During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, The Alan Parsons Project had a very impressive run of hit singles. They were also one of my biggest guilty pleasures. In a misguided attempt to appear cool, I pretended not to like them. Actually, I loved the AAP and still do. Their debut album,Tales of Mystery and Imagination, was very good. But I believe their best was their second effort, I Robot, which has just been released in a deluxe two-CD expanded edition from Sony Legacy.
Despite the name, The Alan Parsons Project was not a solo endeavor, but something of an expanded duo along the lines of Steely Dan. Eric Woolfson was Parsons’ partner. All but one of the 10 songs on the album are credited to Parsons/Woolfsen. “Total Eclipse” was composed by Andrew Powell. Powell and a number of other top musicians worked with Parsons and Woolfson over the years, hence the Steely Dan comparison. The music and influences between the two bands are very different though.
As the I Robot title indicates, Parsons and Woolfson were inspired by the science fiction writing of Isaac Asimov. Since Asimov’s I, Robot was optioned at the time, the musicians simply removed the comma from the title in order to use it. A great deal of their music also has a science fiction feel, especially the instrumentals.
Until I read the accompanying booklet for this new edition of I Robot, I had no idea where the AAP name originated. The moniker actually came from their record label. When discussing where things were at with the recording of Tales From Mystery and Imagination, the label people would ask each other questions like, “How is that Alan Parsons project coming along?” When it came time to give the “project” a name, Parsons and Woolfson just used what it was already being called.
Besides Andrew Powell, there were a few other top-notch musicians who regularly worked with Parsons and Woolfson. There are also musicians who appeared much less frequently with the AAP. Unless you read the credits, the question of who is playing what on each song can be difficult to figure out. When it comes to the vocalists though, the situation is a bit more obvious. One of the I Robot guest singers is Allan Clarke of The Hollies. Clarke sings “Breakdown,” which was not released as a single, but received a lot of FM radio airplay anyway. Like “Breakdown,” “The Voice” was another very popular AOR radio tune from the album and was sung by Steve Harley. The hit single was “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” sung by one Lenny Zakatek, who was with a band called Gonzalez at the time.
If “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” was all you knew about I Robot, you would have a very distorted impression of the album. Atmospheric, and vaguely science fiction-themed instrumentals account for nearly half of the record. While airplay is one of the biggest factors in the success or failure of an album, hearing the I Robot songs out of context is not ideal. Once upon a time, artists took great care in creating a fully integrated set of songs for their long-players. Dark Side of the Moon is a pretty good example. I Robot is as well.
A good example of this comes with the first two songs. The title track is a marvelous opener and is followed by “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You.“ Even though I was never all that fond of “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” when you hear it after the six-minute electronic instrumental “I Robot,” it sounds pretty great. Context means a lot.
Parsons (with a little help) remastered I Robot and it sounds fantastic. That would be reason enough to get it, but the second CD is filled with some wonderful audio curiosities. These include intriguing items such as the isolated choir tracks for “Breakdown,” and “Genesis Ch. 1 V. 32,” and early rough takes of “Day After Day,” “Breakdown,” “Don’t Let it Show,” and “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You.” There are also a couple of experiments that never made it to the album, including “Boules,“ and a wild, 10-minute tour de force titled “The Naked Robot.” This “odds and sods” disc has a total of 14 tracks.
Since I doubt that I will be listening to the second disc very often, I would probably be a little upset if we were being charged extra for it. But for all intents and purposes, it is a freebie. The I Robot Legacy Edition is priced as a mid-line CD (under $10 retail), so we are essentially getting the extra material for no extra cost, which is very cool.
Truth is, the whole thing is extremely cool. I wish I could go back and knock some sense into my teenaged self. The Alan Parsons Project should never have been a guilty pleasure. I Robot is a pleasure without qualification and this expanded edition of it sounds better than ever.