Alex Lahey Listens to 'The Dark Side of the Moon' for the First Time
Welcome to Blind Spots, in which we force some of our favorite artists to finally check out the most famous albums they've never heard.
It’s hard to think of an album more iconic than Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s one of the best-selling albums of all-time and holds the record for most weeks on the Billboard 200 with 933, which amounts to just a month and change away from 18 years. It also spent a bonkers 741 of those weeks on the chart consecutively, from 1973 to 1988. On top of its staggering sales numbers, you’re going to find it ranked on any “Best Albums of All-Time” list and its ubiquitous prismatic album cover still adorns countless dorm room walls and Target-sold t-shirts.
Regardless of its obvious cultural impact, the space-y and bluesy songs on Pink Floyd’s eighth album are still strong enough to convince countless youngsters to pick up the guitar and attempt the solo from “Time.” With the classic lineup of vocalist and guitarist David Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason, keyboardist Richard Wright, and lyricist, bassist, and vocalist Roger Waters, songs like “Money,” “Breathe (In The Air),” and “Brain Damage” are still rightly on regular rotation at classic rock stations. Plus, with engineer Alan Parsons’ excellent work using advancements in multi-tracking technology, the Abbey Road-recorded LP remains a groundbreaking studio feat.
While The Dark Side of the Moon’s accomplishments are totally obvious to the band’s legion of hardcore fans, many more people have not even heard the album. Australian songwriter Alex Lahey is one of those people. The 25-year-old indie rocker, who just released her fun, witty, and undeniable debut album I Love You Like a Brother grew up listening to the Ramones, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The O.C. soundtracks and completely missed the boat on Pink Floyd.
“Because everything you listen to as a kid is basically filtered down through your parents, and because they never listened to Pink Floyd, I kind of bypassed it completely. They were more into Springsteen and the Beatles,” Lahey explains. She adds, ”I didn't really have any friends who were Pink Floyd fans growing up either, which probably sounds a bit odd.” Because of this, Noisey decided it’d be best to make Lahey listen to the album before her sold out show at Chicago’s Subterranean. Check out her first impression below.
1. "Speak to Me"
Noisey: This song opens the album and it's an instrumental. You're going to find throughout this album that there are a lot of experiments with sound effects, voiceovers, and other odd things.
Alex Lahey: I remember watching this documentary series on iTunes called Soundbreaking, which was produced with George Martin, and I remember this album was that it was used in a case study there along with the Beatles' Revolver. They talk about the engineering behind the albums and the advancements in technology when it came to multitracking.
What you can hear already is that the playing is really good. The musicianship is awesome. I really love the drumming and I love that so far there's not much going on right now.
This is one of my favorite songs on the album and it's also one of its most straightforward tracks.
Do you feel like just because this is happening, the fact that I haven't heard this album and we're only just listening to it, is going to make people upset?
Oh, absolutely. While the majority of people understand that it's perfectly normal to not have heard a famous album, you do get people who comment, "how can they call themselves musicians if they've never heard this?"
I am so troubled by that idea. Art is there to be a "take it or leave it" thing and I am so troubled by the bands or the artists that people don't let you leave. I love the Beatles but it seems like you're not allowed to say you hate the Beatles or that if you did, you'd be crucified. That's not the point of making music or art.
3. "On the Run"
All of this analog synth stuff would've been absolutely mind-blowing to hear when this came out. There have been a few albums from back then I've heard recently where I thought, "wow, how did they do that? How did that happen?" You can get really lost in the magic of it. As a musician that's sometimes hard to do because you can think too hard about the process or the details of how they made it, but there's something to be said about just getting lost in the song.
This whole album already feels so conceptual. With the guitar solo in the middle there, it makes me think of That ‘70s Show or something.
Though it’s been David Gilmour taking on most of the vocals, he trades lead duties with Richard Wright on the second verse.
I’m struck by the lack of consistency with the vocals. There hasn’t been as much singing as I thought there’d be. The band does a lot more with sounds than it does with their vocals.
5. "The Great Gig in the Sky"
This one’s interesting because of how the band uses Clare Torry, a session vocalist, to bring the jam together without any lyrics. It’s a crazy vocal performance.
This is super jammy. What’s this called?
“The Great Gig in the Sky.”
