Four days before the album was to be released worldwide in 1973, DJ David Marsden played it on his CHUM-FM show.
By Nick Krewen
Special to the Star
Fifty years ago this week, Toronto radio listeners unwittingly enjoyed the world premiere of the classic Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon.
Call it a happy accident, because things weren’t supposed to quite work out that way, said Bob Roper, whom, back in 1973, was working as the Capitol Records promotion representative for Ontario. His job was to pitch and service Toronto radio stations with his label’s latest music, with the hope that DJs and music directors would like the music enough to add it to their radio playlists.
On this occasion – days before the official March 1, 1973 release of the latest opus by the British progressive rock outfit consisting of Roger Waters on vocals and bass, singer and guitarist David Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason – Roper was handed a finished advance copy of the album by his bosses.
“I got it at the end of the day and was told, ‘Take this home, because come Monday, this record is being released and because this is a priority for Capitol worldwide, you need to have a good listen to it so we can promote it properly,” Roper recalled in an interview Monday with the Star.
Roper said he listened to it twice, thought it was good and decided to procure a second opinion from someone he respected: CHUM-FM freeform radio host David Marsden.
For Marsden, who had been following the band since their 1969 experimental psychedelic album Ummagumma, it was an alluring opportunity.
“I was a Pink Floyd freak, admittedly,” said Marsden, who would be better known a few years later as the programming director of CFNY 102.1.
A few months prior, Marsden had used his CHUM-FM presence to start a petition to persuade Toronto-based Concert Productions International (CPI) and promoter Michael Cohl to bring the band to perform at Maple Leaf Gardens for the first time.
“I found out that CPI were not going to book Pink Floyd because they didn’t think anybody wanted to see them,” Marsden, who now hosts Friday and Saturday evening slots on online radio station NYthespirit.com, recalled. “I started a petition to get people to say they’d buy tickets and kids in high schools everywhere were setting up desks in the hallways to get people to sign it.
“I then took a big box of letters and thousands of names on petitions and I went down to CPI’s office and I poured them onto Michael Cohl’s desk and said, ‘Now it’s time to book Pink Floyd.'”
The show sold out in 45 minutes, with Pink Floyd’s debut Toronto performance booked for Maple Leaf Gardens on March 11, 1973: 11 days following Dark Side‘s release.
So, when Roper handed Marsden the vinyl platter four days before the product was supposed to hit the shelves, he innocently presented the DJ with an opportunity.
Hosting the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot at the time, Marsden – unbeknownst to Roper – played the entire album twice that night, from start to finish.
When Roper heard the news, he thought he had scored a coup.
“I thought, ‘Hot damn! This is a good score,'” recalled Roper. “Until I went into the office the next morning and caught proper hell.”
It turns out that Pink Floyd’s management and Capitol Records worldwide had some mighty big plans for the premiere that Roper had accidentally ruined.
“I guess I was told and maybe didn’t pay attention, but this was supposed to be a worldwide premiere where every radio station was going to get it basically on the same day at the same time and that’s how it would be popped,” he recalled. “So, Marsden played it and ended up getting the premiere on it.”
For his part, Marsden says his memory regarding the event is a little shaky.
“Truthfully, my memory of the story is just a tad different than his, but I respect Bob and he probably has a better memory than I do. I thought he came into the studio while I was on the air and he handed me the record and we talked a bit. Then I just put it on and started playing it. In those days, it was vinyl and I played both sides. And he said, I played it again – so I must have.”
What he is sure about?
“We preceded the world premiere by four days, and of course, CHUM-FM was only available in the Toronto area,” said Marsden. “But it was a world premiere as far as I was concerned.”
Regardless of who pulled the trigger, the truth is that Toronto got a head start on an album that ended up becoming one of the world’s best-selling and influential platters, trailing only Michael Jackson’s Thriller and The Eagles‘ Hotel California in terms of sales.
Exactly how many albums Dark Side Of The Moon has sold is somewhat contentious: the last official figures offered were 45 million units in 2013 – and considering 10 years has passed and the album has been on and off Billboard Magazine’s Top 200 retail album charts for 971 weeks – or 15 years – an estimate of 60 million units at the 50-year milestone probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
In Canada, Dark Side was certified Double Diamond in 2003 by Music Canada for 2 million units sold, translating that one in two Canadians own at least one copy of the sonic masterpiece.
