For my first two “There and Back Agains” I chose albums from the early nineties. I figured that for this one I should probably go a little further back into the catalog. I looked at several (annoyingly) reputable and irreputable top 100 and top 500 albums of all time lists. I thought hard about what albums are truly embarrassing I haven’t heard. I finally settled on Dark Side of the Moon. An album that seems so obviously entrenched in rock and roll history, so hegemonic an idea of a record, that I sort of forgot I’d never actually listened to it. Which, after a little research, I’ve realized is an amazing feat in and of itself. Did you know that it’s the third best-selling album of all time in the world, and 20th in the United States? Maybe you did know that. But what shocked me even more was that it STILL sells about 9,600 copies every week in the United States!!! What??!!! According to Wikipedia, one out of every fifteen Americans under the age of 50 owns a copy. Clearly, I really missed the boat here.
I find this current popularity shocking because as I was listening to the album for my first time (I had heard the song “Time” before. My father played it for me once when I was about ten. I thought the clocks were incredibly disturbing. Maybe that’s my excuse for never having heard it.) I was thinking to myself how this album has so little to do with music today. Okay, okay, it’s a cool album. The electronic noodling on “On the Run” sounds a lot like some of the electronic acts that we all think are so groundbreaking today. I can see Animal Collective coming out with a similar song now. But really, there’s something about this album that is so 1973 that it almost sounds funny or quaint when you listen to it now. An element of datedness that other classic albums like a Hard Day’s Night or Tommy don’t have.
Just look at the song titles. “Money.” “Time.” The songs all ask broad, philosophical questions about life that wouldn’t be clever enough or would seem too obvious today. Somehow, our post-post-modern (argh!) 2009 lifestyles ask us to move past these simple questions in our art. I can just hear the stinging Pitchfork review of an album that discusses the existential crises of life so unironically (can someone please think of a recent example to prove me wrong here?). As I was listening, I thought how appropriate it is that the album cover is one of the quintessential freshman year of college dorm room posters. The philosophical questions about life the album poses are oh-so-important at that time of your life, but are embarrassingly simplistic by senior year after Derrida and Proust are old-hat. That’s what I was thinking about when I listened to this album. Yes, it was important. But it’s kind of like that freshman year seminar- you do it once and you do it well, but then you move on to bigger and better things. Dark Side of the Moon seems like the kind of album that is only good because no one else had done something like that before, and no one else really needs to do it again. The other thought I had was, “Wow! People did waaaay more drugs in the 70s.” Maybe that’s part of it, too. This particular moment in rock history came and most certainly went.
But then what explains the fact that this album is still selling so many records every week, when most people in America apparently already own a copy? Maybe I’m just a short-sighted music snob? I mean, there is some great stuff on here. “Eclipse” builds up into a truly wonderful crescendo of 70s guitar fanfare. The techniques used for a lot of the recording were completely groundbreaking. Still, you don’t see a lot of important bands today citing Pink Floyd as an influence. (Again, can someone please prove me wrong on this account?) To be perfectly honest, it all just sounds a little silly to me. But clearly, there’s something to be said for universal themes. 9,600 people apparently still relate to them each and every week. Hey, I’m now one out of every 15 people in America who owns a copy.