February 9, 2008

Evangelizing for Alan

This week's Friday Random 10 over at Street Prophets asks the question, "Choose the ten songs/works off any album that you think best represents your favorite artist (singer, composer, band...)." This is my (very long) response:

Being an evangelical for Alan Parsons, I find a mere 10 songs very limiting for a man who's been creating music for over 30 years now. After all, he's come out with 16 albums, so I can't even represent one song per album. Still, I'll try to give a sampling of both his greatest hits and some personal favorites to give an indication of what his music is like.

1. The Cask of Amontillado - From "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (i.e., TOMAI; the Alan Parsons e-mail list uses tons of acronyms for both album and song titles). Most people would probably choose either The Raven or Fall of the House of Usher (a long, symphonic arrangement), but I like "Cask" because it's about a chilling murder that's beautifully sung in a duet form (John Miles singing both parts). (This is a common feature of Eric Woolfson's lyrics: he writes music about how much he hates or despises certain people, but it's all done to a catchy melody. ;) )

2. I Robot - From "I Robot" (IR). One of the best instrumentals by the band. It certainly set the standard by which all future instrumentals by the Project were judged.

3. Games People Play - From "Turn of a Friendly Card" (TOAFC). The big radio hit on this album was "Time," but I've always preferred "Games People Play," sung by Lenny Zakatek. The Project used a large number of vocalists for various songs, primarily singers from bands who may or (more often than not) may not have hit the big time. Zakatek is my favorite vocalist from the Project; he primarily sang high-energy songs.

4. Psychobabble - From "Eye in the Sky" (EITS). My favorite song. This particular album was probably the most successful of all the APP albums, and there are a number of songs from this album that are still played regularly today, such as the instrumental "Sirius" (which is a popular song for athlete introductions at various sporting events), "Eye in the Sky" (the title song), and "Old and Wise," which is extremely popular in the Netherlands for some reason (according to Dutch members of the e-mail list). This song and "Prime Time," from the next album, "Ammonia Avenue" (AA), are very popular among the fans at concerts because they feature extended guitar solos (often lasting five minutes or so) in the middle of the songs.

5. Days Are Numbers (The Traveller) - From "Vulture Culture" (VC). Up through this time, the mid-80s, one of the more important members of the band, Andrew Powell, had been writing orchestral arrangements that gave the Project's albums a lush, progressive sound. However, Powell had been hired to write the soundtrack for the movie "Ladyhawke" (with Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer), and wasn't available to orchestrate VC. As a result, VC has a more traditional rock sound to it. This particular song, "Days are Numbers," is more in the way of a ballad, and I've always liked it.

6. Freudiana - From "Freudiana." By the end of the 80s, the Alan Parsons Project had completed its contractual obligation of nine albums to Arista. Eric Woolfson, who had been the principal songwriter and one of the main vocalists for the band, had wanted to branch out into more theatrical music; this album, "Freudiana," is the first of those albums. In fact, there are two versions of this album floating around, "Freudiana White," which is performed by the Alan Parsons Project (although whether this really is an APP album has long been in dispute), and "Freudiana Black," which is the original cast recording, sung in German. Freudiana was the last album Eric worked on in collaboration with Alan. Since then, the two men have had a equitable working arrangement: Eric has written a number of rock musicals based on previous APP albums (his music is especially popular in Korea, for some reason), and Alan is allowed to use the songs Eric wrote for his concerts. Despite a strong desire by the fans for the two men to work together once more, they continue to work separately.

7. Turn It Up - From "Try Anything Once" (TAO). This was Alan's first non-Project album under his own name. However, it remained very much a "project" in that Alan relied heavily upon other people to write the music, especially lead guitarist Ian Bairnson. This song is by Ian, and is very popular.

8. Apollo - From "On Air" (OA). Like most other AP/P albums, this album followed a theme, in this case, "flight." Some of the songs were very personal; one song was dedicated to skysurfer Bob Harris, who died while filming a Mountain Dew commercial, while another was dedicated to Ian's cousin Erik Mounsey, a British helicopter pilot who was killed in a friendly fire incident above Iraq in 1994. "Apollo" is a somewhat typical AP/P instrumental, but it's unique in that it's the first of several "techno" instrumentals.

9. Ignorance is Bliss - From "The Time Machine" (TTM). This was one of those albums that should have done better commercially. By coincidence, Alan had written an album about time travel that came out when Mike Myers' second Austin Powers movie, "The Spy Who Shagged Me," was released, which discussed a "time machine" (be sure to make the quote marks with your fingers when you read that) by the noted Cambridge physicist, Dr. Alan Parsons. Later versions of the album include a remix of the title track, the "Doctor Evil Edit" by Alan's son, Jeremy, who's performed on several of his dad's albums since TAO. This song, "Ignorance is Bliss," is perhaps the song closest to being a lullaby, and has been on my mind a good deal recently as my wife is about four months into her first pregnancy.

10. Chomolungma - From "A Valid Path" (AVP). This is Alan's most recent album, released in 2004, and "Chomolungma," which is one of the names for Mount Everest, is the last song on the album. AVP is Alan's move into Electronica, to see if he could find a new, younger audience for his music. The first 80% of the song is a fairly straightforward instrumental, heavy on percussion; however, the last 20% gets a little odd: first, there's a snippet from a radio interview of John Cleese that Alan heard and got permission to use, and then the song ends with a dog barking (presumably Alan's family dog). The bit by Cleese is funny and relates to the background noise; the thing with the dog barking, I have no idea why it's there.


Chance said...

Excellent Post.

rlrr said...

Reminds that almost all of my Alan Parsons collection is still on vinyl...

JDsg said...

LOL. That collection might get you some decent bucks if you sold it on Ebay. A number of people on the Alan Parsons e-mail list are in "Collectors' Hell" and occasionally notify the list of some of the more unusual APP items being sold on Ebay.