Dark Side of the Rainbow

This year is the 75th anniversary of the release of the MGM classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939). A few years ago I had a number of Wizard of Oz-related articles and I’ll be revisiting those topics throughout the year (and beyond). I though a good place to start would be the rumored connection between The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon. If you properly synchronize the film and the album, as the rumor goes, a number of coincidental events occur. So many, in fact, that a large audience is convinced that Pink Floyd intentionally created Dark Side of the Moon as an alternative soundtrack to the film. Just to cite a few examples, side one of the LP is the same length as the first black-and-white segment of the movie; “The Great Gig in the Sky” begins as the tornado approaches Dorothy’s farm, builds as the storm worsens, and slows when Dorothy is knocked unconscious; “Brain Damage” plays as the Scarecrow sings “If I Only Had a Brain”; and the album concludes with the sound of a heartbeat as Dorothy puts her hand on the Tin Woodsman’s chest. Over time the “Dark Size of Oz” or “Dark Side of the Rainbow”, as it is sometimes called, has taken on a life of its own and references to it pop up fairly frequently.

The origins of this rumor are obscure, but a few websites had appeared and discussion groups had been exchanging information about the connection between Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz a number of years before the mainstream press reported the story in 1997. WZLX-FM in Boston and WNEW-FM in New York received overwhelming responses from listeners when they reported this rumor on the air in the spring of 1997. George Taylor Morris, the disc jockey for WZLX, said, “I just mentioned it, just briefly on the air.” That was all it took, though, as the rumor spread rapidly after that. Within a few weeks, several major newspapers and television news programs, as well as MTV, ran stories about the rumored connection between the album and the film. The Internet has been instrumental in spreading this rumor. Several websites have come online that include theories about Pink Floyd’s intentions and lists of coincidental events between the film and the album.

The record company, EMI-Capitol Entertainment Properties, made no effort to counter the rumor. In the weeks following the mainstream newsmedia reports, EMI-Capitol reported that they were having trouble keeping up with demand for copies of Dark Side of the Moon, as sales had doubled. Bruce Kirkland, chief of EMI-Capitol when the rumor was first reported by the mainstream media, said, “It’s happening at an organic, grass-roots level, but we’re into fueling it…. Why Not? It’s not harmful, it’s not exploitative, and nobody died. It’s just fun. Yeah, let’s get into it.”

Members of the band, however, have denied that they made Dark Side of the Moon to be an alternate soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz. Richard Wright “swore on his family” that the band had not intended to do anything of the sort. When asked about the coincidental events between the album and the movie, Nick Mason stated, “I haven’t [watched The Wizard of Oz synchronized with Dark Side of the Moon]. But I hope someone else will do it when I’m there. I can never quite be bothered to do it. I can assure you we never worked with the film when we were working on the track. That would be so convoluted a way of making a record.” Alan Parsons, who was the engineer on Dark Side of the Moon, said that no one in the band had discussed The Wizard of Oz while they were making the album. He wondered whether it would even have been possible for the band to create an alternate soundtrack to the classic film, stating, “There simply wasn’t the mechanics to do it. We had no means of playing videotapes in the room at all. I don’t think VHS had come along by ’72, had it?”

It’s highly unlikely that Pink Floyd intended to produce an alternative soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz or that The Wizard of Oz even had any substantial influence on the band while they were making Dark Side of the Moon, not to mention that this conspiracy theory is just plain odd. Rather than being an obvious soundtrack to the film, the coincidental events between Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz are superficial and distributed randomly throughout the album and film. If Pink Floyd had intended to produce some sort of soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz, it seems that they would have been more clever about it, perhaps developing musical themes for the main characters or a lyrical theme that paralleled the film. That is not the case, though. In fact, the dark themes expressed in Dark Side of the Moon are not at all consistent with the sentimental outlook of The Wizard of Oz. An argument could be made that Dorothy and Pink Floyd are expressing the same desire to find a place where a person can live in harmony with their surroundings. Dorothy longs to find “some place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away, behind the moon, beyond the rain.”

