By John M. Borack
Alan Parsons has enjoyed a long, fruitful career in the music industry. He began his career at the summit: working with the Beatles as an assistant engineer on the band’s final two albums. From there, he went on to assist on some early Paul McCartney solo releases, as well as working with Roy Wood, the Hollies, and Jeff Beck, engineering Pink Floyd’s mega-classic Dark Side of the Moon, and producing Pilot, Al Stewart and Ambrosia, among others.
In 1976, Parsons launched the highly successful Alan Parsons Project, who would go on to garner two top ten albums and eight top forty singles in the U.S., including the lush “Eye in the Sky,” which climbed to number three in 1982.
In this previously unpublished interview from 2011, Alan Parsons was kind enough to spend a few minutes reminiscing with me via telephone from his ranch in Santa Barbara, CA about his work with Paul McCartney and the Beatles.
Goldmine: You can’t really do much better than working with the Beatles right out of the chute.
Alan Parsons: It was a revelation. I was the second assistant engineer on Abbey Road, and at age 19 I couldn’t quite believe it!
GM: The band was in the process of splintering during that time.
AP: I never saw them in the studio together during the recording of Abbey Road; only individually. [But] it was a great album. I especially loved “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Golden Slumbers.”
GM: Prior to that, you worked on the Let it Be record. Over the years, McCartney has taken a good amount of flak over what was seen as him sort of imposing his will on the rest of the band at those sessions. As an insider, how did you see it?
AP: On Let it Be, Paul was driven; he was the only one who seemed to have any enthusiasm. He was in charge, [albeit] with a limited amount of success. But he unquestionably had the strongest songs on the album: “Get Back,” “Let it Be,” and “The Long and Winding Road.” But ultimately, Let it Be was an experiment that didn’t work.
GM: Moving on, you also engineered Wings’ debut album, 1971’s Wild Life, along with Tony Clarke at Abbey Road Studios.
AP: I also mixed the song “I Am Your Singer.” It was supposed to be a rough mix, but Paul liked it so much it ended up on the record. I’m on backing vocals on “Tomorrow” as well. On Wild Life, I was slightly surprised that Paul didn’t want to apply the same amount of polish as he had [on previous records]. There was no spending all night getting a bass part. He wanted it just to be a band.
GM: You also worked as an engineer on McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway. What are your thoughts on that album?
AP: I’m very proud of that one. For me, the highlight was “Little Lamb Dragonfly” – I think it’s the best-constructed song on the LP and still sounds very fresh. I remember that on “My Love,” originally the rhythm to the chorus was much more syncopated. We were originally going to record on the Rolling Stones’ mobile studio while Wings was on tour.
GM: What was it like working with Paul McCartney?
AP: He expected a lot of the engineers and he worked us hard – “Let’s get a better drum sound,” things like that. He and I became friends through our professional association, and I was always in awe of his talent from day one ‘til today. There is just this atmosphere that is created when he’s in a room – he lights it up.