On 1 March 1973, Pink Floyd released what would become their most commercially successful album, The Dark Side of the Moon. It has sold more than 50 million copies, and been a defining influence on a generation of music lovers, remaining in the charts for 741 weeks from the date of its release until 1988, longer than any other album.
For those of us in our mid-teens at the time of its release, DSOM was a must-have addition to our record collections. Though I bought a copy the week it came out, as did my pals Anne and Susie, it was definitely more popular among the boys. They would turn up at school with its iconic sleeve clamped under their arms like a badge of honour or a code for membership to the club of cool.
It’s something that seems to hold true even today, judging by the crowd who turned up for our second record listening club at Babington House last month. Unlike our Ziggy Stardust evening, when the audience was evenly split, there was a heavy male bias for the Floyd. Now, as then, the female element was somewhat defiant.
Reassuringly, the event was again over-subscribed. There were some familiar faces, yes, but lots of new ones too, including a pair that will have to wait at least two decades to become eligible for authentic membership of the high50 clan.
Our hi-fi partner, Ivan Kursar of Cool Gales, had concocted a stereo system that, he promised, would blow our minds. At the heart of his choice was another heartbeat, the one that resonates through the record and one that he wanted us to physically experience. The device through which this otherworldly experience was delivered was pretty otherworldly itself: a pair of Eclipse speakers that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie.
The fading daylight filtering through the library’s tall, Georgian windows was closed out by wooden shutters, candles were lit, and Ivan primed the stereo. Our editor-in-chief, Tim Willis (author of Madcap: The Half-Life of Syd Barrett and a bit of a Floyd expert himself) introduced the record, then the lights were dimmed.
Thus began the journey into the swirling, lunatic time warp that is the Dark Side of the Moon, with the pulsating heartbeat of the opening track followed by ticking clocks, cash registers, squawking birds and a myriad of muttered voices weaving in and out of the music.
Anthemic, majestic, almost religious at points: there’s no doubt that DSOM is an affecting experience. But has it stood the test of time? At 39 years old, does it now sound a little dated? Absolutely not, the audience rebuffed and rebuked. It’s as primal and vital as the day it was released.
Tim spoke about the effect that departed Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett had upon the rest of the band, and how the record’s central themes of madness, isolation and (non) communication had developed in part because of Barrett’s own mental problems. He read out a message from David Gilmour, who was delighted we were gathering to listen to the record.
Then record producer and musician Tristan Powell, who has worked with the Floyd, took to the floor to regale us with anecdotes about his experiences. He spoke about their quest for perfectionism and their attention to detail.
For example, when listening to the test pressing of The Division Bell, the band noticed the sound quality was not as it should be. The master recording was recalled, from which another test pressing was made, but the result was the same: something had gone wrong between the master and the pressing.
Being Pink Floyd, rather than a mere mega-band, they insisted that all production should halt at the Hayes pressing plant until the fault was located. There was absolutely no way that the new release was going to be sent out into the world in a fractionally sub-standard version. Such was – and remains – their clout that not one disc, theirs or anyone else’s, was manufactured at Hayes for two weeks while the machines were inspected and tested.
In the end, the cause of the fault came down to money. Some accountant, it transpired, had hit upon the idea of reducing the cooling time required in the pressing process. That way, hundreds more discs could be burned every day. Those precious seconds, however, made all the difference to the quality, and Floyd insisted the original pressing time was re-instated.
No other band, Tristan said, would have had the weight to stop production or force the accountants to climb down.
The evening should have ended with us all listening to a 12-minute excerpt from a specially recorded interview between Tim and David Gilmour. But, digital not being as reliable as vinyl, technology let us down – and by the time we’d found the right cable, half the crowd needed to go home. Even so, the well-run bit of the evening ended on a high, having over-run by a good hour. And for those who missed Gilmour’s contribution on the night, all is not lost: you can hear (and read) the interview here.
We will be returning to Babington House, and beginning our London record listening events, this summer. If you’d like help setting up your own record listening club, contact us and we’ll help you get it rolling
Track listing and the kit we used:
Speak to Me
On the Run
The Great Gig in the Sky
Us and Them
Any Colour You Like
Brinkmann Bardo turntable, Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm, EMT-ti cartridge, £12,500
Esoteric E-03 phono stage, £4,795
Aesthetix Calypso Signature linestage, £6,600
Aesthetix Atlas stereo power amplifier, £7,800
Eclipse TD712z Mk 2 speakers, £5,400 (pair)
Eclipse TD725 subwoofers, £3000 (each)
Accessories and cabling by Chord Cables, Virtual Dynamics and Shun Mook
For information about these and many other hi-fi products, visit Cool Gales, for vinyl systems starting at less than £500