The Dark Side of the Moon: the making of the Pink Floyd masterpiece
John Harris Fourth Estate,
Having grown up listening to Radiohead, I never quite saw the point of Pink Floyd. It was enough to have one group of upper-middle-class glum-wits, stooped over their guitars, telling us how awful the world is - and it's all the fault of those bloody humans! - without having another, older, even more ponderous version darkening my stereo.
Pink Floyd seemed the ultimate bloke's band: alienated, moody, so pathologically averse to the life-affirming pleasure of a simple pop song that they'd long disappeared up their own dark side. I held firm in this opinion until seeing them play a gracious and moving set at Live 8's Hyde Park gig in July.
In that sense, John Harris's account of the making of the Floyd's 35 million- selling concept album, The Dark Side of the Moon, has come along at just the right time. Suddenly it seems important to know exactly why one in five British households owns a copy of this joy- sapping progressive rock suite about madness and repressed emotion.
Harris, author of The Last Party, which made the innocuous-seeming Britpop movement sound like the last days of the Roman empire, has interviewed three members of Pink Floyd - Roger Waters, David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason - along with key associates and friends who go back to the band's original incarnation as a psychedelic pop band fronted by Syd Barrett.
It was Barrett's mental instability, exacerbated by his vast appetite for LSD and cannabis, that led Gilmour to join the band in the late 1960s, shortly before the Floyd's original singer left altogether. They flailed around for a few years after Barrett's departure, avoiding the painful question of whether they could have done anything more to prevent, or at least to manage, their friend's descent into schizophrenia.
This lack of communication between the band members, suggests Harris, was typically Floydian: in Mason's words, "We didn't have those sorts of skills in terms of human resources." By "carrying on" the band "without a second thought", says the drummer, they stored up re-serves of guilt and anguish that were to resurface in extraordinary fashion a few years later, when the band entered Abbey Road Studios to record what was to become their masterpiece.
Waters, for his part, had grown into the idea of making an album that expressed his frustration with postwar consumerism, and how money-lust had made people grow apart from each other to the extent that they had forgotten how to acknowledge their common humanity. Harris points to the lyricist's communist up-bringing as the source of this angst, but mischievously recounts a later cat-fight between Waters and Mason over who had bought the bigger country house (the former, of course, six months after calling the latter a "sell-out").
Harris succeeds in detailing the long recording process of The Dark Side of the Moon without ever sounding like a record-shop bore. I'd always imagined that the female caterwauling which makes "The Great Gig in the Sky" - the album's over-the-top centrepiece, such an ordeal to listen to was induced by stamping repeatedly on the session singer's foot. Alas, that's not true, but the author delights in mentioning that the singer in question, Clare Torry, later re-recorded her wails for use in an advert for painkillers.
Harris's book is good enough to make me want to sit down and, for the first time, give The Dark Side of the Moon a proper, prejudice-free listen. I hope I won't need any Anadin.