Often, when I relax at night after a long day at work, I turn to a piece of music that calms me down in a strange sort of way, with its rich, tense, grand sonics and easy, haunting lyrics. Sometimes, it just numbs me, and at other times, it probes my soul. It has been doing this to me ever since I first encountered it in my college hostel at BITS Pilani, way back in the early 1980s.
Beautiful, addictive music
This is “The Dark Side of the Moon”, the legendary music album that Pink Floyd released exactly 50 years ago, in 1973. Five decades later, it is still on the billboard charts, making it the longest such run for any music album. It has sold nearly 60 million copies worldwide, making it the third best-selling album of all time. What explains its extraordinary longevity, and can we learn something from its great success?
To answer this question, I turned to the source. I played the album once again last night. It is just 43 minutes long, and is punctuated with sounds which are most unusual for a music recording—such as heart beats, ticking clocks, alarms and the ring of cash registers. The lyrics express their ideas in language that is very simple yet poetic at the same time. The music is not just beautiful, it is addictive. From start to end, the album is so beautifully woven together that I fell in love with it all over again. Creating a product that people spontaneously fall in love with, not once but a thousand times, is the holy grail that all marketers aspire for. “The Dark Side of the Moon” does just that.
Timeless human themes
But to tell the truth, the longstanding success of this album is not all about love. It has gained extraordinary acceptance because it deals with powerful and eternal human themes which resonate with all of us. The songs of the dark side are about death, conflict, greed, loneliness, madness and desperation. These are dark concepts, but they are timeless. Most of us experience atleast some of them in our own lives. So listening to the songs in this album fulfils a need that sits deep within us, to reflect on all these difficult themes of our lives, as we sit in the pleasant and secure solitude of our living rooms, or chill with our friends in college dorms.
For instance, the song about Money says—“Money, it’s a crime, share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie. Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.” This sentiment was true fifty years ago, and it is perhaps even more true today, in a world which continues to avidly chase money, but where inequality has only grown with every passing year. Or take the song titled “Breathe (in the air)” which reminds us that “all you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be.” Therefore, there is an urgency to doing more, touching more, seeing more and feeling more, if we wish to expand the scope of our lives. Once again, this touches a deep chord amongst so many of us who wish to make the best of our living years, even as we “race towards an early grave”.
Tension of opposites
There is another aspect of “The Dark Side” which has fascinated me. On the one hand, the album is set in a grand, operatic landscape of sound in which we can easily lose ourselves. On the other hand, the themes and lyrics of this album are hardly grand or romantic—they deal with the insignificance, futility and even insanity of our lives, as we desperately try to make meaning of everything that whirls around us. Therefore, there is a constant tension between the sound and the lyrics, a blend of opposites which is impossible to resolve but lovely to ruminate over. Many great brands bring together a similar tension of opposites (for instance, delicious taste and great nutrition, or soft design and hard technology) to engross the human mind. “The Dark Side” is a perfect illustration of this principle.
This masterpiece of music reveals to us that human beings always long to engage with themes that are at the core of our lives, no matter how disturbing or elevating these topics are. The challenge and the opportunity is to infuse these subjects with magic, which Pink Floyd have done so brilliantly using music as their wand. This is a universal truth that marketers can take away from the “Dark Side of the Moon.”
Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views.