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Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' was reissued in a surround-sound SACD version.

'Dub Side of the Moon' is the Easy Star All Stars' reggae version of Pink Floyd's most famous album.

Cue up 'Dark Side of the Moon' to the 'Wizard of Oz' DVD.

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See You on the Dub Side of the Moon: Easy Star Records producers Michael G. and Ticklah's reggae release 'Dub Side of the Moon' was a huge underground hit, and along with Luther Wright's country-bluegrass 'Re-Build the Wall,' demonstrated that artists from different genres were interested in re-interpreting entire Floyd albums.

Wish You Were Hip

With the imminent arrival of the touring version of the indie hit 'Dub Side of the Moon,' it's time to note that it's officially OK for hipsters who once wrote them off as rock dinosaurs to admit they love Pink Floyd. Never mind the Sex Pistols, here's the story of how Floyd became cool again.

By Steve Palopoli

The legend goes that when Malcolm McLaren was putting together the Sex Pistols, he picked Johnny Rotten to be lead singer not because he liked the kid's voice or stage presence, but because he liked his T-shirt. What the future wannabe Antichrist had done was take a Pink Floyd shirt and scribble the words "I hate" above the band's name.

In other words, it was hard to be less cool than Pink Floyd in the punk years. Though they'd been the darlings of the British underground in the late '60s, by the end of the '70s they represented everything angry young rock fans hated about the music business--they were dinosaurs, plain and simple.

Going into the 80s, The Wall sold a lot of copies, and contained probably their best song ever in "Comfortably Numb," but it was dismissed by most critics as an overlong, self-indulgent bore, and didn't do much to change anyone's perception of Pink Floyd. The Final Cut was even colder and denser, in some ways, than The Wall, and would wind up being voted the band's worst album even by Floyd fans. It also looked to be the band's last album, since Roger Waters seemed to have more or less fired everyone else in the band by the time it was done. Ironically, Pink Floyd imploded under the weight of all the pressures and dysfunctions they had lamented on their records.

The band's story doesn't really stop there. Waters would go on to make solo albums that got better and better in inverse proportion to the number of people who cared. The rest of Pink Floyd continue today as a glorified nostalgia act--if you bought The Division Bell (and please, tell me you didn't buy The Division Bell)--you know exactly what I mean. Even Syd Barrett, the original Floyd visionary whose very real madness inspired the Floyd's later obsession with the subject, is still tragically cracked and living quietly in Cambridge.

Speak to Me

But this particular story isn't about any of that. This particular story starts in 1988, two years after Waters and company parted ways for good in an infamously nasty manner. What happened on July 23 of that year is that Dark Side of the Moon, the record considered by many to be the quintessential Pink Floyd album, dropped off the Billboard charts--after a record 736 weeks. It was the fourth-largest selling album of all time, but unlike the records that out-unit-shifted it (Thriller, Rumours and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, if you want to be that way about it), Dark Side didn't drop monstrous and then gradually taper off. Dark Side went from something moderately anticipated in 1973 to something unusually successful to an unprecedented week-in-week-out phenomenon. Even as Floyd released other records and musical trends shifted, generation after generation of true believers and stoned college students kept the faith. To put it another way, it is the only megahit in history to sell like an underground record.

After all those years of quiet tape lending and torch passing, all those years of high schoolers and college freshman linking the formative years of their life to a Pink Floyd soundtrack, something remarkable happened.

Pink Floyd became cool again.

Is There Anybody Out There?

It could be argued that Pink Floyd regained its cred one cover song at a time, and that the whole thing started when the Berlin Wall came down. After its initial 1980 tour, Roger Waters had sworn not to perform The Wall album live until the real one that divided Germany was dismantled. By this time, the album was held in reasonably high regard--even by a lot of former Floyd haters--and the Alan Parker film based on it had gone from being a surprising theatrical flop in 1982 to a cult hit on the midnight movie circuit and on video.

So when the Berlin Wall was toppled, Waters went over the top to rebuild not just the epic show based on The Wall, but his career, as well. He planned a live performance in Berlin featuring an all-star lineup covering the record. The roster of musicians who showed up to perform wouldn't have won over Johnny Rotten by any means, but they were most all either pop stars at the height of their popularity or bona fide rock legends. Sinead O'Connor did "Mother" with the Band, Joni Mitchell sang "Goodbye Blue Sky," Cyndi Lauper did "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" and in a stroke of genius, Van Morrison and the Band did "Comfortably Numb." The show became a hit double live album that served notice of the Floyd's repaired reputation.

Queensryche's 1990 Top 5 hit "Silent Lucidity" wasn't a cover per se, but it was nothing if not an echo of "Comfortably Numb." "Anybody Listening?" and "Resistance," from the same double-platinum album, Empire, also sounded like they were built from The Wall, and Queensryche made no attempt to hide that fact, talking up their debt to Pink Floyd and turning a generation of junior-high MTV fans onto the band in the process.

The '90s was the decade that turned "tribute" into a musical genre, and Pink Floyd had every type of musician covering their work and tribute bands touring their entire oeuvre. The great alternative band the Feelies supposedly even started their career as a Syd-Barrett-era-Floyd cover band called Gates of Dawn.

