KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT “I ROBOT”

Artist: THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT
Album: I ROBOT

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Alan Parsons made a name for himself from the late-‘60s through the early-‘70s as a producer & engineer at London’s Abbey Road Studios, famously working on The Beatles’ final two albums and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, before forming The Alan Parsons Project with Scottish songwriter/keyboardist/singer Eric Woolfson. The duo recruited members of Scottish band Pilot, best known for their mid-‘70s hit “Magic,” as well as all four musicians from progressive/pop band Ambrosia (one of my longtime favorites), for their 1976 debut album, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination. Although not a big hit (it barely made its way into the Top 40 on the US Albums chart), the clever songwriting, impeccable musicianship and lyrical concept based around the writings of Edgar Allan Poe caught the ear of Clive Davis, who signed them to Arista Records. The following year, with Pilot members Ian Bairnson (guitars), David Paton (bass) and Stuart Tosh (drums) remaining from the previous album, Parsons and Woolfson wrote another concept album, this time loosely based on science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (minus the comma), which became their first US Platinum (and Top 10) album. The song cycle about the rise of robots/machines & decline of man includes four instrumental tracks, while the other six songs each feature a different lead vocalist. This would become standard practice for APP albums. The only notable absence for fans of their later work is the voice of Eric Woolfson, which would eventually define their sound, first appearing on 1980’s Top 20 single “Time” and later hits “Eye In The Sky” and “Don’t Answer Me.” Their melodic pop side wasn’t a major part of their repertoire yet in 1977, although I Robot was commercial enough to sell a million copies. They mainly appealed to musicians, audiophiles & progressive rock fans, most of whom valued technical proficiency and pristine album production.

The album opens with “I Robot,” a 6-minute instrumental that could be on a sci-fi movie soundtrack. The slightly funky synth & programmed percussion perfectly set the futuristic mood, leading into Top 40 single “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You.” Lenny Zakatek, who would go on to sing numerous APP songs, delivers a soulful, emotive vocal performance on top of a funky quasi-disco rhythm, which follows a Steely Dan-esque intro with smooth organ and a tight guitar figure. “The Voice,” featuring the captivating vocals of Steve Harley (singer with English glam-era hit-makers Cockney Rebel), is the longest non-instrumental at nearly 5-1/2 minutes. There’s a sparse arrangement through the first half, with a 3-note bass pattern, electric piano & squealing effects above a steady beat, before shifting to Isaac Hayes territory highlighted by strings, hand claps, guitar accents and a cool bass line. “Some Other Time” is a pretty ballad with piano, acoustic guitar & synth washes punctuated by bombastic orchestral flashes and a steady midtempo rock groove. The alternating male/female vocals make this a standout track, as Peter Straker’s breathy Colin Blunstone-worthy performance is balanced by Jaki Whitren’s husky tones, reminding me a bit of Christine McVie. The lush & pretty “Day After Day (The Show Must Go On)” has a slow, deliberate 3/4 rhythm which brings Pink Floyd to mind, and Jack Harris’ voice is soft, smooth & strong. Album closing instrumental “Genesis Ch.1 V.32” has a sparse synth-pop feel until it perks up into a taut symphonic arrangement through the outro. The sappy, dramatic MOR ballad “Don’t Let It Show,” with Dave Townsend on vocals, was a low-charting single. It’s not among my favorites even though it could be a Moody Blues song and I’m a big fan of that band. Allan Clarke, best known as a founding member of The Hollies, is the vocalist on “Breakdown,” a tight midtempo track with soft interludes and a symphonic coda featuring choral vocals. The Alan Parsons Project went on to release a string of wonderful albums, several of which I like even more than I Robot, but it’s still an essential part of their discography and among the musical highlights of 1977 for me.

Does anyone know if the robot on the album cover was based on the photo of Alan Parsons on the “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” single?

 

26 comments on “Forty Year Friday – THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT “I ROBOT”

  1. kevin
    September 8, 2017

    It’s amazing that you posted this today, Rich, as just last night (after watching the Patriots get whacked – Yikes), I listened to Tales Of Mystery And Imagination for the very first time, and liked it. I only ever owned Eye In The Sky, and didn’t love it enough to seek out their earlier stuff, but now I am curious. Good timing.

