50 years of “Dark Side Of The Moon”: Floydian excellence at the service of rock… and its paradoxes!

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50 years of «Dark Side Of The Moon”: Floydian excellence at the service of rock… and its paradoxes!

Photo: Illustration Tiffet In terms of success factors, the word balance was strongly emphasized at the time and is still emphasized today, between the instrumental parts and the sung parts , between the concept and its setting to music, as well as between the catchy melodies and the sound effects.

Once a month, Le Devoir challenges history buffs to decipher a topical theme based on a comparison with an event or a historical figure.

The year 1973 was a milestone in the history of rock, just as it marked the consciences of the West with the economic crisis caused by the first oil shock. Fifty years later, we can safely say that Pink Floyd released an album that year that looked like a culmination point for rock, showing its aesthetic ambitions as much as its artistic paradoxes and its commercial potential.


Released March 1, 1973 by Harvest Records (EMI), Dark Side of the Moon quickly established itself at the top of the musical sales of the year in several countries, including Canada. In fact, the 33 rpm is constantly mentioned in the annals of rock for its long commercial success, appearing for a total of 741 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart and reaching sales of over 45 million copies. p>

If he thus participates in the quadrangle of best-selling albums of all time alongside Thriller, Back in Black and the soundtrack The Bodyguard, it also stands out from them for the influence it has acquired over the long term by touching different generations and becoming a centerpiece rock comparable to Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

To be interested in such a success is therefore to ask the questions why Pink Floyd and why 1973? Since the Floyd's eighth album skipped the psychedelic years that had seen the band become a cornerstone of the London underground, there was no sign of stratospheric sales or such a defining influence on rock music. 1970s, their trajectory anchoring at that time to progressive rock considered complex and therefore difficult to access.

The fact is that the formation first came from the British Blues Boom of the 1960s, Nick Mason on drums, Roger Waters on bass and Richard Wright on keyboard being at that time students of architecture evolving in amateur groups. Under the impetus of Syd Barrett, in 1966, at the same time singer, guitarist and composer, original works took shape under the name of Pink Floyd and it ensued a not insignificant success, while the mental health problems of the latter forced him to abandon the adventure. David Gilmour was called in as reinforcements in 1967 to replace Barrett as singer and guitarist. The quartet that would be behind Dark Side of the Moon six years later was then in the saddle.

The musical turning point

Forming a rock band is one thing, but coming up with an original sound is another, especially in a context of musical effervescence like the one in which the Floyd evolved. In fact, the quartet is crossed by solid differences in the forces involved: Gilmour and Wright were more tooled musicians, while Waters and Mason showed a more pronounced interest in the conceptual scope of music.

To create in this context, one of the rallying points quickly became experimentation. And among the many ways to experiment, there were those offered by jazz or even collective creation, which resulted in free improvisation from which key moments could be extracted in the service of songs.

< p>Before 1973, the albums testified to this experimentation as well as to the context of improvisation, the result being music carried by the sound atmospheres and distinguished by long instrumental tracks – we then speak of space rock.

The 1971 album Meddle, marked a transition in this direction, with the group achieving success beyond early fans and offering more accomplished titles, including “Echoes”. Hence the need to remember that Dark Side of the Mooncame in the wake of the turning point taken with Meddle and the experimental work resulting from projects such as the film Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972) as well as musical improvisation.

It is on the strength of these achievements that the lunar album was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studios from June 1972 to January 1973, the material having been tested in concert situations . But that does not explain everything.

The chemistry that took place thanks to the excellence of the Floydians was based on several factors. And among the first of these was leveraging each member's strengths: Gilmour's voice with its ethereal reach as much as its strength of character, as well as his guitar playing with unstoppable melodies and sound effects; Wright's melodic work and vaporous loops through multiple keyboards, including synthesizer; Waters' bass riffs as well as the musical transposition of his ideas; Mason's drumming focused on atmospheric work and putting the album's subject into perspective.

The strengths of each person only make sense insofar as they have yielded to an ultimate goal : lead to a coherent album, the parts being at the service of the whole. And therein lay its great novelty and the explanation of its success: the concept evoked by the title unified each of the 10 songs. Speak To Me in opening guide gives way to Breathe, thus representing the birth of human life, following which the three other tracks on the first side, including Time, are intended to be the imprint of the experience of time and the consciousness of the fatality with which everyone is confronted.

The second side of the album explores darker themes explaining why the luminous dimension of the moon responds to a hidden side, for example the difficulty of human relationships that Us And Them addresses, the psychic disorders that Brain Damage tellsor the greed denounced by Money. With this last title betting on a catchy melody and a more pop form, the Floyd made their first entry into commercial radio.

From balance to the paradoxes of rock< /h2>

In terms of success factors, the word balance was heavily emphasized at the time and still is today, between the instrumental parts and the sung parts, between the concept and its setting to music, as well as between catchy melodies and sound effects. This result was not attributable to the members of the formation alone.

Other names have gone down in history in the credits of the album, fruit of their collaborations in previous years, starting with l sound engineer and musician Alan Parsons, as seen in the sonic perspective of Time clocks or Money cash registers. A few musicians have also been added to increase the sound texture, for example Dick Parry on saxophone on Us And Them and the voice of Clare Torry on The Great Gig in the Sky. And fruit of the work of Storm Thorgerson and George Hardie, what about the iconic image that appeared on the cover and which testified to the visual as well as graphic concern of the Floyds!

This year 1973 therefore had the effect of transforming the training, the repercussions being as much positive as negative. On the positive side, Pink Floyd managed the feat of offering rock one of its most successful and synthetic concept albums in terms of the aesthetic ambitions of the time: technological refinement, structured subject matter, hit songs, etc.

On the negative side, the album entailed a before and after in the Floydian trajectory: beyond the commercial success which had not been foreseen and the rejection which followed from several early fans, what added the exhaustion of the titanic tours, there was a Waters seeing himself in the wake of this creative success and leader of the band. The recording sessions leading to Wish You Were Here (1975) and The Wall (1979) would come to widen the gap between him and his colleagues, the separation inevitable arriving with The Final Cut (1983).

Dark Side of the Moon was also emblematic of a year in which rock permanently transformed. If this album or others, like Selling England by the Pound by Genesis, carried the artistic aspirations of the genre as well as its political utopias, such as technology to perfect sound and the power to contest cultural forms, they also ended it by the heavy commercialization that the music industry has engaged in; the Adult-oriented rock (AOR) branch of the years to come will be an example of this, with albums betting on sentimental songs, like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.

Everything happens as if, at the crucible of history, the 1973 album responded in advance to the transformations of capitalism, of which the oil shock represented the excesses and the music industry consumed the potential. Pink Floyd, like so many other rock bands, has come to terms with this new reality, with the dark side of the moon taking a new turn.

To submit a text or to make comments and suggestions , write to Dave Noël at dnoel@ledevoir.com.