Counterbalance No. 21: Pink Floyd’s 'Dark Side of the Moon'

Now for the 800-pound gorilla in the room -- Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. It’s No. 21 on The Big List. Counterbalance explores the depths of the human condition on a trip that's out of this world.

Mendelsohn: I think, out of all the albums we've talked about thus far, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon may loom the largest. It's beloved, it's reviled, it's taken on a life of its own beyond that of its creators to represent some sort of cultural movement that involved panel vans with paintings of half-naked women riding Pegasus on the side of them. Commercially, it’s virtually unmatched but critically, it isn't loved across the board. Thoughts?

Klinger: I’ve never liked this album.

I didn’t like it when my eighth-grade chums were trying to tell me how deep and heavy it is. I didn’t like it in college when it became inextricably paired with a damp towel across the bottom of a dorm room door. And while I’ve certainly mellowed in my disdain for it as I’ve come to realize that there are more important things in this world to be outraged by, I don’t especially like it now.

I’ve now listened to it several times in preparation for this piece, and about the best I can say about it is that sonically it’s quite impressive, making it far and away Alan Parsons’ finest achievement (sorry, I Robot).

Mendelsohn: Finally, an album you don't like. Personally, I think Dark Side may be the perfect rock record. All killer—no filler! But before we get into that, I need some clarification. Is your disdain directed at just Dark Side or is it Pink Floyd in general?

Klinger: I’m the sort of person who thinks that Pink Floyd never fully recovered from losing Syd Barrett. But I do remember thinking “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” was fun when it was a hit—you know, because I was 11 and I thought school was boring. What does that say?

Since then, I’ve revisited most of their catalog, and I’m inclined to believe that most of their 1970s output is strictly for the bean bag chair. I realize this is something akin to rock heresy, but I don’t care. To my ears, Dark Side of the Moon lacks much in the way of punch. Oomph. Zazz.

Mendelsohn: For real? What are you smoking? Or maybe the problem is that you aren't smoking. I think you should spend some more time with Dave from accounting; he might be able to up your appreciation for bean bag chairs with a couple of his famous brownies.

Dark Side is not a thinking man's record by any stretch of the imagination. But I disagree that it lacks Oomph and/or Zazz. If you are looking for both please consider, for a moment, possibly the two finest rock instrumentals of all time, "The Great Gig in the Sky" and "Any Colour You Like" .

On the "Great Gig in the Sky," you get a meandering, introspective piano juxtaposed with the soaring vocal wail, courtesy of Clare Torry, and if that doesn't produce an emotional response, you're probably dead. In which case you might want to get on board "Any Colour You Like", which is the entirety of Pink Floyd's psychedelic noodling condensed down into three minutes of interstellar funk and the perfect way to leave this astral plane.

Klinger: Perhaps I’m not defining my terms clearly. The words “oomph” and “meandering” should never be used to refer to the same thing. Also, the instrumental parts are a big part of my problem with this album as I listen to it today. Waters and Co. consistently take forever to get to the freaking point—even the actual songs go on for well over two minutes before anything actually happens. And when you throw in these noodly bits where they all make spaceman noises for five minutes . . . well, let’s just say you really need to be in a certain frame of mind to enjoy this, and I am almost never in that frame of mind.

Mendelsohn: So you don't want me to light this doobie? I don't mind waiting a couple minutes for songs to get where they are going, especially when the payoff is as good as what the Floyd serves up. But what do you expect? Have you listened to the crap these guys put out before this record? It's nothing but spacemen noodling backed by trance-inducing drum tracks. And then, out of nowhere, they put out this album that intersperses all that oblique wankery with honest-to-goodness rock infused with heavy doses of pop, funk, and soul. It's not mind-blowing (unless your mind is blown) but it was a huge step forward for this group, almost transcendent in the way it came together and then broke upon the public consciousness, and it was something they were never able to re-capture despite the later success of the most pretentious rock album ever, The Wall.

Don't let your misgivings about the culture that surrounds this album inhibit your willingness to let it into your heart. Let it in, Klinger. Just turn off your noggin and let these 42 minutes of rock wash over you. You can't think about it too hard—that's the key (which is also why it’s so popular with a certain segment of the music-consuming populace).

Klinger: I’ve tried, Mendelsohn. Lord knows I’ve tried. But it just ain’t happening. It must just be the way my brain works. Most of the time I need a little sonic propulsion. I need the music to keep popping and moving forward, even when the music itself is quiet (it’s why I can listen to, say, Bill Evans all day long). It’s not often that I can just zone out to Logan’s Run noises, not to mention a track that features a solid minute of nothing but clock sound effects (you know, because the song’s called “Time”! Get it?).

And even when I can get my brain to settle into its metaphorical bean bag chair for some chillaxin’, Dark Side has that tone of dour alienation that I just can’t get behind—the same tone that made OK Computer such a tough sell for me.

Mendelsohn: Klinger, that solid minute of clock noise is an important part of this album. It serves not only as a build-up, a prelude if you will, but also as a metaphor for the affliction of the human condition and our inability to control the driving force of existence—the passage of time. Despite our best efforts to rein it in, to name it, to give it a face that we might perceive to control it, time stops for no man. The Floyd understood this, man—that’s what all those clock noises represent. By making you wait through all that tick-tocking, they were making you reconsider the meaning of time and the way it controls us by allowing us to think we control it.

I'm just kidding. They were more than likely all stoned out of their gourds and having a laugh with the tape recorder. But I think your objection raises an important point that we really haven't addressed in this exercise yet. Music is a subjective experience. As much as we would like to be able to quantify it, to put it in a list and assign each album its place, everyone will hear each piece differently.

As a species we strive for some sort of shared experience and while things like music, time or money can provide a false sense of that, in the end, it comes down to your singular existence. There are very few albums that can even scratch the surface of such an idea, the notion that we really are all alone in our own heads. Some people don't like looking into the mirror of Dark Side of the Moon. For others it provides a welcome escape, a knowing nod and a wink. But I imagine that the majority of folks who love this album love it because it goes down so well while sitting in a bean bag chair.

Klinger: I get it, man—it’s like how some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple adventure story, while others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe. Heavy.

But I think it's the solipsism you describe that's a big part of what makes Dark Side a turn-off for me. Even so, as I’ve dug into this album in preparation for this piece, I must confess to enjoying some of the beep-boopery here, especially while I’m driving. But then I get concerned—should I really be listening to this while I’m driving?

Mendelsohn: Friends don't let friends Dark Side and drive. Seriously, it's not a good idea—time was you'd get 20 to life if you were caught doing that in Nevada.

Klinger: But the twinkling, Mendelsohn, it’s so beautiful . . .

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