December 2nd, 2009 saw the pass­ing of a great song­writer.  Despite his many hit songs and inter­na­tion­al­ly suc­cess­ful albums, this loss bare­ly reg­is­tered amongst the crit­ics and reporters who han­dle today’s pop music press.  That said, this is prob­a­bly how the song­writer would have want­ed it.  He achieved mas­sive suc­cess with­out tak­ing on the bur­den of fame, pre­fer­ring to let his work do the talk­ing for him.  Thankfully, that work was good enough to ensure it will be on the radio for years to come.

This song­writer was Eric Woolfson.  The name may not imme­di­ate­ly sound famil­iar, prob­a­bly because his bet­ter-known col­lab­o­ra­tor had the name billing on their most famous ven­ture — the Alan Parsons Project.  By the time he worked with Parsons, Woolfson was already a show­biz vet.  He had got­ten his start writ­ing pop songs for the likes of Marianne Faithful and the Tremeloes before mov­ing into music man­age­ment.  One of his clients was Parsons, an engi­neer and pro­duc­er who want­ed his own record­ing career.  Together, this duo would make it hap­pen on an epic scale.

The divi­sion of work was sim­ple:  Woolfson pro­vid­ed the songs, Parsons pro­vid­ed the arrange­ments & pro­duc­tion know-how.  Both devel­oped the con­cepts for their albums, which includ­ed every­thing from a sur­vey of Edgar Allen Poe’s work (Tales Of Mystery & Imagination) to the dehu­man­iz­ing aspects of urban life (Stereotomy).  However, they real­ly set them­selves apart from the album-rock set by their approach to the per­for­mance aspect of their music: they chose singers and instru­men­tal­ists to suit the mate­ri­al instead of vice ver­sa, uti­liz­ing a revolv­ing group of per­form­ers on each album.

The result was a face­less “group” that still man­aged to have a dis­tinc­tive style all its own.  Woolfson’s songs did the talk­ing for the enig­mat­ic cre­ators and he did a bril­liant job of trans­lat­ing their grandiose ambi­tions into lush yet hum­ma­ble songs that strad­dled rock and pop in a unique­ly grown-up fash­ion.  The lyrics were always intel­li­gent but down to earth, mar­ried to thought­ful­ly craft­ed melodies that have real stay­ing pow­er.  Fittingly, songs like “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” and “Eye In The Sky” have gone on to become AOR ever­greens.

Woolfson also played a vital role in the sound of their albums by sup­ply­ing key­board work and vocals.  His voice had a smooth, mel­low qual­i­ty that was rem­i­nis­cent of Rick Wright from Pink Floyd.  It per­fect­ly suit­ed the mate­ri­al he wrote for the group, lend­ing a sooth­ing, thought­ful qual­i­ty to the lyrics.  A great exam­ple of his vocal style is  “Time,” the cen­ter­piece from what is per­haps the group’s best album, The Turn Of A Friendly Card.  His voice takes the stir­ring melody from a gen­tle lul­laby to soar­ing heights again­st a lav­ish, orches­trat­ed back­drop.  The end result is cin­e­mat­ic yet imbued with a direct, emo­tion­al qual­i­ty… there­in lies the appeal of the Alan Parsons Project.

Woolfson part­ed ways with Parsons as the 1980’s drew to a close, redi­rect­ing his song­writ­ing energies toward the cre­ation of musi­cals.  He enjoyed much suc­cess in Germany and Korea with his the­atri­cal work, which often includ­ed reworked ver­sions of his Alan Parsons Project clas­sics.  Sadly, he was enjoy­ing a resur­gence as a record­ing artist around the time of his pass­ing, cre­at­ing albums of Alan Parsons Project-style mate­ri­al that were con­nect­ing with fans new and old.

At the very least, fans can take com­fort in the fact that Woolfson left behind a rich lega­cy.  The Alan Parsons Project albums were recent­ly reis­sued in anno­tat­ed, expand­ed edi­tions that are well worth the time for any­one who wants to learn about this press-shy but very tal­ent­ed song­writer.  His recent solo albums are also easy to find and more can be found via his offi­cial web­site.  His high-qual­i­ty brand of AOR will always be a stan­dard bear­er for the gen­re, an achieve­ment that is worth more than the fame he avoid­ed.  People may not always know his name but they’ll remem­ber those songs.