It was the last week of March in 1984 that I became an Alan Parsons Project fan. “Don’t Answer Me” was climbing the charts, eventually becoming a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. I knew of the Project before that – “Damned if I Do” and “Games People Play” were album rock staples and “Eye in the Sky” had been a huge pop hit (the biggest of the Project’s career) a couple years before. However, I hadn’t plunked down change for an APP album – until that week when I took the leap and grabbed up not just Ammonia Avenue, which featured “Don’t Answer Me,” but also The Best Of collection which had been released just a few months earlier.
A year later I would joyously plump for 1985’s Vulture Culture and a year after that for Stereotomy. As I was prone to do when discovering music in the ‘80s, I started dipping into the back catalog. Beyond the hits, I stumbled across gems like “Old and Wise” and “Turn of a Friendly Card.” Most amusingly though was, in May 1986 when I was anticipating a new album by Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung. I fell in love with this song on the radio that I thought was surely by him. I was wrong – it turned out to be “Breakdown,” from the nearly-decade old APP album I, Robot.
I learned the requisite back story necessary to claim a band as a new favorite. It turns out the Project’s namesake did engineering work on classic albums such as The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. However, Alan Parsons wasn’t alone in the creation of those prog-lite concept albums forged from 1976 to 1987 that sold over 40 million albums worldwide. The group owed as much to Eric Woolfson – a songwriter, keyboardist, singer, and manager who lent his chops to some of the group’s best-known songs such as the aforementioned “Eye in the Sky” and “Don’t Answer Me.”
Following 1987’s Gaudi, the Project disappeared for three years, returning in 1990 with Freudiana. The thing confusingly was not credited to anyone, suggesting that it was a new group called Freudiana. However, this Eric Woolfson-helmed project was clearly the Project with Parsons producing and credits including longtime APP players Ian Bairnson on guitar, Stuart Elliott on drums, and orchestral arrangements from Andrew Powell. John Miles and Chris Rainbow, who’d warbled on past-Project tunes, also put in appearances.
There was something different, though. Peppered with far more guests and stretched to twice the length of the average APP album, this felt more like a musical cast album. Sure enough, there in the liner notes was the statement that “the first stage production of Freudiana has its world premiere in December 1990 in Vienna.” Hmm. This was definitely a new direction for the band.
It proved to be a new direction, but for Woolfson, not Parsons. While Woolfson was eager to explore musical theater, it was the jumping off point for Parsons. The Project was no more. Woolfson went on to craft the musicals Gaudi (1995), Gambler (1996), and Poe (recorded 2003, premiered 2009). He also wrote the music and lyrics for 2007’s Dancing Shadows, which won for Best Musical at the Korean Tony Awards.
This year, I was overjoyed to stumble across The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, an album from Woolfson that combined some unreleased material from the Project days alongside songs crafted for his musicals. Sadly, it would be Woolfson’s finale. As I scanned the various comments on Facebook this morning about who was headed off to work and who needed coffee and who wasn’t enjoying the weather, I stopped sharply upon a fan notice: Eric Woolfson had died of cancer at the age of 64 on December 2, 2009 – a date that will now, sadly, overshadow that wonderful week in March 1984 when I became a fan. Farewell, Eric. You will be missed.
“Somewhere in the midst of time/ When they ask you if you knew me
Remember that you were a friend of mine
As the final curtain lifts before my eyes/ When I’m old and wise.”
- “Old and Wise” – Alan Parsons Project
Click here to hear an early version of the song that featured Eric Woolfson’s guide vocal.
Also check out my page on the detailed history of the Alan Parsons Project as well as the solo work of Parsons and Woolfson at DavesMusicDatabase.com.