The Alan Parsons Project - Tales Of Mystery and Imagination
Band Members (in alphabetical order):
Ian Bairnson - Electric & Acoustic Guitars (1,2,3,4,5,7,11)
Arthur Brown - Vocals (3)
Hugo D'Alton - Mandolin (9)
Burleigh Drummond - Drums (2)
Jack Harris - Additional Vocals (3,5)
Bob Howes & The English Chorale - Choir (2,3,4)
Les Hurdle - Bass (6)
Laurence Juber - Acoustic Guitar (9)
John Leach - Cimbalom & Kantele (9)
Billy Lyall - Keyboards (1,3), Recorders (1), Piano (4,5), Fender Rhodes & Glockenspiel (11)
John Miles - Lead Vocals (4,5), Guitars (5)
Francis Monkman - Organ (7), Harpsichord (9)
Christopher North - Keyboards (2)
David Pack - Guitars (2)
Alan Parsons - Vocals (2, through EMI Vocoder), Projectron & Synths (3,4,7,10), Recorders (5), "Cathedral Organ" (5), Additional Vocals (11)
David Paton - Bass (3,4,5,7,11), Acoustic Guitars (1,11), Backing Vocals (1)
Kevin Peek - Acoustic Guitar (9)
Andrew Powell - Orchestra arrangement & conducting (2,3,4,6,8,10), Keyboard Loop (7), Organ (9)
Jane Powell - Backing Vocals (11)
Joe Puerta - Bass (1,2)
Daryl Runswick - String Bass (9)
David Snell - Harp (9)
Terry Sylvester- Lead (11) and Additional (4) Vocals
Stuart Tosh - Drums (1,2,3,4,5,7,9,11), Timps & Backward Cymbals (3), Percussion (7)
Orson Welles - Narration (1,6)
Westminister City School Boys Choir - Choirs(11)
Leonard Whiting - Vocals (2), Narration (11)
Eric Woolfson - Keyboards (1,2,3,5), Harpsichord (4), Backing Vocals (2,4), Keyboard Loop (7), Organ (7), New Synth (9), Additional Vocals (11)
Produced & Engineered by Alan Parsons
Executive Producer : Eric Woolfson
Assistant Engineers : Chris Blair, Patrick Stapley & Tony Richards (remix)
Engineering Consultant (6,8,10): Gordon Parry
Orchestra Leaders (6,8,10): Davis Katz & Jack Rothstein
Tracks: (1) A Dream Within a Dream (4.13), (2) The Raven (3.57), (3) The Tell-tale Heart (4.38), (4) The Cask of Amontillado (4.33), (5) (The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether (4.20), The Fall of the House of Usher [(6) I Prelude (7.02), (7) II Arrival (2.39), (8) III Intermezzo (1.00), (9) IV Pavane (4.36), (10) V Fall (0.51)], (11) To One in Paradise (4.46)
This article, the first in a new series of Counting Out Time columns, focuses on the first, and probably one of the most legendary recordings of The Alan Parsons Project; 1976's Tales of Mystery And Imagination. First, we'll take you back to the swinging sixties to track the musical career of Mr. Parsons, since it is essential to understanding why Tales sounds as professional and experienced as it does, while it essentially is a band's debut album ! Next we'll have a closer look at the wide variety of musicians that ended up playing on the album; who were they, where did they come from and what has happened to them since. Next week, we'll continue this article with an examination of the concept of Tales and the man who inspired it. Finally, we'll close this trip by a further look at what happened to the album and The Project since 1976.
Alan Parsons, born December 20th 1948 in London, laid the foundation for his musical engineering career while experimenting with telephones and radio sets and playing piano and flute as a kid. At the age of 14 he played bass guitar in his first cover band. Later, Alan would play lead guitar in a blues band called London (named after an earlier disbanded group of their manager, who had stacks of posters, stationary and envelopes left when they broke up, and therefore thought it would be a good idea to name the new band London as well). London recorded one album of material, which - fortunately, as far as Alan is concerned - never got released.
At the age of 16 Alan was hired by EMI to work in a camera research lab, and later in a tape duplication department. Alan: "This is really where I got interested in hi-fi, because this was the first time I had heard high quality sound systems, and one of the albums that I heard during my time there was Sgt. Pepper, and having always been a great fan of the Beatles, I was totally knocked out by this album, and I was determined to find out how they got these sounds, and just how the whole thing went about, but the problem was that I'd heard that to get a job in the studios at Abbey Road was very competitive, and I'd have a very hard time. But, surprisingly enough, I just wrote a letter to the manager, and within 10 days I was working there." This would be the first time Alan set foot in this musical Mecca that would play a key role in the rest of his career.
After a short period of work in the tape library Alan got to fill the space of a second engineer at Abbey Road who got fired. In this period as 'button pusher', as second engineers were known as in those days, Alan got to work with a wide range of musicians, from underground prog bands to dance bands and classical music. Among the most important bands he got to work with were The Beatles, The Hollies (o.a. The Air That I Breathe & He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother) and Barclay James Harvest. Alan got involved with The Beatles when Apple Studios (where they were recording their last album Abbey Road) rang up Abbey Road studios to send over an assistant engineer. They were having enormous problems with their equipment, which had been put together by one 'Magic Alex' but simply wasn't working. After Alan had fixed the configuration, The Beatles decided to hire him for the rest of the recordings.
Alan:"I think I was enormously impressed by the way that The Beatles didn't just use normal conventional musical instruments to make a record, they'd use all sorts of strange ideas, or strange processes with instruments. But, I was just so surprised when I saw Ringo blowing through a straw into a glass of water to get the underwater effects in Octopus's Garden. And, likewise on Maxwell's Silver Hammer the banging of the anvil for the hammering effect."
After the Beatles broke up, Alan continued to work for Paul McCartney, who kept working in the Abbey Road studio. Alan was involved in engineering and/or mixing some tracks that appeared on the McCartney, Red Rose Speedway and Wildlife.
Alan: "Wildlife was actually the beginning of my career as an engineer, as opposed to an assistant, because every so often he would disappear with the band, and ask Tony Clark, or myself, to make tapes for him to listen to the next day so he could assess the situation, and decide what he wanted to do next. But one of the songs on the album, I actually mixed myself, just purely for his purposes, as a rough mix, so he could decide what he wanted to do with it. And, this was a song called, I'm Your Singer, which I'm delighted to say ended up being used on the album - the rough mix that I'd done."
Another important band Alan worked with in his early twenties was Pink Floyd; he did a bit of work as an assistant engineer on Ummagumma and ended up mixing Atom Heart Mother. Alan: "The album had actually been 8-track, but the amount of special effects and machines we had running - I just couldn't believe. It was like every machine in the whole building had been latched up, so that we could use every conceivable special effect. And, at the same time, it was probably the biggest challenge that I had ever been confronted with: to actually mix that - to mix a Pink Floyd Album."
Alan also gained touring experience with Pink Floyd, starting as a roadie on his first tour, promoting to executive stage assistant for the second one. Alan also worked on Syd Barrett's two solo albums, which were produced by David Gilmour.
