THE ALAN PARSON’S PROJECT-THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD 35TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.
THE ALAN PARSON’S PROJECT-THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD 35TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.
Alan Parsons was just eighteen when he started work at Abbey Road Studios, in October 1967. Less that two years later, Alan Parsons received his first credit when he engineered The Beatles’ Abbey Road. It was released in September 1969, and was the first of many albums Alan Parsons worked on.
This included five albums by The Hollies, and Wings first two albums, 1971s Wildlife and 1973s Red Rose Speedway. However, it was another album released in 1973 that transformed Alan Parsons’ career, Dark Side Of The Moon.
Between June 1972 and January 1973, Alan Parsons worked alongside Pink Floyd as they recorded Dark Side Of The Moon. While Pink Floyd produced Dark Side Of The Moon, Alan Parsons ostensibly took charge of the engineering. However, by then, Alan Parsons had already gained a reputation as more than an engineer. He was a producer-in-waiting.
By the time, Alan Parsons was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1974, his work on Dark Side Of The Moon, his career as a producer had began. Alan Parsons had seamlessly made the switch from engineer to producers. Others had tried to make the switch, but failed. However, for Alan Parsons it had been seamless, and he had produced a string of hits.
Alan Parsons had started producing groups like Pilot and Cockney Rebel. Both were enjoying a degree of success. It seemed like Alan Parsons had the Midas touch. It was no wonder other artists wanted Alan Parsons to produce them. This presented Alan Parsons with a dilemma.
In 1975, Pink Floyd were about to begin work on Wish You Were Here. Pink Floyd wanted Alan Parsons to work on Wish You Were Here. Incredibly, he turned down this opportunity. It was a big risk, but ultimately, paid off.
After turning down the opportunity to work with Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons went back to producing Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, Pilot and Dean Ford. Other artists were knocking on his door.
Now, singer-songwriter John Miles wanted Alan Parsons to produce him. So were progressive rock band Ambrosia.
Los Angeles based Ambrosia were about to record their eponymous debut album. Producing Ambrosia, was Freddie Piro. However, Ambrosia wanted Alan Parsons to engineer their eponymous debut album.
So during 1974, Alan Parsons flew to Los Angeles, where Ambrosia were recording their eponymous debut album at Mama Jo’s Recording Studio, North Hollywood. With Freddie Piro producing, Alan Parson took charge of the engineering side of things. Many felt he played a bigger part in Ambrosia’s success than the producer.
When Ambrosia was released in February 1975, the album reached number twenty-two in the US Billboard 200. The lead single “Holdin’ On to Yesterday, reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100. Then the followup, Nice Nice Very Nice reached number sixty-three in the US Billboard 100. For a new group this was a good start to their career.
Critics had lauded the album before its release. Now record buyers had embraced Ambrosia, who were a stalwart of AM and FM radio. Could things get any better? It did.
Alan Parsons was nominated for a Grammy Award for the Best Engineered Recording (other than Classical). This resulted in Alan Parsons being asked to produce Ambrosia’s sophomore album Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled.
Ambrosia-Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled.
Recording of Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled took place at at Mama Jo’s Recording Studio, North Hollywood, during 1975. This time, Alan Parsons was in charge of production. He worked his magic, as Ambrosia tried to repeat the success of their eponymous debut album.
When Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled was released in 1976, it was to critical acclaim and commercial success. The album reached number seventy-eight in the US Billboard 200. Then history repeated itself.
Producer Alan Parsons was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work on Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled. This was his third Grammy Award nomination. He had come a long way in nine years. Alan Parsons was a Grammy Award nominated producer, whose albums were enjoying commercial successful in America.
Al Stewart-Modern Times.
The highest profile artist that wanted Alan Parsons to produce them in 1975, was Al Stewart. His career began in 1967, with Bedsitter Images. Commercial success seemed to elude Al Stewart. Only his 1970 album Zero She Flies had charted in Britain. Even then, it only reached number forty. Across the Atlantic, the only Al Stewart album to chart, was his fifth album Past, Present and Future. Released in 1973, it stalled at 133 in the US Billboard 200. Al Stewart’s career was at a crossroads. Who better to revive Al Stewart’s flagging fortunes than Alan Parsons. He was the man with the Midas touch.
