Alan Parsons (b. 1948) was 19 years old when he earned his first album credit, as assistant engineer on The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and he later engineered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. His involvement with these two albums alone would have insured Parsons’ name in rock history, but these achievements were only the beginning. In one of the most successful transitions ever, Parsons stepped out of the control room to lead his own group, The Alan Parsons Project.
The APP released 10 albums between 1976 and 1987. It also recorded (but never released) The Sicilian Defence in 1981. For the first time ever, all 11 albums have been collected together in box set form as The Complete Albums Collection.
In addition to The Sicilian Defence, the albums are: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976), I Robot (1977), Pyramid (1978), Eve (1979), The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), Eye in the Sky (1982), Ammonia Avenue (1983), Vulture Culture (1984), Stereotomy (1985), and Gaudi (1987).
The APP were a virtual hit factory for a time, with such favorites as “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” “What Goes Up,” “Damned If I Do,” and “Eye in the Sky” lighting up the radio dial during the late ’70s and early ’80s. “Don’t Answer Me” from Ammonia Avenue was their final U.S. Top Five single, although there would be three more LPs before they called it quits.
“They” were Parsons, and his partner Eric Woolfson (1945-2009), plus an enormous number of guests and semi-permanent members. The original APP also included Ian Bairnson (guitar), David Paton (bass) and Stuart Tosh (drums), from the one-hit wonder band Pilot. By the way, Pilot’s hit single was “Magic,” in 1975, and it is a wonderful tune. “Magic” is not included here, but well worth hearing for fans of ’70s bubblegum pop.
One of the things that made the APP so intriguing were the various vocalists they utilized during their time together. The number is well over 20, and includes such names as Allan Clarke, Gary Brooker, Colin Blunstone, and Clare Torry. The Project was almost an entirely studio-based one, as they performed as The Alan Parsons Project only once, in 1990 at the European Night of the Proms concert series. Woolfson was present, but did not actually perform, and Parsons only stepped out from the shadows to play acoustic guitar during the final song.
Parsons has been performing on the nostalgia circuit as The Alan Parsons Live Project since 1993. And it is nostalgia that brings us full circle to The Complete Albums Collection. I find that I have developed a much stronger appreciation for the APP today than I ever did during their heyday. Maybe it was the hubris of youth that dismissed them once upon a time, but I have an enormous amount of respect for them now, especially the first three albums.
The Sicilian Defence is the ringer of this set, and it has a fascinating history. Parsons and Woolfson were in the middle of contract negotiations with Arista Records in 1981, and as a ploy they submitted the reportedly atonal and practically unlistenable Sicilian Defence to fulfill the terms of their existing contract. The ruse worked, and they presumably got the better terms they were looking for. Meanwhile, the album was shelved indefinitely, which instantly made it the most sought-after APP recording of all time.
I wish I could offer a description of The Sicilian Defence, but I have not heard it. The label provided a 15-song sampler for review purposes, and it does not contain anything from The Sicilian Defence. The sampler is a de facto “Greatest Hits,” and I appreciate the fact that it was sent, as I love all of the songs. But to hear The Sicilian Defence, it looks like I am going to have to buy the box set.
As for the sampler, it is a marvelous teaser. It opens with “The Raven” from Tales of Mystery and Imagination, then three songs from I Robot, two from Eve, two from Turn of a Friendly Card, four from Eye in the Sky, and individual tracks from Pyramid and Ammonia Avenue. All in all, it is a terrific taster, and seems specifically designed to get me to purchase the full set.
And I suppose that is major point of this review. If you are of a certain age, you probably heard most of the APP’s hits on the radio and are quite familiar with them. It is the opportunity to hear The Sicilian Defence and such later albums such as Stereotomy and Gaudi that may prove to be the tipping point in making the purchase.
Parsons and Woolfson wrote some great songs together, and all of them have finally been collected in The Complete Albums Collection. I will be buying the set based on what I already know about them, which is the same choice everyone else faces. If nothing else, we will finally get the chance to hear The Sicilian Defence, which is reason enough for me. One important note for those contemplating a purchase is that these are the original albums, with none of the bonus content that was added to some of the reissued CDs. The Complete Albums Collection is available on April 1, 2014.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00H7EV49S]