Eventually Alan got to engineer the band's legendary Dark Side of the Moon; another turning point in his career because it earned him his credibility as a sound engineer (and a Grammy nomination as well). "The band had actually been playing the piece in concert for a considerable amount of time before we went into the studio to record it. But, there were, obviously, some changes made to it in the studio. A lot of the songs themselves stayed as they were, but they weren't recorded quite the same way as they sounded - I mean, we would often just start with just bass and drums, and add endless layers of guitars, and voices, etc. Which is the way virtually that The Floyd have become famous for."
Alan contributed the idea of the running footsteps in On The Run and also created the ringing clocks effect for Time and the cash register-loop for Money. "I think one of the reasons that the album took so long to record, I mean it did take a whole year from start to finish, was the fact that we'd spend hours, and hours, and hours, just getting a particular sound effect exactly right. I mean, for instance on Money, we had to get out a ruler, and measure sections of tape, each carrying a particular sound effect, such as a cash register, or a bag of money being dropped, or a piece of paper being torn. We had to join these up, forming a seven-in-a-bar loop, which then formed the basis for the backing track which the band played to."
Alan: "When the band had been performing Time in concert, it simply started with Roger Waters playing the bass licks which eventually come out of the introduction that's on the record. But, I came up with this idea for putting a load of clocks and timepieces, which I'd recorded a few weeks previously, in a local clock shop. And the idea was that all of the clocks would tick together, which would be virtually impossible to record under normal circumstances, but with a multi-track tape, we managed to sync them all up, so that they would tick for a while and then all started chiming at the same time. And then, out of that came the bass lick, and then went into the tune."
Two of the female singers that can be heard on Dark Side would later appear on Alan's own album Eve; Clare Torry (the legendary voice of The Great Gig in the Sky, who was recommended to The Floyd by Alan himself) and Lesley Duncan. Alan was also involved in the disbanded 'household objects' project of the Floyd, in which they tried to record an album with stuff like drinks cans, bottles and rubber bands as instruments. A snippet of this project (the rubbing on wine glasses) ended up in the introduction of Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
After Dark Side Alan didn't record with the Floyd again since he wasn't willing to continue on the 35 pound per week salary he got during the recording of Dark Side. Alan: "It was a business decision based around the fact that I didn't really feel that I should continue working as an engineer for Pink Floyd without the promise of some kind of royalty, on the basis that I was entering a production career where I was being paid a royalty. Having earned a fairly menial engineering's salary as a staff member of Abbey Road, I wasn't going to do it again on the same basis with the success that Dark Side of the Moon had had. Unfortunately they turned me down, they said 'sorry we'd love to work with you but we're not going to pay you a royalty'. My decision turned out to be the right one. I got into production and started doing well, and if I'd still been messing around engineering for people, The Project might never have happened."
"It was never my ambition to become a very good musician. I wanted to become a very good engineer/producer. I'm a capable instrumentalist, but nothing more than that. I admit that there are much better musicians. Alas. And to shake off that frustration I became a producer".
After his work with The Floyd Alan went one step up the career ladder and became a producer for Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, with whom he recorded the hit single Judy Teen and the Psychomodo album.
A band that would play a very important role in the later Alan Parsons Project album was Pilot; drummer Stuart Tosh, bass player/vocalist David Paton, guitarist Ian Bairnson (whom Alan had already met at a session with Cockney Rebel) and keyboard player Billy Lyall would end up as the foundation for The Project. Alan produced the band's first album in 1974 and the hit (Oh Oh Oh It's) Magic, as well as their next album Second Flight (1975).
In 1975 Alan would also co-produced and mix the self-titled debut album of the Californian band Ambrosia. In 1976 Alan would continue to produce and engineer their second album Somewhere I Never Travelled. As we will see, Ambrosia also played an important role in The Alan Parsons Project.
1975 was also the year in which Alan first met singer-songwriter Al Stewart, who had made a name in the London folk club circuit. Alan would produce Stewart's albums Modern Times (1975), Stewart's classic breakthrough album Year of the Cat (including the title track and On The Border) (1976) and Time Passages (1978). Interestingly, it was Alan who convinced Stewart to use some saxophone on Year of the Cat, and although he had never used that instrument on his albums before, Stewart agreed. As a matter of fact, he liked it so much he continued to use the instrument on his following albums. Remarkably enough, a network was already starting to form around Alan; both David Pack (Ambrosia) and Alan Powell (whom Alan had met while recording with Cockney Rebel) worked on some or all of these albums as well.
In 1975, very shortly before Tales would see the light of day, Alan also produced the debut album of John Miles, Rebel, which was recorded in only 12 days, which is quite amazing since the album features the orchestral megahit Music.
Eric Woolfson, a Scot born in Glasgow in 1945, was first signed as a writer, aged eighteen, by Andrew Loog Oldham the legendary producer of the Rolling Stones. By the time The Project saw the light of day, Eric's songs had already been covered by more than a hundred artists including Marianne Faithful and Marmalade. As a record producer, Eric's credits included artists such as Graham Gouldman of 10cc. In the early seventies, Eric turned his hand to management and was instantly successful. His first two signings were Carl 'Kung Fu Fighting' Douglas and engineer/record producer Alan Parsons.
Eric: "My musical background was very different from Alan's, but as it turned out, was not incompatible with the training that he'd had. At the time in Britain we're talking about, there had been two distinct rock-n-roll camps: one which had grown up around the Beatles, which Alan was involved with, and the other, which developed around the Rolling Stones. And it was through the Rolling Stones' Manager, Andrew Lou Golden, that I first came into the business. I had just come down to London from Glasgow, where I was born and brought up, and he signed me to a songwriting contract, and used me as a session pianist. I found myself in very good company: people like Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and later Eric Stewart, and Graham Gouldman. And I went on to become a record producer, myself, though not with any great degree of success. But my production activities brought me into the realm of Abbey Road which was the arena in which I first encountered Alan Parsons."
When people became familiar with Alan's role in Dark Side of the Moon artists started to ask him to produce their records. This is where Eric Woolfson, a clever music industry business man, entered the picture. Eric became Alan's manager and would close all the deals. Alan met Eric over a cup of tea in the canteen of the Abbey Road studios. Eric was 3 or 4 years older than Alan, who at the time was nearly broke, even though he had already produced two hit singles (Cockney Rebel's Make Me Smile and Pilot's January). Alan hadn't realised that as a producer he was officially entitled to royalties instead of a normal engineering salary. Eric was very capable of getting investments from record companies and after he offered to look into the matter for Alan, he returned from EMI's management with enough money for Alan to buy a small house and get married.
Eventually, triggered by Eric Woolfson, the Alan Parsons Project was formed. Alan: "It was Eric's doing. What was miraculous about it was that basically the only bit of credibility I had was Dark Side of the Moon. Eric had none to speak of, other than some b-side hits as a writer. I've always given credit to the boss at 20th Century Records, Russ Regan, for basically committing a large amount of money to make the album on the strength of nothing, just a blank tape. He signed a blank tape, basically on a presentation and an idea."
Eric: "I had had an idea about making an album about Edgar Allen Poe's work, for some time, but I didn't seem to have the necessary credibility as a producer or as a writer to carry the project through. However, when I met Alan, I felt his talents were certainly greater than mine in the production area, and he was somebody I might certainly be able to work with and collaborate with in achieving the realisation of this project. Fortunately, the idea appealed to him, and Alan Parsons Project was born."
