Alan Parsons Project – Pyramid (remastered)

Alan Parsons Project - Pyramid (remastered)Though I reviewed the original release of this album quite a while back, this is the remastered and expanded version issued by Sony after its acquisition of the Arista back catalog. Over the years I’ve waffled a bit on what my favorite Alan Parsons Project albums are, but Pyramid and Eve are the two I keep coming back to, because the melding of theme/concept and music are just about perfect. In its remastered form, Pyramid is quite literally loud and clear, though it’s worth noting that I really didn’t have any complaints about the album in its original form. The remaster adds some alternate takes and backing-track-only mixes – essentially, the musical equivalent of DVD deleted scenes – of ther material that’s already available. There aren’t any unreleased tracks from the Pyramid sessions – or at least, not any that anybody wanted to put on this CD.

The original album tracks have aged gracefully, and if anything – at least to my ears – Pyramid has only gained potency with time. The album’s theme, concerning itself with human mortality and the idea of attempting to attain immortality through what one leaves behind, was quite clearly on display when I first heard Pyramid as a teenager, but with the benefit of 20+ years to think on those topics and to revisit the music, it’s more meaningful now. The entirety of Pyramid is one of the most cohesive concept albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, and even with the grandiose, sprawling cinematic arrangements, not a note is wasted. “What Goes Up…” remains one of the Project’s all-time best tunes, while I’ve grown to appreciate “Can’t Take It With You” and “One More River” more as the years have gone by. This is a Concept Album with a capital C and a capital A, an organic entity that needs to be heard all in one sitting, despite most of its individual songs being strong enough to stand alone.

The bonus tracks kick off with a lengthy instrumental suite spanning much of the first side of the album (for those who are old enough to think in terms of albums having “sides,” that is), giving you a clearer listen at the intricate arrangements of “What Goes Up…” and “The Eagle Will Rise Again”. The latter is gorgeous even in instrumental form, with Chris Rainbow’s overdubbed-and-overdubbed-again background harmonies being especially worthy of praise. A frequent collaborator with the Project, he often built the entire backing vocals himself, though his contributions have remained largely – if you’ll forgive the awful pun – unsung by many fans and music historians.

A very early demo version of “Voyager” is paired with “Little Voices”, a song that underwent a major reworking to become “What Goes Up…”; you can hear Eric Woolfson experimenting with many of the melodic and harmonic twists and turns that would eventually feature in “What Goes Up…”, as well as messing around with still only vaguely formed lyrics that clearly were in their infancy. Another early demo shows the early evolution of the instrumental “Hyper-Gamma-Spaces”, though the churning background synth line that became that song’s trademark is completely absent, this demo concentrating instead on the main synth melody. A demo and an orchestra-free backing track show the evolution of the epic instrumental “In The Lap Of The Gods”, which always seemed like a soundtrack cue sitting around waiting for a movie to happen.

If there’s a jaw-dropping shocker in Pyramid‘s bonus tracks, it’s an early demo of “The Eagle Will Rise Again”, showing that song’s early life as an acoustic rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on any pre-Monster R.E.M. album. In fact, the thought struck me that this instrumental tryout of “Eagle” would segue beautifully into “Losing My Religion”. I’ll admit that I never once heard the finished song and thought of it as being a candidate for this treatment. I almost wish now that it had been finished out in this form at some point, just as an experiment. It’s the same tune, but radically reformatted.

Those wondering where to find the latest trio of remastered Project albums in North America will have to brace themselves for paying import prices. Apparently the two remasters which saw general release in the States (I Robot, Eye In The Sky) slid under the radar for most music buyers, and apparently the label suspected they would, with the remaster of Vulture Culture hitting shops in the U.K. and Europe only. (Fortunately, you can click our link and get an imported copy at a not-completely-unreasonable 4 out of 4price.)

Pyramid is still one of my all-time favorite rock albums, and hearing it with these various “deleted scenes” just helps me to appreciate its strengths and quirks all over again. Definitely one of the better Alan Parsons Project remasters.

