1976, not the big year for the major players in Progressive Rock to be on the field, it was more like a hiatus year to go on Hols, record or just whatever really. Mostly record to premiere 1977 with epic albums. But one great album came out in ’76 and it’s the first of many awesome Lps by “The Alan Parsons Project“. Having been a fan since I was 6 years old thanks to my one sister’s boyfriends who also introduced me to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“(BBC TV Series) and “Dr. Who“(Tom Baker series), so to Jeff Gazey wherever you are, “THANK YOU SO MUCH!” I am eternally grateful to you for opening my impressionable little mind to such amazing music and BBC TV!
It would be another 11 years before I got a copy of this album on vinyl from that guy at the flea market and like every other I got from him it blew my mind. Must’ve gone through several copies on vinyl of this album from wearing it out! I still have my original copy though, never get rid of that! Now the Alan parsons Project delved in to more than just Prog. They were archetypes for Prog-Pop-Funk-Pop-Electronica all in one at times, blending just about everything in to one album at times and maintaining themes being one of the all time best “Concept Album” bands ever. This album was the first album to be used for a laser-light show at the “Griffith Park Planetarium” which is near The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, California in 1976 as well setting the precedent for future light shows to come across the nation and in to Canada et al. There is actually a bootleg (RoIo) album of that performance presentation of the album at Griffith in ’76 in fairly decent quality should you wish to seek it out. The copy I have has a very enthusiastic audience in attendance making the album a success as well as the light show more enhanced.
Having Orson Welles partake in the album’s opening monologue was a priceless move and the perfect voice to initiate an album. This is truly an album you must have for your Prog Collective and it will be an album you reference and respect for years to come. The brains behind this operation is of course the man in the title, Alan Parsons, the same man who helped engineer Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother” and “Dark Side of the Moon” records in the early seventies. Since the band decided to begin touring finally in 1994, a long time to wait to perform live seeing that your first album came out in 1976! They have performed several songs from this record in concert to the much anticipated joy of audiences around the world, yours truly being one of them. The wide assortment of bootlegs abounding the trading circles have different singers throughout the tour history of the band so you are always treated to someone new every time you hear their songs but Alan chooses them wisely as there is a Je ne c’est quoi to it that must be present. This album sets the trend for their Prog membership to be accepted gladly in to the Halls of Prog and their subsequent records after that contain many more top Prog offerings up to present day.
“A Dream Within A Dream” commences the record with the stout voice of Mr. Welles contemplating and working out his thoughts through the infinite words of one Edgar Allan Poe. The ethereal music slowly creeps in and by the time his voice stops a subtle flute incantation begins to fill the air of the room in which you are in along with some dreamy synthscapes that capture the moment perfectly. Then a pulse bass line commands the surrounding areas as the drums snap in to action and follow along with the tight formation of the bass. The synth line that follows a couple of bars later is easily to become a recognizable Alan Parsons tone and trait. The guitar bends its notes to extremes and slides to and fro creating a sway of electric sound as the drum build up crashes in and force the song to take centre stage if only for a brief moment then subsides back to the pulsing bass line as we segue in to “The Raven“. A vocoder infused vocal begins and by the time the drums kick in to accentuate the vocals a rush of goosebumps explodes over your body as you feel “THAT” bird in your room watching you. The tale of the dreadful bird that won’t leave the room and only chants that one word, “Nevermore” as this haunting song carries forth and you feel the pain as he tries to get this bird out of the room and away. A painstaking guitar solo wretches as you imagine him chasing the Raven all around the room to extradite it from his life and house as the song builds up in to a frenzy of the words “Nevermore, Nevermore, NEVER!” come across again and again as you rush around your chambers to rid yourself of the Raven that just won’t leave and remains to torment you till the quiet choral voices soothe the end of the song.