And so, in early 1975 work started on the first Alan Parsons Project album Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Edgar Allan Poe. The Tales booklet features a picture of a young boy in a cowboy suit. Alan:"It really is Eric. The reason he used that one was because he couldn't find a current picture he liked. It was the only photo he liked at the time."
1975 was a busy year for Alan, with him working on albums by Al Stewart, Pilot, John Miles and Ambrosia. It's therefore no great surprise that most of these musicians would end up playing in the Project as well...
When recording an album, Alan Parsons operates almost like a movie director: "In recent years, film directors, such as Ken Russell, and Stanley Kubrick have become stars in their own right, and they're almost more famous that the stars that appear in them. A gentleman who felt that this idea could be applied to the record industry, not only with the artists I was working with, but what was later to become the "Alan Parsons Project", was Eric Woolfson."
Eric: "We had intended just calling the album "Tales Of Mystery And Imagination", but the record company specifically asked us to have an artistic identification, so we called it "The Alan Parsons Project". And people in the industry and the public appeared to think of this as being a band. This was quite fortuitous, because during the making of the album, we realised that there was more scope for this kind of musical venture, and we developed many other ideas for making albums, based on different themes."
Eric wrote the words and most of the music for Tales and other albums by The Project. Although Alan added some keyboards, guitars and vocals, his musical contribution was slight: "But so much of the Project comes out of the control room rather than the studio. The atmosphere in the grooves is all mine." As a matter of fact, Alan's influence on the sound of the Project could very easily be compared to the layered approach of recording that Pink Floyd used. It is therefore understandable that Floyd's Roger Waters once said "The effect Alan had on Dark Side of the Moon is less relevant than the effect Dark Side of the Moon had on Alan." Alan: "It happens subconsciously; I play back a tape and realize, 'My God, that does sound a bit like them.' I'm not too worried about it."
So, working like movie directors, Alan and Eric would assemble a large group of musicians to perform the music they had written for the Tales album. It's hardly remarkable that Alan would use the extensive network of artists he had worked with and pick and choose friends from his work with Pilot, Ambrosia, Cockney Rebel, The Hollies and John Miles. In this final section of part 1 of the article on Tales we'll have a look at all of the musicians that played on the album, where they came from and what has become of them since.
The full Pilot band got to play and essential role in The Alan Parsons Project. Both on Tales and later albums they would be the foundation of The Project, playing as the base band (bass, drums, keys and guitar). Bass player David Paton: "At the time it wasn't a big deal, it was just Alan saying, 'I'd like to do an album of my own, would you like to play on it ?' On the first album it was all the members of Pilot, and we were quite excited about it, we thought he really had something great. It really was great and it was a wonderful thing to be involved in."
Most important of the band members would be Ian Bairnson, who continued to play lead guitar on every Parsons album since. Bairnson would also play on albums by Paul McCartney (Mull of Kintyre), Chris DeBurgh, Kate Bush (The Kick Inside & Lionheart), Jon Anderson (Song of Seven), Kenny Rogers, Michael McDonald, Mick Fleetwood, Sting, Tom Jones, Jon Anderson, Bucks Fizz (for whom he also wrote some songs) and many more, as well as a range of German and Japanese artists and live sessions with Beverly Craven. Ian also played in the Project spin-off band Keats (with Paton, Colin Blunstone, Stuart Elliot and Peter Bardens)and would help out some other project members like Andrew Powell, Lenny Zakatek, Chris Rainbow and co-Pilot member David Paton on their own projects.
David Paton himself would play on all Parsons albums up to and including Stereotomy, as well as doing lead vocals on the tracks What Goes Up, I'd Rather Be A Man, Children of the Moon and Let's Talk About Me. Paton would also work with Camel (The Single Factor and backing vocals on Dust & Dreams), Keats, The Pretenders, Kate Bush, Chris DeBurgh, Fish (1991-1995) and Elton John (o.a. bass on the hit single Nikita). In 1991 David released a solo album called Passion Cry, of which some songs were re-recorded for his 1997 album Fragments.
Stuart Tosh, Pilot's drummer, would be replaced by Stuart Elliot (whom Alan knew from sessions with Cockney Rebel and Al Stewart) after two Project albums, while Billy Lyall, Pilot's keyboard player, would be replaced by Eric Woolfson on keys. Stuart Tosh would continue playing with 10CC while Billy Lyall left Pilot in 1976 to pursue a (not very successful) solo career. He died of Aids in 1989.
Pilot would disband after 4 albums because of problems with their management. However, 25 years after their last album Paton & Bairnson have got together again and have just finished recording and mixing a brand new album under the name Pilot!
Jack Harris (additional vocals on The Tell-Tale Heart and Dr. Tarr & Professor Fether) was a singer with whom Ian Bairnson had already worked on a single called Sail Away in 1975. In 1976 some of the Project members would record a backing track called Ragtime Tune. Ian Bairnson and Jack Harris finally completed this track in 2001. Jack Harris would also do vocals on the later Project songs Pyramania & Day After Day. Harris is a graphic artist now.
A second band that would play a role on the first album of The Project was Ambrosia; David Pack, Joe Puerta, Burleigh Drummond and Christopher North would all appear on the track The Raven. Many years later, in 1993, David Pack would once again work with Alan, co-writing 3 songs and singing on Alan's first album without Eric Woolfson, Try Anything Once. David also recorded a solo album in 1985 and released a tribute album to Leonard Bernstein, Songs From West Side Story, in 1996, and worked with Quincy Jones and Patti Austin. On some of these projects other Ambrosia members would accompany him. Joe Puerta became one of the founding members of Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
Ambrosia is still together with its original members. In 1997 a compilation album of their work was released and they are seemingly still doing live performances.
Most people will know Arthur Brown from 'The Crazy World of Arthur Brown'. In 1968 Brown hit the top 10s with his demonic single Fire, proclaiming himself a god of hellfire. His theatrical performances, including helmets of fire and outlandish costumes, certainly helped to draw attention. In the early seventies he released several albums with Kingdom Come and featured in the role of the priest in Tommy. On Tales Arthur would play the brilliant part of the insane killer in The Tell-Tale Heart, although seemingly his manic vocal performance was not to every Parsons fan's liking. In 1998 Alan would record a remake of Fire with Arthur Brown. Brown is currently working on new material.
John Miles, another artist Alan was working with in 1976, was invited to sing on The Cask of Amontillado and (The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. In 1979 - the same year in which Alan recorded his Pyramid with John doing lead vocals on album Shadow of a Lonely Man - Alan would also produce John's 4th solo album More Miles per Hour. In later years Alan Parsons would use Miles' voice again on key tracks of some of his albums, including the tracks Stereotomy and La Sagrada Familia. John has toured with Jimmy Page and Tina Turner and has also appeared with The Electric Band of the Night of the Proms in Holland and Belgium many times, including performances of Music and La Sagrada Familia.
