A Case For The Alan Parsons Project

The Alan Parsons Project
The back story: Founder Alan Parsons started a “project” with other “project administration personnel” to “drill down” on this whole “music” thing he’d heard so much about. So he named it that.

“Given enough time, just about everything will eventually be digitally remastered and lavishly reissued. There will always be hidden gems, unfairly forgotten or just plain buried, ready to be rediscovered by a new and appreciative generation. The nature of culture has become cyclical, in such a manner that even the most unloved artifacts can still be redeemed by a new audience.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a weak spot for some Alan Parsons Project stuff. Nostalgia can play a large part in what you listen to when you start to approach middle age, and the APP is just one of those bands that made a lasting impression on my malleable 10 year old self back in the late ’70’s. Some of it makes me cringe, I’ll admit that too, but a few bits and bobs here and there are worth at least a listen or two. One thing is for certain: the production on his work is some of the best you’ll ever hear. Trevor Horn, maverick producer of the ’80’s and sometimes YES man,  learned a console trick or two from the guy, no doubt about that. But production is nothing if the tunes ain’t there, and Parsons, and his partner Wolfson, had plenty. Think of the APP as Pink Floyd lite and you’ll be ok. The running joke is that the APP albums were what you put on while waiting between Pink Floyd albums. But the tracks I love are the mutant space-disco ditties that pepper each album. They sound fantastic and sound like precursors to the techno boom of the early ‘90’s. They had hits as well. MONSTER hits, as a matter of fact, in Time, Games People Play, Damned If I Do and Eye In The Sky. Middle of the road, pleasant, non threatening, catchy as hell. They strove for that middle ground between experimental and popular and achieved that delicate balance more often than not. After Eye In The Sky they went a little too far down that soft rock rabbit hole and pretty much completely abandoned most, if not all, of their prog-rock experimentalism. But that’s ok, ’cause they left behind a slew of good songs in their wake. If you want to pick up an album, I’d recommend you start with I Robot, then move on to Eye In The Sky and The Turn Of A Friendly Card, then Pyramid (my personal, sentimental fave).

So you don’t have to download or buy entire albums (that would be foolish!) I’ll give you a few tracks to make a mix tape with, and that’ll be all you’ll ever need. As far as guilty pleasures go I can think of worse.

Here’s a particularly funny/quite harsh review of the APP via the BBC before I give you my recommendations:

 The Project was formed around the nucleus of virtuoso producer Alan Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson. Parsons, who had started his career as assistant engineer on The Beatles Abbey Road, had earned great respect for his Grammy-nominated engineering on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and his subsequent work displays the benefits of a stuffed contacts list. The APP first burst onto the scene with Tales Of Mystery And Imagination (1976), an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s work that, in retrospect, makes a later Poe tribute, Lou Reed’s The Raven, seem a model of restraint. Immaculately produced and including such luminaries as Arthur Brown, John Miles and the band Pilot (and, in the 1987 remix also included, some narration by Orson Welles), the album is nevertheless a fairly indigestible mix of orchestral rock and classical experimentation. However, if you think Jack Black’s Tenacious D is a great rock band and not actually funny, you may well like it.

The Project‘s second album, I Robot (1977), while hardly less pretentious (its theme is the replacement of man by machine), is at least a more consistent blend of progressive rock, and adds Cockney Rebel front man Steve Harley to its list of contributors. Like its predecessor, it boasted a US hit single, this time with “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”, and adds a funkier, Steely Dan edge to the proceedings. However, at the remove of thirty years, it is noticeable that the most acceptable moments of the album are those without vocals, implying (no doubt unintentionally) that in the struggle of man against the machine, it might be better to switch sides.

The unfeasible success of APP led to a number of subsequent musical atrocities, including the latter two albums re-released here, Eye In The Sky (1982), an album ‘about belief systems’, although you would be forgiven for thinking it was about wet, FM-friendly rock, and Vulture Culture (1985), by which time APP was drowning under the weight of its AOR bombast. As with the earlier albums, the re-releases include a number of demos and unreleased tracks, as well as “Naked” medleys of extracts and rough mixes, seemingly designed to make the listener feel like Monty Python’s Mister Creosote being offered a ‘wafer-thin’ mint.

After 1980, hi-fi shops regularly used APP albums to demonstrate CD systems coming onto the market, which perhaps indicates the Project’s proper place in the scheme of things. While it is both surprising and depressing to note that the APP have managed 43 million album sales (‘Without ever having played a live show!’ as the press release boasts), some comfort can be taken from the fact that The Project have never had a major hit single in the UK. All in all, these re-releases best serve as a reminder of the unacceptable face of progressive rock and as a reminder of why punk rock had to happen. Perhaps John Lydon only scrawled ‘I hate’ above his Pink Floyd t-shirt because if he had used the Alan Parsons Project, no-one would have had any idea who he was talking about.

ALAN PARSONS PROJECT MIX-TAPE

 

A Dream Within A Dream (From Tales Of Mystery and Imagination)

Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether (From Tales Of Mystery and Imagination)

I Robot (From I Robot)

Breakdown (From I Robot)

The Voice (From I Robot)

Nucleus (From I Robot)

Voyager (From Pyramid)

What Goes Up (From Pyramid)

In The Lap Of The Gods (From Pyramid)

May Be A Price To Pay (From The Turn Of A Friendly Card)

Games People Play (From The Turn Of A Friendly Card)

The Gold Bug (From The Turn Of A Friendly Card)

Sirius (From Eye In The Sky)

Eye In The Sky (From Eye In The Sky)

Gemini (From Eye In The Sky)

Mamagamma (From Eye In The Sky)

 

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