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” is spun magnificently by one Arthur Brown, as in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the guy who used to set it head alight when his band performed the song “Fire”, this song was perfect for him to sing. A raucous song of another classic Poe composition that tromps and bounces as the madman jumps in with a howl from the depths of a darker realm below the common ground of our meager lives. It has the classic Prog recipe ingredients of tempo/timbre changes, starts/stops, strained lyrics from madness and a finale worthy of a stage performance grand. One of the harder edged songs on the record I was unaware of who Arthur Brown really was before this album and had to discover his Crazy World band after. They’re a well titled band and he continues to perform to this day and hasn’t lost his threshold of insanity, good on him! “A Cask of Amontillado” arrives with a chilling cold wind feel to it as the vocals here a duet of how one is tricked in to being placed behind a wall. The classical ensemble gives a build up of tense and determined anguish as the voices sing to each other, one remorseless, the other begging for his life and release. A wonderful and not too often aspect in Prog to duet a lead vocal back and forth like this. The classical instrumentation and choral voices at the end race down your spine sending shivers all over your body as the crowd of rowdy bar like patrons begin to fill the room as it grows louder and louder over the music to burst in to the last song on side one, one of my all time favourite APP songs, “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether“, a burly best ending track to a record side. “Just what you need to make you feel better, just what you need to make you feeeeeel“, lyrics spoken true of what makes a man happy but perhaps not wealthy, healthy or wise but a level of personal insanity to, as it says, “laugh at life like a sideshow“. These things guaranteed by the Dr and his assistant that wine and good company is all you need to sustain a good life. The synth tone from the first song makes a guest appearance at the end of the song coming full circle, the guitar, sharp and well addressed in the solo and ad lib ins. A taut Proggy song with good ingredients from the recipe book and a long drone synth note at the end leaving you hanging or perhaps nevermore.
Side two of the album opens up with a 15minute instrumental masterpiece of, “The Fall of the House of Usher” split in to five parts; I. “Prelude“, II. “Arrival“, III. “Intermezzo“, VI. “Pavane“, V. “Fall“. Orson Welles opens up Part One with a dark and haunting dialogue in Prelude to set the mood and tone for this grand piece for one last appearance on the album. A synth drone in a minor key creating an eerie timbre with slight accents from the orchestra to an increasing unease setting of emotions being stirred for the opening track at seven minutes. Part Two enters with rain and a dirge like synth like a funeral procession taking place at first, then, the keyboards loop a pattern of notes in a very Tangerine Dream like sequence as the bass and drums provide the backdrop of steadiness. We slide in to Part Three, a very Pink Floyd 1970 era tone sound that lasts but a minute only to introduce Part Four that has a step up in tempo and a more Renaissance flare to it as it twirls and swirls around the room with a mild keyboard progression behind it. With the drums walking in to the mix the song continues to build up in to a full blown exercise in Prog’s contribution to the classical music angle and incorporate it to more than just added sections but to utilize it’s big sound to a great degree of inclusion making it a necessary element here. Part Five, Fall is a massive wall of sound crescendo that completes the piece that one must listen to in its entirety and not just sections at a time. We close the album with another Prog classic element, the ballad but with the use of some really good effects. “To One In Paradise” finishes the record off with a gentleness in the easily recognizable Alan Parsons Project form of sound, tone and song structure. This song comfortably numbs your senses and cerebral overload from the onset of the record that made you curl up in to a corner and wish the Raven away. A simple 4.5minute remedy to calm one’s nerves and allow you to come back to reality. A simple fade out and you’re home again.
I Love The Alan Parsons Project albums from their first to last, never disappointed and having seen them live twice I am pleased to share them with you. Although they are and aren’t Prog at times they certainly have a slew of the Prog elements in every album they have released since 1976 and I know that Alan has said he has no intentions of recording any new music as the last couple of tracks he released received very little accommodation on radio play. He says that the new song gets played maybe twice or three times of you are lucky then it’s immediately back to “Eye in the Sky“, one of the band’s calling card songs. You all know it, maybe not to look at it but when you hear it you right away know the song even if you didn’t know who it was by. Sometimes I will suggest you start with a certain album to explore a band but I believe that in this case with The APP that you should start with this album and go forwards in their canon of records because each album is significant of the year and times in which it was recorded and released. A Progression of sound if you will and you will find your comfort zone within this band by probably finding and discovering songs on every album you listen to that you like. I tend to shy away from the “Best Of…” collections as usually a lot of the BEST songs aren’t on there and it’s only the collection of songs that made the band ‘hits’ or were on the charts long enough to be heard around the world so do yourself a favour and don’t go there, start here with “Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Edgar Allan Poe” by The Alan Parsons Project. Enjoy.