When the Overlords of the Universe finally get around to visiting us here on Earth to demand the human race justify itself or face oblivion, I’ll be ready for them.
I’ll be the one standing by with an iPod and a variety of retro-fitted ear buds – just in case the Overloads have more than two hearing orifices. So armed, I’ll be able to demonstrate the mind-blowing awesomeness of the human species in just under 45 minutes.
I’ll play for them Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Of course, they might kidnap the surviving members of Pink Floyd to take with them, but they’ll go away satisfied that any species that can produce an album like that can’t be completely worthless.
To me, one of the confounding mysteries of existence is how there could be anyone in the English-speaking world with functioning ears who has never, or does not now own, a copy of “Dark Side of the Moon.” It’s like going through life without ever having tasted chocolate or seen a baby smile.
OK, so I’m overselling it a bit, but that’s what you do at a big birthday celebration , right?
Indeed, March 1 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the landmark Pink Floyd album that first showed mainstream audiences that the recording of an album was a work of art in itself, above and beyond the artistry of songwriting and musicianship. Before “Dark Side,” people were satisfied with the hi-fi in the living room. But “Dark Side” ushered in the audiophile age, an arms race to bring more and bigger and better stereo equipment into the home. It was, in many ways, the first great headphones album.
It is tempting, yes, to mark “Dark Side of the Moon” as yet another tiresome chapter in the Baby Boomers’ ongoing catalogue of “How Everything Was Better Back In Our Day.” But I didn’t discover it until I was in college in the Reagan years, and I’ve talked to musicians who weren’t even born when the album was released who readily agree it ranks as one of the greatest achievements of the rock age. Sometimes those insufferable Boomers are right.
And let’s not forget the chart muscle of “Dark Side,” a psychedelic rock album that lingered on the Billboard album charts alongside all the ephemeral pop glop of the times for an astounding 773 consecutive weeks – that’s more that 15 years! Once it finally slipped off the Billboard 200 charts, it popped up on something called the “Top Pop Catalog Albums” – a chart for old but still popular albums – for another 750-plus weeks.
But there’s more: It re-emerged on the Billboard 200 in 2009 and has been on and off that chart ever since, hitting the milestone of 800 weeks on the chart last year. In second place is Johnny Mathis’s “Greatest Hits” at 490 weeks. “Dark Side of the Moon” has been on one Billboard chart or the other for close to 30 years. It still sells between 8,000 and 9,000 copies a week. It’s a classic-rock zombie monster.
Somewhere, right this very moment, a 17-year-old boy is hearing the album for the first time and his bio-chemistry is being changed forever.
It is here where we must rise to the defense of “Dark Side of the Moon,” often thought of as a “druggy” album, thanks to its ravishing sonic textures, spooky sound effects and overall pillowy lushness. The ignorant and hostile will too easily think “Dark Side” is to the ears what giant bags of Cheez Doodles are to the tongue, a banality designed to reward the stoner for being stoned.
This is an ugly slander. You don’t have to be baked to enjoy “Dark Side” – though with Pink Floyd’s later album “Animals,” I’m afraid it’s a prerequisite.
For years, the album has been saddled with this silly myth that is actually a commentary on “The Wizard of Oz” and if you play “Oz” and “Dark Side” at the same time, the action and the music sync perfectly.
Well, OK. I guess there is some synchronicity there. But, I tried it with “Bowling for Columbine,” “Silence of the Lambs” and a couple of “Die Hard” sequels and it lined up with those too. That’s just part of the album’s genius.
The “Oz” thing is just a way to snicker about a work of genius from people who prefer their pop music less demanding. What’s really remarkable about “Dark Side of the Moon” is that, unlikely almost all its neighbors on the Billboard charts over the decades, it’s not a dance record, it’s not soaked in sentimentality and it’s not about sex. It’s about mortality, war, greed and the supreme weirdness of being alive.
And though it’s now 40 years old and though it was designed for the joys of stereophonic home listening, “Dark Side of the Moon” is still relevant as an artifact of today.
Don’t believe it? Load it on to your device, take a walk on a cloudless night, find your favorite contemplative spot – with or without consciousness enhancements – and skip ahead to “The Great Gig in the Sky.” That’s the one with the wistful and haunting piano accompanying the otherworldly wordless vocalizing that sounds like a woman being dragged through the heavens by a giant white bird to sit at the right hand of God.
I dare you not to be moved by that piece. I dare you to live with this album for a while and not trot out the m-word once you’ve absorbed its rhythms and textures into your body, to come to the conclusion most of the rest of the record-buying public has already arrived at:
This one’s a masterpiece.