Run, Rasta, Run

A clever reggae remake of Dark Side of the Moon lovingly lampoons the album's hazy cult

Imagine you were abducted by aliens in 1973. Thirty years later, the little green bastards return you to Earth. Your friends hold a welcome-back party, during which they ask you, "Hey, man, guess which album has ruled the charts since you left, dude?"

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?" you say. Nope.

"Led Zeppelin IV?" Nope, they snicker as they pass you a joint.

"Dark Side of the Moon, bubba!"

That morbid album about lunacy, you mean?

Yep, 30 years ago this month, Pink Floyd released the recording that remained on Billboard's Top 200 album chart for more than 1,300 weeks – the longest reign of any album on any chart. (Sgt. Pepper's was on Billboard's chart for less than 200 weeks, Led Zeppelin IV for less than 250.) One in five British households owns a copy of the album, according to some estimates, while more than 8,000 copies a week continue to be sold in the U.S.

That means we've bought, and probably worn out and replaced, approximately a zillion copies of what its self-anointed genius creator Roger Waters defined as a meditation on the causes of insanity. What's that all about?

Well, a clue to at least some of its longevity can be found on Easy Star Records' new disc Dub Side of the Moon, an ingenious song-by-song reggae remake released earlier this month on the 30th anniversary of the Pink Floyd classic. While faithful to the original, it's still a new Moon: From the opening "Speak to Me" comes the sound of clicking lighters, bubbling bong water, coughing and delirious cackling, all of which work uncannily well in replacing the frantic heartbeats, clocks and machine noises on the original.

In fact, blatantly mixing herbage with the verbiage on this remake of the ultimate soundtrack for the baggie brigade seems as natural as turning an empty mustard squeeze bottle into a bong. Dub Side of the Moon's smoky approach works so well you wonder why someone didn't think of it earlier. Okay, lots of heads probably came up with the idea, then forgot. But Easy Star All-Stars – led by guitarist/producer Michael G and keyboardist/percussionist/producer Ticklah, drummer Patrick Doughter and bassist Victor Rice – must have written themselves reminder notes on their spare rolling papers, later calling Wailers singer Gary "Nesa" Pine, toaster Ranking Joe, dance-hall veteran Frankie Paul, Brooklyn's Doctor Israel, the Meditations and others to attend the group's great recording gig in the skies of New York.

Hence, David Gilmour's guitars are replaced by the more traditional reggae instrumentation of horns on "Any Colour You Like," toasting on "Time" and "Money," and melodica on the "Breathe In the Air" reprise that ends "Time."

The All-Stars were meticulous in re-creating the nuances of the original, all the way down to the heavy Jamaican accents that reconstruct the muffled voice-overs of the original. Transferring all the subtleties of the pristine synth-heavy original to their roughhewn reggae reinvention took a full three years to complete.

"There were several reasons why this project took so long," says Michael G. "First off, we wanted to make sure that Pink Floyd was cool with everything. We had to deal with their management and their publishers, and with Roger Waters no longer part of Pink Floyd, we had to deal with him separately as well.

"Most importantly, though," continues the producer, "we wanted to take our time to do it right and really pay attention to detail, because besides trying to make a great reggae album, we did not want to disappoint the Pink Floyd fans who really take the original seriously. I think we accomplished our mission."

Dub Side of the Moon, as a result, finally states the obvious. Even a Pink Floyd fan who couldn't spell "ganja" would have to admit that Dark Side is the quintessential soundtrack for a self-induced mental eclipse. The album is 42 minutes and 57 seconds of space wandering, broken only by the aggressive punch of "Time" and "Money" that serves to shock the dozing headphoned head into sweeping the burning seeds off his lap. And the lyrics are either so inconsequential ("All you touch and all you see/Is all your life will ever be") as to not disturb the drifting brainpan, or so obtuse ("Haven't you heard/It's a battle of words/The poster bearer cried") that an intentionally clouded mind can conjure up a new batch of grand interpretations with each listen. Sgt. Pepper's, Led Zep IV – nah, their imagery is far too specific. The adventurous skull needs the aural equivalent of a Rorschach test – hazy inkblots for the ears that can be endlessly reinterpreted – with a little TLC from some THC, of course. What do you think you're expected to do before listening to an album where the opening lyric is "Breathe, breathe in the air"? The band pretty much does everything but light the damned thing for you.

The Dub Side of the Moonplayers aim to set you up with a full head show, too, going as far as approximating within seconds the length of the original album so that the buzzed listener can cue up Dub Side, just as with the original, to play in synch with The Wizard of Oz.

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