One of the most important recording artists and sound engineers of the past 50 years, Alan Parsons has a loyal following in the US and mainland Europe, far more so than in his native UK. There, he is best known as “the guy who engineered Dark Side of the Moon” in 1973. His own body of work is most often tucked away gathering dust in the prog rock section of music shops.
That body of work has been significant. The primary output consists of 12 studio albums under the Alan Parsons Project moniker, which essentially consisted of Parsons, his long time collaborator Eric Woolfson and a collection of some of the best session musicians in the business including Arthur Brown, Steve Harley, Chris Rainbow, Joe Bonamassa, PJ Ollsen and dozens more.
When Woolfson passed away in 2009, Parsons divided his time between solo work, The Alan Parsons Live Project and remastering earlier Project material. The latest work to receive this treatment in 2023 is their fifth album, 1980’s The Turn of a Friendly Card. The new box set, comprising a host of bonus material, hit the shelves last month and is also available directly from the Alan Parson website. Let’s take a look at both the original album and the new remastered CD and box set.
An Ode to Gambling and Gamblers
Parsons and Woolfson never had much time for fashion. In 1980, punk and synth pop were in, prog rock and concept albums were out. So they decided to release a prog rock concept album. The Turn of a Friendly Card contains a mixture of stand-alone singles on one side and a longer suite that comprises the title track in several parts on side two. The format harks back to early 70s albums such as Pink Floyd’s Meddle.
The theme, however, was right up to date. In 1980, Las Vegas was a boom town and the World Series of Poker was starting to attract global attention. 40 odd years later, and some things certainly haven’t changed. Today it is all about online real money poker of course. You can check out the Tight Poker website to see some of the poker platforms that attract about 60 million US players each year, each of whom knows the potential behind the turn of a friendly card.
A Solid Entry that Has Improved with Age
When it was first released, the album sold well in the US, reaching 13 on the US billboard and achieving platinum sales. It also sold well in Germany and Austria, but elsewhere, flew largely under the radar.
40 years on, however, the tracks seem to have matured like fine wine. Games People Play and Time were both released as singles and achieved top-20 spots in the US charts. Both have received plenty of airplay from the classic rock stations over the years, as well as being concert favorites, making them among the Project’s most recognizable songs.
But it is the 16-minute title track that really delivers the magic all these years on, combining compelling rock and orchestral arrangements with some unforgettable vocal work by Chris Rainbow and Eric Woolfson. The 5.1 remaster serves as a fitting tribute to both, sharpening the original sound without losing its essence.
With three CDs and one blu-ray, the lavishly packaged remaster is heavy on bonus goodies. It is worth remembering the original single album was not even sold in a gatefold sleeve unlike previous Project albums. In fact, it was rushed out with almost indecent haste, and little attention was paid to how it was packaged.
Parsons has certainly made up for that here. The CDs have an intriguing assortment of outtakes, demos and rough mixes that provide an intriguing insight into the creative process and the genesis of tracks like The Gold Bug. There’s also an illustrated book and a replica of the original promo poster in every box.
The Show Goes on With New Material and The Live Project
Alan Parsons turned 74 last year, but like The Turn of a Friendly Card, he wears his years well. In fact, prog rock’s answer to Dorian Gray barely seems to have aged a day over the past 20 years. In 2019, he released his first new studio album in 15 years, and that was followed by another last year.
The Alan Parsons Live Project has been touring extensively to support the new material, and of course, the shows have included some classic crowd-pleasers from years gone by, too. Parsons himself is more at ease taking up the microphone and singing lead vocals than he used to be, especially on classics like Eye in the Sky. Mostly, though, he plays a little rhythm guitar or keyboard and is happy to hold court from his central podium on the stage while PJ Olleson and Todd Cooper share most of the vocals and the explosive Jeff Kollman gives every song a hard rock edge with his trademark Gibson. Tom Brooks (keyboards and vocals), Guy Erez (bass) and drummer Danny Thompson complete the regular line-up.
Unfortunately, Parsons was recently forced to postpone his 2023 schedule of US and European concerts to make time for urgent spinal surgery. A long-term issue that he had been managing with pain medication suddenly flared up, affecting his mobility, and doctors ordered him to postpone upcoming tour dates and get the problem resolved once and for alll. However, he has assured fans that the show will go on and the Alan Parsons Live Project will be in a position to announce revised dates soon.
In the meantime, the remastered Turn of a Friendly Card will be inspiring Project fans old and new to revisit the back catalog, from 1976’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination to the 2022 release From the New World and all that lies in between. Remastered versions of most are now available from the usual outlets and direct from Parsons’ website.