So in 1975, Alan Parsons produced the first of a trio of Al Stewart albums. Modern Times, which was released in 1975, was Al Stewart’s sixth album, and proved to be the album thattransformed his career. It reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200. However, the followup to Modern Times would be a game-changer for Al Stewart.
Year Of The Cat
Year Of The Cat was released in July 1976, and reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-eight in Britain. This resulted in Year Of The Cat being certified platinum in America, and gold in Britain. When the title-track was released as a single, it reached number eight in the US Billboard 100. On The Border the sophomore single reached just forty-two in the US Billboard 100. However, Year Of The Cat has transformed Al Stewart’s career. He had gone from one of music’s best kept secrets, to a million-selling artist. Partly, this was down to Alan Parsons’ production skills. However, by then, Alan Parsons had made the jump from producer to artist.
The Alan Parsons Project.
To make this jump, the vehicle that Alan Parsons used was The Alan Parsons Project. The only two permanent members were Alan Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson, who was the brainchild of the project. Although The Alan Parsons Project was Eric Woolson’s Idea, it was Alan Parsons who lent his name to the project. Alan and Eric became the project’s driving force. Other members played an important role.
Other core members included the rhythm section of drummer Stuart Elliott; bassist and vocalist David Paton; and guitarist Ian Bairnson. They were joined by vocalist Lenny Zakatek. However, the rest of The Alan Parsons Project’s lineup is best described as fluid. Session musicians were brought in on an ad-hoc basis. This was a new concept for a group, and one that proved successful.
Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
For their debut album, The Alan Parson Project decided to put Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems to music. This was an ambitious project. Especially for a debut album. However, by then, Alan Parsons had been working as an engineer and producer for nine years. He was confident he could make this happen on Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
For Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson wrote six of the seven songs. The exception was To One in Paradise, which Terry Sylvester penned. He would play his part in the recording of Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
Alan Parsons put together a cast of musicians talented musicians. This included Curved Air’s Francis Monkman, Arthur Brown and Terry Sylvester of The Hollies. They joined John Miles, Pilot’s David Paton and David Pack of Ambrosia, who Alan Parsons had worked with previously. Orson Welles narrated Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which was recorded between July 1975 and January 1976. It was a case of recording when it was possible, as Alan Parsons had a busy schedule. Once Tales of Mystery and Imagination was complete, the album was released in May 1976.
Before the release of Tales of Mystery and Imagination critics had their say. Reviews were mixed. Some critics felt the album didn’t bring the spine-tingling tension to the master storyteller’s work. Other critics were impressed by this marriage of music, poetry and short stories. Gothic drama and tension came to life in what was essentially a progressive rock concept album.
When Tales of Mystery and Imagination was released in America in May 1976, it reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Tales of Mystery and Imagination being certified gold. Then when Tales of Mystery and Imagination was released in Britain in June 1976, the album reached just fifty-six. However, in Germany Tales of Mystery and Imagination was certified gold. This looked like the start of something for The Alan Parsons Project? Were they about to become the latest British band to make in big in America and Europe?
After Tales of Mystery and Imagination was certified gold in Germany, The Alan Parsons Project didn’t return to the studio to December 1976. Just like their debut album, their sophomore album I Robot was going to be a concept album.
This time, The Alan Parsons Project were about to record an album inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Robot Trilogy. The I Robot album explored the subject of artificial intelligence. With Isaac Asimov onboard, and showing interest in the project, The Alan Parsons Project spent four months in Abbey Road Studios, London.
