An exclusive Billboard Q&A with the former Pink Floyd fronman about the album that changed his band forever and made his wife cry.
This week, Pink Floyd's landmark album "Dark Side of the Moon" notches a significant milestone: 1,500 weeks on the Billboard charts (The Billboard 200 and Top Pop Catalog Albums).
In an exclusive Billboard Q&A, Roger Waters, the band's former frontman, dishes on the album that changed his band forever and made his wife cry.
Q: When Pink Floyd entered the studio to record Dark Side of the Moon” were you striving for longevity or were you just thinking about making the best record you could at that time?
A: Just making the best record. The longevity has come as a surprise to everyone, I think.
Q: Why do you think this record has struck such a chord with so many different generations?
A: I think the answer is twofold. Musically, this thing has really stood the test of time. There was something about the symbiosis of the musical talents of the four of us that worked really well.
But also, I think, in terms of the lyrical content, philosophically it holds an appeal to each successive generation because it feels like it gives you permission to question things, maybe, which is something that is very appealing to us as we hit puberty and drift beyond it into real life. Musically, the record expresses the concerns that there are in the lyric about basic fundamental questions about human existence.
Q: Those are pretty mature themes, even dark, for young musicians, who many think at that stage should be out having a good time.
A: Contemplating the fundamental questions about the reality of what it is to be a human being is actually fun, in my view.
Q: Did you feel like you had accomplished your goals in the studio?
A: 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 kinda pleased by that.
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.
Q: There seems to have been some risky moves in the recording of this album, but every time you guys rolled the dice, it paid off.
A: I’m not sure that there was much dice rolling going on, actually. Every move was pretty seriously considered. You have to remember, we’d been playing the piece live for nearly a year before we went into the studio and committed even the first note to tape.
And the piece had developed on the road. We performed it for some considerable length of time without an ending. I wrote “Eclipse” way into the first time that we were touring with the piece. One day I suddenly wrote that piece and said, "Hey, guess what, I think I’ve written the ending."
Q: Were audiences receptive to the music of “Dark Side of the Moon” before the album was released?
A: We had a very faithful and devoted following from the days of “Ummagumma” and “Meddle.” People were always, more particularly in those days, really ready to sit and listen to whatever it was that we chose to do. And in those early concerts in the early ‘70s, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium. Not just in Europe, but in the States, as well, when we were playing the smaller auditoriums.
Q: Do you have a sense that upon release “Dark Side of the Moon” was received as a work of genius by the critical press?
A: I don’t think so. By and large, our relationship with the press in those days was lukewarm. But I may be completely wrong about this, it may be that it got great reviews, I don’t remember.
Q: Did the recording of "Dark Side of the Moon" mark a turning point as to how Pink Floyd worked in the studio?
A: Yeah. Up until "Dark Side" we were a very cohesive team. We were very much a band, we worked very closely together, and we were content to do that. [The album] marked a watershed in that after that, [recording] became more and more problematic. I think with "Dark Side" we had sort of achieved what we’d set out to achieve as young men going into the music business, and after that we kind of clung together out of fear more than out of hope, in my view.
Q: Do you think maybe that sort of tension helped create some of Pink Floyd’s works?
A: I don’t think there’s any question that that is true. I think that’s absolutely true. "Wish You Were Here," "Animals" and "The Wall," definitely part of any power that is in those records was charged by the head-butting that was going on in the band.
Q: You’ve said that you will play "Dark Side of the Moon" in its entirety on your upcoming tour. How did that come about?
A: It was a request from Formula I in France. They wanted a big event to go on July 14, which is the day before the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, it’s about 100 kilometers south of Paris, and somebody in the organization rather fancifully suggested Pink Floyd playing "Dark Side of the Moon," and somebody else rather fancifully approached various people who said, "Are you f***ing insane? It’s not going to happen."
And they then said, "What about Roger Waters, would he do it?" So they asked me and I was rather taken aback, I have to say. I thought about it and I thought, "Hey why not? What a cool idea." And the more I’ve worked on it the more the idea has grown on me and we’re working very hard. And I’m going downtown as we speak to work on visuals for "Dark Side of the Moon" and the rest of the show. I‘ve got a great band together and I have every hope that we will do the work justice.
Q: When Pink Floyd toured originally on that record, did you play it from beginning to end?
A: In those days in the ‘70s routinely for a few tours, what we would do was play the last two records. For the "Dark Side of the Moon" tour, we played a first half of bits and pieces from other records, then "Dark Side of the Moon."
But then the next tour, the "Wish You Were Here" tour, we played "Dark Side of the Moon" in its entirety, then we played "Wish You Were Here" in its entirety. And on the next tour, which was the "Animals" tour, we didn’t play any of "Dark Side of the Moon," we played "Wish You Were Here" and "Animals."
Q: Hearing this record in SACD was like hearing it again for the first time. What is it about new technology that brings new layers to this record?
A: That comes down to the mix. James Guthrie did that 5.1 mix, I have to say with some input from both Dave [Gilmour] and from me. I sat in the studio with him for hour after hour listening to it.
We all focus on different things. One of the things that Dave and I used to argue about was he was always wanting to bury the voices deeper and deeper into the mix, and I was always wanting to make them more and more audible. That was just my position, I love all that human voice speaking stuff that’s on that record, and I think you get to hear some of that more clearly than you did.
Q: That’s true, it sounds like they’re sitting in the room with you when the guy says, "I was very drunk at the time."
A: Yeah, yeah. That was Henry McCullough. I felt a need to include the human voice on the record, so I devised this way of asking people questions in a particular order that would elicit responses that were interesting.
The most interesting responses are from three questions. The first one was, "When was the last time you were violent?" And when you’d answer that one, you’d move on to the next question, "Where you in the right?" And then there were some questions about dark side of the moon that got people to ramble a bit.
But the "Were you in the right?" got terrific responses from people. So that’s how that happened, and they just seemed to slide into the record without any kind of problem, they lived very comfortably with the music.
Q: So you and Dave Gilmour worked together on the SACD release of "Dark Side of the Moon." Have you done that on any other Pink Floyd re-issues?
A: When I say we worked together, we weren’t actually in a room together. We both had separate conversations with James Guthrie, who was doing the actual heavy lifting. But we haven’t gone back and done anything with any of the other stuff.
Q: You looked like you were having a ball onstage at Live 8 last summer.
A: I was, trust me. It was very cool, I really loved every minute of it.
Q: So do you think that was the last time you’ll get a chance to do that?
A: As I’m sure you’ve read in the press he’s been doing, Dave is very adamant that that’s it, he’s done, he’s doing his solo stuff, Pink Floyd is behind him and blah-di-blah-di-blah.
Never say never, you know? I thought it was fun. It was more than fun. And it was so interesting to hear what it actually sounds like with Rick [Wright] and Nick [Mason] and Dave and I all playing together. Because there is a very specific kind of vibe and sound to it, which I hold in great regard and which brought back lots of memories. It was terrific, I really loved it.
Q: The imagery also is a big part of the "Dark Side" legacy.
A: Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powel designed it at Hipgnosis. They came in with like six or seven ideas for album covers and threw them on the floor in the control room and we all as one man went, "That one!" There wasn’t any conversation.
There is just something so cool about it. I think it’s so great that there’s no writing on it, there’s nothing on the outside of the cover. That I can’t explain.
The tour I’m doing, I’m doing a sort of a modified version of the same kind of iconic thing, because it seemed to me stupid not to. When that happens you’ll see that a lot of the artwork for the program for the tour is based upon the pyramid.