Perhaps Pink Floyd could have picked up on the reference to a utopia being “behind the moon,” but Roger Waters, who wrote all of the lyrics on Dark Side of the Moon, invoked the image of the moon with a different intent. The “dark side of the moon” refers to insanity, and according to Waters, the songs on the album explore “the pressures we personally feel that drive one over the top.” According to Nicholas Schaffner in Saucerful of Secrets, Dark Side of the Moon was the product of “five years of coming to grips with the madness of the man who had given Pink Floyd their name and their fame.” Syd Barrett had been the the focus of Pink Floyd in the late 1960s but left the band because of debilitating mental problems exacerbated by drug use. His departure cast a shadow over the band and it took them a number of years to find their voice without him. With Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd had clearly moved on musically, but perhaps not emotionally from Syd. The last of the spoken word passages on Dark Side of the Moon is from Jerry Driscoll, the doorman at Abbey Road studios, where the album was recorded. During the heartbeat sound that closes that album, Driscoll is heard saying “There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

The pessimistic themes of Dark Side of the Moon stand in sharp contrast to the optimism of The Wizard of Oz. The characters in The Wizard of Oz realize that they’ve possessed all along the virtues they doubted. Everything they long for is already in their possession and Dorothy’s adventure makes her realize that “there’s no place like home.” L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz in 1900, wanted to create a uniquely American fable, free of the dark themes and images of European fables. Baum went on to write a series of Oz books and several film versions of the story were produced before the famous 1939 MGM version directed by Victor Fleming. At the time the movie was released, the country had already experienced several years of the Great Depression, one of the worst periods of economic hardship in American history. The faith in human nature expressed in The Wizard of Oz served as an affirmation to moviegoing audiences in 1939. Dark Side of the Moon, by contrast, came out at a time when suspicion of established institutions was high among young people. More than anything else, Pink Floyd’s world-weary lyrics express the disillusion of the Vietnam War era.

Having said that, there’s no denying that it’s fun to watch The Wizard of Oz with Dark Side of the Moon. Regardless of Pink Floyd’s intentions, using Dark Side of the Moon as an alternate soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz causes viewers to see a familiar story in a new way. The rumor about the connection between the movie and the film has also changed how we see The Wizard of Oz on television. On July 3, 2000, Turner Classic Movies aired the classic film without commercial interruptions—the first time that it had been broadcast in this way. Then, later in the evening, TCM again showed The Wizard of Oz, but this time they offered Dark Side of the Moon on the Second Audio Program.

Over the years many people have created synched versions of Dark Side of the Rainbow. Here’s one that runs the length of Dark Side of the Moon and here’s another that provides on-screen explanations of the coincidental events (skipping over everything in between). Here’s my attempt at creating an annotated Dark Side of the Rainbow using Movie Maker (it’s not the most user friendly of applications but hey, it’s free):

 

Pink Floyd’s music lends itself well to the simultaneous viewing of movie images. As Patrick McDonald points out, Pink Floyd’s music has “a filmic quality” to it. The band did the score for the movie More (1969) and director Michaelangelo Antonioni used three Pink Floyd songs in his film Zabriskie Point (1970). And, of course, The Wall (1982) was made into a movie. Dark Side of the Moon in particular is good a place to start, as the songs on the album flow from one to the next. In a 1997 article, music critic J.D. Considine chose four films to run with Dark Side of the Moon and rated them in terms of how well the images from the films correspond to the music. On a scale of one to five (five being the “most convincing”), Considine gave The Wizard of Oz a “credibility rating” of 3, better than Psycho (2) or Beach Blanket Bingo (1), but not as good as Forrest Gump and 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which he rated 4.

A case could be made, then, that any film and album could be viewed in combination with interesting results. A number of websites are devoted to synchronizing films with albums, and Pink Floyd albums are well represented on those lists. Some fans have used the word “synchronicity” to describe the coincidental events between films and albums, from Carl Jung’s theory of “meaningful coincidences” between unrelated events.

What’s most interesting about this phenomenon is that is reveals how deeply embedded in our popular culture each of these works has become. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most enduring stories in American popular culture and the themes and images from this story are a part of our everyday experience. References to the yellow brick road, munchkins, the Wicked Witch, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, ruby slippers, Toto, “There’s no place like home” are so common that we rarely stop to question their origins. Also, the songs from the film, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” and “If I Only Had a Brain,” are instantly recognizable. Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon has also become a mainstay of our popular culture. It was on the Billboard 200 chart for 591 consecutive weeks between 1976 and 1988, and 741 weeks on that chart altogether. This album has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Whether or not The Wizard of Oz had any influence on Pink Floyd when they made Dark Side of the Moon no longer matters. The rumor about the connection between these two works has been repeated so often now that they have become connected in popular culture.

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