A typical characteristic of the albums of The Alan Parsons Project is the use of a massive symphonic orchestra in some of the songs. Tales, with the inclusion of 3 orchestra-only tracks (Prelude, Intermezzo and Fall) and several other tracks with the orchestra supporting the 'electric band', is probably one of the best examples of this. Andrew Powell, who arranged and conducted the orchestra on Tales got his music degree at Cambridge, after which he worked with both pop start and classical artists. Andrew first worked with Alan on Cockney Rebel's album Psychomodo, which Alan co-produced and Andrew orchestrated. The two later worked together on albums for John Miles, Pilot, The Hollies, Kansas and Al Stewart. Andrew was also the person who produced Kate Bush' first album after David Gilmour discovered her.
Andrew recalls how he got involved in the Tales project: "It just happened. Certain things were needed for the first album. At its very early stages I was approached about this idea for this mammoth full-sized orchestra and choir. Straight away it was right outside their writing field of expertise." Andrew has done all orchestral arrangements for Alan Parsons' albums since and (co)wrote some of the Project's songs, among which of course The Fall of the House of Usher, not to mention several contributions on keyboards.
Interestingly, Andrew recorded an album of orchestral Alan Parsons Project covers in 1983 (Andrew Powell & The Philharmonia Orchestra Play The Alan Parsons Project). In 1985 Alan Parsons would produce Andrew Powell's soundtrack for the 'Ladyhawk' movie. Andrew also worked with Kansas on their Power album.
Leonard Whiting, who did the lead vocals on The Raven and the closing narration on To One In Paradise, played Romeo in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film 'Romeo and Julia' at the age of 17.
Terry Sylvester replaced Graham Nash in The Hollies in 1970. He sang with Allan Clarke (who would sing on the second Project album I Robot !) on He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother and The Air That I Breathe. Terry would do lead vocals on To One in Paradise and additional vocals on The Cask of Amontillado. He is currently working in the real estate business.
Kevin Peek and Francis Monkman - who can both be heard in The Fall of the House of Usher - both played in a band called Sky. Francis also played in Curved Air and was an old school buddy of Alan Parsons. Monkman played keyboards and synths with a wide variety of artists, including Al Stewart, Renaissance, Camel (The Single Factor), Phil Manzanera and Kate Bush, to name a few. He is still active in the music business; in 1999 DPRP reviewed his album 21st Century Blues.
Recently Peek played with Olivia Newton-John. Peek and Monkman also both appeared on several orchestral albums with Symphonic rock covers (Symphonic Rock: British Invasion).
Laurence Juber (acoustic guitar on Pavane) released several albums of guitar music. Since 1995 he has been working with Al Stewart as a musician and producer.
John Leach, whose main instrument was Cimbalom, an instrument mainly used for film scores, is still doing sessions. John would also play Cimbalom and Kantele on the second album of The Project, I Robot, as he did on Pavane.
Hugo D'Alton and David Snell played in a folk outfit called Wooden O in the late sixties. On Tales they would play Mandolin and Harp respectively. The late D'Alton was a mandolin teacher and played his instrument on many classical recordings. David Snell would continue to play harp and write/conduct film scores.
Bob Howes & The English Chorale would work with the Project again several times between 1976 and 1987. Bob Howes also appears as conductor on Nektar's Recycled album.
Les Hurdle played the bass line at the end of Prelude. He would later play as a session musician for a wide range of artists, including Donna Summers, Rick Wakeman, Elton John, Lou Reed, Olivia Newton John, Art Garfunkel and Cher.
Classical composer Daryl Runswick played string bass in Pavane. Runswick continues to play and compose classical/folk contrabass music.
Last, but certainly not least, Orson Welles (who only appears on the CD version of Tales, but more about that in part 2). Welles had a long career in the entertainment industry behind him when he was asked to perform two pieces of narrative for the Tales album. In 1918, at the age of 3, Welles played his first role in an opera production of Madame Butterfly. In 1931, at the age of 16, he would start a career as a professional actor in Dublin. Between 1936 and 1941 he participated in more than 100 radio drama productions, including the infamous radio broadcast of The War of The Worlds. 1941 would see the premiere of one of the most famous movies Welles played in; 'Citizen Kane'. During his lifetime he would participate in almost 100 movies. Welles died in 1985.
Part 2: The Inspirator, The Songs & Stories
and Tales beyond 1976
In Part 1 of the article about Tales of Mystery and Imagination we had a look at the origins of The Alan Parsons Project. We've traced Alan Parson's career and we've explored where the project came from, who participated in the first album and what has happened to them since.
In this second part, we'll have a closer look at the concept of the album. Who was Edgar Allan Poe and what were these 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination' all about ? And even more important, how did Eric Woolfson, Alan Parsons and Andrew Powell convert these pieces into musical interpretations ? Finally, we'll close this 'investigation' with a look at what happened to The Project, and the Tales album specifically, since 1976.
The songs on Tales of Mystery and Imagination are based upon 3 poems and 4 short stories by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, who lived during the first half of the 19th century. Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th 1809 as a son of two touring actors. As a 2 year old orphan Edgar - his mother had died and his father disappeared - and his sister went to live with the Allan family from Richmond, USA.
Edgar attended university for only one year in 1826, after which he was forced to leave since his foster father wouldn't support him anymore because of Poe's gambling debts. In 1827 Poe anonymously published his first book of Byron-inspired poetry, called "Tamerlane and Other Poems". In the same year he joined the army for 2 years. In 1829 he published his second book "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and minor poems", this time under the name of Edgar A. Poe. Later, financed by his fellow-cadets at West Point, he published a third edition of the book called "Poems by Edgar A. Poe" (1831).
After living with his aunt in Baltimore for a while and turning to writing fiction to support himself, Poe moved his aunt and cousin Virginia to Richmond in 1835, where he married the 13 year old (!) Virginia. Poe started working as an editor and critic for the Southern Literary Messenger. Eventually, in 1837, he was fired because of his drinking habits and tried to establish a name in literary journalism in New York and Philadelphia without any major success. Poe did however succeed in formulating influential literary theories and in demonstrating mastery of the forms he favoured; highly musical poems and short prose narratives. Poe did become nationally famous when his poem "The Raven" was published in 1845.
In January 1847 Virginia died of tuberculosis. Poe himself, now a broken man, passed away on October 7th 1849. He died in a delirium of "acute congestion of the brain".
Poe has been an enormously important founder of several genres of fictionous tales of the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides influencing many writers around the world, Poe has been credited for inventing the detective story, or 'murder mystery' (e.g. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"), the science fiction story and the psychological thriller. Poe's eccentric detective Dupin, who appeared in several of his stories, is the identifiable ancestor of many other detectives, like Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. Ideas that Poe introduced in stories like "Hans Pfaall" and "A Descent into the Maelstrom" would later be further explored by writers like Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke. Poe's tales of terror and horror have influenced later great horror writers like Robert Bloch ('Psycho'), Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. The latter wrote Poe-like stories before beginning his Cthulhu Mythos, and his "At The Mountains of Madness" was very obviously inspired by Poe's "Arthur Gorden Pym" (a story for which Jules Verne wrote a sequel called 'Le Sphinx des Glaces' in 1897). And so, even though his body might lie beneath the tombstone, on which the Raven sits for evermore, Poe's spirit lives on.
