I think English philosopher John Stuart Mill said it best in his 1859 essay, "On Liberty", when he warned of a concept perilous to liberty called "the tyranny of the majority". Put basically, this warns of the idea that once you have the votes of a majority in the bag, to all intents and purposes the minority no longer matter, due to the simple fact that they're outnumbered. Now, if you'll excuse a seriously tenuous connection here, there's a startling resemblance between this concept and general opinions on Pink Floyd, a band that haven't needed any introduction for at least 3 decades. You see, like Nevermind
is with Nirvana, and Metallica
is with Metallica, the majority have effectively dictated something that's become firmly established as an objective fact. In the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 albums ever recorded, what's the top Pink Floyd album? The Dark Side Of The Moon
. What's the best selling Pink Floyd album? Yep, The Dark Side Of The Moon
. Which is the album that all those horrible Pink Floyd fanboys constantly insist syncs up with The Wizard Of Oz for some unknown reason? Once again, it's The Dark Side Of The Moon
. In short, both critically and commercially, this album is one of the most remarkable ever. At this stage however, I think it might be worth pointing out that there's a strong case to be made for it being the worst Pink Floyd made between 1973 and 1983, with the band's three subsequent albums all being superior to it.
While this may seem like a bold statement, the facts bear it out. Taking the band's subsequent two releases, both consisted of 5 songs, centred around 10 minute + masterpieces (Shine On You Crazy Diamond
, respectively). The Wall
by contrast is generally accepted as the concept album of concept albums, with a plot so intricate and yet identifiable to most listeners that the moments when the music starts dragging pass quickly purely on the strength of what the band are doing. That's not actually the case with The Dark Side Of The Moon
though. The album itself takes until track 4 to really get going, after both Speak To Me
and On The Run
serve as songs that further the idea of the album, rather than actually being particularly likeable. In the case of On The Run
in particular, it's hard to listen to it without glancing at least once at your watch to see how much longer of the seemingly endless hurtling down a tunnel sound you have left to go before the juddering crash that leads into Time
. While Breathe
is a good song, it's effect is lost by being sandwiched in between these 2 filler tracks, and the way that it's reprised at the end of Time
is also slightly unfortunate in that it adds further support to the idea that the opening 3 songs of the album could have been better planned.
Now, it may sound here like I'm building for a full blown polemic on how this album is hideously overrated, and not deserving of anything more than an average mark. Well, that's not really the case. While the opening of the album may be weak, there are some genuinely magnificent songs here, that just about any band would have sold their soul to Satan if they were granted the ability to write them in return. The twin epics of Time
and Us & Them
are both masterpieces and the two stand out songs of this album, weighing in at over 6 minutes long each, featuring wonderful guitar solos, as well as a sense of drama conveyed brilliantly by the vocals (mainly sung by Dave Gilmour) that pretty much epitomises everything that's great about the album. The Great Gig In The Sky
, which merges in brilliantly from Time
is an absolutely gorgeous song, with Claire Torry wailing over a keyboard part that, while simple, conjures up more emotion and drama than if Pink Floyd had bottled up a storm and unleashed it as the backing music for Torry. All three of these songs are simply incredible, and would rank very highly in any list of the best music made by the band. Just below them in overall quality, but still really rather good are the ending duo of Brain Damage
, which finalise the concept of the album, as well as having the potential to lend the Oxford Dictionary a new definition of the word "epic". On Brain Damage
in particular, the manner in which the music whispers away quietly during the verses before pounding back in during the chorus, which pledges to "see you on the Dark Side Of The Moon" is prog grandeur at its very best, giving an obvious reason for the phenomenal success of the album. Similarly, Eclipse
with its list-style lyrics that build until the final triumphant cry of "The sun is eclipsed by the moon" ends the album on a note that somehow leaves the listener with a sense that something deeply profound has occured, even if he can't quite say what.
And more than anything, that's what probably explains the success of this album. As Dave Gilmour put it when asked what the album was about, "It's about life, isn't it?" What's interesting about that quote is the air of uncertainty that he displays; as one of the four creators of the album, you'd expect him to have a pretty solid grasp of where they were going with it, but rather it seems as if it mutated, going beyond what the band intended into becoming an era-defining work. Certainly, the band would never be the same again after the album's release, with their next 3 albums becoming progressively more bleak as Roger Waters became increasingly dominant. While the album clearly does have a concept, including such grand ideas as money, insanity, the passage of time and eventually death, the exact way in which the listener interprets them is entirely down to him. The album was ahead of its time in that effects such as the chiming clocks at the start of Time
, the cash registers in Money
, and of course all the vocal samples that exist throughout the album, taken simply from people's reactions to questions asked by the band, all combining to continually keep the listener interested. However, while the technology of the time can still sound extraordinary today, at other times it fails. In addition to what has already been mentioned, Any Colour You Like
is a genuine oddity, and coming after the raw power of Us And Them
, it rather saps the album out of the momentum that's been building. While it's obviously hard to say what the band could have put there (and it does segue perfectly into Brain Damage
), the track now sounds dated, like watching archive footage of a space walk, and realising that we've now moved on from that. Dare I say it, but even Money
can drag if you're not in the right mood for it. Perhaps due to the fact that it's the one song from here that doesn't quite link into the other songs, meaning that it's capable of being properly thought of as a stand-alone song, but the saxophone solo midway through seems to not quite be in tune with the spirit of the album, and while it's a good song, it doesn't truly stand up to the best of this album.
So, what's the final conclusion? I mentioned John Stuart Mill at the start, and while his warnings of the tyranny of the majority are accurate, it's also worth remembering that the majority may not always be as bad as the "enlightened minority" like to think. The Dark Side Of The Moon
has the reputation that it does for a reason. It's one of the few prog-style albums to really successfully make the jump into mainstream culture, and that's because everyone can find something to identify with here. Being honest, how many of us have thought at some point in our lives, "Why?" I'm willing to bet that we're pushing 100%. That's what this album does as well. Taking us on a journey through ourselves, pointing out our innermost fears as well as somehow hinting at something not quite definable which we are nevertheless aware of, it's always been the best starting place for Pink Floyd, and almost certainly always will be. It may not be perfect in the execution of the concept it portrays, but then again the minute that a band manages to combine the concept of this album with music that matches it to perfection, the music world may as well pack their bags and declare retirement. In the meantime we can all carry on listening to this.