Rock ‘n’ roll | The man on the dark side6 min read . Updated: 07 Dec 2013, 12:07 AM IST
In the 40th year of 'The Dark Side of the Moon', Bhaskar Menon recounts how his team and he made it the album it became
At the 29-minute mark of the 2003-released documentary film, Pink Floyd—The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, Nick Mason, drummer of the iconic British band, starts speaking about the disaster the American market had been for the band prior to the 1973 release of the album, The Dark Side of the Moon. “Like all good artistes, the first thing you do is blame the record company…," Mason quips in the film. “So they (Capitol Records) brought in a man called Bhaskar Menon, who was absolutely terrific. And he decided that he was going to make this work and he was going to make this American company sell this record. And he did." adds Mason.
Forty years and an estimated 40 million copies later, Mason spoke again of Menon’s contribution in an interview that appeared on a Floyd tribute website, www.brain-damage.co.uk. The interview took place earlier this year at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London in the United Kingdom where the album was recorded. “The other thing that has to be recognized was a man called Bhaskar Menon. He was made president of Capitol Records in America. Bhaskar set out making this record No.1, and he did it. He motivated the company, he did whatever was necessary…. I think without Bhaskar, the record would have done better than the others, but certainly wouldn’t have picked up the momentum it did," says Mason.
Menon, the Kerala native and Doon School alumnus who spent his early years in the music trade as chairman and managing director of the Gramophone Company of India (HMV) in Kolkata, says in an email that he celebrated the 40th anniversary of the seminal album with “some of us old-timers (from) around the world with high spirits". The album reached the No.1 spot in the US music charts on 28 April 1973, and spent a record-breaking, 741 unbroken weeks in the American Top 20 charts. In the UK, it went to No.2 and had a 301-week chart run, besides topping lists in other key markets, and remained on the Billboard Top 200 charts for over 14 years. The Dark Side…is also a mandatory entry in most “best album" lists drawn up in the English-speaking world. “How significant is that?" Menon, who released the album in the US exactly a month after the band finished recording, wonders.
But Menon who, according to Wikipedia, has been associated closely with the careers of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Duran Duran, Paul McCartney and Wings, Iron Maiden, Carole King and Tina Turner, among many others from the rock and pop music firmament, does acknowledge the imprint of The Dark Side... on his résumé.
“I was overwhelmed by the power of the compositions, combined with the dramatic strength of the work in ‘live’ performance—which I still am today more than four decades later! It was an experience that I can only compare to hearing for the first time my dear friend and mentor George Martin’s productions of The Beatles’ White Album and of Sgt Pepper," Menon writes.
“From the time we released The Dark Side of the Moon album in March 1973, each of us who was closely involved with the project at Capitol in North America and at EMI in the UK and elsewhere, were pretty intuitively certain that we were unlikely to ever encounter a comparably stunning experience again soon in our professional careers."
For generations of music listeners, The Dark Side... is often the first encounter with what Mason, in the documentary, somewhat reluctantly agrees is a concept album—a wide canvas work of music thematically set on the issues of greed, ambition, authority, death, void, insanity, rabid consumerism and inner contradictions. Over its 42.59 minutes running time, listeners are taken through the crests and troughs of music created by the four Floyd members, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Mason.
Musically, listeners have been both challenged and charged by the odd 7/4 time signature of Money, Gilmour’s achingly evocative fretwork on Breathe, Time or Any Colour You Like, the combination of sound design (the leitmotif of heartbeat or the Irish doorman of the Abbey Road Studios closing the album with the lines, “There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark") or the overriding brilliance of Waters penning lines like “Breathe, breathe in the air/Don’t be afraid to care".
“Our relationships with the performers were excellent as it was with the highly talented manager, the late Steve O’Rourke. Without their cooperation, Capitol/EMI could never have done what it took to satisfy the adulation for the talent of Pink Floyd whose personalities, sensibilities and principles were as consummate as the music. I cannot recall any differences in opinion," says Menon.
With its non-stop flow and thematic interweaving, The Dark Side… also seems anachronistic in an age of fleeting attention spans, 3-minute, FM-friendly ditties and click-click MP3 downloads. Torrent files, obviously, can’t replace the captivating pleasure of holding Storm Thorgerson’s classic album cover in hand—his simple Egyptian pyramid-inspired design of the triangle and prism going with the album’s arguments on ambition, greed, light and life, dark and death.
Menon shies away from writing at length on the current relevance of the album, but the trailer of celebrated playwright Sir Tom Stoppard’s new radio drama Darkside for BBC Radio 2, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the album, adds contemporary perspective. “The ice is melting, the drink is getting warm, a wall of water is heading for your patio, from space you can see the coal furnaces glowing…," the female voice-over says over the music of Brain Damage and the CGI-interpreted Floydian imagery. “We consume everything, we are dying of consumption, the last fish is gasping beneath a floating isle of plastic as big as France. The weather forecast is a state secret."
Contrary to the album’s egalitarian unpinning, it seems especially ironical that the album’s biggest money-spinner turned out to be the track which presents a fierce critique of modern, monetized lives (“Money, it’s a crime. Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie"). After the large initial success of the album, Menon and Capitol Records released Money as the first single and a “winning step". “That move, powerfully in stage 2 of the campaign, pulled the universe of AM radio and its vast millions-fold audiences to join the magic," adds Menon.
Earlier considered an avant-garde stoner rock act, The Dark Side of the Moon, coming between the albums Meddle and Wish You Were Here, is said to have turned Pink Floyd into a progressive-rock behemoth—inspiring countless bands too, notably Radiohead and its 1997 modern classic album OK Computer. But over the years, artistes like Clare Torry have successfully sued the band over royalty issues while the accomplished sound engineer of The Dark Side…, Alan Parsons, has felt sidelined from the subsequent fame and fortune. Considering his immense creative input to the album, Parsons has gone on record to say that he has earned a fraction of what the band did, and was ignored in the honour rolls in later commemorative events.
According to Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison by Gary Tillery, Menon too faced the ire of the late Beatle after Capitol Records demanded reimbursement of costs to distribute the album based on 1971’s Concert for Bangladesh—a charitable concert organized at New York’s Madison Square Garden by Harrison and sitar player Ravi Shankar. “Sue me, Bhaskar", a fuming Harrison reportedly challenged the music honcho during a television show.
None of these must have mattered for the 30,000-odd fans from all over India who crammed Bangalore’s Palace Grounds on 13 April 2002 when Roger Waters came calling as part of his larger-than-life In The Flesh tour, performing numbers from The Dark Side of the Moon. Almost to attest to the adhesive pull of the album, after the chiming bells and right at the drum roll, 30,000 hands went up in the air and excitedly sang, “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day…".