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Cover Story: See you on 'The Dark Side of The Moon'

Uncover the history behind the Pink Floyd classic that became one of the biggest-selling records ever.

The statistics, as Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason puts it, “make staggering reading.”

In the 35 years that have elapsed since the March 1973 release of The Dark Side Of The Moon, this one LP has sold in excess of 40 million copies worldwide. Recent figures insist that one household in four in the U.K. owns a copy of either the LP, CD or cassette; in the United States, one person in 14 either owns, or has owned, a copy.

In a poll of the world’s biggest selling albums of all time, the LP more or less ties the soundtracks to “Saturday Night Fever” and “The Bodyguard” for second place (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, of course, occupies the top spot) and, while The Dark Side of the Moon only ever spent seven days at the top of the Billboard album charts, still it remained on those listings for a staggering 741 weeks before a change in the way the charts were compiled, in April 1988, shifted it to the Pop Catalog chart, and its dominance continued there.

In May 2006, The Dark Side of the Moon achieved a combined total of 1,500 weeks on the Billboard 200 and Pop Catalog charts, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that it continues to sell close to 10,000 copies every week.

Why? What was so special — nay, spectacular — about this album that it should so explode beyond the confines not only of Pink Floyd’s career, but of the rock music audience in general?

Prior to the album release, Floyd had ticked along relatively smoothly, of course, topping the U.K. LP charts with its annual new releases, and, naturally, selling out their concert performances. But Floyd was never a big band, in the way that Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath or Jethro Tull were big; somebody once described Pink Floyd as the best-loved cult band in the world, and that summed it up nicely.

A lot of people liked Pink Floyd, but they did so from at least a step away from unmitigated fandom and, if you put on one of the band’s earlier albums — Atom Heart Mother or Meddle or Obscured by Clouds — it was more likely to be as the soundtrack to some other (possibly illegal) activity, than because you really wanted to get down and boogie to the Floyd.

Then The Dark Side of the Moon came along, and all predictions were off.

Universal themes

Keyboard player Rick Wright reflected, “after we’d made it, actually sitting down to listen to it for the first time in the studio, I thought, ‘This is going to be big. This is an excellent album.’ Why it goes on and on selling, I don’t know. It touched a nerve at the time. It seemed like everyone was waiting for this album, for someone to make it.” Pink Floyd was simply the lucky first contender.

Nick Mason, too, is characteristically modest in his summation of the album’s charms. “The primary reason — which is true of any great album — is the strength of the songwriting. Dark Side contained strong, powerful songs [and] the overall idea that linked those songs together, the pressures of modern life, found a universal response and continues to capture people’s imagination. And the musical quality… established a fundamental Pink Floyd sound. We were comfortable with the music, which had time to mature and gestate and evolve through live performances.”

There was more. “The additional singers and… sax gave the whole record an extra commercial sheen. In addition, the sonic quality of the album was state of the art. This is particularly important [as] hi-fi stereo equipment had only recently become a mainstream consumer item… As a result, record buyers were particularly aware of the effects of stereo and able to appreciate any album that made the most of its possibili