Reviews

The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece by John Harris

John Bergstrom

Tellingly, you get a better sense of the synthesizer's personality than the band's. Were the Floyd just following 'the English way', or were they dull, arrogant bastards? You decide.


The Dark Side of the Moon

Publisher: Da Capo
Length: 191
Subtitle: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece
Price: $24.95
Author: John Harris
US publication date: 2005-11
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

The most concise critique of The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece appears on its dust jacket: "... the ubiquitous popularity of this record remains an enigma." Freelance writer Harris's well-crafted, handsome little book (featuring many archival photos, most from drummer Nick Mason's personal collection) doesn't offer any new insight on why Dark Side is one of the best-selling popular albums ever. But then, it doesn't really try to. Instead, it functions as a fairly succinct history of Pink Floyd, capped by a play-by-play-type rendering of the actual recording process. In doing so with fresh interviews with nearly all the principals involved, though, it does reveal a bit about the members of Pink Floyd themselves. Basically, they were dour and self-involved, with all the charisma of a moon rock. Sometimes it's best to let enigmas be enigmas.

Pink Floyd's faceless, detached non-image has helped leave the band's music wide open for engagement by just about everyone. Apparently, that image was not just a construct. While all four band members seem to have realized that Dark Side was something special, their in-studio demeanor comes across as icily professional, nothing resembling the cohesive "gang mentality" associated with many rock bands at their peaks. Thirty years on, session vocalist Lesley Duncan still remembers that "[The band members] were cold; rather clinical. They didn't emanate any kind of warmth ... they just said what they wanted and we did it." Clare Torry, another vocalist who was brought in later in the recording process, adds: "They didn't say very much ... I thought [the concept behind Dark Side] was rather pretentious, to be honest." The irony of all this for an album about, in the words of lyricist Roger Waters, "an expression of political, philosophical, humanitarian empathy" is not lost on Harris.

What emerges is a fairly insightful, if not shocking, view of the Floyd as a working band. You get the sense of each member's position within the ranks, roles that make the eventual fracturing of the group seem inevitable: Waters as the conflicted visionary, dogmatic ideologue, and shoddy bass player; David Gilmour as the pragmatic, slightly arrogant guitar prodigy and musical director; drummer Mason as the optimistic peacekeeper (the Ringo, in other words); keyboardist Rick Wright as the talented yet bullied stepchild.

Harris's book functions best in a couple ways. It doesn't get to the actual recording of Dark Side until about halfway through. Instead, Harris takes pains to establish context and perspective. In light of its astounding success, it's easy to forget that Dark Side was created by a band in a precarious position: creatively wobbling after years of post-Syd Barrett lurching about, somewhat viewed as a hippie-era holdover in its native England, and lacking sustained presence on the American charts. Harris notes that Dark Side was a conscious effort by the band to create a more engaging, straightforward album than they had before.

The most value in the book comes from what its title suggests -- a detailed breakdown of the actual recording process. Here, your satisfaction will be directly proportional to your interest in the technical aspects of the music. Curios will find irresistible details: "Brain Damage" was musically based on the Beatles's "Dear Prudence"; Paul McCartney was interviewed for some of the album's spoken-word sound effects but was deemed to be, in Gilmour's words, "too clever; too guarded". Not everyone's going to be interested in the competition between engineers Alan Parsons and Chris Tomas. And, if you're not, sentences like, "At Thomas's suggestion, "Money" was bolstered by the addition of more guitar" will be all-too-Spïnal Tap.

In the end, the best bit of The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece doesn't involve the music at all. Rather, it's Waters's uncharacteristically endearing admission that, "If I'm honest, I have to accept that [after Dark Side's success] I became a capitalist. You can tell yourself what the fuck you like, but if you suddenly get quite a lot of money ... you can't pretend ... [But] one of the good things about being a capitalist is that you become a philanthropist, to a certain extent."

In 2005, that philanthropy even allowed Rogers, after 20 years, to temporarily reunite with the Floyd for a performance at Live 8, related in Harris's prologue. If anything, Harris's book demonstrates that the history of Pink Floyd has become the history of Waters's and Gilmour's ongoing divorce. Not even The Dark Side of the Moon can overshadow that.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image