- The Tales
Note: clicking on the stories titles will open new windows with the full text versions of Poe's writings, published on eapoe.org.
"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream"
When Tales of Mystery and Imagination was released on CD in 1987, those who knew the old 1976 album by heart must have been - like me - highly surprised by the first sounds that emanated from their speakers. Instead of the opening cacophony and that weird sound that back in the eighties reminded me of my grandmother's old washing machine, followed by the melody played on the recorders (by Billy Lyall) a deep male voice started the first song. Alan had grabbed the opportunity of it's release to remix some of the tracks slightly and add some bits and pieces he thought were lacking in the original 1976 recording. Among these were the spoken narrations by Orson Welles at the start of Dream Within a Dream and The Fall of the House of Usher.
Alan: "It was written by a guy who worked for a short time at 20th Century records. How heavily he drew on the works of Poe to write it I really don't know. Welles seemed perfectly happy with it, he didn't make any changes to it. I think it was very well written."
Seemingly, part of the narration was taken or inspired by Poe's Marginalia 150. Unfortunately, Welles' spoken part did not make it on time for the original version of Tales. "It didn't arrive on the record company boss's desk until after the record was at the factory being pressed. We only just got it in time to use it for the presentation for the press and media [at the Griffith Park Observatory]. It was a great sadness to me at the time because I thought it was so brilliant and would have contributed enormously to the record. It was a dream fulfilled to include it on the 1987 remix."
A Dream Within a Dream was a short poem which Poe wrote in 1849 and was published posthumously one year later in The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe. Unlike the musical version which Propaganda recorded on their 1985 album A Secret Wish, the version by The Alan Parsons Project does not feature any words from the poem. As a matter of fact, it is fully instrumental (not counting the introduction narrative by Orson Welles).
After Orson Welles' opening words have merged with the original opening melody Dream Within A Dream develops into one of the most atmospheric instrumental tracks the Project ever released. Wrapped around Joe Puerta's one note bass-line the track builds towards a climax with more and more instruments and backing vocals (by David Paton) coming in. Shortly after the climax, signalled by full powered drums, which might well represent the 'roar of the surf-tormented shore' mentioned in the mid of the poem, the song breaks down again with all instruments fading out, like the 'grains of the golden sand [that] creep through my fingers to the deep' in the poem, until only the bass-line remains. When this bass-line changes rhythm it goes into the next track; The Raven.
"Quoth the raven 'Nevermore' as if his soul in that one word he did outpour"
Of Poe's poems, The Raven is without a doubt the most well-known. It was written in 1845 and included in the collection The Raven and Other Poems. Instead of setting the existing poem to music, it was re-written in a summarized and modernized version. Still, even though some details in the 'storyline' were slightly changed or ignored in this musical version, the creepy message of the black bird is omnipresent; 'Nevermore !'. It is remarkable however that the important character of lost Lenore (which Poe would use in several other poems as well) is not used in the version in this album, since she is essential to understanding the reason for the appearance of the black bird.
After the bass-line remaining from A Dream Within A Dream changes pace, a spooky robotic voice comes in. Eric Woolfson: "My original idea was that the album should be electronic, much in the lines of a Rick Wakeman album. But Alan believed, on the other hand, in order to do justice to Poe's work, we really would have to quote some of his poems and stories. The first track that we recorded, which was based on The Raven, ironically enough, was sung by a machine."
This 'machine' was nothing less than Alan Parsons himself singing through a digital Vocoder. As a matter of fact, The Raven was the first rock song to feature a vocoder, which was designed by EMI's Research Laboratories. Eric: "That's right, that was one of the earliest uses of vocoder. It was a machine that the EMI scientists had developed, a very cumbersome thing that was very much in its early stages. They had gotten it together in a way that let us do some relatively new things with it."
This would be one of the rare occasions Alan can be heard doing 'lead vocals' in his career. "For The Raven it was not a real vocal sound at all, it was an electronic synthesis of my voice. I also did that electronic piece on The Voice ('he's gonna get you') [on the I Robot album]. The part on Time could be argued as a counter lead vocal. The real reason that I don't sing is that I don't think I'm a really good singer. Modesty prevents me from stealing any limelight. I'd much rather have people ask 'why don't you sing?', than 'why do you sing?'"
The other vocals in the song were done by Leonard Whiting, with some backing vocals by Eric Woolfson. The Raven, as most of the songs on Tales is a fine example of how The Project blends symphonic and rock influences in a splendid mix. Not only does it feature a full choir, but also the majestic string and brass sounds of the orchestra.
The Raven was partially recorded in the Abbey Road studios and partially in a studio in Nothern Hollywood. The latter most likely was the place where the parts of the Ambrosia band members, that can be heard playing on this song, were recorded.
For the 1987 'remix' Alan added an additional guitar solo by Ian Bairnson to the second climatic section; probably to create a greater difference with the first section.
"'Villains!' I shrieked, dissemble no more! I admit the deed! - tear up the planks! here, here! - it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
The Tell-Tale Heart was a short story Poe wrote in 1843. It was first published in the 'Pioneer'. Although a relatively short tale, it certainly is one of Poe's most macabre ones.
The Tell-Tale Heart is the monologue of a paranoid man who's driven insane by the sight of one of the eyes of his landlord; an 'eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it'. One day, in the dead of night, after careful planning, the madman kills the old man. The remains of the old man are dismembered and hidden beneath the floor boards, but then the police come to investigate the last shriek of the old man, which had been heard by a neighbour. When the police fail to find any traces of foul play and the madman thinks he got away with the perfect crime, he suddenly hears the old man's heart beating again, louder and louder, just like the minutes before he had killed him. Driven to despair by the sound of the beating 'tell-tale heart', which only he seems to hear, he confesses his crimes to the police.
Stephen King once wrote: "Perhaps the best tale of 'inside evil' ever written is Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", where murder is committed out of pure evil, with no mitigating circumstances whatever to tincture the brew. Poe suggests we will call his narrator mad because we must always believe that such perfect, motiveless evil is mad, for the sake of our own sanity."
The musical version of the story works surprisingly well, not the least because of Arthur Brown's manic performance as the madman, screaming and yelping. The choice of Arthur 'Fire' Brown as a vocalist for this song was a very remarkable one. Alan: "That was an inspired choice (of vocalist), Arthur Brown, as it completely transformed the song." Many Project fans have complained about the crazy hard-rockish way in which Brown sings the lyrics, but in doing so they completely ignore how well it fits the story the song is trying to tell.
The first part of the song explains how the old man is killed. The quiet intermezzo with the orchestra represents the protagonist hiding the body ('and he won't be found at all, not a trace to mark his fall, nor a stain upon the wall'). Than the band comes in again and after it has died away it builds again to a cacophonic climax, just like the heart of the old man. The last verses mirror the growing anxiety of the madman and his final confession. talking about lyrics, some of them are taken straight from the story ('But you should have seen me', 'heard all things in the heaven and earth').
For the 1987 version of the album Alan added extra synths and echoing guitar by Ian Bairnson. A remarkable instrument that was already present in the 1976 version of this song was the so-called 'Projectron'. It was a first of a new generation of keyboards using voltage control technology and analog 'sampling'. The instrument, which was devised by Keith Johnson for the Tales album, was capable of making sounds similar to the 'Fairlight', produced many years later.
