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How Pink Floyd album 'The Dark Side of the Moon' became a record-breaker

In the late 1960s, English band Pink Floyd established themselves as a tour-de-force in the psychedelic rock scene. However, it wasn’t until 1973, with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon, that they ascended beyond the bounds of what they ever imagined possible, which is apparent when looking at the album’s ludicrous record-breaking run in the charts.

Still trying to come to terms with frontman Syd Barrett’s sudden departure from the band in 1968, the band wanted to create an album that dealt with things that “make people mad.” Guitarist Roger Waters proposed that they make an album that focused on the pressures associated with the band’s strenuous lifestyle, greed, the passage of time, and Barrett’s mental deterioration. 

Early demos of the album were tracked at Waters’ Islington home in a makeshift studio built in his garden shed. More polished versions of the songs were eventually recorded in two Abbey Road Studios sessions between May 1972 and January 1973. When the record was finished, the members of Pink Floyd immediately felt that they had created something special. Drummer Nick Mason remembered: “I think that when it was finished, everyone thought it was the best thing we’d ever done to date, and everyone was very pleased with it, but there’s no way that anyone felt it was five times as good as Meddle, or eight times as good as Atom Heart Mother, or the sort of figures that it has in fact sold. It was … not only about being a good album but also about being in the right place at the right time.”

In a 2006 interview, Waters added: “When the record was finished, I took a reel-to-reel copy home with me, and I remember playing it for my wife then, and I remember her bursting into tears when it was finished. And I thought, ‘This has obviously struck a chord somewhere,’ and I was kind of pleased by that,” Waters shared. “You know when you’ve done something, certainly if you create a piece of music, you then hear it with fresh ears when you play it for somebody else. And at that point, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is a pretty complete piece of work,’ and I had every confidence that people would respond to it.”

His confidence was justified because when The Dark Side of the Moon was released in March of 1973, it became an instant chart success in Britain. By the following month, it had even gained a gold certification in the US. Throughout March of 1973, while performing the newly released album on their US tour, the ticket demand became so high that the band scheduled another tour only two months later.

However, despite the brilliant content and tour promotion, much of the album’s early American success is attributed to the efforts of their record label, Capitol Records. Coming off of their 1971 album Meddle, which performed poorly in the charts, the newly appointed chairman Bhaskar Menon began a massive promotional advertising campaign for the record, which included radio-friendly versions of the singles.

The publicity scheme worked brilliantly, and the album soon entered Billboard Hot 100 in July of 1973, where it remained for a staggering 736 weeks until 1988. The Dark Side of the Moon is now the seventh best-selling album of all time in the UK, and in 2013, the album was even selected for preservation in the United States National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

When reflecting on The Dark Side of the Moon, Richard Wright shared, “It’s changed me in many ways, because it’s brought in a lot of money, and one feels very secure when you can sell an album for two years. But it hasn’t changed my attitude to music,” Wright said.

“Even though it was so successful, it was made in the same way as all our other albums, and the only criterion we have about releasing music is whether we like it or not. It was not a deliberate attempt to make a commercial album. It just happened that way.”

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