Over the years, I have heard some many horror stories from a number of people about roommates they had back in college. Fortunately, I had pretty good roommates during my college days. During my freshman year, I was placed with a guy who was an architecture major (we called them “Ar-Kees”, as not to confused them with the Archies bubblegum band). Unfortunately for him, I came into college just haven given up on my college career in running, so I was in full-blown party mode. Then, you throw in the fact he was a Quaker, well, we did not mix well socially, but we did hit it off on a personal level. Needless to say, we only lasted a year, as he and I amicably split.
So, during my sophomore year, one of my best friends at the time and I roomed. Unfortunately, I liked to keep things somewhat organized, and he just couldn’t. Rooming together that year almost killed us as friends. So, after that year, we split and have remained friends to this day. But, at times during that year, we could really get on each other’s nerves. We knew how to push the other’s buttons and did it often. At the time, I was heavy into new wave and punk music, which drove him nuts. And the more he bitched, the worse I got. “Oh! You think Haircut 100 is bad, wait ’till you hear some Dead Kennedys.” You know, some real mature male stuff. The way he counter-punched was playing music I was sick of, like the Blues Brothers, Jim Croce, Christopher Cross, and his main obsession, the Alan Parsons Project.
Now that we look back on those day, we laugh at how passive-aggressive we were. Sure, it was my stereo, but we did set some ground rules at the beginning of the year. Basically, if you were in the room alone, play whatever you wanted. If the other got back, your music stayed on. It was simple, until I got sick of his dirty laundry everywhere on the floor. Screw laying down any carpeting because he just left his laundry everywhere. When that started happening, the music battle began. We became less tolerant of each other’s music. But, he pushed it too far when one weekend, he just kept playing the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky album. He stayed in the room the WHOLE damn weekend, blasting that album. I slept in other rooms during that stand-off. What precipitated it, I don’t remember? And, I don’t remember the resolution, either. But, it was pretty damn important at the time. Anyway, I swore that I would NEVER listen to another Alan Parsons Project album ever again. Well, ironically enough, “ever” must have ended this weekend, because 35 years after the “Great Alan Parsons Project Stand-Off” of 1983, I finally sat down to listen to all those old albums. You know what, when you’re not walking on top of dirty laundry, Alan Parsons Project sounds really good.
Boy, and we thought we were so mature back then!
Back in 1976, I heard the Alan Parsons Project for the very first time. It was their now-classic debut album Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe. That album blew me away, not just musically, but because it was based totally on some of Poe’s greatest works. I had just been reading his work in my middle school English class (it was accelerated), so I thought this album was one of my initial intellectual statements in this world. Just the first in a lifetime of follies!
The Alan Parsons Project originally consisted of Alan Parsons, the major producer back in the mid-Seventies, and Eric Woolfson, a session keyboardists and songwriter. At the time of their teaming, Parsons was noted for being an engineer for The Beatles’ Abbey Road album and on Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon. Parsons had further his name by producing successful albums by the likes of Pilot, Al Stewart, Cockney Rebel, Ambrosia and The Hollies. But, he was dissatisfied with other musicians messing up his productions with their “stupid” requests. So, he and Woolfson hooked up to form and studio “band” to make their own music. Woolfson brought in some music he had written earlier based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Immediately, the pair worked with the best session musicians in England to produce this album. That album’s success led the pair to continue to work into the early-Nineties, when the pair had a falling out.
Many critics, as was the wont back then, panned the Alan Parsons Project’s albums. I remember reading an article in which the APP was described as being Pink Floyd-lite. Well, I think it was a dig at Parsons, since he had engineered Floyd’s arguably greatest album. But, I think those critics were unfair. There is some absolutely impeccable music on these albums, and I feel like someone needs to acknowledge this. Like most artists, Woolfson’s songwriting run out of steam as the albums piled up. Although, APP had hits in the Eighties, they were unable to tone down their prog side as the Eighties moved along, as their brethren Asia, Toto and Yes did. However, they have left behind a rich catalog of impressive albums and singles for us to enjoy.
Today, I am going to rank the albums released by the Alan Parsons Project, from worst to best. Let’s get this party started! Yes, I quoted P!nk. Whaddya gonna do about it?
12. The Sicilian Defence (2014) – Recorded in 1979, this album was never finished nor intended for release. The album’s title comes from the name of a famous chess move, which is what this album was within the context of contract renegotiation move. Every song title is a chess move.
11. Freundiana (1990) – This was the album that broke up the Parsons/Woolfson partnership. This rock opera sounds like a partnership ending. Parsons went solo after this album.
10. Gaudi (1987) – This album shows just how much trouble APP had trying to fit into the late-Eighties reliance on electronic instrumentation. I don’t care how others feel, this is one boring album.
9. Stereotomy (1985) – The band’s second album of 1985 seems rushed and like an attempt to sound of its time rather than timeless. The chinks in the armor are obvious now.
8. Vulture Culture (1985) – This is the sound of a band being spread too thin, as many of the musician were also working on a soundtrack album that no one remembers. So, everything sounds weak, tired and half-baked.
7. Ammonia Avenue (1984) – This is the album where APP sounds as if they are finally running out of steam. And even though this album contains the great “Don’t Answer Me,” the song never caught on with the public coming down from Thriller-mania and caught up in Purple Rain and Born in the USA buying sprees.
6. Pyramid (1978) – APP’s little-heard third album was the band’s first slump. That’s all I have to say about it. It still holds together but does sound a little dated.
5. Eve (1979) – APP’s Top Five albums are all classics or at least near-classics. During their peak, APP tackled some weighty topics by setting it to impeccably played rock music. This album was way ahead of its time as they were focusing on the strengths and characteristics that made women so powerful. If it were released today, the “Me Too” movement would have latched onto it as its theme music. This is one of APP’s most powerful statements, as it continues to gain significance over the years.
4. I Robot (1977) – When APP released this album, I was reading science fiction all the time. So, imagine my excitement when I heard they had Isaac Asimov’s books influencing this album! “I Wouldn’t Want to Be like You” was a theme song for me back in the day.
3. The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980) – Probably just behind REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity and Styx’ Paradise Theater in popularity with the people in my graduating class during our Senior year in high school, this album actually had two big hits: “Time” and “Games People Play.” The album’s theme of a gambling addiction could be applied to any addiction. I forgot just how much I loved this album.
2. Eye in the Sky (1982) – What is it about an artist who finally has a huge hit, then cannot ever follow it up? APP finally had their day with this album. And, it continues to hold a place in pop culture, as “Sirius” is used to this day for basketball introductions, just as the Bulls did when Michael Jordan was the best player on Earth. Oh, and the title song went all the way to number two on the Hot 100.
1. Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976) – If my roommate had played this album instead of the one at number two, I still would say this is my favorite! Poe and rock music? Are you kidding?!?! This was a match made in heaven in my teenage brain. And my adult brain agrees. Plus, my first radio show on our high school radio station used “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” as its theme song. And, the program director never knew how much I loved this album either.
Yes, I am a fan of the Alan Parsons Project. I am no longer afraid to admit it. I know it was not cool to admit it back in the days of punk and new wave. But, I’m an old geezer now, so who cares!?