Order this CD

  1. Voyager (2:14)
  2. What Goes Up… (3:40)
  3. The Eagle Will Rise Again (4:22)
  4. One More River (4:16)
  5. Can’t Take It With You (5:06)
  6. In The Lap Of The Gods (5:30)
  7. Pyramania (2:43)
  8. Hyper-Gamma-Spaces (4:20)
  9. The Shadow Of A Lonely Man (5:44)
  10. Voyager / What Goes Up / The Eagle Will Rise Again (Instrumental Version) (8:55)
  11. What Goes Up / Little Voice (Early Version Demo) (4:07)
  12. Can’t Take It With You (Early Version Demo) (1:45)
  13. Hyper-Gamma-Spaces (Demo) (2:21)
  14. The Eagle Will Rise Again (Alternate Version – Backing Track) (3:20)
  15. In The Lap Of The Gods (Part 1 – Demo) (3:14)
  16. In The Lap Of The Gods (Part 2 – Backing Track Rough Mix) (1:55)

Released by: Legacy
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 63:33

Superman: The Movie – music by John Williams

Superman: The MovieThe music from the Star Wars trilogy alone would qualify John Williams as a genius. The music from Superman confirms this, as do many other of his works. One of these days, despite the pop culture roots of his work, Williams will overcome all the naysayers’ claims that he’s merely been running Wagner, Holst and Korngold through a musical cuisinart.

Need proof? One need look no further than Williams’ score for the 1978 Richard Donner opus Superman, that rare commodity known as A Good Superhero Movie. (Indeed, as far as this viewer is concerned, the next Good Superhero Movie was 2000’s X-Men, but that’s a whole other article.)

While it shares a few common musical threads with the music from Star Wars, Williams’ accompaniment for the world’s most famous superhero has, in places, an inexplicably more down-to-earth feel. The main theme is just as well known as the signature tune of Star Wars, yet the rest of the score has some true gems as well, including “The Trip To Earth”, “The Death Of Jonathan Kent” and “Leaving Home” (these two are practically joined at the hip), “The Big Rescue” and “Turning Back The World”. Many of these pieces, surprisingly, were not on the original soundtrack album, but fortunately the entire score was located and remastered for this 2-CD release (which preceeded the DVD release of the movie by several months). The sound is excellent, the liner notes booklet is positively brimming with a wealth of fascinating information on both movie and music, and for 4 out of 4those who actually want to hear “Can You Read My Mind?”, there are no fewer than four different versions here, two of them featuring the poetic reading of the lyrics by one Margot “Lois Lane” Kidder. (For those who actually want to hear all four of these, knock yourself out – I must admit, I don’t listen to ’em too often.)

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Prelude and Main Title March (5:29)
  2. The Planet Krypton (6:40)
  3. Destruction of Krypton (7:52)
  4. Star Ship Escapes (2:21)
  5. The Trip To Earth (2:28)
  6. Growing Up (2:34)
  7. Death of Jonathan Kent (3:24)
  8. Leaving Home (4:51)
  9. The Fortress of Solitude (9:17)
  10. Welcome to Metropolis (2:11)
  11. Lex Luthor’s Lair (4:47)
  12. The Big Rescue (5:55)
  13. Super Crime Fighter (3:20)
  14. Super Rescues (2:13)
  15. Luthor’s Luau (2:47)
  16. The Planet Krypton alternate (4:24)
  17. Main Title March alternate (4:36)
    Disc two

  1. Superman March alternate (3:48)
  2. The March of the Villains (3:36)
  3. The Terrace (1:34)
  4. The Flying Sequence (8:13)
  5. Lois and Clark (0:50)
  6. Crime of the Century (3:23)
  7. Sonic Greeting (2:21)
  8. Misguided Missiles and Kryptonite (3:26)
  9. Chasing Rockets (4:55)
  10. Superfeats (4:52)
  11. Super Dam and Finding Lois (5:11)
  12. Turning Back The World (2:06)
  13. Finale and End Title March (5:42)
  14. Love Theme from Superman (5:05)
  15. Can You Read My Mind – alternate (2:58)
  16. Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind (Margot Kidder – vocals) (8:10)
  17. Can You Read My Mind (instrumental) (2:56)
  18. Theme from Superman (concert version) (4:24)

