The Alan Parsons Project was “originally intended to be the name of a single album and not an ongoing band.” LB Alan Parsons, who was best known for his engineering work on classics like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles’ Abbey Road, initially planned a musical interpretation of the works of writer Edgar Allan Poe. The Project’s debut album was, in fact, focused on Poe, but the group went on to record another nine studio albums in just over a decade’s time.
“Most of their titles, especially the early work, share common traits…they were concept albums, started with an instrumental introduction fading in to the first song, had an instrumental piece in the middle of the second LP side, and concluded with a quiet/sad/powerful song.” FI
The group’s sound “was a bold concession to early 70s art-rock and progressive rock, fusing the expansive (and often lengthy) compositions of such acts as Yes with the conceptual cohesion of Pink Floyd and Emerson Lake & Palmer.” LB The Project crafted a more commercial, lite-rock sound that got them played on album rock and adult contemporary alike.
In a continued commitment to Parsons’ original vision to “to dispense with the focus on the performers and place the emphasis entirely on the concept,” LB the Project would enlist dozens of musicians over the years, particularly “a stream of guest vocalists seemingly chosen by their vocal style, to complement the style of each song.” FI
Parsons still relied on a core of regulars, most notably Eric Woolfson, “a musician, songwriter and vocalist in his own right who was serving as Parsons' manager in 1975.” LB Woolfson’s biggest claim to fame had been working with Herman’s Hermits; as Parsons’ collaborator, the pair ”worked together to craft noteworthy songs with impeccable fidelity.” FI
Andrew Powell, who arranged and conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra, was also a Project regular. While groups such as “the Moody Blues…and Electric Light Orchestra had fused classical instrumentation with rock numbers,” LB none did so as elaborately as the Project.
Other longtime members included guitarist Ian Bairnson, bassist/vocalist David Paton (both from Pilot, a mid-‘70s band produced by Parsons), and drummer Stuart Elliott. The Project relied on a vast number of vocalists over the years, but turned most frequently to Lenny Zakatek, Chris Rainbow, Colin Blunstone, and John Miles.
About Alan Parsons:
Alan Parsons was born in Britain on December 20, 1948. “He studied piano and flute as a child and was always intrigued by gadgetry. He picked up the guitar in his early teens and played as a soloist as well as with various bands at school. One of his first jobs was at an EMI tape duplication facility in West London.” AP When he heard “the master tape of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, [it] boosted his determination to become a recording engineer. Says Alan, ‘I couldn't wait to find out the secrets behind the album. It left me totally in awe of the talent of The Beatles themselves of course, but also the work behind the scenes in the studio.’” AP
“He landed a post at the then not-so-celebrated Abbey Road Studios” AP where he served as an assistant engineer on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be albums; he even “actively participated in the famous Apple rooftop session.” AP He went on to serve “as a full-blown engineer [on] Paul McCartney[‘s eponymous debut as well as Wings’ albums] Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, including the singles ‘Hi Hi Hi’ and ‘C Moon.’ Alan adds ‘I couldn't have asked for a better grounding in recording - after all not many engineers got to work the greatest Rock act of all time.’ He also helped out on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album both as an assistant and as a mix engineer.” AP
Parsons also ”worked on a number of hits with The Hollies including ‘He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother’ and ‘The Air That I Breathe.’ However, his reputation was totally solidified with…Pink Floyd's legendary Dark Side of the Moon, which earned him the first of many Grammy nominations.” AP “As the engineering mastermind…Alan became highly sought after as one of the new breed of creative engineers.” AO-P
”Alan soon ventured into production with the British band Pilot and scored immediate success with the hit single ‘Magic’…Other hits followed with Cockney Rebel and John Miles. Alan made three albums with Al Stewart, spawning the hit singles ‘Year of the Cat’ and ‘Time Passages.’” AP “Influenced by his work on Stewart's concept album Time Passages, Parsons decided to [create] his own thematic records.” JA
About Eric Woolfson:
Songwriter/manager “Eric Woolfson, with whom [Parsons] had worked at Abbey Road, became actively involved in steering Alan towards becoming an artist in his own right.” AO-P Woolfson was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1945 and died on December 2, 2009. “He started composing music in his early teens and at the age of eighteen, moved to London where he found work as a session pianist.” PC He was ”signed as a writer…by Andrew Loog Oldham, the legendary producer of the Rolling Stones,” AO-W for Oldham’s ”newly formed record label ‘Immediate.’” PC
”During the following years, Woolfson’s songs were recorded by over one hundred artists both in Europe and America.” PC “including such names as: Marianne Faithful, Frank Ifield, Joe Dassin, The Tremeloes, Marmalade, Dave Berry, Peter Noone, and the US group Music Explosion.” AO-W “Eric's song ‘Baby Make It Soon,’ sung by Chris Farlowe, was Mick Jagger's first production and the French artist Marie's recording of his composition ‘Soleil’ won the Antibes Song Festival in 1971 and reached number one in the French charts.” AO-W