The recording sessions began in December 1976, and finished in March 1977. Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had written nine of the ten songs; while Andrew Powell contributed Total Eclipse. Some of the same musicians featured on I Robot, including David Paton, Stuart Tosh and Ian Bairnson. New names included pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole, Steve Harley and Allan Clarke of The Hollies. Meanwhile, Alan Parsons produced I Robot. Once it was completed, the release date was June 1977.
In between finishing I Robot, and the release of the album, Alan Parsons could get back to his “other job” as a producer. He was still regarded as one of the top producers, and wasn’t willing to turn his back on production. That’s despite the success I Robot would enjoy.
Reviews of I Robot were much more positive than Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Featuring a modernist album cover, the album combined art rock and progressive rock. This captured many critic’s imagination. They saw I Robot as a cerebral album, that posed a series of questions on the subject of artificial intelligence. This was something there had been much speculation on. Critics had their say, when they wrote rapturous reviews of I Robot. It was released in June 1977.
When I Robot was released, the album made its way to number nine in the US Billboard 200, and number thirty in Britain. This resulted in I Robot being certified platinum in America, and gold in Germany. However, in Britain, success eluded The Alan Parsons Project.
Al Stewart-Time Passages.
That was ironic. However, many artists had enjoyed success stateside, but weren’t well known in Britain. That had been the case with Al Stewart…until Alan Parson began producing his albums.
Al Stewart’s career had been transformed, following the success of Modern Times and Year Of The Cat. Belatedly, Al Stewart was enjoying commercial success in Britain, and Year Of The Cat had been certified gold. Now it was a case of building on this.
So in June 1978, Al Stewart and Alan Parsons began work on Time Passages in Davlen Studios, Los Angeles. They recorded nine songs penned by Al Stewart. Meanwhile, Alan Parsons crafted the folk rock sound that changed Al Stewart’s fortunes. It reappeared on Time Passages, which was completed before June was out.
Modern Times saw Al Stewart seek inspiration from history. He references the Marie Celeste on Life in Dark Water. Then on A Man For All Seasons, Al Stewart sings of Sir Thomas More, King Henry VIII of England and Catholic martyrs. It’s another poignant, cinematic song. So is The Palace of Versailles Al Stewart sings of the French Revolution. Critics were won over by Al Stewart’s ability to seamlessly mix history and hooks, on this critically acclaimed album of folk rock. Many regarded the title-track and Song On The Radio as two of the album’s highlights. That proved perceptive.
September 1978, saw the the release of Time Passages in America, and reached number ten on the US Billboard 200. Then in November 1978, Time Passages reached just thirty-nine in Britain. It seemed Al Stewart was much more appreciated in America and Germany. Time Passages was certified platinum in America, and gold in Germany. That wasn’t the end of the commercial success.
Time Passages, which was nearly seven minutes long, was edited and released as a single in 1978. Not only did it reach number seven on the US Billboard 100, but number one in the Adult Contemporary charts. Then in 1979, the second single from Time Passages, Song on the Radio reached twenty-nine on the US Billboard 100. The Al Stewart and Alan Parsons partnership had proved a successful one. However, Time Passages was their swan-song. Sadly, Al Stewart would never reach the same heights. Alan Parson would.
Just like The Alan Parsons Project’s two previous albums, Pyramid was another concept album. The focus of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson’s attention was pyramid power and Tutankhamun. This was particularly relevant, given The Treasures of Tutankhamun was on in London between 1972 and 1980. The exhibition lead to much speculation on how the pyramids were built. Alan Parsons would refer to it as one of the great “unsolved mysteries of the present.”
Having penned nine tracks, Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson began work on Pyramids in September 1977. They drafted in various guest musicians, including vocalists Dean Ford, John Miles, Jack Harris and Lenny Zakatek. They were joined by Colin Blunstone. The usual rhythm section of bassist David Paton, drummer Stuart Elliott and guitarist Ian Bairnson featured on Pyramid. It was complete in February 1978.
When critics heard Pyramids, they realised that mostly, the album featured The Alan Parsons Project’s usual progressive rock sound. However, The Alan Parsons Project were toying with the new wave sound on Can’t Take it with You and especially on Pyramania. They welcomed this stylistic change in critically acclaimed reviews. There was a reason for this.
