cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Album cover – [CLICK to enlarge]
 

 

This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

"A worthy blend of European rock and symphonic sounds." - (Billboard magazine 1976) . . . "Heavy on the synthesised keyboards and dramatic choral parts, it's rock soundtrack music minus the film." - (William Ruhlmann - The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995)

This is album retro-review number 154 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

The album I’ve pulled from my crate for this review features a man who “cut his teeth” musically, as an engineer in the 1960’s. However by the 1970’s he released this album to some acclaim and then followed it up with an equally popular album one year later.

The artist is Alan Parsons who formed the group The Alan Parsons Project.

The 1976 release Tales of Mystery and Imagination Edgar Alan Poe was released on a variety of labels around the world, and my copy was released on the 20th Century records label [The US release]. It was also released in the UK on the Charisma label.

The album has the ID code L35981.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Although technically the album only has seven tracks, five on side one and two on side two, the first track on side two is broken into five parts.

The packaging is amongst the best that came out in the 1970’s!

It is a gatefold cover with a great gloss finish front and back. The inside covers are really well designed and on the left hand side is a chronological table on the life and times of Edgar Allan Poe.

The right hand side has the track listing, a very detailed “credits” and some well written text on the three key persons associated with this production – Alan Parsons [composer, artist, producer & engineer]; Eric Woolfson [concept creator, co-writer and executive producer]; Andrew Powell [arranger and orchestra conductor].

But, there’s more! One of my constant gripes is the poor booklets that accompany CD’s, and during the reign of vinyl, associated booklets or leaflets were generally non-existent or poorly designed.

This album is an exception. It comes with a 4 double page booklet consisting of a series of photographs that are representative of tracks or elements of the stories within the overall tale.

The full lyrics are printed along with quotes from Poe’s original works and these are all supplemented with line drawings.

To protect the booklet, fine “drafting paper” (we used to call it “tracing paper”) has been attached to the front and back.

I have had this album in my collection since it was released and this paper covering has done its job splendidly.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Inside Left Hand cover – [CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Inside Right hand cover – [CLICK to enlarge]


Overall the quality of the whole physical album construction is of a high quality. The only thing that could have improved the whole thing would have been to have pressed the album onto a higher density blank. This is 120gms and the fidelity would have been better on a 200gm blank.

Alan Parsons music pedigree is hard to top!

Parsons was born into a family with an impressive history in entertainment. His great grandfather was the celebrated actor/manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. His mother was an actress, professional folk singer and harpist and his father, Denys Parsons, an accomplished pianist and flautist as well as the author of many books.

The late Oliver Reed, film actor was a cousin. His uncle, David Tree was also a film and stage actor.

Alan had dabbled with live performance in his late teens as a folk/blues acoustic player and as a lead guitarist with a blues band in the late sixties in his hometown of London.

His big break came when he scored a job as an assistant engineer at the Abbey Road Studio and in fact the very first album he worked on was with the Beatles on “Get Back” and “Abbey Road”.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Allan working the board at Abbey Road Studios – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Not a bad way to start a career.

From that moment on he was in demand and the list of people he worked with is breathtaking.

They include but are not limited to: Pink Floyd [Dark Side of the Moon as the Engineer],  Paul McCartney and Wings [Wildlife & Red Rose Speedway], as well as the Hollies and Al Stewart.

Pink Floyd actually wanted Parsons to engineer their follow up album to Dark Side of the Moon – that being Wish You Were Here.

However Parsons decided he had a better project when in 1975 he met Eric Woolfson who not only became his manager, but joined forces with Alan as a songwriting and performing partner for a “project” that became known as The Alan Parsons Project.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Alan Parsons – circa 1976 – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The APP’s debut album, which we are looking at, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, paved the way for a signing to Clive Davis’ newly launched Arista label and a string of hit albums.

These include I Robot (1977), Pyramid (1978), The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), Eye in the Sky (1982), Ammonia Avenue (1984), Vulture Culture (1985), Stereotomy (1986) and Gaudi (1987).

There is more to the story of Alan Parsons but let’s focus on this album.

Eric Woolfson had a lifetime appreciation for the work of Poe and he was convinced that his work could be reinterpreted through the medium of “rock music” and in the form of a “concept’ album.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Eric Woolfson – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Now concept albums were not new by any means.

In fact S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things, released in 1968, is possibly the first such rock concept album. Other notable albums are Sgt Peppers (of course), the Who with Tommy, King Crimson with the Court of the Crimson King, Pink Floyd with Dark Side of the Moon, and, there were others.

But what Parsons did and did so well, was to use a fantastic array of two hundred musicians, some incredibly noteworthy.

He also made use of what was then, “cutting-edge’ technology in terms of keyboards and effects.

Now certainly Emerson, Lake and Palmer, were doing similar things, but for my part what Parsons and his cohorts did on this album, and I Robot, was to take the endless meandering lengthy keyboard and guitar solo’s that had begun to dominate “progressive” rock bands, and refocus into beautifully sculptured pieces of music.

Even moving past the fact that including orchestras and choirs which made up the 200 persons musically involved, the list of people playing individual instruments is far too long to list – but notable muso’s included:

Many of the names will be familiar to readers. For example Orson Welles is known throughout the world, Arthur Brown, even without his “Crazy World” was a fine addition, Francis Monkman was the creative genius behind Curved Air, Kevin Peek is amongst Australia’s finest guitarists and was a member of the amazing group Sky.

Then we have Terry Sylvester, who had cut his teeth in both the Swinging Blue Jeans and later the Hollies, where he took over the “high” vocal parts when Graham Nash left the group. 

Andrew Powell brought a wealth of talent when it came to orchestration, having performed as a soloist at the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

He later worked with several orchestras, including at Covent Garden and with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Welsh Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Andrew Powell

 

And on it goes – the list is really quite breathtaking but it took Parsons and Powell in particular, to provide the glue and the structure to bring it all together.

In my opinion there are weak tracks on this album but there are many more strong one’s!

I would like nothing more than to provide a detailed review of the album in it’s entirety as really, altogether it tells the story, particularly side 1.

But I hope what I can do is whet your appetite to investigate further yourself if you are unfamiliar with this work.

Track List:
Side 1
1. A Dream Within a Dream
2. The Raven
3. The Tell-Tale Heart
4. The Cask of Amontillado
5. (The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Side 2
1. The Fall of the House of Usher
i. Prelude (Instrumental)
ii. Arrival (Instrumental)
iii Intermezzo (Instrumental)
iv. Pavane (Instrumental)
v. Fall (Instrumental)
2. To One in Paradise


cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Rear cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Track one on side 1 is – A Dream Within A Dream and it sets the scene for what we are going to experience. I have provided this track in the videos below – “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” [Poe]

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
A Dream Within a Dream: Booklet plate – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Track 2 is The Raven.

Where as track 1 is mostly a spoken word over music wash introduction, The Raven is a powerful musical statement that reminds us that this is a progressive rock track.

Starting out with a simple repetitive bass note, the vocals come straight in. However they are processed through a vocoder, which at the time was new device for altering the sound of the voice.

With the use of a keyboard to manipulate the frequency of the the vocals they would track the music changes as required.

It is generally conceded that The Raven was the first “rock” track to make use of a vocoder.

This is one of the few times that Alan Parsons‘ voice is heard, albeit through the vocoder. Then the vocoder fades and the track breaks into a more conventional vocal delivery courtesy of Leonard Whiting.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Booklet plate – The Raven – [CLICK to enlarge]

The composition is quite uptempo and powerful and the emotion of the track is supplemented with a choral backing. Two thirds through the track we are exposed to a great piece of guitar work from David Pack.


THE clock struck midnight
And through my sleeping
I heard a tapping at my door
I looked but nothing lay in the darkness
And so I turned inside once more

To my amazement
There stood a raven
Whose shadow hung above my door
Then through the silence
It spoke the one word
That I shall hear for evermore

Nevermore
Thus quoth the raven, nevermore

And still the raven remains in my room
No matter how much I implore
No words can soothe him
No prayer remove him
And I must hear for evermore

Quoth the raven, nevermore
Nevermore
Thus quoth the raven, nevermore

The Raven

Following The Raven is The Tell-Tale HeartTrack 3.

Villains”, I shrieked!’ dissemble no more!
I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! here,
here! – it is the beating of the hideous heart!
” [Poe]

The Tell Tale Hearts‘ features lyrics sung by the legendary Arthur Brown (of “Fire” fame).

I guess it is accurate to declare that this is a belligerent, almost bellicose track both instrumentally and certainly vocally. It kicks off with a strong drum intro and just as powerful guitar and base with Brown really “selling” the message and making use of that ‘scream” he so successfully employed in Fire.

I have to say it is most appropriate for this track and is used in a most effective manner.

There is a clever use of a quieter, almost reflective part toward the middle of the track, which actually emphasises that more dominant section prior and after this section.

A most powerful track indeed and well played and produced brilliantly.

You should have seen him
Lying alone in helpless silence in the night
You should have seen him
You would have seen his eye reflecting in the light

So for the old man
Ashes to ashes, earth to earth and dust to dust
No one will see me
No one with guilt to share, no secret soul to trust

And he won’t be found at all
Not a trace to mark his fall
Nor a stain upon the wall

Louder and louder
Till I could tell the sound was not within my ears
You should have seen me
You would have seen my eyes grow white and cold with fear

Heard all the things in heaven and earth
I’ve seen many things in hell
But his vulture’s eye of a cold pale blue
Is the eye if the devil himself

Take me away now
But let the silence drown the
beating of his heart
I can’t go on
Let me be free from wretched sea that I can not see
Please let me be free

Tell-Tale Heart

The next track is the Cask of Amontillado. 

This is a short story written by Poe in 1846. Given the fact that the story is one of horror, I found the choice of the opening stylistically to be at odds with what I was expecting.

However, through the use of a wide range of instrumentation Parson’s brings about a more powerful feel at around the 1 minute 50 period. Yet it is the track that least appeals to me on side 1, it’s just a bit too “nice”, despite the powerful repeating bridge.

The final track, track 5, is (The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.

In this story Poe tells a story about a young man who is traveling through France with a companion. They pass near a well-known “Mad House” and decide to visit.

Poe explores the thin line between sanity and madness. The visitor cannot tell whether his dinner companions are mad or not. It is ironic as well that the director of the institution turns out to be the head “madman.”

The story also demonstrates the nineteenth-century fascination with mental illness and its treatment.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Booklet plate – Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Parsons released this track as a single and had moderate success as the single reached number 37 on the Billboard top 100 in 1976.

In terms of telling the story as Poe wrote it, well not unexpectedly, Parsons et al take quite a few liberties, But that’s fine as we don’t buy an album like this expecting to be regaled by the tales of Poe, as written by him.

Alan Parsons has used elements of Poe’s story and woven them into a musical tale.

JUST what you need to make you feel better
Just what you need to make you feel
Just what you need to make you feel better
Just what you need to make you feel

At the far end of your tether
And your thoughts won’t fit together
So you sleep light or whatever
And the night goes on forever
Then your mind change like the weather
You’re in need of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Even clouds seem bright and breezy
‘Cause the livin’ is free and easy
See the rat race in a new way
Like you’re wakin’ up to a new day
It’s a wise thing if you’re clever
Take a lead from Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Find the end of a rainbow
Fly wherever the winds blow
Laugh at life like a sideshow
Just what you need to make you feel better

Satisfaction altogether
Guaranteed by Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Find the end of a rainbow
Fly wherever the winds blow
Laugh at life like a sideshow
Just what you need to make you feel better

Don’t stop bringin’ the girls round
Don’t start havin’ a showdown
Keep on handin’ the jug round

All that you need is wine and good company

As you will hear, it’s a bouncy very well put together track and really makes for a great climax to side 1. T

here is no doubt about Parson’s engineering and production abilities which together with the great arrangement and wonderful playing, provides a track which has enough “hook” in the lyrics to stick with you long after it’s been played.