Yes! “The Great Gig in the Sky” makes me think of School of Rock because there’s a line in that movie where Jack Black tells someone to listen to that vocal solo. Because I’m 25, it was such a formative movie for me. It’s also my drummer’s favorite movie and he cries every time he sees it. Have you seen that School of Rock meme where it says, “The real hero in School of Rock is the promoter who got about 2000 people to a battle the bands on a weekday morning.”
Oh, I know this one.
It’s probably the most ubiquitous song on this album.
It’s super bluesy. This is the same singer as the last couple of songs right?
Yeah, it’s David Gilmour. He gets that raspy side of his voice here much more than the other songs.
I really love the sax too. It’s awesome. I played saxophone and know how to play music through the saxophone. It was my first instrument. I started it at university and everything. I dropped out because I just didn’t want to play jazz. It was very much lumping everyone to that very traditional school of jazz and music school was also gearing its students to become teachers and I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to write songs.
I can’t get over how good the playing is here. I wonder if the band knew they were making this groundbreaking record. I wonder if they knew it was going to be this successful.
7. "Us and Them"
Is this a different song?
Yes, it’s called “Us and Them.”
This album has felt like it’s been just one long song and continuous piece of music. It’s clearly been made to be listened to in just one sitting. It flows incredibly well.
It’s funny you say that because that’s absolutely true. Also, “Us and Them” already been playing for two minutes since “Money” ended.
The sax is really nice here too. Do you think the saxophone is back? Do you think it’ll ever come back.
Yeah, I do! Not to quote the Onion but I can’t not think of their headline: “Report: Saxophone Still An Okay Vehicle For Self-Expression.”
There have been hints of it in popular music but I don’t think it’s quite picked up. You’ve got “Problem” by Ariana Grande, that Jason Derulo song “Talk Dirty” and even Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.”
Don’t forget Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me”
Oh, right! That album was so good. Man, the Pink Floyd fans are going to be really pissed that we’re talking about Carly Rae Jepsen while listening to The Dark Side of the Moon.
8. "Any Colour You Like"
I’m repeating myself here but I love the analog synths and the playing. They have such great feel.
9. "Brain Damage"
Here we have Roger Waters singing and he’s the one who wrote all of the lyrics on this album.
I always find it so interesting when someone who doesn’t sing lyrics primarily writes them. I was in a band before this and it was a very collaborative project. I was the singer but there were times that I was singing lyrics I didn’t write and I used to find it very hard. Because I’m not a quote unquote singer, and I found it really difficult to fake it. I just wasn’t able to sing that from the heart and I didn’t feel like I was bringing anything more to it. It also goes to show that there’s something to be said about a singer who can interpret another’s lyrics. I mean, Frank Sinatra didn’t write his songs and that’s fucking amazing.
When you started your own project and were the sole lyricist, what was the biggest difference?
The biggest difference was how much creative responsibility there is. But once you acknowledge that and take it for what it is, you have so much control and freedom to steer the songs where you want them to go. There’s also the idea of not being scared to tell a story or express yourself in a way and be worried about how people think it reflects on them. There’s a great deal of freedom that comes with that. The hardest lesson was literally owning all of your responsibility with writing people’s parts and having it be your vision. That was the biggest adjustment.
So this is the last song on the album.
This was it. Is this one of those albums with a secret track in it? Can we play it back and there’s a secret message?
Well, the crazy thing is that apparently the album syncs up with The Wizard of Oz . The band has obviously denied that it was intentional but a lot of fans pair up the album with the movie and find that at certain points when David Gilmour sings things like "balanced on the biggest wave" from “Breathe,” Dorothy is walking in a tightrope motion on a fence.
Whoa, that’s actually scary.
Look, we had it on as background music since we were talking over it but it was enjoyable as background. I have a little record collection back home and I feel like this is one of those records I need to have for it. I found it a lot more accessible than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be way more angular and psychedelic but it was actually much more bluesy and fluid. It was very even and not as confronting as I expected.
Listening to it now, I can’t say that it’s 100 percent clear why this is one of the best-selling albums of all-time but I know if I was listening to it then in 1973 I would’ve been like, “What the fuck is going on?” The modular synth stuff that was going on in track three would have been out of this world. But no matter the context of this record, the playing sticks out to me. It was so awesome. When the playing is that tight and that good, it’s almost primal when things come together like that. It’s so pleasing. You can tell there’s so much going on but I don’t know if any particular songs really floored me.
Josh Terry is a writer in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.