    Like

    • Hi Kevin. Talk about great timing. I love Tales Of Mystery… as well. Glad you liked it. Perhaps this will put you on the path to more APP albums. Eve and The Turn Of A Friendly Card are the two I would recommend very highly, with Pyramid not far behind. Those are their most progressive-sounding albums. Have a great weekend.

      Like

  2. Alyson
    September 8, 2017

    I took up too much of your comments box space last week so promised myself I would give you a break on this one – Suffice to say anything with the word Project in the title didn’t really bother my record collection too much in 1977 although by the early ’80s I had heard of Alan Parsons. It was not until doing a bit of research earlier this year on Al Stewart however that I discovered it was Alan who produced most of his early albums, which naturally led me to this clip (best bit at 0:56). I will however watch your music clips over the weekend and get back to you with the verdict – 40 years on and I might be a convert!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alyson. Space here is unlimited so you can always feel free to type away. I knew this one wouldn’t be in your wheelhouse (nor will next week’s, I believe), and I have a feeling that will still be the case after you’ve checked out the clips (playable, I hope). I get the sense you’re not much of a progressive rock fan, so the early APP albums probably wouldn’t be your cup of Scottish tea. However, some of the albums they released in the ’80s were a perfect blend of progressive arrangements with melodic tunes. Thanks for reminding me of that Austin Powers scene, which was a highlight of that movie for me.

      I loved Parsons’ production on those Al Stewart albums. They’re as close to perfect recordings as you can find, and it didn’t hurt that Al was writing some great songs at that time. Parsons co-produced one of my favorite modern albums, Steve Wilson’s The Raven That Refused To Sing, so he’s still at the top of his game.

      Enjoy the weekend. Yours has already started. Mine is still a couple of hours away.

      Liked by 1 person

      • segwaynz
        September 9, 2017

        Alan Parsons sure did a superb job producing Al Stewart’s three mid-career albums Modern Times (1975), Year of the Cat (1976), Time Passages (1978). Together, these three form a great introduction to the music of Al Stewart, so are probably the best place for the curious to start. Certainly, this period was the peak of Al’s ‘soft rock’ period of commercial pop/rock stardom success. However, his musical career spans five albums prior, and ten more after. There is lots to discover. Go backwards for folkier stuff – he used to flat with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle; he funded Yoko Ono’s first film – it was about naked bottoms; and on the 16 minute Love Chronicles (1968) he was the first artist to record the word “fucking” in a song. Or go forwards through an eclectic journey of mature, lyric-centric songs intertwining the personal and the historical. Al has always been able to gather extraordinary talent around him, and Alan Parsons certainly sprinkled magic dust across the aforementioned 3 albums. Tim Renwick provides some spectacular electric guitar solos, perhaps not-surprisingly sounding a little like Dave Gilmore – as Tim would later go on to tour with Pink Floyd as 2nd guitarist. Other contributors over the years include guitarists Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention), Peter White, and Laurence Juber (Wings); also Rick Wakeman (Yes) pops up on piano, and you’ll also find Roger Taylor (Queen) and Tori Amos making appearances. Above all, check out the superb 8 minute song ‘Roads to Moscow’ from Past, Present and Future (1973) as a fine example of his writing.

        Like

      • Thanks for all the Al Stewart info, Philip. I own several of his albums, from Modern Times through Live/Indian Summer, as well as two CD compilations. The latter includes a wonderful 2-CD anthology that features a number of songs from his early years of which I was previously unfamiliar. I’ve always loved his voice and his songwriting is not too shabby either (an understatement, of course). Good call on Tim Renwick. His guitar work is sprinkled throughout my collection. I often forget about his contributions to a particular album until I revisit the packaging. He’s one of those musician’s musicians.

        Cheers.
        Rich

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        September 13, 2017

        Connections, connections. Note that Fairport Convention, credited with bogus names for legal reasons, backed Al Stewart on at least one album. Alan Parson’s has been appearing, together with members of Fairport and their surroundings, in the Excalibur project. (And Simon Nicol of Fairport once toured with Art Garfunkel.)

        Like

      • Thanks for this installment of Musical Connect-The-Dots, Phillip. I wasn’t aware of any of that information.