Meanwhile, "Wish You Were Here," the band's only real entry in the future-folk-standard sweepstakes in their entire career, was so ubiquitous by this point you couldn't walk two blocks in any reasonably funky town without hearing someone strumming away at it. The parade of "Wish You Were Here" cover versions culminated in a much-hyped Wyclef Jean hit in 2000--marking Pink Floyd's first major hip-hop showing--and a Limp Bizkit version on one of those godforsaken post-9/11 "tribute to America" albums.

The Lunatic Is on the Grass

The '90s was also the decade in which someone who had done an incredible number of bong hits told someone else who was looking for an excuse to do an incredible number of bong hits about the time he figured out that Dark Side of the Moon was made to be played while watching The Wizard of Oz. Now, no one knows who these two theoretical people were, but somehow word spread like wildfire (exploding-Internet-usage, anyone?) that if you watched the movie while listening to the album, incredible things would happen. A site called Dark Side of the Rainbow claims to have collected over 100 wacky "synchronicities," but these are probably the most famous:

* "Us and Them" is heard when Dorothy meets the Wicked Witch of the West; Dorothy is in a blue outfit and the Wicked Witch is in black as the line "black and blue" is repeated;

* Dorothy meets the Scarecrow during the line "the lunatic is on the grass";

* the tornado appears just as "The Great Gig in the Sky" begins;

* side one of the album (remember sides?) is exactly as long as the black-and-white portion of the film;

* the Scarecrow sings "If I Only Had a Brain" during "Brain Damage";

* the album's concluding heartbeat comes as Dorothy listens to the Tin Man's chest.

You've probably heard this urban legend, and may have even tested it yourself. If you haven't, it more than likely sounds nuts. It won't help that the different ideas about what to sync the beginning of the album up to are called "First Roar Theory," "Second Roar Theory," "Third Roar Theory" and "Fade To Black Theory." (Note: Conventional wisdom supports "Second Roar Theory" by an overwhelming margin.) Even more disputed is the question of what you're supposed to play when Dark Side ends and the movie's still going: Wish You Were Here, which was Floyd's next album, is the obvious choice, but there's a strong contingent that advocates playing Animals and then Meddle afterward--who knows why.

In any case, this whole quasi-mystical Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz deal only served to make Floyd seem cooler--considering how rampant this rumor was running in the late '90s, it's surprising it didn't push Dark Side back into the Billboard charts yet again.

When pressed with the ludicrous and yet undeniably fascinating question of whether Floyd itself ever intended the album to have a Wizard of Oz connection, David Gilmour rather wittily told Q magazine, "If it does, then Roger never let me in on it. It seemed to bear no relation when I tried it. I mean, it can only last for the first forty minutes. What's supposed to happen for the rest of it? Was that supposed to match Wish You Were Here?"

When You're In

In the 21st century, the hit cover versions have continued--the Scissor Sisters' current U.K. charting with their awful cryptodisco take on "Comfortably Numb" is only the latest example. You would need all of your piggies to count the Floyd tribute albums that have been released.

But the trend that's beginning to emerge is a desire to take on Pink Floyd albums in their entirety. The two most worthwhile examples are Luther Wright's Re-Build The Wall, a song-for-song country-bluegrass version of The Wall, and the Easy Star All-Stars' reggae remake Dub Side of the Moon (see story).

Rebuild The Wall is surprisingly good, though considering that most people out of high school are loathe to listen even to Pink Floyd's original version of The Wall all the way through, sitting through the whole thing is sort of beside the point. But the best performances on the 2001 album--the old-time-spiritual rendition of "Goodbye Blue Sky" and the perfect honky-tonk take on "Young Lust," for starters--are sublime. Based on the success of the record, Wright got a distribution deal with Virgin, though he tried to ditch any aspersions that he was interested in making novelty records with his follow-up, the Floyd-free Guitar Pickin' Martyrs. It should be said, by they way, that the Austin Lounge Lizards blazed the trail for Rebuild The Wall 10 years earlier with their great bluegrass cover of "Brain Damage" from Dark Side of the Moon.

Dub Side of the Moon from 2003 got rave reviews in everything from Vibe to Rolling Stone to High Times to Jane, spending over a year on the Billboard reggae charts. It gets played between sets at Radiohead concerts and counts among its fans Clare Torry, who did the legendary vocal for "The Great Gig in the Sky" on the original Dark Side of the Moon. The touring version of the record comes to the Catalyst Thursday, Aug. 12.

Ultimately, Pink Floyd may have the last laugh in this cultural comeback--David Gilmour, for instance, questions whether they were ever really as uncool as people thought they were--that even the cool kids, maybe, were secretly spinning Ummagumma out of earshot of their friends. OK, he didn't go that far, but in that 1999 interview with Q magazine, he did dare to claim that even the Johnny Rotten T-shirt incident was a fraud, saying he'd heard it from the horse's mouth when he met the former Sex Pistol.

"He said he never really hated Pink Floyd, and actually he was a bit of a fan," Gilmour deadpanned. "I confess to not having entirely believed it in the first place. I mean, who could hate us?"

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From the August 11-18, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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