Released by: Rhino
Release date: 2000
Disc one total running time: 75:09
Disc two total running time: 73:30

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind – John Williams

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind soundtrackJohn Williams’ first project after the universally-acclaimed Star Wars soundtrack couldn’t have been much more different from George Lucas’ space opera. Williams provided some very challengingly abstract music, as well as some wonderfully intelligent melodies, for Steven Spielberg’s definitive UFO film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

It could be argued that, with the cacophonous bursts of atonal sound that occur frequently in the first half of the movie, Williams ventured into more mature musical territory than he did with Star Wars, but he also created plenty of memorable motifs, which took over the bulk of the score as Richard Dreyfuss’ character embarked on a quest to find the truth.

Included on the CD is the complete end suite in which aliens and humans attempt to communicate with one another through a musical sequence almost sounding like dueling tubas. Though it has been re-recorded on various soundtrack collections (among them Silva’s Space and Beyond), the original has a unique sound and stands out as one of the highlights of both movie and soundtrack.

The extensive final cue, which picks up when human test pilots volunteer to serve as “exchange students” – leaving Earth aboard the aliens’ ship to learn about their culture – and continuing right on through the end credits, contains some of the most memorable and beautiful music ever created for a film. The gentle rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” surprised me when I first heard it, but it also fits perfectly, lending 4 out of 4an air of innocence to the benign alien encounter, a nice shift away from the abstract horror of the movie’s first reel.

I can’t recommend this soundtrack highly enough.

Order this CD

  1. Opening – Let There Be Light (0:46)
  2. Navy Planes (2:07)
  3. Lost Squadron (2:23)
  4. Roy’s First Encounter (2:41)
  5. Encounter At Crescendo Summit (1:21)
  6. Chasing UFOs (1:18)
  7. False Alarm (1:42)
  8. Barry’s Kidnapping (6:19)
  9. The Cover-Up (1:26)
  10. Stars And Trucks (0:44)
  11. Forming The Mountain (1:50)
  12. TV Reveals (1:50)
  13. Roy And Gillian On The Road (1:10)
  14. The Mountain (3:31)
  15. Who Are You People? (1:35)
  16. The Escape (2:18)
  17. The Escape – alternate cue (2:40)
  18. Trucking (2:01)
  19. Climbing The Mountain (2:32)
  20. Outstretch Hands (2:48)
  21. Light Show (3:43)
  22. Barnstorming (4:26)
  23. The Mothership (4:34)
  24. Wild Signals (4:12)
  25. The Returnees (3:45)
  26. The Visitors / Bye / End Titles: The Special Edition (12:31)

Released by: Arista
Release date: 1978 (special edition released in 1998)
Total running time: 77:21

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds“a ‘Lights Out’ television show, and ‘Amos and Andy’ on the radio”
– Gene Cotton, “Like a Sunday in Salem”

When people think of rock operas, they normally think of Tommy, Ziggy Stardust, I Robot, maybe even Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the movie version of which nearly killed the careers of Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees.) Who would have thought that “War Of The Worlds” would have been ripe for rock opera? Jeff Wayne did.

Released in the United States in 1978, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds features movie legend Richard Burton as The Journalist, with performances by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Chris Thompson of Mannford Mann’s Earth Band, David Essex, and others.

The plot is a fairly standard retelling of the original H.G. Wells novel set at the turn of the century. The Martians invade. We don’t have a chance.

Richard Burton’s reporter is one of the first people on the scene when the cylinders begin landing on the Earth, and he wanders through the English countryside following the devastation caused by the Martians. For the most part, Burton provides a strong performance. At times though, he seems detached, as though he’s reading words on a page, not witnessing “the rout of civilization, the massacre of mankind.”