        Like

  3. 1537
    September 8, 2017

    I was always shocked that this was such a disco-ish LP, I was expecting much more of a Floydian vibe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Other than “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You,” there’s not much I would describe as disco-ish on this album. It’s also not much into Floyd territory but I can see Floyd fans enjoying a lot of what’s here. I like their next few albums even more than this one, when the songwriting got stronger and they added other voices to the mix.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Vinyl Connection
    September 10, 2017

    This was Mr Parsons’ biggie, wasn’t it? I have a box set of four albums (#2 – #5) which has rather nice alternative inner sleeve art instead of actual card covers.

    As for the portrait, all I can say is, if that robot wants to talk, he’s screwed.

    Like

    • Hi Bruce. Not sure if this particular album was Parsons’ “biggie” but it did put him on the map. I believe the APP had a few bigger selling albums, some of which contained high-charting singles, but this one (along with the 2 or 3 that followed) would appeal to prog fans more than their later albums.

      As for the robot…hahaha. I’m sure its creator decided to bolt as soon as the mouth was put in place.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Alyson
    September 10, 2017

    I have now watched/listened to the clips and think I can see why you would have liked the album. It could grow on me for sure. Definitely picked up a bit of a disco vibe on I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You but the early part very The Day the Earth Stood Still-ish!
    Second track had Al Stewart nuances (unsurprisingly) but also a bit of Steely Dan? Final clip was my least favourite but obviously part of the whole so not in context. Can see why it wasn’t a massive seller and how it passed me by in 1977 but hey, got there in the end. Thanks for the education.

    Hope you’ve had a good weekend.

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. Thanks for giving those APP songs a listen. Good call on the Al Stewart & Steely Dan comparisons. They all certainly had production & musicianship in common, and in the case of Al Stewart’s most popular recordings, Mr. Parsons himself.

      Hope all is well by you this week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        September 12, 2017

        I did have an anecdote actually, but I held back!

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      • Your fingers must have been twitching as you kept them from typing. 😛

        Like

      • Alyson
        September 12, 2017

        They are twitching right now actually but if you’re not a fan of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 version) you wouldn’t get it.

        Like

      • Alyson
        September 12, 2017

        I have built it up too much now actually so better just get it out of the way – The first clip and the whole I Robot concept reminded me of the imagery from that science-fiction film from 1951 where Michael Rennie played Klaatu the extraterrestrial being. Klaatu of course are also the prog rock outfit from Canada so also reminded me of APP. My anecdote was simply that at the height of his Hollywood fame Michael Rennie came to visit his uncle in my tiny Scottish village. I was too young but my Dad wasn’t and he remembered that day well. Anecdote over!

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      • Whew, glad you got that off your chest…and that you’re familiar with Klaatu the band. I’ve never understood why some people at the time thought they were The Beatles using a pseudonym, but apparently that was a real thing in the music press. Very good records but The Beatles? C’mon. Have you heard The Carpenters’ version of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft.” Not what one would necessarily expect from Karen & Richard but it’s a great performance…and has nothing to do with Alan Parsons as far as I know.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Saw the movie many years ago and really liked it, but remember very little of the details. Need to watch it again. Sorry if the twitching remains uncontrollable.

        Like

  6. Alyson
    September 12, 2017

    Love the Carpenter’s version of Calling Occupants….. – Michael Rennie’s Earth name in the film was actually Mr Carpenter, wonder if that had anything to do with them recording it.

    Like

    • Ooh, thanks for that tidbit. I love useless trivia like that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        September 14, 2017

        Have you managed to avoid Irma? Your followers will be worried.

        Like

      • Thanks for asking, Alyson. All good here. I’m in the central part of North Carolina so we only got a little bit of rain & wind on Monday & Tuesday as Irma dissipated. My parents & boss are in Florida and I’m happy to report that both emerged unscathed, other than 4 days without power (parents) and a week & counting of being evacuated (boss).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        September 14, 2017

        Gosh, must have been a worry to have the parents in Florida but glad that both they, and the boss, are ok.

        Like

      • It’s been stressful but at least they’re at a really good assisted living facility. Had this happened two years ago they would have been alone at their house. Not sure what we would have done. Fortunately I’ll never have to find out. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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