50 Years On The Dark Side

Yesterday the music world celebrated a momentous milestone. On March 1, 1973, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was released in the United States, and the world of high school and college students would never be the same again.

I can’t remember where or when I first heard Dark Side of the Moon, but I know that I bought it in high school because I remember listening to it in my room at the back of the top floor of my parents’ split-level house. The fact that I bought the album distinguished me from absolutely no one, because in those days everyone seemed to have it, and play it. Along with Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Songs in the Key of Life, it was an album that you could count on being in pretty much everyone’s collection during the ’70s. If you had a college roommate and compared your respective album holdings when you moved in, Dark Side of the Moon was the inevitable, predictable duplicate.

None of this is surprising. Dark Side of the Moon has sold 50 million copies, and remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for almost 1000 consecutive weeks, from 1973 until 1990. That’s awesome, generation-spanning appeal–and of course people are still buying it.

What makes this now 50-year-old album so great? From the initial heartbeat, crazy laughter, and machine sounds that make up the intro to the first song, Speak to Me/Breathe, the album sets a mood that sucks the viewer into the Dark Side world. The songs are great, of course, and anyone can sing along with them, but the lyrics and the mood they and the music created combined to make you quiet down and think.

You could put the album on at a lively party with lots of free form conversation, and before you knew it, everyone at the party would be sitting quietly, listening to the record. And when you hit the point of Us and Them, with its great lyrics like “Forward he cried, from the rear, and the front ranks died,” and “with, without, and who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about,” every substance-addled student in the room was thinking: “Whoa!” Still later, the same quiet group of listeners would hear the running feet, and the clocks, and then be jolted back into reality by the alarm clocks and gongs. Listening to Dark Side was the quintessential communal experience.

That remains the case, even as new generations of music lovers are introduced to this legendary album and become mesmerized by its entrancing effect. Over the past 50 years, we’ve all visited the Dark Side of the Moon.