Incidentally the reintroduction of the “theme” from The Raven track, just toward the end, is a nice touch and helps bring the whole side back to the beginning of the story.

(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether)

Then we turn the album over and come to The Fall Of Usher.

What we discover is that while track 1 takes up most of the side it is completely without vocals, which is a major disappointment to me.

Is it because Parsons wanted to demonstrate that his music is as strong without lyrics?

I have a friend, a musician – well he was a professional before moving into the medical world, and he believed with a passion that words always got in the way of a well constructed piece of music.

Personally, I’m unsure.

cream of the crate: album review # 154- the alan parsons project: tales of mystery and imagination edgar allan poe
Booklet plate – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Look don’t get me wrong, the start of side 2 Prelude; is a very pretty piece of music.

It demonstrates the strong compositional skills of Alan Parsons and certainly the arrangement of this track and those that follow, are all strong.

They more than adequately demonstrate the blending of the technology of the day with the classical play style of the musicians involved and, it has a very symphonic feel about it – hell at times I hear Stravinski!

As we listen trough all five parts of the track, we are reminded of what was happening stylistically during this period with this form of Progressive Rock.

There are indeed elements of ELP, smidgens of Floyd and at times, some quite sublime and clever sections.

There is a part that sounds like it is generated by an analog sequencer – and if so that’s an amazing feat – ask Pete Townshend who was playing around with sequencers at the time. They were damn near impossible to keep in tune or to track constantly.

Parsons did it.

One track on side 2 that does capture the “imagination”.

Part IV – Pavane, which in turn mutates into the final part – part V, Fall. This is a wonderful sound collage that would have done the Musique Concrete movement proud.

Pavane/Fall

The final track, track 2To One In Paradise is a pretty song. and it has lyrics, but again for me, while it is an accomplished track, that’s code for nice but really not outstanding, it just seemed out of place.

So what do we make of this album?

Side 1 must rate at about 9.0 to 9.5/10. It really is an exceptionally good concept that has many accomplished artists who are welded together by Alan Parsons with some great and catchy music that can also be quite powerful at times.

It represents the best of this style of music during this period and don’t overlook the fact that the album reached a credible number 38 on the Billboard album chart.

However, side 2 is a disappointment.

Certainly there are some good – no! very good moments and one piece that stands up well.

But why?

Poe wrote so many stories and Alan Parsons demonstrated a great ability to translate the stories or the images of the stories into music on side one – I think it was a mistake not to continue on in the same way for side 2.

In fact side to can only be rated at about 4/10, maybe if I have another glass of wine 5/10. But that’s enough to turn what could have been a pivotal album into a good album.

What a shame!

Now the album was actually re-released in 1987 on CD, and featured additional guitar, heavy on the reverb (a seriously bad side effect of the 1980’s), but did include some additional narration by Orson Wells, which did in fact add to the album.

Then in 1994 there was a CD release of the original 1976 version and this was followed by a 2007 Deluxe version which included both the original version of the music and in an overkill, the re-released 1987 version plus, eight “bonus” tracks.

The original vinyl LP can be purchased through Discogs as can all the other versions.

Personally I’d pump for the CD release of the original version if the music is your main focus, but for collectors, the original vinyl version has that great booklet which is worthwhile.

Personally I wouldn’t bother with the Deluxe issue, I think your money would be better spent on buy this album and the very good follow up album, I Robot, which I will discuss in a future Cream of The Crate.



VIDEOS:

Wonderfully, there are actually few live performances on Youtube that are relevant to this revue.

 

A Dream Within A Dream

 

The Cask of Amontillado


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.

#151.  The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World

#152.  The Animals – The Animals

# 153. Omah Khorshid & His Group  – Live In Australia 1981