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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

Image courtesy of AlanParsons.com

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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