MAY 1976 (36 YEARS AGO)
The Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4/5
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Tales of Mystery and Imagination is the debut album by The Alan Parsons Project, released in May, 1976. It peaked at #38 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether” peaked at #37 on the Pop Singles chart. In July, 2010, the album was named as one of Classic Rock magazine’s “50 Albums That Built Prog Rock”.
The album’s avant-garde soundscapes kept it from being a blockbuster, but the interesting lyrical and musical themes — retellings of horror stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe — attracted a cult audience. The title of the album is taken from a popular title for a collection of Poe’s macabre tales of the same name, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, first published in 1908 and reprinted many times since.
Musicians featured on the album include vocalist Arthur Brown of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (who sings The Tell Tale Heart) and Francis Monkman, who had played with Curved Air and later founded Sky.
The maiden voyage of the Alan Parsons Project, 1976’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe, finds Parsons paying homage to the thrilling work of suspense legend Edgar Allan Poe. Although such an ambitious undertaking would likely be a disaster for most debuting artists, Parsons had engineered albums by the Beatles and Pink Floyd, making the British musician more than familiar with adventurous, highly textured records.
Tales opens with no less than film legend Orson Welles providing narration over Parsons’s mesmerizing melody for “A Dream Within a Dream,” while “The Raven” and “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” prove to be the most pop-oriented tracks on the album, employing electronically treated vocals and prog-rock pomp and circumstance to convey the arch strangeness of these stories. Much of Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe consists of keyboard-driven instrumentals that capture the suspenseful nature of Poe’s work, most notably the haunting “Intermezzo” and the spine-chilling “Fall,” both part of the “Fall of the House of Usher” suite. To listen to Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe is to hear a young artist challenging himself from his creative outset and crafting an intriguing set of songs in the process.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Tales of Mystery and Imagination undertakes the difficult task of transforming some of Edgar Allan Poe’s writings into music. Alan Parsons, best known for engineering Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, conceptualized the project with Poe “appreciator” Eric Woolfson. Andrew Powell arranged and conducted the orchestra and choir that dominate the album and there are vocal appearances by John Miles, the Hollies’ Terry Sylvester and Arthur Brown, among others.
Unfortunately, the tension and sense of impending, surreal terror that underscore most of Poe’s work simply didn’t get transferred into the musical interpretations. Arthur Brown’s unique vocal ravings on “The Tell-Tale Heart” come closest because they supply the necessary dose of hysteria. The most ambitious track, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” rises majestically with a Fantasia-like opening and a spectacular thunderstorm, then shifts into intermezzo and pavane passages that are quite moving. But the atonal, chaotic “fall” seems more an intrusion on the rest of the opus than the holocaustal finale it should have been.
There are, however, some very beautiful selections, particularly “The Cask of Amontillado” and the fascinating “The Raven.” But devotees of Gothic literature will have to wait for someone with more of the macabre in their blood for a truer musical reading of Poe’s often terrifying works.
~Billy Altman (September 23, 1976)
“A Dream Within A Dream” [instrumental] – 4:14
“The Raven” – 3:57
“The Tell-Tale Heart” – 4:38 (ft. Arthur Brown)
“The Cask of Amontillado” – 4:33 (ft. John Miles)
“(The System Of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” – 4:20
“The Fall of the House of Usher [instrumental] – 16:10
“Prelude” – 7:02
“Arrival” – 2:39
“Intermezzo” – 1:00
“Pavane” – 4:36
“Fall” – 0:51
“To One in Paradise” – 4:46
Orson Welles’ narration appears on the 1987 Remix only, at the beginning of “A Dream Within a Dream” and “Prelude”.
2007 deluxe edition
Disc 1: Tracks 1-11, Original Album in Original 1976 Mix
“The Raven” (original demo)
“Edgar” (demo of an unreleased track)
“Orson Welles Radio Spot”
“Interview with Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson” (1976)
Disc 2: Tracks 1-11, Original Album in 1987 Remix
“Eric’s Guide Vocal Medley”
“Orson Welles Dialogue”
“Sea Lions in the Departure Lounge” (sound effects and experiments)
“GBH Mix” (unreleased experiments)