Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
There was no Pazz and Jop in 1973 – it would return in 1974 and continue for more than 40 uninterrupted years – so for this year I’m going with Acclaimed Music, which seems more critic and artist focussed than my 1972 source. For #1, at least, the two lists are in full agreement.
There are records that have such a large cultural imprint that it is virtually impossible to have an original thought about them, even if you’ve never played them before. This might be the record of that type, which has left me feeling slightly intimidated when it comes to writing about it. That it is considered progressive rock in many circles (I disagree, respectfully) did not help my frame of mind coming in. Curiously, I don’t think it would have ranked this high if there was a Pazz and Jop in 1973 – Robert Christgau only gives it a “B” in his guide, and the early polls were a very inclusive club of his music writer pals. This seems to be a record whose import has grown with time.
The burden of such an outsized profile is that it can make a record seem underwhelming on first listen, because the listener (okay, me) has such high expectations. This is the “Office Space” effect. For years, I heard about what a great movie this was, so when I finally watched it, I wanted too much to love it, and ended up disappointed. Thankfully, because I’m a stubborn cuss, I gave it another try, now with more measured expectations, and did love it. More than a few people have been forced to listen to me deliver this exchange.
That was my experience with “The Dark Side of the Moon”. It was good, for sure. But what made it great? I wasn’t hearing it the first few times through. Records, though, are easy to keep playing. They can accompany us in the car, when doing dishes or laundry, when feeding our cats. Slowly, one play at a time, this album has gotten under my skin. I have no idea if it’s the second best album of all time, as Acclaimed Music has concluded, but, god, it’s good.
The more experimental stuff – heartbeats, conversational snippets, the legendary clocks of “Time” and cash register of “Money” – is fine, but I’m a song guy, and those are impressive even without the little avant garde flourishes. The gentle “Breathe (In the Air)” sets the tone, with the mournful guitar sounds washing over you. The guitar in “Time” is propulsive and howling, and sounds like loss feels, with a callback to “Breathe” in the final stanza. Plus, it has my favourite line on the album: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” “The Great Gig in the Sky” has some beautiful piano – I love the change at 0:35 – and is the most stirring tune here, with the possible exception of the spirituality and grandeur of “Us and Them”, with melancholic saxophone turning desperate towards the end.
The second half of the record, which includes “Us and Them”, starts with the money-is-bad-but-don’t-touch-mine cynical vibe of “Money”, with the saxophone adding a jauntiness that turns into a strut. The sadness over a lost comrade – “or maybe I’m crazy, too?” – of “Brain Damage” is followed by the “nothing matters” fatalism of “Eclipse”. The album is in no way a trip to a happy place, focussing on conflict, madness, fears and the like, but it is also a call to understand and empathize with what the people around us are going through, and that is a message that never gets stale. Especially today, when the world can seem like Jamie Tartt waiting for a hug from Roy Kent.
The lesson for me is to not give up on something too quickly. (Except Jethro Tull – I am very comfortable that I am right about those guys and don’t need another listen.) If I wasn’t writing these little commentaries, this would probably have gotten one play and then been consigned to the bin of “yeah, that just wasn’t for me” records. It can be good to find out you were wrong about something.