Julie Covington steals the show as Beth, the wife of Parson Nathaniel, who is played by Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Her crisp, impassioned voice coupled with her lyrics in “The Spirit Of Man” provide the psychological and emotional underpinning of the entire double album, and provides a counterpoint to Lynott’s over-the-top performance.

Musically, JWMVWotW betrays its mid-1970s roots. It’s heavy with synthesizers and tends to fall into a disco-like beat from time to time. But there’s a little bit of something for everyone. More than 20 years later it still sounds fresh. Just as with any good opera, the music establishes moods and becomes an uncredited actor in the proceedings, filling in gaps that aren’t spoken, sung, or otherwise voiced.

The initial uncapping of one of the Martian cylinders and the attack of the heat ray are absolutely hair-raising, and the spread of the red weed is decidedly eerie. At first, the voice of the Martians is goofy and somewhat annoying. But soon, it becomes terrifying and ominous.

“Forever Autumn” (which was released as a single) and “Thunder Child” are the centerpieces that bring hope 4 out of 4and ultimately hopelessness. Later, with “happy” arrangements of most of the musical themes, David Essex explains his vision of a “Brave New World”, which is both stirring and sad.

Overall, JWMVWotW is a nearly flawless synthesis of a strong narrative and an equally strong musical score.

Order this CD

    Disc one: The Coming Of The Martians

  1. The Eve Of The War (9:07)
  2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11:36)
  3. Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (10:37)
  4. Forever Autumn (7:42)
  5. Thunder Child (6:07)
    Disc two: The Earth Under The Martians

  1. Red Weed part 1 (5:53)
  2. Spirit Of Man (11:38)
  3. Red Weed part 2 (5:25)
  4. The Artilleryman Returns (1:27)
  5. Brave New World (12:15)
  6. Dead London (8:35))
  7. Epilogue part 1 (2:31)
  8. Epilogue part 2 – NASA (1:50)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: 1978
Disc one total running time: 45:10
Disc two total running time: 49:36

Meco – Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk

Meco - Star Wars and Other Galactic FunkI was both amazed and not at all surprised to see this gem of shameless disco cash-in appear on CD in the wake of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Amazed because I never expected to see Meco Menardo’s amusing 1978 disco tribute to John Williams’ Star Wars score in CD form, but not at all surprised, because if it was indeed going to happen, it would happen now as every licensee attempts to carve out its own slice of the Star Wars pie (and fans’ dollars). Complete with the giggle-inducing original cover artwork and credits, this CD re-issue, not unlike the movie, takes me back to my youth. My older brother got me this album on 8-track tape when it was brand new, and I remember listening to it incessantly. And I have to admit, I’ve probably listened to the entirety of the album two or three times within half a week of buying it! As goofy as the idea of a fifteen minute long disco distillation of the entire Star Wars score may be, it’s actually done with some measure of a class. The string and brass sections, though they sound more like the brass section of the Sound of Philadelphia than the London Symphony, are quite impressive. And truthfully, the score is given a very faithful reading by Meco’s large ensemble. New interstitial material was created to jump as gracefully as possible from one theme to the next, and some of that is rather interesting, especially the bits expanding on the Cantina Band’s tune. The only thing that keeps me from declaring the whole Star Wars track an exercise in somewhat dated class is the frequent recurrence of goofy laser, lightsaber and R2-D2 sound-alike effects. But I do respect their presence in the mix – this is what Meco’s Star Wars tribute sounded like way back when. Even more impressive than the Star Wars suite is the equally-long original track, “Other Galactic Funk”, which merely filled out space on the original album but has always been my favorite. Though clearly grounded in disco, “Other Galactic Funk” takes a heavy dose of marching band drum soloing – outstanding drum soloing at that.

3 out of 4 starsIn closing, some very young collectors of all things Star Wars may pick this oddity up, listen to it, and think, “Oh, dude, this sucks!” But, not unlike Star Wars itself, Meco’s Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk album is a page right out of my childhood. Guilty pleasure or not, outdated or not, I have to admit I like it!

