Over the course of its 741-week run on the pop charts, The Dark Side of the Moon was the soundtrack for countless acid trips. So it was probably just a matter of time before someone, somewhere, stumbled onto Pink Floyd's deepest, darkest secret: For reasons unclear to the chemically uninitiated, Britain's seminal psych band recorded the album to perfectly sync with the 1939 film version of Wizard of Oz.
Over the last two decades, what began as a post in an online news group grew into a full-blown urban legend. Turner Classic Movies telecast the film with Pink Floyd's "alternate soundtrack," while online sites eagerly compiled hundreds of synchronicities: The scarecrow pointing at his head while singing "If I Only Had a Brain" right at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage." The sound of mechanical clocks at the very moment Dorothy starts oiling the Tin Man. That sort of thing.
Northern Strangers' Dan Graul has some favorites of his own.
"It's really cool how the money sound starts when she gets to Oz and the movie changes to color," says the singer/guitarist, whose band is on tour performing Dark Side of the Moon live while Wizard of Oz is projected in the background. Over the last year, the Los Angeles musicians have performed the album in its entirety more than two dozen times, using visual cues to navigate their way through to the end.
At this point, says Graul, the band just about has its timing down to a science, although there are still variations along the way. "The coolest thing we ever had happen live is when Dorothy's out in Munchkinland, and there's the part where the little Munchkin blows a horn. And it was right where the saxophone solo started, which was really awesome."
Although the Pink Floyd hook is what gets the L.A. band its touring opportunities, Northern Strangers have also released an album of original material called Monsters.
"We're definitely a little like Pink Floyd," says Graul of the sound that he and his bandmates have developed during their three years together, "but we're also really influenced by Crosby, Stills and Nash. We really focus on a lot of harmony singing in our original work, so we try to bring extra harmonies into the Pink Floyd stuff as well."
While the Northern Strangers stay close to the Pink Floyd originals, the band's three vocalists mix it up when it comes to musical roles. "There's no one who does just the voice of Dave Gilmour or Roger Waters," explains the guitarist. "We definitely do some switching around, because we have Rebecca, who plays keyboards, and there'd normally be no female voice."
In fact, the wordless female wailing, which is one of the album's most distinctive elements, is actually handled by Northern Strangers bassist Will Norris. "He's the most talented musician I've ever met," raves Graul, "and the first time we tried to play 'Great Gig in the Sky,' he just started going off on that. And we're like, 'OK, that part's yours!'"
Go ask Alice
Even before they went over to the Dark Side, Northern Strangers were already fond of mixing covers into their sets. "We like to play our originals, but it's good to play music that people like to dance to," says Graul, who cites Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," the Doors' "Riders on the Storm," and Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" as all-time favorites. But on this tour, the repertoire is pure Pink Floyd, drawing upon albums like Meddle and Wish You Were Here to round out the set.
And yes, there's more where that came from. The group has also done shows where they play Pink Floyd's second-best known album, The Wall, in its entirety.
"We actually found online that you can sync up the wall to Disney's Alice in Wonderland movie, the cartoon version," says Graul. "That one actually has a lot of crazy synchronicities in it. If you haven't tried that, I suggest that you check it out if you're into that kind of thing."
While on the subject of parallel synchronicities, I mention Nick Mason's interview with MTV. After calling the rumor "absolute nonsense," the Pink Floyd drummer wryly remarked, "It has nothing to do with 'The Wizard of Oz.' It was all based on 'The Sound of Music.'"
"I've never heard that," says Graul with obvious delight. "He said that Dark Side is supposed to sync up with The Sound of Music? That's pretty cool! I'm sure it was a little tongue-in-cheek, but now I've gotta try that."
Ultimately, though, the album itself is what Graul most reveres. "All the musical themes are just so good, and the concepts, dealing with mortality and humanity and people fighting each other, are totally timeless. I think one of the reasons it's so popular is that it hits people in a really deep place in their minds and their hearts. Every time we play it, we discover something new."
Original "Dark Side of the Moon"/"Wizard of Oz" mash-up: