Wednesday, December 09, 2009
ERIC WOOLFSON DIES; "Eye in the Sky"
"The Alan Parsons Project," with most songs written by Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons, relied mainly on "guest vocalists," but despite having a bland, if not weak voice, it was Eric himself who ended up with their greatest hit. "Eye in the Sky" seemed like a throw-away track at the time, not something that would entice a top singer.
Parsons recalled, "I hated the song when we first started recording it — I was quite ready to drop it altogether." He was a little more optimistic after "we hit upon the hypnotic guitar chugs."
A rarity (Jewish Scotsman) Woolfson (March 18, 1945 – December 2, 2009) began his career as a songwriter. His early attempt in front of a microhone, a single in 1971 under the name Eric Elder, went nowhere. He expanded to record producing, gifting us with the immortal Carl "Kung Fu Fighting" Douglas.
As the name would suggest, though Eric and Alan co-wrote the songs, "The Alan Parsons Project" focused attention on only one man. Parsons was generally the lone face in 8x10 glossies given out by the record label. Their first effort, a Poe concept album, "Tales of Mystery and Imagination," has a big photo of Parsons in the gatefold. Woolfson gets a much smaller photo.
Parsons, after all, was the engineering wizard behind "Dark Side of the Moon," and Eric was just an unknown songwriter.
Critics were not impressed with the glossy, easy-listening style of The Alan Parsons Project. Checking my files, I find Ed Naha speaking for the majority via an issue of Circus in August of 1976. The no-no from Naha begins:
"If Edgar Allen (sic) Poe were still alive, he would probably seek out Alan Parsons and brick him up behind a rather hefty concrete wall. The Parsons Projejct LP really hits Mr. Poe with a low blow, transforming many of his terrifying poems and stories into aimless tunes that Mike Quatro wouldn't be caught listening to after a Jesus Christ Superstar concert..." After this, the review gets nasty.
Despite critical nausea, The Alan Parsons Project flourished for over ten years, producing a lot of safe, catchy pop tunes in the tradition of E.L.O. if not "Jesus Christ Superstar." Ultimately hoping to compete with Andrew Lloyd-Weber himself, Woolfson found a new partner, Brian Brolly, and began writing musicals for the stage.
Their musical "Freudiana" didn't make it to London's West End, or Broadway, but it was a hit in Germany, where a follow-up musical about Antonio Gaudi was also a big success. Eric even tried to revisit Poe with a new musical, but it failed to get on the boards. An album of songs from the show exists, called "More Tales of Mystery and Imagination," and you can find information on it at www.poe-cd.com/home.html
Eric's last musical was "Dancing Shadows" in 2007. Below, his most famous song, co-written and sung by Eric, and the obvious inspiration for the photo top right. As two eyes in the sky, Eric may be reading along with you on this blog -- heaven must have free wi-fi.
EYE IN THE SKY