Eric: "When we did Tales of Mystery and Imagination, there was no such thing as a sampling keyboard, but even then we wanted to take a lot of sounds that we had developed and turn them into full keyboard things. So we built an instrument called the Projectron, which was based on tape loops, more or less along the lines of the Mellotron. It was enormously complicated. Not being too technical, I have no idea how it actually worked. Equipment has since come along that can do in moments what it took us days, weeks, or months to do on the Projectron. But we were at least able to build up some sounds of our own."
"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge."
A story of sweet revenge, The Cask of Amontillado, was written in 1846 and first published in 'Godey's Lady's Book'.
When insulted too many times by Fortunato, Montresor invites his 'friend' for a drink in the wine vaults, where he's claiming to have a cask of Amontillado (one of Fortunato's favourite wines). Fortunato, a wine afficianado, more then willingly joins him, only to be weakened by the dampness, niter on the vault's walls and the wine consumed underway, tricked, chained to the wall and bricked in alive. In pace requiescat! As in 'The Tell-Tale Heart', Poe offers the readers a peek into the workings of the mind of a murderer by telling the tale from Montresor's perspective.
The song start is rather dramatic and sad with piano and strings of the orchestra (which again plays a very prominent role). After the first two verses with John Miles, the track changes into a vocal section with Terry Sylvester and John Miles doing a duet while Eric Woolfson provides backing vocals. The nearing doom for Fortunato is recreated by the choir and brass orchestra building to a bombastic climax.
Unlike the original story, the lyrics of the song elaborate more on the irony of Fortunato being chained in the celler ('what price the Crown of a King on his throne, when you're chained in the dark all alone'). It also features a much more prominent dialogue between Montresor (John Miles) and Fortunato (Terry Sylvester) in which the latter pleads to be released ('spare me my life only name your reward') while Montressor bricks up the niche ('part of you dies each brick I lay'). As such, this version might even be more dramatic than Poe's original, in which there hardly is any dialogue once Fortunato is chained to the wall.
"During the autumn of 18- while on a tour through the extreme
southern provinces of France, my route led me within a few miles of a
certain Maison de Santé, or private Mad House".
Every wondered what would happen if the crazy would rule this world ? Maybe the world would be a better place ? Poe's rather humorous tale The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, written by in 1844, might provide us with the answer to these questions.
Poe's story tells the tale about a man visiting a private mad house in the south of France. The institution was well-known for it's liberal system of treatment, in which patients could freely roam the premises; the so-called 'system of soothing'. Under this system, the lunatics were encouraged to act upon their fancies, which in time would help them to cure themselves. For instance, if somebody would think he was a chicken, the attendants would treat him as such, only feeding the patient chicken food. During a dinner with the downright eccentric staff of the asylum, the superintendent, Monsieur Maillard, informs his visitor that this old system was abandoned in favour of 'the system of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether'. While the meal progresses the food gets progressively weirder, while the staff continue to enthusiastically elaborate on several specific cases of lunacy that were treated at the institution, demonstrating all of the described strange behaviours. At a certain point, at which the protagonist has already started to feel very uneasy, a group of beserk black and hairy people come breaking in through the windows, attacking the staff members.
At the end of the story the protagonist explains how Maillard, indeed the former superintendent of the institution had himself gone mad 2 or 3 years earlier, becoming a patient of his own asylum. Under his command the lunatics had rebelled and locked up the real staff, after carefully covering them with tarr and feathers. During the month of imprisonment Maillard had provided them with bread and water plus the 'tar and feathers' of his imaginary system of treatment. On the evening of the protagonist's visit the staff had escaped and reclaimed the institution.
Instead of telling the actual story, like in the previous three songs on the album, the song Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether actually takes a completely different approach and tells the listener about the blessings of their 'system' instead; 'At the far end of your tether, And your thoughts won't fit together (..) You're in need of Doctor Tarr & Professor Fether, Just what you need to make you feel better'. As such, it's like you hear Monsieur Maillard explaining his system to you in a propaganda-like manner.
The story describes the crazy atmosphere of the dinner party as follows: "There were several active servants in attendance; and, upon a large table, at the farther end of the apartment, were seated seven or eight people with fiddles, fifes, trombones, and a drum. These fellows annoyed me very much, at intervals, during the repast, by an infinite variety of noises, which were intended for music, and which appeared to afford much entertainment to all present, with the exception of myself. (...) We drank. The company followed our example without stint. They chatted -- they jested -- they laughed -- they perpetrated a thousand absurdities -- the fiddles shrieked -- the drum row-de-dowed -- the trombones bellowed like so many brazen bulls of Phalaris -- and the whole scene, growing gradually worse and worse, as the wines gained the ascendancy, became at length a sort of pandemonium in petto."
This strange cacophony is recreated in The Project's interpretation of Poe's tale. The song starts with the noises of a partying crowd and one can even hear the patient who thinks he's a champaign bottle popping away. This leads into the melody, which in the 1987 version also features a new 'cathedral organ' played by Parsons himself, creating an even more macabre atmosphere. The song ends with John Miles (as Maillard) singing "Don't stop bringin' the girls round, don't stop having a showdown, keep on handin' the jug round, all that you need is wine and good company". This is followed by applause from the crowd and remarkable reprises of the melodies of The Raven and Dream Within a Dream. Thus ends the first half (or the A-side) of Tales.
"With the first glimpse of the building a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit"
The Fall Of The House Of Usher, written in 1839, might well be Poe's most famous stories by Poe. It could therefore not be missed on this album.
In the Gothic story, the protagonist is requested to visit his old childhood friend Roderick Usher, who lives together with his sister Madeline in The House of Usher, the sole remaining survivors of the Usher family. Upon arriving at the mansion a clear atmosphere of death and decay hangs over the house, and a zig-zagging fissure can be seen trailing from the roof to the ground. Roderick is far from doing well and explains his friend that his sister, who suffered from an illness causing her to lose consciousness and feeling and enter into a death-like state, had seemingly really died. After leaving her lying for a fortnight (considering her illness), Roderick and his friend entomb her in the dungeon of the house. In the process the protagonist discovers that Roderick and Madeline were twins with a strange bond. Also Roderick claims that the house has taking control of his behaviour.
In the following week Roderick further deteriorates and seems to be listening closely to some unheard sound. Eventually, during a dark and stormy night, he mumbles that 'We have put her living in the tomb!' and how he's been hearing her move in the coffin, finally breaking free from it and making her way from the tomb. In the climax of the story Madeline reappears, smeared with blood from her struggling escape. With her final strength she drops herself upon Roderick, killing him. The protagonist flees from the house. Looking back he sees the fissure in the house widen until finally, with a loud explosion the house collapses, its fragments disappearing in a deep and dark tarn.
After an introduction by Orson Welles (added for the 1987 re-release), the epic 16 minute instrumental interpretation by The Project starts of with an orchestral part of 7 minutes; Prelude. Alan: "The orchestral piece was done in a hall in central London, at Kingsway Hall. I took advice from a classical recording engineer named Gordon Perry, we met through Ambrosia. It was difficult at the time, because there I was doing work for EMI and Decca was sort of an arch rival. So there I was with an EMI crew working with a Decca engineer, so it was politically difficult."
