If someone asks whether you like Tales of Mystery and Imagination, you’d better clarify which Tales of Mystery and Imagination they mean: the first complete collection of horror and suspense stories by master of psychological unease Edgar Allan Poe, or the first album by progressive rock band The Alan Parsons Project? But if you like one, you might well like the other, given that Parsons based his group’s debut, which contains such tracks as “The Raven,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” directly on Poe’s work.
Not only do Parsons’ compositions use Poe’s themes, they use Poe’s words. “How important the Poe concept is is questionable,” declared the contemporary Billboard review, “but the LP as a whole holds up well as a viable musical work.” It having been 1976, the writer does note its “strong FM potential,” but time has much increased Tales of Mystery and Imagination‘s status in rock, progressive or otherwise. All Music Guide’s Mike DeGagne more recently called the album “an extremely mesmerizing aural journey” and “a vivid picture of one of the most alluring literary figures in history.”
Of course, those two reviews don’t evaluate quite the same production, since, in 1987, Parsons, a born studio tinkerer, went back and remixed Tales of Mystery and Imagination. He added a good deal of not just 1980s-style reverb, but new guitar bits and pieces of Poe recital, this time performed by no less an ideal reader than Orson Welles, who’d sent Parsons a tape of his Poe performance shortly after the original album appeared. You can hear his contribution on the tracks “A Dream Within a Dream” and “Fall of the House of Usher.” Both above. The complete album is available below on Spotify.
You might wonder what work of Poe’s, exactly, you hear Welles reading from, since none of it sounds like the writer’s best-known passages. The words spoken in “A Dream Within a Dream” come from a reflection Poe wrote in his Marginalia, and those in “The Fall of the House of Usher” perform something of a remix themselves, combining more nonfiction from the Marginalia with the introduction to his Poems of Youth. Only a dedicated Poe enthusiast indeed would recognize all these passages, but surely such a person would love both Tales of Mystery and Imagination and Tales of Mystery and Imagination. If you, personally, don’t go in for Poe in the prog-rock treatment, might I suggest Parsons’ take on Asimov?
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.