The Many Alan Parsons Projects
A Brief History and Discography
It was an excellent move on Alan Parsons's part to move onto his own turf after contributing greatly as the sound engineer to some of the most popular and well-received albums such as The Beatles' Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. When he teamed up with Eric Woolfson it was only a matter of time before a slough of great albums would be produced.
It was in an unlikely place where I first discovered APP, with the song “Games People Play” in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. From there, I began to look them up, finding out they are responsible for “Sirius”, the introductory track to their album Eye in the Sky, mostly known as the theme for the Chicago Bulls.
Every album APP has produced, especially their earliest work, has been a concept album. Their first, Tales of Mystery and Imagination , released in 1976, is an album synthesizing the works of writer Edgar Allan Poe, with songs like “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” essentially adapting his short stories and themes into songs that resemble something that could be heard in a rock opera, while the later tracks, proceeding “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether”, contain an entirely symphonic rendition of the short story “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” in multiple sequences. Then of course at the end of the album is my favorite piece, the soothing, psychedelic "To One In Paradise". The album reveals a great appreciation of and influence from literature, as most musicians should draw from writers time and time again for a tone. The album also displays a songwriting range, from progressive rock to elaborate symphony, and is a perfect introduction to their sound, even if it's mildly difficult to determine a single identifiable voice to sum up the Alan Parsons Project.
second album a year later, entitled I Robot,
was another literary adventure in lyrical and musical adaptation,
essentially recreating many themes sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov had
written of with artificial and mechanical instrumental “I Robot”
introducing the overall cold, perpetual tone. The album goes beyond
themes explored by Asimov, it seems, as the album moves into more
psychological ramifications of mental breakdowns in the
appropriately-named song “Breakdown”, which carries with it a
similar vocal sound to it as The Beatles in simultaneous harmonizing
voices singing the chorus. This song, as well as the disco-synth prog rock
song “I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You”, introduce Lenny Zakatek into
the Parsons Project as a recurring guest singer, and as my favorite
one they've used. His voice lends such a certain masculinity and at the
same time a light eclectic sound to every song he contributes to,
that it's pure heaven to listen to whenever he's given the
appropriate tune to sing along with. I Robot
also explores themes of governmental oppression in a dystopian
society, more specifically in the song “The Voice”, another
catchy disco-influenced track. "Nucleus" is a hugely entrancing instrumental sandwiched in the middle of the album.
Pyramid was released a year later in '78, and like the previous two albums, carries a conceptual theme with it, this time more historical than literary, with the general theme this time covering ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs. "The Eagle Will Rise Again" is a great song, but my favorite song on this one is actually a tie between “One More River” (another Zakatek contribution) as well as “Shadow Of A Lonely Man”. While “One More River” is a fairly straight-forward song about a man being motivated enough to push through life and with “just one more river to cross”, “Shadow Of A Lonely Man” is a deeply connectable song about finding yourself lost in spirit, with a story presumably about a pharaoh who's found he's lost his soul in the fame and fortune he's attained and how he isn't even a lonely man anymore, but rather a shadow who feels nothing and can only look out through a one-way mirror. It's the most moving song on the album in my opinion and yet it's much calmer, for the most part only containing vocals over a slight, somber piano melody. And one can't forget the brilliant yet disappointingly-short instrumental, Egyptian-sounding “Voyager”.
Eve, having been released yet another year later in '79, is another concept album, this time about women; in both celebration of and resentment for them. It's obvious APP carries a mixed view of women, and for the first part of the album nearly all the songs seem to detest women, two of them being sung by my man Zakatek again in “You Lie Down With Dogs” and “Damned If I Do”, two of the several misogynistic songs in the opening of the album (“Lucifer” being the opening instrumental!) to find women's deplorable qualities of being cold to men and lying/cheating, all that, all being qualities equally findable in men. The latter part of the album is comprised of songs which carry a much more feminine quality, with the instrumental “Secret Garden” carrying a peaceful, almost flowery feel to it in sharp contrast to “Lucifer”. “If I Could Change Your Mind”, a beautiful love plea sung by the late Lesley Duncan (the fact she's dead makes this song even more depressing), is probably my favorite on the entire album. The short guitar solo that plays in between the vocals with the backing symphonic melody causes an eargasm every time I hear it. Again, the sound in this album changes with the concept.
