink Floyd from following through. So, the leftover music sat in a vault until very recently, when David Gilmour returned to the tapes.
Eventually, Jackson was joined by co-producers Phil Manzanera and Youth as ‘The Endless River’ began to pick up steam. Along the way, Mason said additional music was added, along with lyrics on the closing track ‘Louder Than Words,’ and by the end, ‘The Big Spliff’ was rendered all but unrecognizable.
“I think that at this point, there’s not a big connection anymore,” Mason said in the interview. “[The producers] took a huge bunch of stuff and meted out what should be kept. To me, ‘The Big Spliff’ was an early pass at this recording. Whatever is there now, the initial distillation was done from all those takes that were lurking around.”
“I think we’d be scraping the barrel, and we don’t want to do that,” Mason explained. “I think that we’ve done the best with what we have and we should be happy about that. I think that to try to make something out of nothing would be a very dangerous procedure. Unless something else turns up that’s unexpected, this is probably a graceful way of bowing out of new material of any sort.”