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Alan Parsons

Project - Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Review by Steve Alspach

In keeping with the theme of this issue of MSJ (Halloween), I hearken back to something truly frightening: Hurricane Smith. In 1972 former Pink Floyd producer Norman "Hurricane" Smith released an abhorrent piece of MOR saccharine called "Oh Babe, What Would You Say." His this-side-of-Moms-Mabley vocals and the cloying sax solo on that song could have been enough to pass a law that anyone on the other side of the sound console of a Pink Floyd album should NEVER try recording on their own. Dark Side of the Moon engineer Alan Parsons had other ideas, though. With Eric Woolfson and Andrew Powell, Parsons set out to record an album based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Using a wide range of musicians (including members of 10CC, the Hollies, and all of Ambrosia), he crafted an album that captured the mood of Poe's writings and laid out the groundwork for some of the most popular albums of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The CD version of this album is not exactly the same as the original release. This is a remixed version of the album, and Parsons has shown enough care with the album to give it the right enhancements. For example, Orson Welles reads passages to open two of the songs, and a guitar line here or there, or a slightly different vocal, give new life to the songs. The CD booklet also contains the lyrics and the original artwork.

The musicians on this album are as follows: Alan Parsons, synthesizer, recorders, Projectron, and lead vocals; Eric Woolfson, keyboards, harpsichord, organ, keyboard loop and backing vocals; Joe Puerta, bass; David Paton, bass; Les Hurdle, bass; Stuart Tosh, Burleigh Drummond - drums; Christopher North, keyboards; Billy Lyall, keyboards, piano, Fender Rhodes, glockenspiel, and lead vocals; Eric Woolfson, Francis Monkman, harpsichord and organ Ian Bairnson, electric and acoustic guitars; David Paton, Laurence Juber, and Kevin Peek, acoustic guitars; David Snell, harp; John Leach, Cimbalom and Kantele; Hugo D'Alton, Mandolin; Leonard Whiting, lead vocals; Arthur Brown, lead vocals; John Miles, lead vocals; David Pack, John Miles, guitars; Daryl Runswick, string bass; Andrew Powell, organ and keyboard loop; Eric Woolfson, Jack Harris, Terry Sylvester, lead and backing vocals; Jane Powell, backing vocals; Bob Howes and the English Chorale, vocals; Westminster City School Boys Choir, vocals. Orchestra arranged and conducted by Andrew Powell).

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
A Dream Within A Dream
This album , like so many of Parsons' other albums, begins with an album-opening instrumental. Here Orson Welles starts the disc with a Poe passage that includes the lines "All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream." Recorders open the piece, then bass and drums lay down a simple rhythm. A triplet-laden riff follows. The song builds but then quiets down to the bass as all the instruments die out.
The Raven
A vocorder masks the first two verses. This song also includes choral work and an orchestra adds a powerful touch to the song. A new guitar solo is added to the original arrangement. The number reaches its climax on the last chorus before the chorale brings the song to a gentle ending.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Who better to convey the anguish that the song requires than that God of Hellfire himself, Arthur Brown? His vocal histrionics are re-recorded for this number, and it's amazing how little he's changed over the years. The song combines rock ensemble with orchestra, and Brown stands out over it all. An unusual twist is in the middle of the song where, during an instrumental break, the instruments fade out and a choir holds on one chord for about 20 seconds, conveying the buried heart that torments the narrator.
The Cask of Amontillado
This tale of revenge gets a good treatment. John Miles takes the lead in it, sounding very much like a man who has borne his last insult. The song goes into an "orchestra with rock rhythm" section. Miles sings the second verse accompanied with a piano, then the bridge, then back to the orchestra-rock section.
(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
Soaring up to number 39 on Billboard (well, ELP didn't do any better), "Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" is a rather funky tune. "Just what you need to make you feel better" goes the refrain in a very low voice. No orchestra is used on this track. The track fades out with melodies used from "A Dream Within a Dream" and "The Raven."
The Fall of the House of Usher
This one also begins with a passage read by Orson Welles that perfectly sets the mood for this piece. It is an enormous composition, much of it orchestral. Andrew Powell, who has worked with many other artists (and produced the first two Kate Bush albums), scored and arranged the Prelude. The Prelude has its moments of romanticism, but an underlying sense of foreboding runs throughout. Towards the end, the orchestra blasts out short, tension-filled chords. The second movement (Arrival) is when the narrator reaches the house. You hear thunder, rain, and an organ playing over a synthesizer loop. The drums represent the knock on the door, and the rest of the band comes in, welcoming the narrator to the house. Still, the sense of doom never disappears. The third movement (Intermezzo) is the string section sounding rather discordant, but then the movement settles on organ and violin playing the same note to segue into the next movement (Pavane). In the Pavane, an acoustic bass introduces a mostly-acoustic arrangement that features acoustic guitar, harpsichord, harp, and mandolin. The drums come in during the second part of this piece to push the piece to its edge. As the Pavane fades out, the orchestra captures the collapse of the House of Usher in the last movement (Fall). In this movement, all hell breaks loose. Tympani rumble, horns blare, strings screech, even flutes and piccolos join in the fray. The song builds, comes to a sudden stop, and then the strings give one last gasp of horror as the narrator, who has fled the house, turns to find that the house has completely disappeared. This sixteen-minute number is an excellent combination of symphony orchestra with rock music
To One In Paradise
The album ends on a somewhat surprising tone. After the intensity of the previous track, "To One in Paradise" is a welcome respite. This is a slow piece that does not use any orchestra. The use of a boys choir also adds to the gentleness of the arrangement. The lyrics convey a gentle, poetic mood, much unlike the tone of the rest of the album. This song, and the album, ends with Leonard Whiting reading a beautiful passage.
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