“That has obviously struck a chord somewhere”, said Roger Waters when his wife burst into tears upon hearing a pre-release tape of Dark Side of the Moon. Described by Nick Mason as a document of modern life that crossed over into a meditation on insanity, this album propelled Pink Floyd to superstar status.
Just when it looked like Britain’s musical star was on the wane, this soberly packaged album – recorded at EMI Abbey Road some four years after The Beatles album of that name – began its 1,500 week chart tenure, busting every sales record of that time wide open. The original Harvest solid ‘blue label’ vinyl pressing [pictured] was released on March 8th, 1973, and things would never be the same again.
It was recorded over the summer of 1972, when Abbey Road was proudly running sixteen tracks; the new Dolby noise reduction system was introduced halfway through the sessions, and the final album mixed down to stereo towards the end of the year. Legend has it that EMI commissioned Alan Parsons to do a quadraphonic mix too, but Pink Floyd boycotted its launch at the London Planetarium; their place was taken by life-sized cardboard cut-outs!
“It was about madness, it was about one’s fear, it was about the business”, recalls Waters. But it was an immensely mature piece of work, one which Dave Gilmour first thought to be too complicated. The process of touring the album before recording it doubtless helped to hone it to perfection before the band set foot in the studio. Indeed it was the first Floyd album which the band had both written and toured with before recording, having had the working title of Eclipse.
Dark Side of the Moon was very much of its time. As well as being a very personal record, it also somehow seemed to reflect the mood of a nation still trying to come to terms with its new place in the world, with all its ensuing neuroses and insecurities. It certainly catapulted Pink Floyd towards greatness, with David Gilmour recalling that, “it changed our fortunes everywhere. We became much more visible. We were selling out 12-15,000-seater venues in America, but thereafter we could sell out vast football stadiums and we had to change our ways of doing shows.” Roger Waters was less sanguine, saying in 1987 that the album “finished the group off. Once you’ve cracked it, it’s all over.”
A range of versions have come out over the years, with the best sounding being the aforementioned first Harvest vinyl pressing which sounds absolutely lovely – but be prepared to shell out £300 for a decent copy. Of the later LPs, the thirtieth anniversary vinyl edition is the best of a middling bunch, comparing reasonably well to the original. This edition was mastered at AcousTech by Doug Sax, overseen by James Gutherie with assistance from Alan Parsons – the album’s original engineer. The original CD, bearing EMI’s 001 catalogue number, released in August 1984 but wasn’t transferred from the master tape – instead it came off a standard 15ips Dolby copy – so is no great shakes. Then came the remastered CD on Harvest CDP7 46001 2, which is better. Arguably the best digital version is the EMI SACD, released in 2003.