Prelude is quite a remarkable piece since (not counting the bass in the last couple of chords) it is fully played by an orchestra. It also sounds far from a rock tune, even an orchestrated rock tune, like those that can be heard on the A-side of the original album. The music could best be described as a movie soundtrack. It might therefore be a bit hard on the non-classical trained ears, although I personally have come to appreciate the piece over the years.
Usher also features an impressive thunderstorm effect, merging the Prelude and Arrival parts. Alan: "The thunderstorm idea on the last few chords was literally a mid-production idea, it was carefully designed to happen at that point. We thought we'd probably just fade on the bass line, or just end on the last note. The quick crossing it over to the thunderstorm and the rain was just a nice lead."
"It was a freak storm at Abbey Road, we were recording there anyway. We had a 'dummy head' microphone available at the time, and we managed to get it out of the rain recording these thunderclaps. The 'dummy head' was an actual size model head designed to have the same properties and density as a human head, and the microphones are buried inside the ears, at the exact location where the human eardrum would be. The theory is that if you follow that principle the recording is enhanced in a way that can't be duplicated by any other process and you get a very real three dimensional image, you get real depth information and real height information.
It was an incredible storm, there were all kinds of houses and streets flooded that night. Of course, whenever you're trying to record a weather effect or sound effect, there was a huge clap of thunder, and before it died away someone said, 'that was a good one'. Completely ruined it of course."
And in case you're wonder who this was, bass player David Paton recalls: "There's a funny story about the thunderstorm on Tales. Eric [Woolfson] and I were outside the back door of Abbey Road under an umbrella with a really sophisticated microphone trying to record the storm. We got a real beauty of a thunderclap and it was so good that when Eric and I looked at each other we burst out laughing. It ruined the recording and Alan was so mad at us that he came storming down the starts and said, 'you bloody idiots!'. It was such a wonderful thunderclap and all we got was laughter over the end of it. We eventually did get another one, but it never surpassed the one that was ruined by Eric and myself".
Alan: "I still think that the perfect thunderstorm has yet to be recorded. The idea is to get thunder without rain, but somehow the two always seem to go together. We just thought it would be a great idea to get a thunderstorm for The Fall of the House of Usher. We were actually thinking of going off to some location where they have a high incidence of thunderstorms, in the hope that we'd capture it. There just weren't any decent recordings in any sound effects libraries that we knew of. Poe and dark nights are things invented by Hollywood, but it seemed appropriate. The storm was actually quite short, that's why it was so damaging. It only lasted twenty, twenty-five minutes. The main panic was to get everything up and running while the storm was still happening, because we didn't know it was coming."
Although the thunderstorm sounds great and works very well creating a great merge between the two segments and a threatening atmosphere, it's actually used in the wrong place in the story. When the protagonist arrives, the weather is dark and cloudy, but the thunderstorm only starts on the night when Madeline appears. It would therefore, chronologically, fit better between Intermezzo and Pavane.
While the thunderstorm continues the protagonist's arrival at the Usher house is transformed to music in the track Arrival, the second part of The Fall of The House of Usher. This relatively short track starts with church organ sounds and a keyboard loop. When drum and bass kick in - after we've heard loud knocking and a heavy wooden door opening - further atmosphere is created on by the Projectron, synths and echoing guitar. After the climax the keyboard loop fades out into the strings of the orchestra for the even shorter third part of the epic, Intermezzo, a creepy piece of orchestral suspense with strings and wind instruments. This leads into one of the most remarkable pieces of the album; Pavane.
Alan: "The arrival sequence I think was written first, and Pavane was not written to specifically come after that. Pavane as I remember was one of the last things to be recorded because we wanted to do this stringed instrument idea. It went with the line in the story about Roderick only being able to stand the sound of certain 'stringed instruments'. We just assembled a whole bunch of acoustic sounds. I think we cheated a bit, I think a synth and a guitar gets introduced towards the end of it. For the most part it's all acoustic .... 'unplugged'."
John Leach played Cimbalom and Kantele on Pavane. Alan: "The Cimbalom is trapezium shapes with legs. It has crossed string in threes, rather like an over strung piano, but you hit the strings with hammers. It's a nightmare to tune, but it has a very distinctive sound. One of the distinctive sounds I think you get from it, is the fact that they're never absolutely in tune. You can get a pretty close approximation by hitting piano strings with a hammer, but they're much too close together to get the necessary articulation and co-ordination."
"The Kantele is a little more conventional looking, a lot like a Zither or Autoharp. It's basically a slab of wood with strings stretched across it. I think it's hollow with a hole in it as a resonator, like a guitar. It's a Finnish instrument which is quite difficult to play, so John is quite a rare talent. When I went to Finland I tried to buy one, but I left a deposit on one and never heard anything more. One day I will be the proud owner of a kantele."
Besides these two instruments, there's a whole range of other interesting stringed instruments in Pavane: contrabass, harp, mandolin and a couple of acoustic guitars.
After Pavane has come to a climax The Fall of the House of Usher ends with Fall another minute of orchestration, building to a cacophonic climax, representing the destruction of the remains of the Usher family and it's residence.
"And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams,
Are where my dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams,
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams."
To One in Paradise is a relatively short poem which Poe wrote in 1833. It was published as part of the Raven and Other Poems collection in 1845. As with The Raven the lyrics for the song are not literal copy of Poe's original poem, although the last verse of Poe's original can be heard at the end of the song, recited by Leonard Whiting.
To One in Paradise might well be the most beautiful and ethereal ballad The Project has ever recorded, not the least because of Terry Sylvester's wonderful lead vocals. Another remarkable characteristic of the song is the way the drums have been recorded; they can be heard playing in the background, as if they are played unamplified in a large hall next door. Although this might sound rather amateuristic, it does create the perfect atmosphere for the song.
The song also features one of the rare occasions where Alan Parsons himself sings. In the middle of the song, there's a section where three voices can be heard singing. The main voice is Terry Sylvester, but there's two counter vocals answering him. One of these ('Winds that blow as cold as ice, sounds that come in the night' etc) is Alan, the other voice is Eric Woolfson. And if these backing vocals weren't enough, the Westminister Abbey adds even more vocal depth to the song. There's many layers to this fine piece of work that acts as a fine soothing closing piece of a classic album.
It took about 9 months to fully record Tales. Alan: "I was always doing other things. We just snatched time where we could. There was plenty of other things going on then, Cockney Rebel, and Pilot for example."
Eventually Tales was presented to the press and media at the Griffith Park Observatory Planetarium with one of the first ever commissioned laser shows. Alan: "It was all pre-recorded, but that was the event that the Orson Welles narration was originally commissioned for. I spent quite a while at the planetarium just programming, and talking to the people there about how to get the best effect with the music and stuff. We also beefed up the sound a bit. There was a company called Laser Images Incorporated who I think is still going with their laser show. Basically Laser Images got a whole bunch of stuff together for the second half of the album. The first half was purely planetarium effects. It was just the one night, it was a press and media event. We had to work very hard to get people not to smoke in the theatre. I learned from bitter experience and a similar event for Pink Floyd that when it's a private function, the rule about smoking is kind of lifted, and the show was completely ruined by the fact every star has an ugly trail leading to it. It was a great evening with a great atmosphere."
