Turn of a Friendly Card
by Alan Parsons Project

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Turn of a Friendly Card by Alan Parsons ProjectAlan Parsons Project produced one of their more accessible albums with, Turn of a Friendly Card, a quasi-concept record which concludes with a sixteen-minute-plus title suite. The fifth album by the progressive group, this 1980 release contains a pleasant mix of melodic soft rock with multiple elements of funk and orchestral music put together by the group’s founders and composers, audio engineer Alan Parsons and keyboardist Eric Woolfson.

Parsons and Woolfson met at Abbey Road Studios in 1974. Parsons had worked there as an assistant engineer on several Beatles’ album and recently received accolades for his work on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Woolfson was working as a session pianist and signed on as Parsons’ manager, as he produced several successful albums through the mid 1970s. Eventually the duo decided to record a Woolfson composition inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe which became the Alan Parsons Project 1976 debut album entitled Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Now signed to Arista Records, the group released an album per year in the late seventies, with ever-growing popularity.

Turn of a Friendly Card focuses on gambling as an escape from the doldrums of middle age. The concept was sparked when Woolfson was sitting in a casino in Monte Carlo and observed the activities and sounds going on around him. He revised the album’s title from a song he had written in the 1960s, which fit well with this new concept.


Turn of a Friendly Card by Alan Parsons Project
Released: November, 1980 (Arista)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Acousti Studio, Paris, Late 1979–Mid 1980
Side One Side Two
May Be a Price to Pay
Games People Play
Time
I Don’t Wanna Go Home
The Gold Bug
The Turn of a Friendly Card
Primary Musicians
Eric Woolfson – Piano, Keyboards, Accordion, Vocals
Alan Parsons – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Ian Bairnson – Guitars
David Paton – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums, Percussion

The hit track “Games People Play” features Lenny Zakatek on vocals and contains a cool synth arpeggio complemented by guide piano, using some of the methods that Pete Townshend used through the seventies with The Who. The song is compelling and focused, yet melodic and catchy with philosophical lyrics that touch on stepping out during an empty nest syndrome. The interesting bridge section touches on prog rock effects, concluding with a fine guitar lead by Ian Bairnson. “May Be a Price to Pay” starts the album off with some majestic horn sounds provided by orchestral conductor Andrew Powell. The track then breaks into a moderate funk beat to introduce the verse sections which, sung by Dave Terry, introduces the quasi-dramatic theme of the album;

Something’s wrong in this house today, while the master was riding the servents decided to play, something’s been going on, there may be a price to pay…”

The first track by the group to ever feature Woolfson on lead vocals, “Time” is one of the finest ballads by Alan Parsons Project. With Parsons adding backing vocals, this song actually features the voices of the group’s core duo and has expert arrangement. Starting with rotating piano and subtlety morphing to an acoustic-driven tune with great orchestral effects, “Time” peaked in the Top 20 in America, making it the group’s second most successful single, with deeply melancholy lyrics

Goodbye my love, Maybe for forever, goodbye my love, the tide waits for me / Who knows when we shall meet again, if ever, but time Keeps flowing like a river to the sea / Till it’s gone forever, gone forevermore…”

Closing the first side is an interesting, multi-sectional but steady pop/rocker in the vein of Little River Band, called “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”. This track is wrapped up in a more moody, minor key piano section for the intro and outro. “The Gold Bug” is an instrumental which has a Western cowboy feel, with Parsons adding some human whistle over the duo tremolando acoustic guitars of Bairnson and David Paton during the intro. In the “song proper” of this instrumental, Parsons adds an echoed clavinet and autoharp, making this the one track where the group’s namesake performs the most musically.

“The Turn of a Friendly Card” is the extended title suite which closes the album and is split into five distinct section. The title section opens and closes the track with lead vocals by Chris Rainbow . It has a distinct English folk feel accented by Woolfson’s nice blend of piano and harpsichord. “Snake Eyes” theatrically returns to the modern era and into the casino which influenced the album’s concept as a pleasant rocker, albeit a bit tacky with the blatant casino sound effects. “The Ace of Swords” returns to the harpsichord, this time performed by Parsons, as a way to set the scene of the orchestral instrumental section where the rhythm section of bassist David Paton and drummer Stuart Elliot shine through with fine rudiments. “Nothing Left to Lose” features Woolfson’s second lead vocal and is a great acoustic ballad with a smooth chorus of backing vocals and a fine ‘button’ accordion by an unidentified Parisian session player. Lyrically, this section may be a bit too clichéd, which is its sole weak spot, but later on the track nicely transitions to a heavier rock instrumental section, making this the true highlight of the second side. “The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two)” concludes the album as a simple reprise of the first part of the suite with a great electric guitar lead by Bairnson and closing orchestration to finish the album on a high note.

