Hear The Alan Parson Project’s Prog-Rock Interpretation of Isaac Asimov’s, I Robot (1977)

Pro­gres­sive rock, at its best, meant bring­ing in tech­niques and influ­ences not, up to that point, com­mon in rock music. Part of this meant employ­ing a kind of tech­ni­cal vir­tu­os­i­ty more often heard in more estab­lished musi­cal tra­di­tions, and anoth­er part meant draw­ing from a wider and deep­er pool of musi­cal and cul­tur­al influ­ences than did oth­er rock com­po­si­tions. The Alan Par­sons Project estab­lished their prog-rock cre­den­tials right out of the gate with their intri­cate­ly craft­ed debut album Tales of Mys­tery and Imag­i­na­tion, not just based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe but includ­ing a read­ing from that work by none oth­er than Orson Welles.

How to fol­low up a record like that? For an answer, Par­sons and his col­lab­o­ra­tor in the Project Eric Woolf­son turned from the past toward the future — or rather, toward Isaac Asi­mov’s vision of the future.

I Robot appeared in 1977, hav­ing tak­en its inspi­ra­tion in the stu­dio from Asi­mov’s Robot series, a uni­verse of sto­ries and nov­els which posit­ed the inven­tion of machines with some­thing resem­bling human con­scious­ness.

Asi­mov very much liked the idea of the album, but couldn’t—a pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny hav­ing bought the rights to his 1950 book I, Robotgrant per­mis­sion for a legal­ly straight adap­ta­tion. And so Par­sons and Woolf­son stayed out of trou­ble by remov­ing the com­ma from their title, and work­ing for­ward from Asi­mov’s con­cepts rather than ref­er­enc­ing them direct­ly. The result stands up to the test of time bet­ter than most sci­ence fic­tion, and cer­tain­ly bet­ter than most prog rock. You can lis­ten and judge for your­self on Spo­ti­fy, where the album recent­ly appeared free to lis­ten. (Don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware yet? You can down­load it here.)

You can also watch the rough but still haunt­ing ear­ly music video for its hit “I Would­n’t Want to Be Like You” at the top of the post. The album on the whole proved quite suc­cess­ful, due in large part, of course, to its musi­cal crafts­man­ship and endur­ing sto­ry, described by the lin­er notes as that of “the rise of the machine and the decline of man, which para­dox­i­cal­ly coin­cid­ed with his dis­cov­ery of the wheel.” But the tim­ing could­n’t have hurt: I Robot came out just a few weeks after Star Wars, which stoked again human­i­ty’s inter­est in far-flung real­i­ties, out­er space jour­neys, near-mys­ti­cal high tech­nolo­gies, and machines com­ing to life. In the words of Par­sons him­self, “there was a whole new gen­er­a­tion of sci-fi lovers,” and his music had an impor­tant place in that gen­er­a­tion’s sound­track.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Orson Welles Read Edgar Allan Poe on a Cult Clas­sic Album by The Alan Par­sons Project

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Isaac Asimov’s Favorite Sto­ry “The Last Ques­tion” Read by Isaac Asi­mov— and by Leonard Nimoy

Free: Isaac Asimov’s Epic Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy Dra­ma­tized in Clas­sic Audio

Isaac Asi­mov Explains the Ori­gins of Good Ideas & Cre­ativ­i­ty in Nev­er-Before-Pub­lished Essay

Isaac Asi­mov Explains His Three Laws of Robots

Leonard Nimoy Reads Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries From The Mar­t­ian Chron­i­cles & The Illus­trat­ed Man (1975–76)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • DeLoss McKnight says:

    Actu­al­ly, Orson Welles’ read­ing for Tales of Mys­tery and Imag­i­na­tion was on a re-issue of the album much lat­er. The orig­i­nal album did not have him on it. He does a great job of read­ing, but I pre­fer the ver­sion with­out him, because when you replay it often enough, you get tired of the read­ing part.

    I loved Tales of Mys­tery and Imag­i­na­tion so much I could­n’t wait for the new APP album to come out. Star Wars had noth­ing to do with my pur­chase. While I did­n’t think it was as good as the first album, I enjoyed it very much. I liked the instru­men­tals best of all. The lyrics I thought were a bit hokey. I did­n’t know about the rights issue, so that explains why there was so lit­tle about Asi­mov’s short sto­ries in the album. That was unfor­tu­nate.

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