After recording and releasing Tales of Mystery and Imagination Alan continued his production work. 1976 found him producing albums for Dean Ford (of Marmalade), Ambrosia's second album (Somewhere I Never Travelled), John Miles' Rebel album and Al Stewart's Year of the Cat. This album broke Stewart through to the mainstream market. As a matter of fact, it was Alan who convinced Stewart to use the saxophone solo in the title track. In 1977 Alan would produce and engineer Pilot's last album Two's a Crowd.
When he set out to do Tales, it was intended as a one-time effort. That would of course change, but not until after Tales was released. Alan said, "As has been said countless times before, I thought that 'The Alan Parsons Project' was just the first album. I don't think anyone knew what the identity of the album would be. I thought, another "Various Artists" would be what it was. Once it became known that 'The Alan Parsons Project' was the identity of an artist, I accepted it, albeit reluctantly. I think everybody just thought that the entire thing would be based on the success of Tales and to an extent it was."
So, Alan would continue to record many more albums under the name of The Alan Parsons Project. The first one would be I Robot (1977), and after the success of this album The Project would become a permanent thing, resulting in Alan's shift of focus from producing other people's work to his own. Albums that followed were Pyramid (1978), Eve (1979), The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), Eye in the Sky (1982), Ammonia Avenue (1984), Vulture Culture (1985), Stereotomy (1986) and Gaudi (1987). In 1990 Alan would produce and play on Eric Woolfson's theatre project Freudiana, but Alan's discomfort with that whole project would eventually result in a termination of the Parsons-Woolfson partnership. Alan stopped using the 'Project' name and has since released three studio albums under the name of Alan Parsons: Try Anything Once (1993), On Air (1996) and The Time Machine (1999). Alan has sold over twenty million copies of these albums.
Traces of the Poe influence would remain in the work of The Alan Parsons Project. The instrumental track The Gold Bug on Turn of a Friendly Card was named after a Poe story, while Stereotomy was named after a word Eric Woolfson found in the Poe story "Murders in the Rue Morgue". Finally, the track Chinese Whispers (also from Stereotomy) contains the text 'Chantilly, Orion, Dr.Nichols, Epicurus' also taken from "Murders in the Rue Morgue".
In 1994 Alan finally decided to take the band on the road, resulting in several world tours and a live album in that same year. In 1997 he also played 13 (!) Night of the Proms gigs in Belgium. Furthermore, Alan was musical director of the World Liberty Concert in Arnhem, Holland in 1995. He was also involved in producing Andrew Powell's Ladyhawk soundtrack, David Palmer's Symphonic Music of Yes, the Project spin-off Keats a new nineties prog rock band Millenia, who later changed their name to Iconic Phare, as well as a project called Excalibur by one Michael Ernst. Most recently he was involved in the various artists Beatles tribute tour 'Walk Down Abbey Road'.
It took until 1994, 18 years after the original release, during Parsons' first ever tour with The Live Project in 1994 before any of the material of Tales was ever played live. During this first tour the band played a A Dream Within a Dream (slightly shortened) and The Raven. Both tracks later appeared on the Best of Alan Parsons Live album. For the 1997 tour (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether was chosen as a set opener.
In 1999, during the tour supporting the Time Machine album, the opening montage included music from The Fall of the House of Usher, combined with samples of Dr. Evil from the movie The Spy Who Shagged Me (in which the character refers to a laser gun developed by 'the famous Dr. Parsons' as 'The Alan Parsons Project'). The 1999 tour would also feature The Raven and (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether.
On July 1st 1997 EMI Studios Group, which includes Abbey Road and 3 other studios, hired Alan Parsons as their Vice President. 29 years after starting in the Abbey Road studios making tea, Alan returned as the operations manager of the same studio. Within a year however, Alan's job was changed to Special Projects Consultant, freeing him from a lot of administrative functions and giving him more flexibility to schedule his own creative projects. Not long after this job change Alan moved to America to set up his own studio in California.
Late 2001, Alan Parson's band decided to break up. Alan: "I met with Ian and Stuart in my hotel room in Japan towards the end of the summer tour. We discussed the best way forward given the relatively poor sales performance of The Time Machine and On Air and the inactivity of the Alan Parsons Live Project band over the previous eighteen months."
Alan is planning to take a new musical direction on his next album. "A direction like Moby, Chemical Brothers, or the French band called Air who are rather Floydian. It has to be said that whatever we were doing on the last three albums, it just wasn't grabbing an audience. That's not to say that I'm not proud of them, because I do like them, but they didn't do anything in a mass market sort of way. The kind of artists I'd be working with will be more up-to-date, and more sound oriented than song oriented.
On the next album, there's definitely going to be some younger artists, and artists more identifiable by a younger audience. I have no real reason for that in the past, but I suppose I went for the people who I thought would be popular for people from my generation. I very much aimed what I did at the fans."
Tales has always been a very popular album among Parsons fans. In 1996 and again in 2000, Alan Parsons Newsletter The Avenue held a readers' poll in which Parsons fans were asked what their favourite album was. Seemingly, until this day the majority of the fans still think that Tales is Alan's best work to date ! The Raven and The System of Doctor Tarr & Professor Fether were chosen among the top 10 favourite Parsons songs in a poll in 1995.
During his career, Alan has received 12 Grammy nominations, but never actually won one. About prizes which Alan did win he said: "There was a Japanese 'Best Producer' award for Al Stewart's Year of the Cat. I won two New Musical Express awards for The Raven and Pilot's Magic. There was also an engineering award for Let Yourself Go from Music Week which is a UK trade paper."
When asked what his best contribution to the music world was, Alan answered: "If it's measured commercial success, that would have to be Dark Side of the Moon. No matter what anyone else says, I think I made a big contribution to that record. In terms of my own satisfaction, it would be the good old first album, Tales.'
In an interview in 1986, prior to the re-release of Tales, Alan was asked if he would change anything about the Tales album if he could do it all again. He answered: "I wouldn't change very much. To me, Tales Of Mystery represents everything that was right about what the Project was meant to be. It took risks. It was experimental. It had some good songs. It had a good choice of vocalists and musicians. Everything about it was right. It did well and it paved the way for the future. If anything, I felt that through media pressure, we kind of deteriorated artistically after Tales Of Mystery."
So, that brings us to 2002, in which Alan is working on an album in the Moby/Chemical Brothers-style, seemingly because that is a more popular musical direction than his 'roots'. Talking about artistic deterioration ....
Written by Ed Sander
• The Avenue Newsletter & Website
• Liner notes in the CD version of Tales
• The Complete Audio Guide To The Alan Parsons Project
• 1994 Tour book
• Penthouse Interview
• Mojo March 1998 (Dark Side of the Moon Special)
• The Alan Parsons FAQ
• 'Alan Parsons: When Producer Becomes Star'
• The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (online)
• Poe's Virtual Library
• Alan Parsons Project - The Essence of Studio Rock (Keyboard Magazine, August 1986)
• The Poe Decoder
• Stephen King's Dance Macabre