Since I feel I can't go into the specifics of every album APP has produced, as it would take way too much time to read and write, I figure I'll briefly go through the other works and basically suggest them.
The Turn of a Friendly Card was also a slight turn of sound for APP. Released in 1980, it marked the band's change to a pop aesthetic, a chapter in the Project that I don't particularly believe works for them, even if I am a fan of 80's pop. Turn isn't quite at the point where I kind of stopped listening though, with another great instrumental “The Gold Bug” shining through, and more meaningful songs, this time carrying a general theme of medieval times in tracks like the instrumental “Ace of Swords” and slavery in “May Be A Price To Pay”, while some of the other songs show a remove into slight pop, such as “Games People Play”. And of course you get more Zakatek in “I Don't Wanna Go Home”, my favorite vocal track on the album.
Eye in the Sky , in '82, gave the band the mainstream success it needed in America, with the title track being replayed on the radio thousands of times and topping the charts. Then of course the sports anthem “Sirius” also arose from the album, technically serving as the opening to “Eye In The Sky”. Lenny Zakatek shows his vocal chords again in “You're Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned” and my favorite song on the album, “Step By Step”, carrying with it a light, summer sound that pleasantly reminds me of the tropics. Succeeding Turn of a Friendly Card , this album appeals more to the beginning of the pop movement with a prominent progressive rock sound, and it returns to the themes of Big Brother (Eye in the sky) like in I Robot and Egypt like Pyramid . Eric Woolfson performs quite a bit of the vocals on the album, which is usually left for guest singers. He doesn't do bad, as his voice matches the sound.
1984's Ammonia Avenue is what I consider to be the band's official transition into pop, and is not my favorite album of theirs to be produced, containing less of a defined concept as their previous LPs and more emphasis on an oddly out-of-place clapper. I like clappers, but it just doesn't seem to belong in an APP album, especially in the song “One Good Reason”. The kick drum is also something I can't envision Parsons using as a signature sound, even if it does seem to work for the song “Prime Time”, when it's used subtly. Lenny Zakatek pops in again, though not every song he's in is one I like in this album (“Let Me Go Home” not quite the song I enjoy from him despite his flawless vocals). There are two songs I deeply appreciate on this album, and those are “Since The Last Goodbye” and the instrumental “Pipeline”.
Vulture Culture was released only a year later, but it reveals how APP slipped more into almost pure pop. The only song I can really enjoy listening to regularly on this album is “Hawkeye”, and even then it's strained in my ears. The album itself closely resembles its year-younger brother Stereotomy, although I do enjoy the title track in that album, and the instrumental "Where's The Walrus?" somewhat.
in '87, was still more reminiscent of a pop album altogether, but the
song “Too Late”--yes, another Zakatek production--is a song I can
never tire of, as its pervasive sound is more a return to the early
Parsons Project, and resembles more a song that would have been
better placed in the former part of Eve
as a prelude or rebuttal to Duncan's “If I Could Change Your
Mind”. “Closer To Heaven” is another noteworthy tune in this
album. The title and main concept of the album was inspired by the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
Parsons, having split from the band since the nineties--and I can
probably understand why--has moved onto electronic music, and has
produced a couple of solo albums I have yet to listen to. Eric Woolfson released Freudiana as a solo album, which was initially supposed to be APP's eleventh album. But there's
absolutely no chance of a reunion between Parsons and Woolfson today, as
Woolfson passed in 2009, one of their vocalists, Lesley Duncan, having passed a year later.
Thankfully their music lives on forever and much of their music
carries personal memories of college and high school days for me as well as vague
inspiration in my own writing.