How Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ got an accidental Toronto premiere 50 years ago
Fifty years ago this week, Toronto radio listeners unwittingly enjoyed the world premiere of the classic Pink Floyd album “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
Call it a happy accident, because things weren’t supposed to quite work out that way. Back in 1973, Bob Roper was working as the Capitol Records promotion representative for Ontario. His job was to pitch Toronto radio stations his label’s latest music, with the hope that DJs and music directors would add it to their playlists.
Days before the official March 1, 1973 release of the latest opus by the British progressive rock outfit consisting of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, Roper was handed an 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.
He listened to it twice, thought it was good and decided to procure a second opinion from someone he respected: CHUM-FM 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.
A few months before, he had started a petition to persuade Toronto’s Concert Productions International and promoter Michael Cohl to bring the band to 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 said. “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.”
The resulting show sold out in 45 minutes, with Pink Floyd’s debut Toronto performance on March 11, 1973: 11 days after “Dark Side’s” release.
So when Roper handed Marsden the vinyl platter four days before it was supposed to hit shelves and Marsden played it during his 6 to 10 p.m. slot — twice, from start to finish — Roper thought he had scored a coup.
“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 big plans for the premiere that Roper had accidentally ruined.
“We preceded the world premiere by four days and, of course, CHUM-FM was only available in the Toronto area,” Marsden said. “But it was a world premiere as far as I was concerned.”
Toronto got a head start on an album that became one of the world’s bestselling and most influential platters, trailing only Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California” in 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, but an estimate of 60 million 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 two million units sold.
There was a reason for the record’s 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 VSC-3 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,” “Money,” “The Great Gig in the Sky,” “Any Colour You Like” and “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 said. “‘Dark Side’ was a big one for laying 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.“
Currie admires the cerebral approach in lyrical content of “Dark Side.”
“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 “Dark Side” opened him up to a world of possibility when he was finally old enough to appreciate it.
“That was the moment I realized the scope of what you could do in music,” Helman said. “Up until that point, I just thought songs were songs …
“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.”
Jace Lasek, singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Besnard Lakes, said “Dark Side” influenced the band’s 2001 album “The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings.”
“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,” Lasek said.
“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 plans in motion to mark the album’s 50th birthday, ranging from Pink Floyd chief songwriter Roger Waters re-recording the album on his own, to an elaborate new deluxe box set from Sony out March 24.
A book, an animation contest and planetarium events featuring the album are also planned for 2023, celebrating a record 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 said. “I think that the fact that it’s 700-plus weeks on Billboard tells you it spoke to so many people.”
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Credit: How Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ got an accidental Toronto premiere 50 years ago