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Music / The Alan Parsons Project

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Left to right: Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons.
"Grand Funk Railroad paved the way for Jefferson Airplane, which cleared the way for Jefferson Starship. The stage was now set for The Alan Parsons Project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft."
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons, "Homerpalooza"

The Alan Parsons Project was a British Progressive Rock band active between 1975 and 1990. The core group consisted of Alan Parsons (Producer/Engineer/Co-Writer/Occasional Instruments and backing vocals) and Eric Woolfson (Keyboards/Lyricist/Vocalist), with additional members recruited as required for each individual project. After the band's dissolution, Woolfson went on to work on musicals (including several which continued the themes of Project albums) before dying of kidney cancer in 2009, while Parsons created several solo albums and has toured extensively playing mostly Project songs, with his band taking the name of "The Alan Parsons Live Project". APP are known for a more accessible style of progressive rock than many of the other bands of the era. They rarely used strange time signatures, and for the most part stuck to 4-5 minute radio-length songs. They often used full orchestration in their songs, with some of the best examples being "The Cask of Amontillado" (from Tales of Mystery and Imagination) and "Silence and I" (from Eye in the Sky).

While the remainder of the band's line-up changed constantly, some members became essentially permanent parts of the band. These include arranger Andrew Powell (who conducted and arranged all of the orchestral work), guitarist Ian Bairnson (who contributed all of the band's lead guitar work), bassist and backing vocalist David Paton (who played on every album except the last, played extra guitar parts and even sang lead vocals on a few songs), and drummer Stuart Elliott (who played on all albums except the first two). And although the project used a wide range of vocalists, Chris Rainbow and Lenny Zakatek appeared most often out of them all (asides from Woolfson and Paton). Over time, the band became more pop-influenced, and in the mid-1980s, synthesizers started to replace their orchestra, reaching their zenith on Stereotomy, an album that is almost entirely Synth-Pop. During the last four albums, saxophonist/keyboardist Richard Cottle was featured as the designated synthesist, and his brother Laurence was the bassist on the last album they did.

Despite their reluctance to perform live, the Project in its original incarnation performed at a Night on the Proms concert in 1990. Zakatek, Bairnson, Paton, Elliott, and the Cottle brothers performed as the Project while Parsons mixed the concert and Powell conducted the orchestra.


  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976) - inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe (Notable Songs: "The Raven", "The Cask of Amontillado", "(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether", "The Fall of the House of Usher" Suite)
  • I, Robot (1977) - Loosely inspired by the works of Isaac Asimov (Notable Songs: "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You", "Breakdown", "Don't Let It Show")
  • Pyramid (1978) - Based on the then-popular pseudoscience of "pyramid power," with general themes of death and impermanence as well. (Notable Songs: "What Goes Up", "Can't Take It With You", "The Eagle Will Rise Again")
  • Eve (1979) - About misogyny and feminism. (Notable Songs: "Lucifer", "Damned if I Do", "If I Could Change Your Mind")
  • The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980) - About gambling and midlife crisis. (Notable Songs: "Games People Play", "Time", "The Turn of a Friendly Card" Suite.)
  • Eye in the Sky (1982) - About belief systems - both religious and political. (Notable Songs: "Sirius", "Eye in the Sky", "Children of the Moon", "Psychobabble", "Old and Wise")
  • Ammonia Avenue (1984) - Based on the tension between the scientific community and the public, as well as a general theme of failure to communicate. (Notable Songs: "Prime Time", "Since the Last Goodbye", "Don't Answer Me", "You Don't Believe")
  • Vulture Culture (1984) - About the selfishness and dishonesty of modern culture. (Notable Songs: "Let's Talk About Me", "Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)", "Hawkeye")
  • Stereotomy (1985) - About the pressures of modern life. (Notable Songs: "Stereotomy", "Limelight", "Where's the Walrus?")
  • Gaudi (1987) - Inspired by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, especially his Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. (Notable Songs: "La Sagrada Familia", "Standing on Higher Ground", "Inside Looking Out")
  • The Sicilian Defence (2014) - Instrumental album recorded in 1979 before being belatedly released on the Boxed Set The Complete Albums Collection.