Turn of a Friendly Card reached the Top 20 in the US, the Top 40 in the UK, and was a hit in various other countries throughout the world. The Alan Parsons Project would continue through most of the eighties with more commercial success on subsequent albums.

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Classic Rock Review 1980 promo

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

Time Passages by Al Stewart

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Time Passages by Al StewartTime Passages was the third of Al Stewart‘s popular late seventies albums, following Modern Times in 1975 and Year of the Cat in 1976. While all three of these albums were produced by Alan Parsons, on this one there is a minor nod towards soft rock production. Musically, Time Passages continues Stewart’s traditional blend of folk, jazz, and pop/rock, with masterful arrangements, rich sonic textures, and the top-notch production of Parsons. Lyrically, Stewart alternates between the contemporary subjects and concerns of baby boomers reaching their thirties and his distinct knack for presenting historical figures an events in graceful yet easily accessible pop song epics.

The Scottish born Stewart commenced his musical career in the mid 1960s at coffee houses in London’s Soho. He played alongside Cat Stevens, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison, Roy Harper, and others and even shared a flat with Paul Simon during his time in England. Stewart’s first record as a solo artist was a single called “The Elf”, which featured session guitar work from Jimmy Page. Starting in 1967. He went on to release several folk albums on Columbia Records but found little mainstream success. In 1972, Stewart released Orange, a transitional album which combined songs in his confessional style with more historical themes that he would soon increasingly adopt. His 1973 release, Past, Present and Future, was the first in the United States and his popularity steadily grew throughout the rest of the decade.

During these years, Stewart began to form a proper backing band, led by guitarists Tim Renwick and Peter White. On Time Passages, Renwick provides the bulk of lead guitar while White played keyboards, accordion, and other instruments as well as co-wrote a couple of the tunes.


Time Passages by Al Stewart
Released: September, 1978 (RCA)
Produced by: Alan Parsons
Recorded: Davlen Studios, Los Angeles, June 1978
Side One Side Two
Time Passages
Valentina Way
Life In Dark Water
A Man for All Seasons
Almost Lucy
The Palace of Versailles
Timeless Skies
Song on the Radio
End of the Day
Primary Musicians
Al Stewart – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Peter White – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Renwick – Guitars
Robin Lamble – Bass
Stuart Elliot – Drums

 

The album’s title song “Time Passages” is a masterpiece on the utter surreal-ness of the passage of time (as demonstrated by the “time warp” album cover). Stewart uses great imagery to accomplish this while the pleasant music adds a pleasant soft rock backing with perfect late seventies production by Parsons. Released as a single, this would become Stewart’s highest charting song ever. It reached #7 on the Billboard pop chart and also spent ten weeks at #1 on the easy listening chart, the longest stay at number one on this chart in the entire decade. “Valentina Way” starts with classical piano by Peter Robinson before abruptly entering a disco section. Despite this dated musical arrangement, the underlying song is pretty good and is musically salvaged by White’s recurring guitar lead/riff.

The first historical number is “Life in Dark Water”, a slow, moody, almost psychedelic rocker driven by the rotating lyrics and a simple, repeated four chord progression. There is some musical deviation in the middle with a short, carnival sounding verse and extended guitar lead by Renwick. The song which references the Mary Celeste, a British-American merchant ship discovered unmanned and abandoned in 1872. Although the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced seamen, the seven member crew were never seen again while the ship was found in perfect shape with personal effects and over six months’ worth of food and water on board. “A Man for All Seasons” completes the first side with a musical a mix of Phil Spector meets alt-country. With a knack for telling historical stories in effected musical means, Stewart tells the story of Sir Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet.

The second side is just as solid as the first, starting with “Almost Lucy, a country/western influenced folk song with good percussive effects throughout. The subtle backing music plays off of Stewart’s vocals perfectly, which reflect the lyrics about the sad life of a prostitute;

And all these changing faces never bothered her at all that just existed like a back-drop or a pattern on the wall, Lucy looks like someone who is waiting for a call she knows will come but no-one else can hear at all

Led by smooth synth run by Peter Solley at the top and between verses, “The Palace of Versailles” is another historical diddy. The interplay between Stewart’s acoustic and Renwick’s electric guitars is fantastic, with Parsons adding some orchestral strings towards the end, giving this an epic feel and increasing the continental elegance at the core of this work. The acoustic “Timeless Skies” has a sparse arrangement with White subtly adding some accordion and mandolin as the song progresses.

“Song on the Radio” is the other “radio song” from Time Passages, peaking in the Top 30, despite its lengthy six and a half minute duration (it is interesting that the two “hits” are also the two longest songs on the album). Featuring the distinct alto saxophone of Phil Kenzie, this song may first present itself as pure pop on the surface, but it really has much deeper meaning and connotations lyrically. The closer “End of the Day” was written mainly by Peter White and is mostly instrumental, spending more than half of its duration in a prolonged instrumental introduction before a single, extended verse concludes the album. Soft and jazzy, this pleasant song is an effective way to leave listeners wanting for more.

Time Passages peaked at #10 on the charts and continues to be held as one of his finer albums. Stewart’s pop success continued into the early 1980s until his career slowly lost steam in subsequent years.

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1978 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

 

The Dark Side of the Moon
by Pink Floyd

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1973 Classic Rock Review Album of the Year

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink FloydPerhaps the most complete concept album of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon was the ultimate redemption for Pink Floyd. Culminating years of progressive and experimental music, this album focused on the most atomic elements of human life (and not just the bright spots) and set it all to the beat of a human heart over a 44-minute journey that leaves the listener contemplating the larger picture from several angles. This album sits in a unique place in rock history, bridging the final days of the late 1960s psychedelic era with the new wave, electronic phase that dominated the late 1970s. It also is the perfect pivot point for Pink Floyd itself, representing their past (the opening sound-collage dominated sequence from the album’s start through the intro to “Time”), their present (more rock/pop oriented with long instrumental passages in the middle of the album), and their future (the ending medley, dominated by Roger Waters).

The concept was first introduced to the band by Waters immediately following the release of Meddle in 1971. Although Waters wrote all of the lyrics, The Dark Side of the Moon was the last complete band effort, with all four members getting composing credits. The music was composed and developed as a suite during live performances throughout 1972, with the band simultaneously recording the material for the album Obscured by Clouds. Recording for The Dark Side of the Moon took place at Abbey Road Studios in London, using some of the most advanced recording techniques of the time. The group, along with engineer Alan Parsons, made great use of multi-track recording, tape loops, analogue synthesizers, and a series of recorded interviews to give the album a completely original and unique sound. Snippets of voices were recorded when staff and other occupants of the studio answered a series of questions printed on flashcards. This in itself proved to be an interesting experiment as responses from Paul and Linda McCartney were not used because they seemed too calculating while the most notable responses came from the studios’ doorman, Gerry O’Driscoll.

Although the album only held the number one spot in the US for one a week, it remained on the chart for an incredible 741 weeks (over 14 years) and has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Released 40 years ago today, The Dark Side of the Moon tops many lists as the greatest album of all time and is Classic Rock Review’s album of the year for 1973.

 


The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Released: March 1, 1973 (Capitol)
Produced by: Pink Floyd
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, June 1972–January 1973
Side One Side Two
Speak to Me
Breathe
On the Run
Time
The Great Gig In the Sky
Money
Us and Them
Any Colour You Like
Brain Damage
Eclipse
Band Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Roger Waters – Basss, Snyths, Vocals
Richard Wright – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion

 

Each original side of the album is a continuous piece of music. The first side begins with “Speak to Me”, which forms a kind of overture previewing several sound snippets from the album. Drummer Nick Mason receives a rare solo writing credit because the only real instrumentation is his kick drum, treated to sound like a heartbeat. “Breathe” is a natural extension of the moody songs on previous albums with double-tracked vocals by David Gilmour. Slow and methodical, every note and beat counts while Gilmour adds rich in texture with overdubbed electric and pedal steel guitars. The lyrics are as simple and brief as the title and act as a short intro for the journey up ahead.

Pink Floyd in 1973

One of the amazing qualities of The Dark Side of the Moon is how the album instantly yet seamlessly switches moods, such as when it goes from ethereal “Breathe” to the frantic “On the Run”. This an instrumental piece was performed almost exclusively on an EMS synthesizer and is driven by entering an 8-note sequence repeated at a high tempo, with more voices and sound effects on top to make the piece ever-intensifying until it finally crashes at the end with what sounds like a crashing airplane. This leads to the long intro for “Time”, starting with a chorus of chiming clocks which were painfully recorded one by one by Parsons and various antique stores in London and then synced together through multiple tape machines. Next, comes a passage dominated by Mason’s drums with heavy use of rototoms and a backing “tick-tock” sound created by Waters picking two muted strings on his bass. When the song proper finally kicks in, it is a fantastic release into a full-fledged rock song which contains one of the greatest guitar leads ever. The song is incredibly simple, especially during the verse, but sounds so rich due to excellent production and musicianship. It contains deeply philosophical lyrics, sung by both Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright along with a chorus of female background singers. This is the final song to ever be credited to all four members of the band and is, perhaps, the best overall group effort in Pink Floyd’s long career.

After a short, one verse reprise of “Breathe”, appended to “Time”, comes the most unique and controversial song on the album. “The Great Gig In the Sky” has no legible lyrics, but instead contains about four minutes of improvised scat vocals by Clare Torry, a session singer who Parsons knew from other projects. Depending on your artistic point of view, this could be the worst or the best song on the album, the most meaningful or most absurd, and if nothing demonstrates why Pink Floyd is an acquired taste. Originally titled “The Mortality Sequence”, it is backed by a beautiful, minor key piano sequence by Wright and Torry added her vocals in one session which she entered without previously hearing the backing track. The band paid her sixty quid for the session and sent her on her way, not really hearing from her again until three decades later when Torry sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution constituted co-authorship with Richard Wright. Torry won the suit for an undisclosed amount and all pressings of the album after 2005 credit her as co-composer.

Money singleSide two begins with “Money”, a song which is a true double-edged sword, at once being one of the most recognizable and accessible Pink Floyd songs and one of the most overplayed and overrated. Still, for a hit song it is quite unique and artistically rewarding, written by Waters in the unusual 7/4 time signature for the verses before breaking into more standard, rock-oriented 4/4 time for Gilmour’s extended guitar solo in the middle. During this middle section the sonic tones are also adjusted, as a sparse “dry” section under subtle guitar licks is bookended by stronger dynamics with heavy use of reverb and chaotic drumming by Mason. The song also features a short saxophone lead by Dick Parry.

Parry and his sax have a more prominent role in “Us and Them”, a song about as moody and surreal as one can get while maintaining top notch rock status. It was released as a single in 1974, but kind of flopped as it failed to reach the Top 100 on the charts. However, but the more macro jury of time has rightfully judged this a true Pink Floyd classic. The tune was originally written on the piano by Wright for the film soundtrack Zabriskie Point in 1969 but was rejected by the film’s director. This slow paced, seven and a half minute song contains more spoken phrases which adds to the overall feel. “Us and Them” directly bridges to “Any Colour You Like”, another reprise of “Breathe” but from a totally instrumental approach. In fact, only Gilmour, Mason, Wright are credited for this composition, as Waters is oddly left out.

However, Waters does dominate the final two tracks on the album, taking on lead vocals as well as solo credit for “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse”. Here the concept of “Dark Side of the Moon” is fully laid out with a sonically superior, perfect wrap to the album. Further, the larger picture of life itself is focused down to a particular individual as the insanity-themed lyrics are based on former band frontman Syd Barrett‘s mental instability, which began following the success of their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967. Waters would re-visit Barrett’s situation in much more detail on the band’s next album Wish You Were Here. Musically, “Brain Damage” contains great layered guitars and a totally unique, synth-organ lead, while “Eclipse” reverts back to a more traditional band jam led by Wright’s Hammond organ. Both songs also contain great female backing vocals. When the main instrumentation fades the sound of the heartbeat from “Speak to Me” comes back to the forefront with one final, profound spoken part by door man O’Driscoll:

There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark. (The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.)”

The members of Pink Floyd have long lamented the duality of feelings they have towards the success of The Dark Side of the Moon. It would work to at once validate them as a top-notch artistic group and fractured them as a cohesive unit. The quartet would have much more success throughout the seventies and maintained headlining status even after Waters departed in the eighties. But they would never again quite reach that moment in time when everything came together to create a true rock masterpiece.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.