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Star Wars (15:49)
  2. Other Galactic Funk (12:31)
  3. Star Wars / Cantina Band – 7″ edit (3:32)
  4. Star Wars / Cantina Band – 12″ disco promotional mix (7:35)

Released by: Hip-O Records
Release date: 1978 (re-released 1999)
Total running time: 39:30

Electric Light Orchestra – Live At Wembley, 1978

Electric Light Orchestra - Live At Wembley, 1978This has been available on videotape for ages, but in the past three or so years has seen release on CD and DVD as well. Does that really improve it? Well…no. Not really. Despite being a Royal Gala performance (with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in the crowd), this is far from the best live show ELO has ever put on. There are far stronger performances on the BBC Sessions disc and Live At Winterland. But this was from “the spaceship tour!” So naturally, this is what everyone remembers. (In case you’re one who doesn’t: the spaceship tour is the year-long globetrotting circuit ELO did using an enormous fiberglass spaceship set as its stage; the “flying saucer,” a weak likeness of the famous ELO spaceship on the Out Of The Blue album cover, would open each night with an elaborate fog and light show to reveal the band within – provided that the hydraulics to open the “lid” and lift the band up into view worked. Jeff Lynne has since likened the 1978 tour to Spinal Tap.)

Things start out somewhat inauspiciously with the “Concerto For A Rainy Day / Standin’ In The Rain” intro…on tape. The rendition of the remainder of the song following the intro isn’t exactly the band’s high point.

The fact of the matter is that the sound on this album is atrocious. If you’re going to spring for the Live At Wembley album, get the DVD instead of the CD. That way, at least the awful sound quality is at least offset by the ability to see something. And sadly, this is probably the only concert footage of ELO we’re going to see until Lynne and his new recruits hit the road to crank out the classics and the new stuff 1 out of 4from Zoom this summer.

The DVD also features an entire separate section featuring the complete collection of laughably low-budget videos from the album Discovery, a nice bonus to help justify the cost.

Order this CD

  1. Introduction – Tony Curtis (2:48)
  2. Standin’ In The Rain (3:37)
  3. Night In The City (3:52)
  4. Turn To Stone (3:53)
  5. Tightrope (4:34)
  6. Telephone Line (4:19)
  7. Rockaria! (2:52)
  8. Wild West Hero (3:09)
  9. Showdown (3:13)
  10. 1-Minute Talk (0:54)
  11. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (3:53)
  12. Mr. Blue Sky (3:38)
  13. Do Ya (4:46)
  14. Livin’ Thing (3:57)
  15. Roll Over Beethoven (6:45)

Released by: Eagle / Edel
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 56:10

Alan Parsons Project – Pyramid

Alan Parsons Project - PyramidThis is one of the best, if not the unchallenged best, product of the Alan Parsons Project in the 1970s. Beginning with the “Voyager” instrumental – sonically far ahead of its time – which segues into the bleak mortal pangs of “What Goes Up…” and then to the utter devotion of “The Eagle Will Rise Again”, this album kicks off with – to use a phrase which is now an entry in the dictionary of clichè – an emotional roller coaster ride through the Valley of Death. The Parsons Heartbreaker for this album is “The Shadow Of A Lonely Man”, a long and pitiful summation of the entire album’s theme –4 out of 4 that all attempts at permanence are futile, resistance is irrelevant, and even attempting to create something as mighty as a pyramid is pointless, for all those who see and remember it will pass on. Not a good choice of listening for those prone to bouts of suicidal depression, but for those wishing to rise above the banality of bubble gum pop, this is it.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Voyager (2:15)
  2. What Goes Up… (3:57)
  3. The Eagle Will Rise Again (4:04)
  4. One More River (4:17)
  5. Can’t Take It With You (5:03)
  6. In the Lap of the Gods (5:30)
  7. Pyramania (2:43)
  8. Hyper-Gamma-Spaces (4:20)
  9. The Shadow of a Lonely Man (5:35)

Released by: Arista
Release date: 1978
Total running time: 37:44