Ever since punk arrived kicking, spitting and screaming in 1976, progressive rock groups were seen as musical dinosaurs, and a remnant of music’s past. The new breed of gunslinger critics, who championed punk, then post punk and new wave, were progressive rock’s accusers. Groups like The Alan Parsons Project realised they had to evolve musically. This didn’t please everyone.
For many fans of rock music, they like progressive rock. They didn’t want groups like Yes, Jethro Tull and The Alan Parsons Project to change. They preferred the classic progressive rock sound. However, The Alan Parsons Project’s music had been changing since I Robot. Pyramids was just another stylistic change, as The Alan Parsons Project’s music evolved.
Not all the fans of The Alan Parsons Project were won over by Pyramids. When it was released in June 1978, it reached just twenty-six in the US Billboard 200, and number forty-eight in Britain. However, The Alan Parsons Project had sold enough copies of Pyramids for the album to be certified gold in America and Germany. The reality of the situation was, that The Alan Parsons Project had sold over one million copies of I Robot, whereas Pyramids sold in excess of 500,000 copies. For The Alan Parsons Project it was a pyrrhic victory. Maybe their fortunes would improve with their fourth album, Eve.
Having released a trio of concept albums, The Alan Parsons Project made it a quartet in 1979. Originally, Eve was meant to be a historical overview of some of the greatest women in history. However, instead, Eve looked at the strengths and characteristics of women. The album also looked at the problems they encountered in a world which was still mostly dominated by men. To do that, Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson wrote nine new songs.
The Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson partnership was proving a potent, and successful one. Their previous albums had been ambitious projects. They tackled subjects that many groups would’ve shied away from. Some of these subjects, many musicians would shied away from, believing they were too abstract. Not The Alan Parsons Project.
I Robot had dealt with artificial intelligence; while The Alan Parsons looked at what is still one of the great mysteries of the world on Pyramids. Eve was an album many groups would’ve shied away from. Not The Alan Parsons Project.
They wanted to celebrate womanhood, and highlight some of the problems they faced daily. To help do this, they brought onboard two famous female singers.
Singer-songwriter Lesley Duncan was brought onboard to deliver the lead vocal on If I Could Change Your Mind. Clare Torry, who will forever be synonymous with her stunning vocal on The Great Gig In The Sky, from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon album. She added the vocal on Don’t Hold Back. These two talented singers joined by familiar faces from previous albums, plus some new names.
Vocalists Lenny Zakatek and David Paton were veterans of The Alan Parsons Project. Dave Townsend and Chris Rainbow were newcomers. They were joined by the usual rhythm section of bassist David Paton, drummer Stuart Elliott and guitarist Ian Bairnson. The Alan Parsons Project began work on Eve, at Super Bear Studios in December 1978, and by June 1979, their fourth album was complete. Two months later, it was ready for release.
Before that, Eve was reviewed by critics. Their reviews were mixed. Eve seemed to divide opinion. Rolling Stone magazine, who previously, had been supportive of The Alan Parsons Project, hated the album. Other critics disagreed. They were impressed by Eve, The Alan Parsons Project’s fourth consecutive concept album. There was also a slight change in sound on Eve, which was a journey through progressive rock towards a much more mainstream, populist sound. This was welcomed, and some critics felt it would result in The Alan Parsons Project’s music finding a wider audience.
When Eve was released on 27th August 1979, it reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 200, and was certified gold. In Britain, Eve reached a lowly seventy-four. Meanwhile, Eve reached number one in Germany, where the album was certified platinum. Just like Pyramids, Eve was most popular in America and Germany, where they were one of the most popular progressive rock bands. Would this continue into a new decade?
The Turn of a Friendly Card.
By late 1979, The Alan Parsons Project found themselves where they were at the start of the year, in the recording studio. This time, they decamped to Acousti Studio, Paris, where they began work on The Turn of a Friendly Card. which was recently released by Sony Music.