"I am the trope in the sky, looking at you...":

  • Alternate Album Cover:
    • Tales of Mystery and Imagination: There are three versions of the album's artwork. The most common is of a man wrapped in tape casting a long shadow within a thin image. A altered version of this artwork adds an image a man's face wrapped in tape with a drawing of a mummified man in the background. A third image features an image of the top half of Alan Parsons wrapped in tape.
    • Stereotomy: The original LP release included a transparent sleeve with blue plastic on one side and red on the other. The artwork inside featured red and blue text and a Rorschach inkblot in the center. Later releases would simplify the artwork with just a blue inkblot with the album title in red text and the band name in light blue due to the high costs that replicating the original packaging on any format would entail.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: "Eye in the Sky"
  • Book Ends:
    • "Stereotomy" and "Stereotomy Two".
    • The two parts of "Turn of a Friendly Card" are this to their suite.
    • "La Sagrada Familia" and "Paseo de Gracia", the latter being an upbeat instrumental of the former.
    • "I Robot" and "Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 32" Fade In with the same synth drone, at the beginning and ending of the album respectively.
  • Break-Up Song:
    • "If I Could Change Your Mind".
    • "Since the Last Goodbye".
    • "You Won't Be There"
    • "Sooner Or Later"
  • Call-Back: The chorus of "One More River" is echoed in the bridge section of "Can't Take It with You."
    One more mile
    One more road
    One last bridge
    One less load
    • Also done instrumentally:
      • "Nothing Left to Lose" ends with the tune of "Snake Eyes".
      • The climax of "A Dream Within a Dream" and guitar riff in the bridge of "The Raven" is used twice in "(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether"
    • "The Gold Bug" from The Turn of a Friendly Card is likely a Call Back to Tales of Mystery and Imagination, being the title of another Poe work. It also calls back on its own album, as the song begins with a whistled version of the intro to "May Be a Price to Pay", the opening song on the album (whereas "The Gold Bug" opens side two).
  • Compressed Adaptation: The songs on Tales of Mystery and Imagination condense Edgar Allan Poe's rather wordy stories and poems into a couple of verses and choruses apiece.
  • Concept Album: All of them.
  • Digital Destruction: CD releases of The Turn of a Friendly Card were mastered with the master tape played at the wrong speed by mistake, resulting in the entire album being slower and lower-pitched than the original LP release. This was eventually corrected for the 2015 deluxe edition.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: Several albums open with an instrumental that segues into the first song. The most famous is "Sirius", the lead-in to "Eye in the Sky" - due in no small part to it being used as the opening theme for the Chicago Bulls from at least 1987 to the present day.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • "The Fall of the House of Usher" is in several parts, but is about sixteen minutes in total. Similarly, "The Turn of a Friendly Card" is technically five separate parts, but it is listed as a single suite, over 16 minutes in length.
    • "La Sagrada Familia" is about eight and a half minutes on the studio version, although significantly shorter when played live.
    • In general, they did this more rarely compared to other progressive rock bands, but they do have some examples. Other songs by them over 6 minutes in length include "I Robot" (6:02), "Silence and I" (7:19), "Ammonia Avenue" (6:30), "Stereotomy" (7:18), "Where's the Walrus?" (7:31), "Light of the World" (6:19), and "Inside Looking Out" (6:22).
  • Faceless Eye: The cover of the album Eye in the Sky depicts the Eye Of Horus. The title track, one of the Alan Parsons Project's best known songs, is a person telling their significant other (in a very creepy and vindictive fashion) that he/she knows the other has been cheating and is tired of pretending to be ignorant of it.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Pretty much the first two songs on an album.
    • "Voyager" —> "What Goes Up..." —> "The Eagle Will Rise Again"
    • Also "Children of the Moon" -> "Gemini" from "Eye In The Sky".
    • "The Fall Of The House Of Usher" Suite into "To One In Paradise".
    • A special award goes to Side 2 of I Robot: "The Voice" -> "Nucleus" -> "Day After Day" -> "Total Eclipse" -> "Genesis Ch.1 v.32"
    • The second half of The Turn of a Friendly Card is one big suite. "The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part 1)" goes into "Snake Eyes" and "The Ace of Swords" goes into "Nothing Left to Lose".
  • The Gambling Addict: The "Turn of a Friendly Card" suite. Also "I Don't Wanna Go Home" from the same album.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The current version of Tales of Mystery and Imagination differs from the original vinyl release. The album was remixed in 1987, adding dialogue by Orson Welles and adding reverb. The remix resulted in the album gaining a transition between the two sides of the album.
  • Grand Finale: The Turn Of A Friendly Card suite, "Old and Wise," and "To One in Paradise" all qualify, as do the endings to many of their other albums.
  • The Grim Reaper: The narrator in "Can't Take It With You".
