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Alan Parsons - The Story

This is the story of Alan Parsons, the musician-producer-engineer, who has sold over 20 million albums, been nominated for 11 Grammys, and worked with The Beatles (on Abbey Road) and Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon).

As a young man growing up in England during the sixties, Alan Parsons had the same dream as thousands of other young men of that era: to become a rock guitarist in the vein of Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck. But this was of secondary importance to Parsons, owing to the fact that he had a day job at EMI studios, just outside London. His jobs were primarily researching vinyl sound quality and copying master tapes. In 1967 he heard The Beatles Sgt. Pepper album, and was so impressed with the technical sound quality of the LP, he immediately decided to make sound engineering his future. This led to his first job at Abbey Road Studios in London, where he became assistant engineer, working with Geoff Emerick and Beatles producer George Martin. Parsons learned quickly and eventually went on to engineer on Paul McCartney's Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway albums. He also engineered records during the early '70s for The Hollies, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and the group, Pilot. Possibly his finest achievement, however, was as sound engineer for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon album. It was also during the mid-seventies that Parsons began developing his skill as a producer, producing records for Steve Harley, John Miles, The Hollies and Pilot (their 1975 hit song "Magic" is still heard today).

It was quite rare during those days for someone to act as both engineer and producer but the main reason for doing it was to have total control over all aspects of a record's technical sound quality as well as the production. It was during this period of the mid-seventies that a fellow Abbey Road associate, Eric Woolfson, became Alan Parsons' business manager. Woolfson was a keyboardist and songwriter at Abbey Road Studios, and in 1974 suggested to Parsons that he do an album based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Work began on the album in mid-1974 with Alan Parsons producing and Eric Woolfson acting, as he described, "as the architect for the album". Woolfson and Parsons wrote all of the music on the album which featured vocalists John Miles, Terry Slyvester, and Arthur Brown. The album, Tales of Mystery And Imagination, recorded for 20th Century Records, was released in 1976 and quickly won critical acclaim. Success was only moderate, however, for the three singles from the album ("The System of Doctor only moderate, however, for the three singles from the album ("Tarr" and "Professor Fether" charted in the Top 40), though "The Raven" is still the most popular track. Switching labels to Arista gave them a long-term contract and the impetus for their next album I Robot. It is noteworthy to mention here that it was 20th Century Records who suggested that Parsons' records needed an identity and suggested The Alan Parsons Project. Originally, Parsons thought his records would simply be called "Various Artists", but 20th Century thought this title would sound tooo much like a compilation album.

I Robot, the second album from The Alan Parsons Project, was released in the summer of 1977 and was instantly a critical success, not only for the music, but for the technically brilliant sound quality. The album was originally inspired by Isaac Asimov's theme of Man's control of technology, but Parsons and Woolfson transformed this idea into a theme about mankind's decline and the machines designed and built by man eventually taking over the world. Interestingly, the credits in the album liner notes include an instrument called the "Projectron" which feature the sound of wind instruments played by a vacuum cleaner(!) - and "designed" by Alan Parsons. Vocalists for I Robot included ex-Hollies member Allan Clarke, Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel, Peter Straker, and Dave Townsend. Also featured were the English Chorale and The New Philharmonia Chorus. As would be the case with all "Project " albums, Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons wrote all of the music and lyrics, with both adding keyboards, guitars, and vocals.

Since The Alan Parsons Project did not tour nor do television appearances, they lacked the strong commercial publicity that usually goes along with touring. Indeed, many who bought Project albums thought Alan Parsons was the lead singer on all the tracks and were astonished at how he was able to sing all of the different vocal parts. But the idea of using several vocalists on each record was an intentional concept. Parsons and Woolfson both felt listeners would tire from 40 minutes of the same lead singer. They kept the music fresh by using different vocalists and, in the course of their Project career, they've used no less that 24 lead vocalists!

Following I Robot, Alan Parsons released eight more albums between 1978 and 1988. Among them were Pyramid (1978) which dealt with Pyramid Power and other mysteries of the Egyptian Pyramids, Eve (1979), about the battle of the sexes; Turn of A Friendly Card (1980), about gambling and the huge role fate can play in life; and one of the most popular of all "Project" albums, Eye In The Sky (1982), which focused on the "Big Brother is watching you" concept. Ironically, the most popular album in England was 1984's Ammonia Avenue, which was also arguably their most commercial release. Ammonia Avenue dealt with the despair of breaking up, loneliness, and the walls often put up to protect oneself in a relationship.

