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RE/P Files: The Rise Of Alan Parsons

A look inside the early career and techniques of an industry legend on classics from Let It Be to Dark Side of the Moon.

By Howard Cummings October 31, 2018

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From the October 1976 issue of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, Howard Cummings interviews a legend of the industry, producer/engineer Alan Parsons.

Howard Cummings: How did you get involved in this business?

Alan Parsons: Well, I started playing piano when I was 6 or 7 and started playing flute when I was 13. Then I gave up for awhile and kind of lost interest in playing music and had more interest in listening to it.

When I was about 13, I started playing guitar and got interested in The Beatles and started saying “How the hell did they do that?”

I left school and got a job for a big research lab at EMI, Middlesex, and found my main interest didn’t lie in television camera research. After a short time I went to the high-speed duplication department and one of the first things I heard was The Beatles REVOLVER LP on probably the first good Hi-Fi system I’d ever set eyes upon . . . and I thought … “Hey, what’s going on?“ Within a year-and-a-half of that I started work at EMI-Abbey Road. (October ‘67)

Howard Cummings: What were some of your main musical influences back in the 50’s and 60’s?

Alan Parsons: Mmmmm, I was never an Elvis fan. A little Eddie Cochran – I was probably a Cliff Richard fan more than anything, also the Shadows. He was probably one of the first persons to get a sort-of clean studio sound with engineers such as Malcolm Addey, one of the greats who’s since moved to the States.

Howard Cummings: Do you remember the first series of sessions you worked on?

Alan Parsons: Some of them were the Hollies SORRY SUZANNE sessions around when Graham Nash left. Also the HOLLIES SING DYLAN LP which I assisted on with Peter Bown. Peter is an Abbey Road engineer who helped me considerably in the early part of my career. I assisted on The Hollies HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY BROTHER … Here’s something I bet you didn’t know. Who played piano on HE AIN’t . . .

HC: Elton John. He also played on CAN’T TELL THE BOTTOM FROM THE TOP.

AP: Oh, you did know. I was also involved in some of the Beatles’ LET IT BE sessions in the Apple basement. That was kind of unusual because first of all, I was on staff at EMI working at Apple, and second of all, the Apple studio at that time (Jan. `69) was virtually only two rooms separated by a pane of glass. There was also the EMI console moved into Apple for their use and I think there were two of them because it was an 8-track session.

HC: How about their ABBEY ROAD sessions?

AP: Yes, I was a “second” on some of it. I remember my part was fairly involved with chalk marks on the tape bringing in cues etc. That was their first 8-track board/8-track tape session. Some of their “white” album had been 8-track tape with 4-track board. One interesting technique we tried (with Geoff Emerick) was the pre-echo thing on MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER. By using the three tape recorders we got a backwards echo intro so it would sound `J-JOA JOA-JOA-JOAN was quizzical . . . “. But we decided it sounded too cheap.

HC: How were the George Martin vibes while he was working with Geoff Emerick and Phil MacDonald? (engineers).

AP: I think it was George that was holding the whole thing together at that time because the break-up of the Beatles was coming – it was imminent.

HC: Could you see it?

AP: Literally only one or two of the Beatles would be there for over-dubs on their own songs. The basic tracks were done fairly quickly and the album was done in about 8 weeks.

HC: Did you work on the Hollies BUTTERFLY album?

AP: No, that was probably the last thing Graham worked on before leaving. I was still at the duplication facility at the time. I always thought that was one of their best albums – so far ahead of its time then.

HC: When that album hit the States, it was in such altered form with a re-mix, missing songs, missing sound effects. With my being a great Hollies fan, it was very disappointing. The stereo hardly sounded good.

AP: Really? In those days, even SGT. PEPPER was really a mono record and the stereo version was not as good because everything was geared to mono much more in those days.

HC: After their Dylan album came “HOLLIES SING HOLLIES” and their CONFESSIONS album. How did you feel working on that material?

AP: I thought they were going for another BUTTERFLY and writing all their own material. I thought the song CONFESSIONS OF A MIND was the best one. It was the first time they had tried to link up two different tunes together, and it worked!

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