The Turn of a Friendly Card was another concept album. That meant that The Alan Parsons Project’s first five albums had been concept albums. On The Turn of a Friendly Card, The Alan Parsons Project dealt with the subject of gambling, and the hold it has on some people. While this was relevant when The Turn of a Friendly Card was released in 1980, it’s even more relevant in 2015, now that gambling seems to have got its claws into more people than ever.
Back in 1979, Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson set about dealing with the subject of gambling, and how and why it affects certain people. They penned six tracks, including The Turn of a Friendly Card, which was a suite of five songs lasting just over sixteen minutes. These songs, plus the rest of The Turn of a Friendly Card would be recorded by The Alan Parsons Project in Paris.
It was a similar lineup to the one that featured on Eve that made its way to Paris, for the recording of The Turn of a Friendly Card. Vocalists Lenny Zakatek and Dave Townsend were joined by Dave Terry. He took charge of the lead vocal on May Be a Price to Pay. Eric Woolfson added the lead vocal on Time and Nothing Left to Lose. Meanwhile, the usual rhythm section of bassist David Paton, drummer Stuart Elliott and guitarist Ian Bairnson were joined by saxophonist Dennis Clarke. Eric Woolfson played piano and harpsichord; while Alan Parson played harpsichord, clavinet and added backing vocals on Time. Alan Parsons also whistles and snapped his fingers on The Gold Bug. Adding the final touch, were The Philharmonic Orchestra, who were conducted by Andrew Powell. After the best part of seven months, The Turn of a Friendly Card was completed. It had been one of The Alan Parsons Project’s most ambitious projects.
A lot was riding on The Turn of a Friendly Card. Ironically, it had been a gamble. Music was changing as the eighties began. Progressive rock’s popularity seemed to be waning, just as Alan Parsons had spent the best part of seven months recording in Paris. He had even hired a full orchestra. The Turn of a Friendly Card had to be a success.
Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson must have held their breath as they read the reviews to The Turn of a Friendly Card. Mostly, the reviews were positive. That’s apart from Rolling Stone magazine’s review. Rolling Stone weren’t impressed by The Turn of a Friendly Card. That had been the case with Eve. However, since its inception, Rolling Stone had been a contrarian publication. They turned their nose up at some of the best music of the twentieth century, only to later, do the equivalent of a handbrake turn when proved wrong. That proved to be the case with The Turn of a Friendly Card.
The Alan Parsons Project’s fifth album, The Turn of a Friendly Card, was regarded by many critics as one of their finest albums. Especially the slow songs, where the handpicked vocalists brought to life the lyrics.
Each of the vocalists play their part in the success of The Turn Of a Friendly Card. That’s the case from Dave Terry’s rueful realisation on There May Be A Price To Pay. From there, the other vocalists don’t so much deliver vocals, but sound as if they’ve lived and experienced them.
Especially Lenny Zakatek on Games People Play and I Don’t Wanna Go Home. His vocal is almost ironic, as if he’s an onlooker, not a participant in his own life on Games People Play. Then on I Don’t Wanna Go Home, there’s despair and even shame in his vocal. Eric Woolfson then is responsible for one of The Turn of a Friendly Card finest moments, Time. It’s a beautiful ballad, one where he’s suddenly aware that Time is passing him by, and feels helpless. It’s a wakeup call for him.
After that, there’s a change in direction. The Gold Bug is an captivating, thoughtful instrumental, lasting just under five minutes. This allows the listener to reflect on The Turn Of a Friendly Card’s themes, centrepiece.