The last album by The Alan Parsons Project was Gaudi. Released in 1987, it dealt with the life of Antonio Gaudi, the nineteenth century Catalan architect whose grand conception was to build the La Sagrada Famelia, the tallest and largest cathedral in the world. The construction timetable covered hundreds of years and Gaudi died shortly after construction had begun. The album has some classic Parsons touches including lushly orchestrated ballads and classic Art Rock tracks.

Through the course of the Project's career, Parsons and Woolfson had total control of the concept or theme of each record. Given tremendous freedom by Arista Records, they were allowed to develop their musical ideas and set their own pace in the recording studio. Without pressure to produce hit records, they could achieve their goals of technical perfection in terms of sound quality and still make music commercially viable to the record buying public. Indeed, the development of Album-Oriented Radio (AOR) in the mid-to-late seventies gave them a tremendous boost - allowing stations to play several tracks off an album or sometimes even to play the complete work. This achieved what Alan Parsons wanted most: for people to listen to his entire album as an "experience". Still, the singles were out there, and as with artists such as Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac most of the sales came from albums and not singles.

It's important to remember that Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson originally got together not to write and record hit records, but to model themselves after the great film producers and directors of that era. Like a director controlling the flow of energy and creative expression on film, Parsons wanted to have creative control of a record's sound quality while still putting all of the pieces together as a producer. Woolfson would write the music and serve as the "musical architect" of each album. As the "musical architect", Eric Woolfson would write each song as a single element or building block of the records' theme. That is, with the melodies and lyrics of each song -much the same way a building architect might design various aspects of a building to fit a conception such as Gothic or Eastern, etc. The Project used virtually the same core of musicians during the seventies and eighties including Stuart Elliott (drums), Ian Bairnson (guitar), David Paton (bass), Eric Woolfson (piano & keyboards), and Andrew Powell (orchestrations). These musicians came to know what Parsons and Woolfson wanted and expected on each recording.

In 1988 and 1989 Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Freudiana. Production for this musical was by Brian Brolly who also co-wrote the book with Woolfson. Brolly previously worked with both Andrew Lloyd Webber and Paul McCartney. The show opened at the historic Vienna Theater An Der Wien, where Beethoven's only opera "Fidelio" was first staged. After Freudiana, Woolfson decided that he wanted to continue writing for the theatre and the partnership between Parsons and Woolfson was dissolved.

For himself, Parsons wasn't convinced that writing music for the theatre was to be his new focus so he began to develop new material and ideas for his next rock recording. He wrote or co-wrote many of the songs on his new album as well as playing keyboards, guitar, bass, flute, and providing background vocals. The album, entitled Try Anything Once, is his first solo album and first album of new rock material since 1987. The album maintains the same feel and musical elements as earlier "Project" albums including strong and prominent melodies, expressive lyrics, and features lead vocals by Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann's "Blinded by the Light") and Eric Stewart . Parsons is currently planning more albums as well as his U.S. tour. His only previous concerts were in Europe back in 1990.

The current tour started in mid-July. This is the first ever Parsons tour of the States features classic Alan Parsons Project songs such as "Old And Wise", "Don't Answer Me", features classic Alan Parsons Project sonand "The Raven" plus songs frrom Try Anything Once. Performing are musicians which have worked with Parsons from the beginning. Chris Thompson and Gary Howard share the lead vocals. Thompson is known for singing the "Blinded By The Light" classic and Howard, most recently, as lead vocalist for the English band The Flying Pickets. Ian Bairnson, is one of the most talented session guitarists in Europe and his credits include work on albums by Kate Bush and Sting. Stewart Elliott, drums and percussion, started with the group Cockney Rebel, before joining the Project. His list of credits include Al Stewart's The Year of The Cat and all of Kate Bush's albums to date. Andrew Powell plays keyboards and does the orchestral arrangements and is another veteran member of the Alan Parsons Project. His credits include playing on albums by Donovan, Cliff Richard, and Al Stewart - as well as having produced albums for Kate Bush, Kansas, and Judi Collins. On keyboards and sax is Richard Cottle, who has performed with artists such as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Rod Stewart. He also has studio credits with The Cult and Wham. Rounding off the line-up is Jeremy Meek on bass. And, of course, Alan Parsons, the man who co-wrote all of The Alan Parsons Project songs as well as engineered and produced them, also plays.

 


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