”As a record producer, Eric’s credits included artists such as The Equals, Freddy Garrity (of The Dreamers), The Tremeloes, Dave Berry, and Graham Gouldman of 10cc.” AO-W “In the early seventies, Eric turned his hand to management and was instantly successful. His first two signings were Carl Douglas, (whose record ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ was one of the biggest selling hits of all time) and engineer/record producer Alan Parsons.” AO-W
He had a behind-the-scenes-of-the-music-world background similar to that of Parsons. “Although they started with a business venture, Eric was to use his songwriting talents to form a creative partnership with Alan” AO-P and The Alan Parsons Project was born. Woolfson “conceived and [wrote] all ten Alan Parsons Project albums, which have achieved world-wide sales in excess of forty million.” AO-W In addition, he served as pianist and sometime vocalist, most notably on hit singles Eye in the Sky and Time, “both of which have achieved awards for million plus performances in America alone.” AO-W
Meanwhile, Parsons “occasionally played keyboards and infrequently sang;” AP “the Project was designed primarily as a forum for a revolving collection of vocalists and session players…to interpret and perform Parsons and Woolfson's conceptually-linked, lushly arranged and orchestrated music.” AP
Edgar Allan Poe…and Beyond (1974-1981)
”In 1974 [Parsons and Woolfson] started adapting selected works of Edgar Allan Poe to music. Two years, and thousands of feet of tape later, the Alan Parsons Project was born: The highly acclaimed Tales of Mystery and Imagination album was the first in a series of award-winning albums.” AO-P
”Parsons and Woolfson began work almost immediately on their next Project, which was intended to be a similar literary-musical survey of the works of Isaac Asimov…For various reasons, both conceptual and legal…I, Robot had nothing to do with either Asimov or his writings [by the time it was recorded], merely offering…as the publicity material at the time put it, ‘a look at tomorrow through the eyes of today.’ I, Robot introduced Lenny Zakatek and Eric Woolfson as recurring vocalists, and continued the tradition of handing at least one number - usually orchestra-heavy - over to Andrew Powell.” LB
Next up was 1978’s “superb Pyramid [which examined] the themes of mortality and achieving immortality by what one leaves behind.” LB 1979’s Eve [offered] a musical view of the battle between the sexes, complete with female guest vocalists alternating with the Project's now-regular stable of male singers.” LB
Around this time, Parsons had “moved to Monaco - an event that clearly influenced [1980’s] The Turn of a Friendly Card, a meditation on gambling” AO-P “and games of chance which also bore the Project's first two major hit singles, ‘Time’ and Games People Play.” LB
Eye-ing the Top 10 (1982-1986)
The next album, “1982's Eye in the Sky, was their most successful effort to date, and notched a top three hit with its title track.” AP The album “reflected George Orwell's 1984 strongly.” LB Sirius, the instrumental that opens the album would become one of the Project’s most recognizable song when used to “introduce the Chicago Bulls basketball team” LB during the Michael Jordan glory years.
“With the last two Project albums having spun off substantial hits, Arista wanted Parsons to get to work on his seventh project immediately. Exhausted from turning out an album a year for several years, Parsons and Woolfson responded…by turning in an album of instrumentals under the title of The Sicilian Defense. Arista rejected the album, repeating its insistence for more radio-friendly rock numbers with Woolfson vocals, and upon the rejection of that album, Parsons and Woolfson considered themselves released from the contract with Arista and began shopping around for a new label. Arista promptly filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for breach of contract…The label’s demand for a new album…was, however, met by a Best Of collection featuring one new song, You Don’t Believe.” LB
“That song reappeared on [1984’s] Ammonia Avenue, which was heavy on Woolfson vocals, as was [1985’s] Vulture Culture. Both albums brought synthesizers and electronics to the fore, as well as saxophone. Vulture Culture, however, didn't sell as many copies as Eye in the Sky or even Ammonia Avenue, and [1986’s] Stereotomy…didn't even fare that well.” LB
Side Projects…and the Last APP Album (1984-1987)
“During this period, Parsons also produced Andrew Powell's all-instrumental score to the movie Ladyhawke (which generated controversy for featuring contemporary, synth-heavy rock ‘n’ roll in a medieval setting), which was performed largely by the Project’s long-standing core musicians. Those musicians also got together and wrote songs for their own side project, the one-off Keats, which Parsons also produced. Sonically, the sound of Keats and the Alan Parsons Project were virtually indistinguishable, and the group only released a single album – but proving their songwriting chops would pay off in a few years.” LB
“1987 saw the release of Gaudi, an understated album concerning the life and goals of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi, but what no one knew at the time was that it was officially the last Alan Parsons Project album.” LB
To date, the Alan Parsons Project has “sold over 45 million copies worldwide,” PC landing “gold and platinum awards from nearly every country in the world.” AO-P Parsons, who had ”ten Grammy nominations for engineering and production,” AO-P also ”started a company…devoted to improving the sound quality of film and video. He has also turned his hand to directing music based TV programmes…and he was instrumental in the creation of Music Box, the European music cable service.” AO-P
Freud Drives a Wedge in the Project (1990)