And there was a reason for its universal appeal: Dark Side was a concept album based on the burdens the band faced as a functioning unit, making commercial art as it explored themes of time, death, mental illness, greed, conflict and the human condition, with its 10 songs seamlessly woven into one lengthy work replete with sound effects, multi-track recording, the VSC3 synthesizer and tape loops – all fairly novel studio techniques at the time.
Engineered at Abbey Road by Alan Parsons, Dark Side embodies so much gravitas that songs like “Time” – with its jarring chorus of alarm clock intros to a canny observation of mortality; to the 7/4 relentless timing of “Money;” to vocalist Clare Torry‘s soulful rapture that elevates “Great Gig In the Sky” to a thing of beauty; to the cascading synth instrumental of “Any Colour You Like;” to the epic rendition of “Us And Them,” continue to resonate a good half-century after its creation.
For The Sheepdogs’ Shamus Currie, the album directly influenced his new solo effort, The Shepherd and The Wolf.
“My most recent is a fantasy rock record and concept album,” Currie explained in an interview. “‘Dark Side‘ was a big one for laying the and the template for that kind of sound.
“I love the idea that they’re telling a story through a whole album’s worth of stories not just contained to three-minute songs, and I particularly love the mood they create with the sound effects and the cash register stuff in ‘Money’ and the heartbeat and the clocks of ‘Time.’
“I also love they have theme and variations, like that two-chord jam they play in ‘Breathe,’ that is referenced again in ‘Time’ and then again in ‘Great Gig In the Sky’ and ‘Any Colour You Like’ – this motif that they keep repeating.”
Currie also admires the cerebral approach towards the lyrical content of Dark Side.
“It’s a high concept idea that still had a lot of populist appeal,” Currie stated. “The notion that you don’t have to sacrifice intellectual ideas to make a popular record – that’s pretty cool.”
Toronto singer and songwriter Scott Helman said that when he was finally old enough as a teen to appreciate Dark Side, it opened him up to a world of possibility.
“That was the moment I realized the scope of what you could do in music,” Helman explained. “Up until that point, I just thought songs were songs. But I didn’t really understand how connected those songs could be on a full-length record and also how it was such a progressive record.
“When you’re older, when you’re in your teens, you start to understand the big, historical context of music. Then to listen to a record like Dark Side of the Moon – or really, any Pink Floyd record, – the darkness and the cynicism and the irony and the sarcasm really connected with me as a teenager and as someone who was raised by British people. That whole mixture really connected to me as a kid.”
Jace Lasek, singer and multi-instrumentalist of Montréal five-piece The Besnard Lakes attributes the influence of “Dark Side” in their latest full-length album, 2021’s The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings.
“We do a lot of longform music,” Lasek admitted. “A lot of what we do is based on ambient beginnings that build up into songs that have guitar solos within them, and what was amazing with Dark Side for me is that it was a concept album where the songs bleed into each other, so in one sense it’s like one long song is happening.
“That was a beautiful revelation for me. Because it was so well-crafted and beautifully assembled, the seams between the songs made the album move in a continuous sequence.
“When we started the band, we wanted to make an album that people can sit down to and listen to all the way through – a continuous composed piece rather than individual songs.”
There are countless other bands that count Dark Side of the Moon as an influence – Radiohead and Coldplay among them – and there are several plans in motion to mark the album’s 50th birthday, ranging from Pink Floyd chief songwriter Roger Waters pulling a Taylor Swift and re-recording the album on his own to an elaborate new deluxe box set from Sony out March 24 that includes remastered CD and gatefold vinyl versions of the album, Blu-ray and DVD audio rendition; a Blu-ray Atmos mix , CD and debut vinyl LP of the album The Dark Side of the Moon – Live At Wembley Empire Pool, London, 1974.
A book, an animation contest and planetarium events featuring the album are also planned for 2023, celebrating an album that Bob Roper said appealed to him when he first heard it with its “overall sensibility.”
“It was unique. It didn’t sound like anything else and it had melodies that you could sing to and remember, which so many bands don’t have,” Roper stated. “I think that the fact that it’s 700-plus weeks on Billboard tells you it spoke to so many people.”