Dark Side of the Moon at 50. Deflected radicalism?

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2023 by kmflett

Dark Side of the Moon at 50. Deflected radicalism?

It is 50 years since the release of Pink Floyd’s record Dark Side of the Moon in the UK on 24th March 1973 (1st March in the US)

It is the fourth best-selling UK record of all time and spent 972 weeks on the US Billboard charts from 1973.

Recorded between May 1972 and January 1973 at the Abbey Rd studios in London it is estimated to have sold 45 million copies.

The record has various themes including, topically for today, financial greed [Money] and the passage of time [Time] as well providing an unusual, even for the early 1970s,class perspective on the world with the song Us and Them originally written for the film Zabriskie Point.

However as the title indicated the key motif of the record was mental illness and madness, relating to the ill health of the band former member the late Syd Barrett.

The idea for a record with this theme came from band member Roger Waters and it raised issues which were uncomfortable now as then.

Of course the somewhat overblown nature of the record, its packaging and subsequent re-releases can be legitimately criticised. It was this trend in music that did much to spark the ‘one-chord wonders’ of punk rock less than five years later. Mark Blake’s new book on the cover designers Hipgnosis throws interesting light on this.

Certainly the Clash’s phrase ‘turning rebellion into money’ applied. The enormous success of the record allowed band members to do things like buy country houses and invest in classic motor car collections. At the same time money was used to provide an income for Barrett, too ill to work, and to fund the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a satirical attack on religion as well as being a wry commentary on some elements of the left.

There remains criticism of the record’s political message quite probably focused by Roger Waters affiliation’s with the left in the current day. Waters has been a supporter of the Occupy movement and a critic of the policies of the Israeli Government.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday in 2013 John Rentoul, a biographer of Tony Blair, was particularly critical of the record.

Rentoul noted with concern that shortly after the Dark Side of the Moon was released the National Union of Mineworkers began a ‘work to rule’ although strictly speaking these events were not   related.

Rentoul found the lyrics ‘bitter, introspective’ and was particularly critical of Money for its ‘populist sentiment’ which these days would be seen as anti-banker.

More plausibly perhaps Rentoul argued that the record was part of prog [progressive] rock which had a flavour of being vaguely left-wing something that the young Tony Blair- a Pink Floyd fan- was to pick up on in the later New Labour years.

As Rentoul pointed out 1973 is now far closer to the end of the Second World War in 1945 than it is to the present day. The record was part of a change towards a more modern Britain where rock stars became celebrities and people of considerable wealth and made an impact in national life.

What the impact was is less clear. While the record’s focus on mental illness remains radical it is arguable that the influence was more into the mildly left-wing sentiments of those that went on to be the foot soldiers of New Labour. Meanwhile punk had the more radical political impact with its two and three minute blasts at existing society.


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