“Following Gaudi, Woolfson began working on ideas for the next Project album, Freudiana…Having developed a fascination for stage musicals (…many a critic over the years had compared the…Project’s more grandiose songs to musical theater), Woolfson became interested in turning Freudiana into a theatrical piece.” LB “The studio version of Freudiana was produced by Alan Parsons” FI and featured “the group's stable of musicians [and] Woolfson and Parsons' signature production style,” LB but “Woolfson’s idea to turn it into a musical…eventually led to a rift” FI that ended the Alan Parsons Project. The album “was released in the UK and Europe…as a studio cast album.” LB “The show ran for over a year in the historic Theater An Der Wien in Vienna, Austria,” AP “though none of the Project musicians ever appeared in a staged production of Freudiana.” LB
Parsons…Without the Project (1993-2004)
Parsons soldiered on “but without the ‘Project’ name, as he felt that the band wouldn’t be the same without Woolfson's compositions or vocals.” LB “With his long-standing previous collaborators, guitarist Ian Bairnson and drummer Stuart Elliott,” AP Parsons released his first official solo album, Try Anything Once, in 1993. ”As with all of his previous albums, Parsons still didn't sing lead vocals…preferring to stay in the mixing booth. Most of the songs were written by the band members themselves, who had displayed their abilities on the Parsons-produced Keats album…Though Parsons has said that he was too busy worrying about the music to dictate a cohesive theme to the songwriters, it nevertheless seemed to convey a message of taking a chance and doing or saying things that one might not do or say otherwise. Arista released the album, but the underwhelming sales…left Parsons without a label for his next album.” LB
“During the break…Parsons and his band did something they hadn’t done since the promotional push for Tales in 1976: they mounted a world tour with a fan-pleasing cross-section of new material from Try Anything Once and all of their previous albums…Neil Lockwood joined the band on vocals…having just left ELO Part II, and BMG briefly picked up Parsons and company for a live album chronicling the 1994 tour.” LB
“In 1996, On Air, an album about the history, mythology and symbolism of flight, was released. Guitarist Ian Bairnson led the effort to return to a concept album, the centerpiece of which was his ballad ‘Brother Up in Heaven,’ about a cousin of Bairnson's who was killed by friendly fire during multi-national patrols over Iraq's no-fly zones in the years following the Gulf War. The album spread its wings to cover everything from the myth of Daedalus and Icarus to the space age, with one song sung by Christopher Cross and another, a lengthy instrumental called ‘Apollo,’ weaving John F. Kennedy's moonshot directive into a jamming techno piece. Ambitiously packed in with a CD-ROM reflecting the album's theme and featuring educational material and some simple games, On Air was released by Parsons' own River North label. The perils of releasing an album on an indie label caught up with On Air, leaving it in cutout bins - and out in the cold when it came to radio airplay.” LB
“The Parsons story picked up again in 1999, with the release of The Time Machine. Originally devised as yet another literary homage, [it] became an album about the idea of time travel, and featured some stellar guest vocalists like Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley and Maìre Brennan of Clannad…Following The Time Machine, Bairnson, Powell and the other band members parted ways to work on their own projects.” LB
In 2004, Parsons took his music in ”a new contemporary direction into the world of Electronica… Alan says, ‘The industry is changing and I feel the need to capture a different kind of audience while still keeping my identity. Electronic music is the fastest growing music category right now and I’m enjoying working with new people and new technology.’” AP
”Alan has written extensively for the Pro-Audio press and is an acknowledged expert in 5.1 Surround Sound recording. He has often lectured at Recording conferences and Schools of Recording and was the keynote speaker at The Audio Engineering Society convention in 1998.” AP
”Alan now lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife Lisa and her two teenage daughters, Tabitha and Brittni, four cats, four Guinea pigs, a lop-eared rabbit and a giant Labrador called Harrow.” AP
More Theatre Projects from Woolfson (1995-2003)
While Parsons recorded solo albums, Woolfson wrote for musical theatre, following Freudiana with “Gaudi, which premiered in 1995 and [ran] over five years in several German productions. Gambler, Woolfson’s third musical, also premiered in Germany in 1996 and had a first run of over 500 performances. Gambler has had five productions in Korea, one of which also toured Japan in 2002 (the first time a Korean language production had been staged in this way).” PC Also significant to his Korean audience was the musical Dancing Shadows, for which Woolfson wrote the music and lyrics. It won the Korean Tony Award for Musical of the Year.
In 2003, “Woolfson…completed his magnum opus Poe,” PC which was originally crafted as a stage performance and later recorded as an album, and then finally as a musical in 2009. The project brought Woolfson full circle to the start of his recording career with Alan Parsons when they crafted the Edgar Allan Poe inspired Tales of Mystery and Imagnation album in 1976.
The Project – A Blast from the Plast (2009)
When the Alan Parsons Project albums were being remastered and released with bonus tracks, Eric Woolfson was asked to dig through the vaults for unreleased material. While he did find some to tack on to previously released APP work, he also assembled a collection of APP-era music (and material from his own post-APP musicals) for a new release. Giving it the wieldy title of The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, Woolfson essentially gave APP fans a great lost Project album. It would be the last work released by Woolfson in his lifetime; sadly, he died of cancer on December 2, 2009.