Not just Dark Side Of The Moon – Alternative musical highlights of 1973

tom stoppard dark side of the moon

Pink Floyd’s enduringly popular Dark Side of the Moon turned 40 this year. But, as Daniel Kalder explains, there was plenty of great rock music around in 1973…

This March Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon turned 40 years old to some ballyhoo in the press. Apparently Sir Tom Stoppard [above] was so excited by the anniversary that he wrote a radio play which will soon be performed, or may already have been performed- since I don’t care I can’t tell you for sure.

I’m not going to be too snarky here – Dark Side of the Moon was the first album I ever bought with my own cash, at some point in the late 80s, when my peers were listening to rubbish like The Soup Dragons. I played it a lot; Roger Waters’ sixth form level lyrics were pitched directly at the sensibilities of my angsty teen self: man, this is deep. Hey, did you hear that? He said “bullshit”. I still play it now and again, and with time I have come to appreciate keyboardist Rick Wright’s contributions more. After he was sidelined from the group Waters’ pomposity went into overdrive and the quality of the compositions deteriorated rapidly.

But Dark Side is just the tip of the iceberg as far as fine LPs of 1973 go. Indeed, 1973 was something of a banner year for music with many acts now considered “legendary” releasing records that were either their best or among their best. Fantastical musical styles such as glam and prog were in vogue, which enabled young English men to invent other identities, or explore absurd realities- and some Americans were visiting strange shores also:


Now for something a little more refined. By 1973 John Cale was already 31 years old, and he had been through many mutations in his musical career. A classically trained musician from Wales who had gone to the US on a scholarship, he fell in with the experimental New York set and took to playing very long drones on his viola, before meeting Lou Reed and adding all the avant-garde aspects to the first and second Velvet Underground LPs.

Next followed a stint as an A & R man/producer which saw him oversee the first Stooges LP, meanwhile cranking out a strange album of classical miniatures, a collaboration with Terry Riley and a bona fide pop record in the form of Vintage Violence. It was in 1973 however that he really found his voice as a composer and performer and released his best work- Paris 1919, recorded with members of the southern boogie combo Little Feat (who released their own seminal Dixie Chicken that year). It is an exceptionally fine album, literate and beautifully orchestrated. Here’s the title track as performed live by a still spry 70 year old Cale with some Swedes last year:

One of the most striking tracks on Dark Side of the Moon is “Time” which begins with a lot of ticking and chiming and ringing clocks, as engineered by studio maestro Alan Parsons. In 1973 however David Bowie also put a song entitled “Time” on his LP Aladdin Sane– and this one was not a rocker but rather a weird cabaret tune with ambiguous lyrics, performed with great drama by Bowie. “Time” also features striking semi avant-garde stride piano contributions from Mike Garson, an extraordinary jazz pianist; indeed Aladdin Sane marks the first time Bowie selected a truly leftfield collaborator who could add something alien to his music, greatly enriching it in the process. This is a tactic he would deploy again to great effect throughout the 70s with Brian Eno and the guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew.

I’d like to link to the berserk live performance on The Glass Spider tour, but the song isn’t quite the same without Garson’s playing:

If John Cale released his best record in 1973, then quite possibly his erstwhile collaborator Lou Reed did too, in the shape of the legendarily depressing LP Berlin. Recorded with Alice Cooper’s producer bob Ezrin (who would go on to produce Pink Floyds tedium opus The Wall) it was a concept album on the theme of an extremely destructive relationship that was stitched together from demos Reed had had lying around for years, and even included a song he had already recorded on his first solo album.  Widely reviled at the time of release, Lou Reed didn’t perform many of its songs live for the next thirty years or so at which point he went on tour with the record to rapturous critical response.

I bought this as a teenager and while I could get into the rocking A-side, I found the B side genuinely disturbing. It was easy enough to identify with Roger Waters’ angsty moaning, but Lou Reed was plumbing much darker depths of anguish, guilt, hatred and self-loathing. Berlin is a decidedly adult album that retains a stark and shocking power today, even if the music is beautifully orchestrated by Bob Ezrin. It’s not every day a rock star sings about a woman losing her children to the social services. I’d link to the live version, but unlike John Cale, Lou Reed has aged badly and his voice is atrocious these days.  Here’s “Sad Song”, in which Reed sings the unforgettable line: I’m gonna stop wasting my time/Somebody else would have broken both of her arms.

