1.Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe (1976/1987)
2.I Robot (1977)
3.Pyramid (1978)
4.Eve (1979)
5.The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980)
6.Eye in the Sky (1982)
7.The Best of the Alan Parsons Project (1983)
8.Ammonia Avenue (1984)
9.Vulture Culture (1984)
10.Stereotomy (1985)
11.Gaudi (1987)
12.The Best of the Alan Parsons Project Vol. II (1988)
13.Instrumental Works (1988)
14.The Definitive Collection (1997)

A group of session musicians got together in 1976 under the guidance of Alan Parsons and created the Alan Parsons Project. Parsons is famous for his work on Atom Heart Mother and Dark Side of The Moon both by Pink Floyd.

Many believe that it was his attention to detail that made the Alan Parsons Project really good. Mostly known for I Robot and Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

They hung around until about 1988 and then released a greatest hits in 1997 on the 20th anniversary of I Robot.

Main members include Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson and others.

APP got their name from an incompleted french opera called "Le Projet" that was an attempt to set the words of EAP to music. The group's first incarnation drew heavily from Ambrosia.

The first album is a masterful concept album. It can be described as a technically perfect album, with no weak points whatsoever. The following is based on the 1987 re-release. (for a very good and different review of this album, see Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

Track List and Commentary

    Side One
  1. A Dream Within A Dream -- with narration by Orson Welles, this is a floating instrumental, with a simple bassline (characteristic of the entire album) and 2/4 time. It weaves, heavily textured, around your thoughts, capturing for you the hidden realm of dreams, and carrying you into the rest of the album.
    text of narration
    "For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that which I conceived it. There is however a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which as yet I have found it impossible to adapt to language. Therse fancies arise in the soul, alas how rarely, only in epochs of intense tranquility, when the bodily and mental health are in perfection, and at those mere points of time, when the confines of the waking world blend with the world of dreams. And so I captured this fancy, where all that we see or seem, is but a dream, within a dream."
  2. The Raven -- the bassline (which anchors this entire side of the album, keeps it from growing too light) from Dw/iaD flows seamlessly into this condensation of the poem. The lead vocal on the first verse is processed through a vocoder (revolutionary in 1976). Horns and choral work start to appear in this song, later to be Parsons favorites on albums such as I, Robot. Although most of the meaning of the poem is lost (no mention of Lenore, etc) the emotional feelings are captured.
  3. The Tell Tale Heart -- sung by Arthur Brown, a fantastic choice for the tortured, insane narrator, tormented by his conscience after killing his benefactor for the crime of having a nasty cataract. Heavy guitar work. End of the bassline.
  4. The Cask Of Amontillado -- one of EAP's creepiest stories. A man chains another and walls him up in the wine cellar in the name of revenge. The vocal texturing is superb, layering the pleas for help with the gloating of the killer. "You who are rich and whose troubles are few/ may come around to see my point of view/ what price the Crown of a King on his throne/ when you're chained in the dark all alone..." This song returns to the floating quality of the first two, piano and strings, gentle music offsetting a horriffic act. Horns and guitar come into the second section, as things get darker. Choral work at the climax.
  5. (The system of)Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather -- Good times in the lunatic asylum. This song brings on the crowd noises. What is the system? The song never says. Musically, this song is more similar to Tell Tale Heart than the others. It is a satisfactory finale to side one, bringing in themes from The Raven and Dw/iaD at the end. Its selection brings a sense of the breadth of Poe's work that an exclusive focus on the horriffic elements would have missed.
    Side Two
    This side is dominated by the 5-section "Fall Of The House Of Usher".
  1. Prelude -- with narration by Orson Welles.
    text of narration
    "Shadows of shadows passing. It is now 1831, and as always, I am absorbed with a delicate thought. It is how poetry has indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential. Since the comprehention of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry. Music, without the idea, is simply music. Without music, or an intriguing idea, color, becomes pallor; man, becomes carcass; home, becomes catacomb; and the dead are but for a moment motionless."

    Musically, this track is highly classical, traditional orchestral instruments. It is sweeping but light, without the opression and fear of the later tracks.

  2. Arrival -- Modern instruments begin to be introduced here, bass creeping in first (of course). The srings begin to weep, and the kettle drums lead into a real thunderstorm. The texture begins to really build here, looping keyboards, pounding on doors, tension creeping in. The liquid guitar, reminiscent of Pink Floyd, against the simple yet driving bass and drums, lets you know without a doubt that something is Wrong Around Here.
  3. Intermezzo -- short orchestral interlude, and the first hints of the crescendo to come.
  4. Pavane -- This is fully "modern" sounding. Bass, drums, guitars... harp, harpsichord, and mandolin! More complex than the orchestral parts, this is structured more like a pop song, with verse/chorus/bridge analogues (but purely instrumental). This track sounds like Parsons.
  5. Fall -- a crescendo. Orchestra gone mad as the House sinks beneath the waves of the dark tarn, never to be seen again.
    The End of "The Fall Of The House Of Usher"

    The only way to get the full effect of this piece is to read the stroy at the same time. Every note fits perfectly into place.

  6. To One in Paradise -- this song, flowing seamlessly out of the last, has a lighter but still melancholy tone. Personally, my favorite song on the album. It uses acoustic guitar against the trademark Parsons textured background. It wraps the album and ties it with a bow, and finishes with a narrated quote from the poem.

    "And all my days are trances,/ and all my nightly dreams/Are where thy dark eye glances,/And where thy footstep gleams/In what ethereal dreams/By what eternal streams."

If it seems that I have overused the words texture, perfect, and seamless then you probably haven't listened closely to this album.
infosources: Liner Notes, and years of obsessive listening

While digging through piles of the Alan Parsons Project's BitTorrent links, I came across a video interview of Mr. Woolfson and Alan Parsons. The interview revolved around some works being produced by Woolfson and Andrew Powell, but Eric started talking about the first commercial success of the APP.

Eric said he was always surprised that Tales of Mystery and Imagination was oft mentioned as one of the first electronic albums. While many believed most of the instrumentation was created using early analog synthesizers, he noted the only electronic sounds were the blowing wind noises made with an old Moog. Everything else was the result of old-fashioned musicians playing traditional instruments.

As for my take on the Alan Parsons Project, I've always loved their instrumentals. Apparently enough people agreed, since they ended up releasing an album of just instrumentals in 1988. Even today, sports fans will recognize a few bars of Turn of a Friendly Card (Ace of Spades), or The Gold Bug.

I have copies (legally purchased -- I did mention BitTorrent earlier, ya know) of every Alan Parsons album. I didn't like Gaudi, but my faves included I, Robot, Eve and Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

I did hear an interview where the folks from Pink Floyd were asked about Alan Parson's work on their Dark Side of the Moon album. They said Alan was just a boardman, and the album would've sounded the same if Margaret Thatcher was running the studio. I'm sure Alan would disagree.

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