Backtracks: The Alan Parsons Project – Eye in the Sky

The motivation for the sixth album from The Alan Parsons Project is related to belief systems, whether they be religious beliefs, political beliefs or belief in luck (as in gambling). Generally, the premise is linked to the universal idea that there is someone looking down on us all. The album title is the expression that is often used in military and surveillance contexts.

That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, the Alan Parsons Project website. The album began after singer and songster Eric Woolfson heard the phrase “eye in the sky” on three separate occasions in the same day. This intrigued Woolfson, and the ‘Project’ began another project.

The ‘Eye in the Sky’ album was perhaps an exception to all the other albums we had done in the past. Something we had almost become recognised for is the fact that we have always had some form of theme running through the records we’ve done. At the same time I felt that it was time to break away from that, especially as we had so much negative criticism like being pretentious for constantly making concept albums. So this time we felt ‘let’s just go in and make an album and then maybe at the end decide what it’s all about’. So that’s what ‘Eye in the Sky’ really ended up being; a conceptless album but with a similar format as the previous albums.

Alan Parsons

Rumor has it that this album gets its theme from George Orwell’s 1984, which revolves around a dystopian future where citizens are constantly monitored by a totalitarian world government. However, even the official page of the Alan Parsons Project which talks about this song doesn’t mention any connection. There is also nothing in the lyrics to connect it with this novel.

A little more credible is the claim that it’s a reference to ceiling cameras, particularly in casinos, where the same term “eye in the sky” is used. In some ways, this is an extension of the band’s previous album, The Turn of a Friendly Card, which deals with gambling. Woolfson spent a lot of time in casinos and was fascinated with the hidden cameras watching his every move.

The album was recorded and mixed at Abbey Road and made it into music stores in June of 1982. It includes the Project’s biggest hit, the title track, with lead vocals by Woolfson. The album was a major success, reaching the Top 10 – sometimes making Number 1 – in numerous countries. On June 27th, 1982 the record entered Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at position 85, and on October 10th it peaked at number 3, spending nearly six months in the Top 100.

“Eye in the Sky” was the most successful song the group ever had and was their only U.S. Top 10 single. The single was ‘Top Twenty’ in seven different countries, making it to Numero Uno in Canada and Spain. It didn’t fare as well in the U.K., hardly a whimper, but then again, not many of their other songs did. The ‘Project’ used various members on lead vocals; Woolfson would usually record a guide vocal and Alan Parsons, who was also the group’s producer, would decide whose voice best suited the song. In later years, Parsons toured with a band and sang this song during performances.

Probably one of my most satisfying recording adventures besides with The Zombies, was with the Alan Parsons Project on a song that I really love called “Old And Wise,” from an album called Eye In The Sky. In some countries in Europe, that is a huge, huge hit. So if The Zombies go play in Holland, we have to play “Old And Wise,” and that will be the biggest song of the night. In different countries, you realize how different songs are more successful.

Colin Blunstone, Zombies co-founder and one of five vocalists on the album

The art on the album sleeve was designed by the acclaimed art design group Hipgnosis. The cover features the famous Egyptian symbol of the eye of Horus. Horus was one of the bird-headed Egyptian gods, with the head of a falcon. The eye symbol itself – in ironic contradiction to the lyrics – meant protection, power, and health.

On the album, an instrumental track “Sirius” proceeds and leads into “Eye in the Sky” however the intro was dropped when the song began getting airplay. “Sirius” went on to become the rally song for the NBA Chicago Bulls.

Woolfson was seldom used as a lead vocalist early on, though he did frequently provide guide vocals (now available on some of the expanded re-releases, such as ‘Tales’). His vocals first appeared on ‘Pyramid,’ but he wasn’t a featured vocalist (on released singles) until ‘Time’ (from The Turn of a Friendly Card). That’s a pity because his voice had an almost electric quality that meshed beautifully with the electronic music he and Parsons created, which is why he was my favorite of the many vocalists they used.

Between 1976 and 1986 the group had seventeen Top 100 records; their next biggest hit was “Time” in 1981, it ran out of steam at number 15. While it is true that “Eye…” was the only Top 10 U.S. hit, they released eight Top 40 entries in other countries from 1976 to 1984.

Parsons didn’t think highly of the title song and had to be convinced to put it on the album. As Woolfson tells it, he and the other musicians loved the song, but Parsons thought so little of it that he bet their guitarist Ian Bairnson that it would not be a hit.

Regarding Eric’s death in December of 2009, Alan issued a statement saying, “…He never let me forget that I actually disliked ‘Eye In The Sky’ when he first played it to me – arguably my most famous mistake.” We think you should check out the awesome web presence dedicated to Eric Woolfson — it is certainly inspiring!

In addition to the band website mentioned above, find the APP on FaceBook or you can even join the Alan Parsons Project Group. Other resources include Twitter, InstaGram, Tumblr, plus one more (unofficial) Alan Parsons Project website

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