Prog Rock Countdown #1: In Which we Illuminate the "Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd.
Being a stay-at-home dad more-or-less full time has made it hard to follow through on my Star Trek review project (don’t worry, it’s not dead and more articles are to come). I’m finding lately that I can listen to a lot of music, and thanks to Spotify, I’ve been exploring tons of stuff that I never otherwise would have even been aware of. So, in the interest of maintaining my huge following of readers by writing about immensely popular content, I’ve decided to tackle a new project that appeals to the popular tastes of my nearly 8 regular readers. This of course means expanding my knowledge of progressive music. Everyone loves prog!
Adding to the growing list of my blogging projects, I’m going to tackle Rolling Stone Magazines list of the 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time.
To make things a little easier on me and get in the swing of things more easily, I’m going to start at #1 and work my way backwards, since the higher ranked ones are those I’m more likely to be familiar with, as may be the case for some of my readers. Unfortunately, #1 is the album I’ve been dreading most: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
I was more satisfied than I expected to be, given my lukewarm memories of the album in the past. Yeah, I know it’s considered probably the greatest rock album to date, and I have to admit that the production work is a fantastic example of how the proggish impulse to experiment with weird ambient noises can enhance a song. “On the Run”, like Genesis’s “The Waiting Room”, takes that idea to its logical conclusion and gives us a track that is nothing but brilliantly crafted noises that sound vaguely like music. The chimes of the cash register and the ringing clocks on “Money” and “Time” respectively are more toned-down version of that same idea. In both cases, just a little bit of background noise elevates the fairly ordinary and unimpressive classic rock tunes.
Wikipedia tells me that Alan Parsons was the sound engineer, and I can’t say I’m surprised, given how amazing the album is on a sound design level. The extended musical interludes comprising entire tracks and linking others is another prog hallmark that I appreciate. The seamless transition from song to song gives the album a cohesive feel that a good concept album needs to justify the label (Rush’s “Clockwork Angels” was a big disappointment on that score). But even though there is a lot of pretty sound with a range of moods, there aren’t any really big sweeping moments to lose myself in. I haven’t listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, so I may need to go beyond their biggest albums, but I find their music unengaging compared to the ambitious melodies of Genesis or the virtuosic fury of Yes. “Dark Side” is no exception.
No exception that is, when it comes to the core rock instruments. “Us and Them”, however, features my favourite underused rock instrument: saxophone. And it’s used to grand emotional effect. In the same vein, the backing vocals by Clare Torry on “Great Gig in the Sky” are an exciting change of pace. Backing vocals on other songs, particularly “Eclipse” keep the album buoyant.
As good as some parts of the album are, much of it sounds like classic rock with a little prog rock glitter thrown in. That sums up Pink Floyd to me more generally. I love the production work on this album, but the songs don’t grab me, and it’s not an album I’ll be coming back to any time soon.
For those who want to keep track, I’ll be posting my rankings alongside the Rolling Stone Rankings at the end of each post. As always, I welcome your furious complaints about my sacrilegious lack of veneration for the greats.
Rolling Stone Rankings
#1: Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon