Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe (1976)

This album kicked off the long and successful career of the Alan Parsons Project.  Alan Parsons met Eric Woolfson in 1974.  They combined their talents around Woolfson’s interest in making an album related to Edgar Allan Poe.

The title, Tales of Mystery and Imagination was from a collection of writings by Edgar Allan Poe, published after his death.

The duo’s plan would be for Parsons to produce and engineer the sessions, since that was his background.  The songs were written by Parsons and Woolfson.

The Alan Parsons Project was never a set band other than Parsons and Woolfson. Vocalists and musicians from other bands, including Pilot, Ambrosia, The Hollies and Al Stewart’s band performed on the debut album and would return on other albums.  These are all folks Parsons had worked with in his role as producer.  Parsons and Woolfson handled much of the keyboard work. Andrew Powell worked on all of the APP albums except one as arranger, contributing elaborate and riveting orchestra soundscapes. His participation has key to the grand and exciting orchestral backdrop on many songs. Colin Blunstone (The Zombies), Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) and Arthur Brown (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) were on hand.

“We wanted to take the fashionability of making concept albums back in the mid-70s and take it to the production level rather than to the artist level and use an infinitely variable set of assets. We could use any rhythm section we wanted to, any instrumentalists we wanted to. We chose to have a large variety of vocal talent on the albums. No two consecutive songs ever had the same singer; that’s something no artist could ever wish for.” – Parsons to Billboard magazine.

Side one

Title     Lead vocals   Length

“A Dream within a Dream” Instrumental     4:14  Narration by Orson Welles, with a swirling mix of music taking over. The first time you hear this, you aren’t quite sure what you’re into. Then it dissolves to a beat, like a beating heart before a repeating keyboard part comes to the front.  Is it a rock song?  It is like a rock and roll orchestra with different themes.

“The Raven” Alan Parsons, Leonard Whiting 3:57  Another spoken part, this time through the vocorder, distorting the vocals.  The music duets with the vocals before gaining power, even slowing down.  Not a traditional song, more of an instrumental with occasional vocals and sound effects, then a rock avalanche of sound.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” Arthur Brown (additional vocals: Jack Harris)  4:38  A funky rock beat, maybe a traditional rock song now.  Arthur Brown, his big vocal style with plenty of yelling.  The music is very upbeat and dynamic, very orchestral, slowing down for a very gentle musical and vocal passage, then ramping up again.

“The Cask of Amontillado” John Miles (additional vocals: Terry Sylvester)   4:33  A pensive piano intro and sad vocal, then a smooth Beach Boys vocal, before the song winds up with a big orchestral backing.  These songs are musical stories that wind around a changing story, very unlike a traditional pop song with predictable verses and choruses.  The vocal arrangement on this song is quite nice.

“(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” John Miles (additional vocals: Jack Harris) 4:20  One of the singles from the album, a more traditional rock song, or a more traditional progressive-rock song.  Lots of guitar, synth, organ and backing vocals to puff out the sound.  Musically, the most rocking song in the set.


Side two

Title    Lead vocals   Length

“The Fall of the House of Usher  instrumental  16:10

“Prelude” – 7:02  Orson Wells is back with narration of Poe.  Orchestra takes over, sort of like the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Past if it were a horror story.

“Arrival” – 2:39  Rainstorm. A lonesome organ. Then the synthesizer cranks up and it feels bit like Dark Side of the Moon.  A very good instrumental piece.

“Intermezzo” – 1:00  A short orchestral piece, something similar to Psycho.

“Pavane” – 4:36  A very interesting bass theme and guitar pattern with mandolin.  This track was played a lot as an instrumental because it is so good.  A lot of descending scale work.  This could have been a section from Tubular Bells, it sounds eerily similar.

“Fall” – 0:51″  A short orchestral wind-up, a transition.

“To One in Paradise”    Terry Sylvester (additional vocals: Eric Woolfson, Alan Parsons)  4:46  A gentle, acoustic guitar, soft rock music soundscape, with vocals by Sylvester of the Hollies.  Heavenly sounding, with high backing vocals, you feel like floating, the mist of a bad dream has lifted and life is good.

This is an album you need to listen to fully, and with a good sound system.  It is smartly and creatively composed and produced.  There is a lot to hear in these songs.

This is not the best APP album, but it was their first.  Parsons and Woolfson would adapt the formula somewhat, mixing instrumental tracks with ballads and rockers, and thread several songs together into a mini-suite.

Call this progressive or classical rock, or whatever. The label doesn’t much matter. Beginning with Tales, the journey into the musical imagination had begun.

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