It’s the five part, sixteen minute suite, The Turn Of a Friendly Card. It features Chris Rainbow’s vocal, which like the other vocals, plays its part in making the album one of The Alan Parsons Project’s. This proves to be the case on The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part One) and Snake Eyes. Then Ace Of Swords is an instrumental. This is something The Alan Parsons Project excel at. They’ve been here many times before, and enjoy the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. They play carefully, ensuring the track flows, and that they stay “on message.” Similarly, there’s no huge variations in tempo. Instead, The Alan Parsons Project stay true to the temp of the album, before Chris Rainbow returns on Nothing Left to Lose. Despair fills his voice, as if he’s gambled everything away, even his very self-respect. The Turn Of A Friendly Card’s swan-song is After that, The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two), which brought what critics regarded as one of The Alan Parsons Project’s finest albums to a close? Record buyers agreed.
The Turn Of A Friendly Card reached number thirteen on the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum. In Britain, things improved for The Alan Parsons Project when The Turn Of A Friendly Card reached thirty-eight. Meanwhile, in Germany, The Turn Of A Friendly Card was certified gold. For The Alan Parsons Project, The Turn Of A Friendly Card had been their most successful album since I Robot in 1977.
Even when other progressive rock groups were no longer as popular as they had once been, The Alan Parsons Project were still one of the biggest selling bands in the world. They were most popular in America and Germany. However, at home, in Britain, only discerning musical connoisseurs had discovered The Alan Parsons Project, and knew what they were capable of.
This was making music that was innovative, cerebral, melodic and complex. It was also music that didn’t shy away from broaching abstract and controversial subjects. Gambling, and the hold it can have over some people was the subject The Alan Parsons Project tackled on The Turn Of A Friendly Card. Ironically, the problem is much worse in 2015, when The Turn Of A Friendly Card was reissued by Sony Music, to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of the album’s release .This double album features two discs, including an album of unreleased material. It’s the perfect reminder of one of The Alan Parsons Project’s classic albums, which tackles head-on, the subject of gambling.
Nowadays, gambling is insidious. It’s everywhere. From the moment one turns on the radio, gambling firms peddle their wears. Billboards advertise special offers as people go ab out their business. When they sit on the train, they’re assailed by gambling companies trying to snare the unwary. Then once they have their claws into the unwary, they may as well hand the keys to their house. Sadly, nobody seems willing to try and stop the onslaught of gambling. Especially, governments. They run lotteries and profit from the taxation gambling companies are supposed to pay. Maybe, Alan Parsons should revisit the subject of gambling?
Alan Parson is only sixty-six, and recently, has been running a series of production masterclasses. Maybe, his next project should be putting together a new lineup of The Alan Parsons Project, and readdressing the issue of gambling? Sadly that would be without his old musical partner Eric Woolson, who died in 2009. However, given how high regard Alan Parsons is held, there would be no shortage of potential collaborators for a new lineup of The Alan Parsons Project. The Turn Of A Friendly Card II could prove a fascinating insight to where things went so badly wrong, and would proved the perfect followup to what was one of The Alan Parsons Project’s greatest and most successful albums, The Turn Of A Friendly Card.
While The Alan Parsons Project released another six studio albums, only the followup to The Turn Of A Friendly Card, Eye In The Sky enjoyed the same success. When Eye In The Sky was released in 1982, it was certified platinum in America, and gold in Germany. Then when Ammonia Avenue was released in 1983, it was certified gold in America and Germany. The last glittering prize The Alan Parsons Project received came in 1984, when Vulture Culture was released.
1985s Stereotomy never enjoyed a degree of commercial success and critical acclaim. However, neither album sold in the same quantities as The Alan Parsons Project’s first eight albums. Gaudi proved to be the last album that The Alan Parsons Project released for thirty-nine years.
It wasn’t until 2014, that The Alan Parsons Project made a welcome return with The Sicilian Defence. It wasn’t a new album. Instead, it had been recorded in 1981.The Sicilian Defence became the first The Alan Parsons Project that failed to chart in America. For The Alan Parsons Project, it was the end of era. However, The Alan Parsons Project left behind a rich, luxuriate and carefully crafted musical legacy, including The Turn Of A Friendly Card, which was one of the finest albums of an eleven album career.
THE ALAN PARSON’S PROJECT-THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD 3TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.