Dear Straight Dope:
Is it true that when Pink Floyd's album Dark Side of the Moon is played along with The Wizard of Oz, music changes coincide with plot changes in the movie?
SDStaff DavidB replies:
We get this question all the time at the Straight Dope, and we’re starting to realize “sheesh” isn’t an adequate answer. So here’s a better one: Almost certainly not. But let’s take a look.
Here’s how to check it out for yourself. Get your CD player ready and start the movie. Then start the album when the MGM lion finishes its third roar. You have to do this exactly right, or it won’t “work.” Why the third roar isn’t explained anywhere that I have seen.
Helen Kennedy, in a 1997 article for the Daily News, was one of many who wrote about the “synchronicity” between Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. She notes, “The lyrics and music join in cosmic synch with the action, forming dozens upon dozens of startling coincidences — the kind that make you go ‘Oh wow, man’ even if you haven’t been near a bong in 20 years.”
Some of the examples she cites: “Floyd sings ‘the lunatic is on the grass’ just as the Scarecrow begins his floppy jig near a green lawn. The line ‘got to keep the loonies on the path’ comes just before Dorothy and the Scarecrow start traipsing down the Yellow Brick Road.” Also: “During ‘Time,’ Dorothy breaks into a trot to the line: ‘no one told you when to run.’ When Dorothy leaves the fortuneteller to go back to her farm, the album is playing: ‘home, home again.’ Glinda, the saccharine Good Witch of the North, appears in her bubble just as the band sings: ‘Don’t give me that do goody goody bull—t.’ A few minutes later, the Good Witch confronts the Wicked Witch as the band sings, ‘And who knows which is which’ (or is that ‘witch is witch’?).” There’s more: “The song ‘Brain Damage’ starts about the same time as the Scarecrow launches into ‘If I Only Had a Brain.'” Also: “The real clincher comes at the end of the album, which tails off with the insistent sound of a beating heart. What’s happening on screen? Yep, you guessed it: Dorothy’s got her ear to the Tin Man’s chest, listening for a heartbeat.”
There’s lots more, Kennedy explains: “Songs end when scenes switch, and even the Munchkins’ dancing is perfectly choreographed to the song ‘Us and Them.’ The phenomenon is at its most startling during the tornado scene, when the wordless singing in ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ swells and recedes in strikingly perfect time with the movie. When Dorothy opens the door into Oz, the movie switches to rich color and — and that exact moment — the album starts in with the tinkling cash register sound effects from ‘Money.’ The real fanatics will point out that side one of the vinyl album is the exact length of the black-and-white portion of the movie. And then there’s that iconic album cover, with its prism and rainbow echoing the movie’s famous black-and-white-into-color switch — not to mention Judy Garland’s classic first song.””
Others (such as “The Synchronicity Arkive”) point out that the cover of Floyd’s Pulse album shows a girl with red shoes, an axe, and a bike, which are supposed to symbolize Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the witch’s bike (when she was just the nasty neighbor, before Dorothy ended up in Oz). Alas, those more easily symbolize early Floyd songs “See Emily Play,” “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” and “Bike.”
So what do we make of all of this? Is it coincidence, was it planned, or is it, as some followers of Carl Jung would have us believe, some form of collective unconscious synchronicity? A lot of these examples point to coincidence — for example, the claim that the first side of the album is the exact length of the black-and-white part of the movie. This is only true if you start the album at exactly the right spot. In other words, it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What about the cash registers of “Money” starting when it switches to color? Well, what if “Time” had instead begun then? We’d hear about the alarms at the beginning of that song instead.
Fact is, there are many more instances where the album and movie don’t coincide than do. Why is it that “no one told you when to run” is significant, but “run, rabbit run” in “Breathe” is not? Or what about “dig that hole,” also in “Breathe”? Why isn’t the line, “To hear the softly spoken magic spells,” in the “Breathe” reprise not associated with a witch (or the Wizard) in the movie?
Why doesn’t Dorothy “Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash” when “Money” is playing? Right after the “goody-good” (not “goody-goody,” as Kennedy says above) line, the song talks about a plane. What does that have to do with anything? And when the same song talks about “the root of all evil,” why, if they were purposely making the song coincide, didn’t they hold off that line until the Wicked Witch shows up?
Why credit the line about the loonies being on the path in “Brain Damage” with a “hit” in synching with the movie, but ignore the fact that the next line is, “The lunatic is in the hall,” which has nothing to do with the movie?
This really isn’t all that different from receiving a psychic reading or looking at your horoscope. You see the things that match and ignore those that don’t. I mean, so we’ve found maybe a dozen points that seem to match between the album and the movie. What about the hundreds or thousands of things that don’t match? Why ignore them?
Also, there are other Pink Floyd songs that seem to match at least as well to other movies. Wish You Were Here matches up pretty closely to both Blade Runner and Akira, from reports I’ve seen.
When Pink Floyd band members present and past have been asked about the album and movie, they have all denied any purposeful link. All, that is, except for Roger Waters, the band leader at the time and the man behind that album. He refuses to comment at all.
This refusal has led some to believe that Waters arranged the whole thing without letting his band-mates in on the secret. One problem here is that Waters was not the sole writer — they worked together on this album. If he didn’t write it all (Mason wrote “Speak to Me;” Waters, Gilmour, and Wright co-wrote “Breathe;” Wright wrote “The Great Gig in the Sky;” etc.), how could he secretly set it up so well? Another problem is that some of the songs (or parts of songs) had actually been written earlier but not used. This includes “Breathe” and “Brain Damage.”
Also, Waters was not the producer of the album. Alan Parsons had that job, and thus had at least some control of timing and sound effects and the like. Indeed, Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, by Nicholas Schaffner, says of him: “”Parsons’s most remarkable feat on Dark Side of the Moon was the immaculate reproduction of the album’s myriad sound effects — the heartbeats and the footsteps, the airplanes and explosions, the recurring clocks and cash registers and their seamless integration into the music.” The heartbeats and the cash registers make up two of the “hits” between the album and the movie, so he would have had to be a part of any plan to make the two coincide. Yet he has denied any connection to the movie.
Furthermore, according to the same book, Rick Wright is the one who came up with the original “rainbow” idea for the album cover, not Waters (again, Wright has denied any link to the movie). Incidentally, no mention of The Wizard of Oz can be found in that volume.
As indicated above, some folks (like the aforementioned “Synchronicity Arkive”) think the song synchs up so well with the movie because the artists drew something out of the creative ether. This rather mystical idea is essentially unproveable either way, since we know of no such ether actually existing. And since the “coincidence” route combined with “remember the hits/forget the misses” seems to account perfectly well for the commonalities, I see no reason to envision a magical ether to “”explain”” this.
So, in summary, as far as anybody can tell, no, Pink Floyd did not purposely record Dark Side of the Moon to synch up with The Wizard of Oz. In fact, I would argue that it really doesn’t synch.
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