I could easily fill another Lazy Sunday with great LPs of ’73, but I am going to end this one with a track from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. Wonder was on an incredible creative roll in the early 70s; the music just poured out of him, and all of it was imbued with joy.  Alas, a childhood encounter with the horror of “I Just Called to Say I Love You” obscured the truth about his talent from me for too many years.  Wonder played most of the instruments on Innervisions himself, and mixed soul with jazz and funk and whatever else he fancied. Here we have the last track from the record, a warning from Stevie to his fans about the sinister fellow that is “Misstra Know It All”. Even then, there’s such exuberance and sheer delight in the act of making music that even this cautionary song about a wrong ‘un becomes somehow uplifting:

Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist. Visit him online at
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Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist. Visit him online at

9 thoughts on “Not just Dark Side Of The Moon – Alternative musical highlights of 1973

    April 7, 2013 at 11:29

    Have to front-up DK and say that V&A Exhibition or no V&A Exhibition I could never quite ‘get’ Bowie – but any post with ‘the greatest living Welshman’ and Lou Reed is going to be worth 20 minutes of anybody’s time – and it was. You posted Style It Takes last year I think, and I covered Small Town the year before – what music those two could make.

      April 7, 2013 at 22:22

      I could have picked any track off Paris 1919 as an example of high quality Cale… Except for Macbeth, that is.

      Bowie from Hunky dory thru Scary Monsters is pretty great, with one or two glaring missteps…

    April 7, 2013 at 20:53

    DSOTM will always be popular with a certain kind of teenage boy, as will Tolkein books and Dali prints. Nonetheless, DSOTM is in fact genuinely brilliant – a work of 20th Century art, sui generis and self-contained. The music is timeless, not at all rooted in the 70s, and seems to come from deep space or the bottom of the ocean. And it is oddly anonymous – a band with no frontman or personality. All a massive fluke in a way, like the movie Casablanca. Pink Floyd began with extreme silliness under Syd Barret (“I’ve got a mouse and he hasn’t got a house I don’t know why I call him Gerald”) and went on to humourless crap with Roger Waters’ “The Final Cut”, but halfway between they somehow came up with something deathless.

      April 8, 2013 at 03:25

      I am very glad to have begun my record collecting with that LP- it set me on a path towards lots of other good stuff. And it is, as you say, a good record. The point about anonymity is interesting, because it applies to the Floyd as musicians also. David Gilmour is quite good at the guitar, Rick Wright knew some nice jazz chords, but the rhythm section was very plodding, and Waters is a dire bass guitarist. But I think they worked extremely well together on that album, and it pretty much came out of nowhere, as you said. There are a few traces of it on Meddle and Obscured By Clouds, but not much.

      And has as The Final Cut may be, Waters’ solo stuff is eye watering lay bad, while Gilmour degenerated into corporate soft rock that makes Dire Straits sound exciting.

        April 8, 2013 at 03:26

        Sorry that should be as bad as the final cut may be , Waters solo stuff is eye wateringly awful.

    April 8, 2013 at 21:29

    I would just like to point out that 1973 also saw the release of “Legend” (or “Leg End”) by Henry Cow.

    Hey Skipper
    April 9, 2013 at 01:43

    I didn’t twig DSOTM right off the bat, probably because I was too busy playing Thick as a Brick absolutely to death. Brit is right. DSOTM is brilliant and nothing sounds like it. Time and Money are ageless, and rank right up there with the best rock lyrics ever.

    Just over a month ago, I had the misfortune of importing a particularly loathsome case of the flu from Shanghai — precisely the same time as the latest SARS outbreak, BTW. I figured a temp of 103 warranted a trip to the emergency room.

    The doc, an early 30s latina, saw my Pink Floyd shirt and said “best band ever.”

    I bet DSOTM will still be getting played 200 years from now.

      April 9, 2013 at 15:32

      Very good album yes, but not the best band ever by a long chalk…. DSOTM and Wish You Were Here stand up well, Animals shows strong signs of deterioration, while The Wall- although it includes some good tracks- reveals the clear signs of Waters’ creative megalomania developing in all relation to his actual abilities that would completely derail everything he did after that point without exception, alas.

        Hey Skipper
        April 10, 2013 at 00:51

        … but not the best band ever by a long chalk….

        Which bands would you put ahead of the Floyd?

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