  • I Am the Band: Alan Parsons (producer/sound engineer) and Eric Woolfson (songwriter/pianist/singer). The former never sang or played instruments regularly (despite being a competent singer and multi-instrumentalist), being more involved with the engineering than anything else. As for the latter, he sung the guide vocals on every song they did, with some of them becoming lead vocal tracks in their own right (such as the band's biggest hit, "Eye in the Sky"), and played piano and keyboards on all of their releases.
  • The Invisible Band: In their music videos, though they do sometimes make brief cameo appearances.
    • In "Let's Talk About Me", Alan and Eric appear briefly on the television.
    • In "Don't Answer Me", the duo appear in illustrated form, each playing piano accompanied by the rest of the line-up.
    • Both invoked and subverted with "Games People Play". Eric is featured at the piano alongside Lenny Zakatek and the regular backing band throughout the video. And towards the end, we zoom in on stain glass window made to look like a King of Diamonds, only to find Alan staring us down.
    • Both appear prominently in "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You", though Eric is cast as an android.
  • Large Ham: Guest vocalist Arthur Brown on "The Tell-Tale Heart". According to Parsons, Brown sang normally in rehearsals, but when they went for a take he went into full-blown Crazy World mode.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: The central theme of "What Goes Up".
  • Money Song: "Money Talks"
  • Music Box Intervals: "Eye in the Sky", "Don't Answer Me", the main theme of "The Turn Of A Friendly Card" suite.
  • Misogyny Song: A good chunk of the Eve album, seeing as the concept of "the strengths of women and the shortcomings of men" is sung almost entirely from a possessive man's point of view.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • "I'd Rather Be A Man" includes the line "I'd rather be a man 'cause I wouldn't wanna be like you.", a reference to their previous song "I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You".
    • In Eric Woolfson's musical "Poe", an abridged reading of "The Raven" is performed by one of the characters. As the titular raven of the story appears, a soft bass riff begins playing, building up the tension for the rest of the reading. Project fans might recognize it as the same riff that opens and carries on throughout the Project song "Breakdown", the title of which nicely foreshadows the ending of "The Raven". Parsons has nodded to this in reverse order, often using an excerpt of the Project's setting of "The Raven" as a coda to "Breakdown" in concert.
    • The cover of Pyramid references Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, which Alan Parsons engineered.
  • Pastiche: According to Word Of God, "Don't Answer Me" was an attempt to emulate Phil Spector's Wall of Sound effect.
  • Pyramid Power: Referenced and made fun of in Pyramid, particularly in the song "Pyramania".
  • Revolving Door Band: By design.
  • Retraux: And a number of other past-meets-future-type-tropes, just from the cover of I, Robot. There's the retro-futuristic-looking robot, but also 1950s fashions for the men on the escalators (fedoras and suits), and the escalators are very clearly those of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Parisnote  which was designed in the late 1960s and didn't open until 1974 (i.e. long after fedoras were out of style).
  • Rock-Star Song: "Limelight" seems to be this.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Discussed in "Eye in the Sky":
    "The light in your eyes
    Made some of your lies worth believing"
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Guest vocalist Chris Rainbow elevated this to an art form, both with lead harmonies and veritable walls of backing vocals. He was credited in a couple of Alan Parsons Project albums as a "One-Man Beach Boys Choir". Some of the re-released albums feature bonus tracks consisting of Chris Rainbow's backing vocals and harmonies isolated, he's that good.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: Although "Eye in the Sky" can stand on its own, its instrumental lead-in "Sirius" just doesn't sound right when it just ends (outside of a basketball context, where "Sirius" alone has been used as a theme song for the Chicago Bulls for over 30 years). Also "Nucleus" and "Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)"; those two were included in that fashion in the "Laseruim" show.
  • Singer Name Drop: Following the band's name being coopted by Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Parsons made sure to include the Shout-Out, along with other Dr. Evil dialogue, in a remix of "The Time Machine".
  • Soprano and Gravel: Chris Rainbow ("The Turn Of A Friendly Card") and Eric Woolfson ("Eye in the Sky"), as opposed to Lenny Zakatek ("I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You") and David Paton ("What Goes Up...")
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • Found in "Let's Talk About Me".
    • Very briefly in "Hawkeye".
    • The opening of "La Sagrada Familia".
    • Towards the end of "Inside Looking Out".
    • "Chinese Whispers" from Stereotomy.
    • The 1987 remaster of Tales of Mystery and Imagination includes several passages from Poe's poems as read by Orson Welles.
      • Parsons was reportedly excited at the thought of actually meeting Welles, but never did so because Welles simply taped his lines in Hollywood. The original Welles recording session, which includes a radio ad, is included on a special edition of the album.
  • Stepford Smiler: The subject of "Don't Let It Show".
  • Stock Phrases: "What Goes Up..."
  • Uncommon Time: Not as prevalent as other prog-rock acts, but "The Ace of Swords" is a rather sufficient example in its own right, with sections alternating 5/4 and 6/4, alternating 8/4 and 6/4, alternating 8/4 and 7/4, and steady 7/4.

Alternative Title(s): Alan Parsons Project