Creative Loafing was barely a year old when British rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. The innovative concept record was a shining example of progressive recording technology at the time; it's still one of the most successful rock albums of all time; and it's a cool record to get high to.
Don Radcliffe, owner of Ella Guru CDs & Music in Atlanta, attributes the album's success to "drugs, incessant radio play and the efforts of record labels to actually work records long enough to make a catalog seller."
There are only a handful of images and sounds that truly define rock music like Dark Side. Both its music and cover image – a ray of light traversing a prism and generating the color spectrum – are instantly recognizable. While the social forces and events that push certain albums into this echelon are generally indefinable, such canonization often indicates the impact a work of art has on popular culture.
Dark Side of the Moon was released at a tumultuous time. The United States was slowly healing from an unpopular war in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal was facing exposure. Britain was dealing with severe economic issues, and the rest of the world was just as crazy. The human condition was undergoing radical changes, and social upheaval was contributing to those pressures. With its theme of nihilism and a dash of hope thrown in for good measure, Dark Side was the perfect soundtrack for the times.
Bassist Roger Waters wrote all the lyrics, which took a complex look at life and its many challenges. From the pressures of the working world in "On the Run," inherent greed in the drive to make more "Money," interpersonal conflicts between "Us and Them," and the ultimate cost of all this social and psychological turmoil that results in "Brain Damage," Waters covered a lot of ground.
The album only spent one week at the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Top 200 album chart during its initial release, but holds the distinction of having the longest consecutive chart run in music history – a whopping 591 weeks and total chart time exceeding 1,500 weeks.
Radcliffe, who has worked in the music retail business since the album was released, challenges the legitimacy of the numbers. "We'd see that thing still on the chart after 200-300 weeks and chuckle because [back then] there was no SoundScan, and chart positions were bought and paid for. So we knew they were just continuing to chart the record for kicks." But with more than 35 million sold, and current weekly sales between 7,000 and 9,000 copies, Dark Side of the Moon ranks as the fourth-best-selling album of all time.
To many, the album still sounds as good as it did the first time – although some folks, such as Radcliffe, may have heard it so much that they've been satiated. "I was working in a record store in Gainesville, Fla.," he says, "and was quickly and forever sick of this thing. It was inescapable, coming out of every dorm-room window, every shack in the student ghetto, every car radio. I still can't stand it."
As a cultural icon, Dark Side of the Moon is stronger today than it was in the '70s. The album turns up in diverse situations, such as in conversation with country songwriter Bobby Braddock, who says "Believe it or not, Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite album. A lot of folks think it is 'cut your wrists' music, but I think it is incredible." There was even a young hippie chick dancing at this year's MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C., with The Dark Side of the Moon album-cover patch sewn on her backpack.
Like Elvis Presley's sideburns, the Rolling Stones' tongue and the Beatles' haircuts, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is part of our collective musical consciousness. And it is here to stay.
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