Russell was right. I did get a big kick out of his unexpected, early morning post about I Robot, and not just because I like to see postings on the family blog.
I think I Robot is a classic album, and Russell’s tale of listening to that album at the close of an college all-nighter had some real resonance with me. I’m pretty sure that, back in 1978 or 1979, I pulled another all-nighter to finish classwork and write a column that had been the subject of unseemly procrastination and listened to I Robot when 4 or 5 or 6 a.m. rolled around and I needed some inspiration. In those days, of course, there were no Ipods or personal computers with CD players or, for that matter, decent headphones — so when the wee small hours came you needed to dial back the volume on the stereo and replace, say, Exile on Main Street with a more quiet, contemplative album like I Robot. Reading Russell’s post was like being time-warped back to the grim, green-carpeted kitchen at 101 W. 8th Avenue in the spring of 1979. More on that later, perhaps.
To answer Russell’s specific question — of course I Robot didn’t spring into life, Athena-like, from the fertile creative brain of Alan Parsons. The ’70s were filled with “concept albums,” a genre that probably started in 1967 with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Synthesizer rock” became big in the ’70s, but it also traced its roots back to the ’60s, and to bands like Procol Harum and Whiter Shade of Pale. And albums that combined some vocals with long, instrumental sections were a staple of the “alternative” stations of the ’60s, where long songs like Inna Gadda da Vida by Iron Butterfly were the norm.
So what is like I Robot — a ’70s album with a theme, some synthesizers, and some longer songs? I can’t come up with an exhaustive list, but with the help of my friend JV, I’ve come up some suggestions, in no particular order:
1. The Beatles, Abbey Road — Side one of the album is pretty damn good, side two — with its blended together songs and snippets, ranging from the simple acoustical purity of the intro to Here Comes the Sun to the fine harmonies of Sun King to the humor of You Never Give Me Your Money, and all of the other fabulous tunes — is just otherworldly. It is, I think, the best album side ever recorded as well as the best “end of the all-nighter” music ever conceived.
2. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon — The classic album of my college days, with songs that ran seamlessly together, music that sounded like the soundtrack to a dream, and lyrics that caused any thoughtful college student to sink into a reverie — until the alarm clock abruptly rang.
3. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here — An even dreamier (and in my humble opinion, musically superior) Pink Floyd album about the mental breakdown of Syd Barrett, a former member of Pink Floyd, that includes one of the greatest, longest split-up songs ever recorded, Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
4. Electric Light Orchestra, Eldorado — Another dreamy concept album that supposedly had an internal theme, but one that was pretty elusive to mere mortals. It featured a bunch of great songs, like Mister Kingdom and Nobody’s Child. Side two of the album was a killer.
5. Yes, Yessongs — Yes was perhaps the quintessential synthesizer/keyboards band of the ’70s (sorry, Emerson Lake and Palmer), and I think Yessongs was their masterpiece. A two-album set, the second disk consisted solely of terrific, extended, drawn-out songs, like I’ve Seen All Good People, Long Distance Runaround, and Starship Trooper.
6. The Moody Blues, This Is The Moody Blues — I admit that this double album was a kind of greatest hits album, but it really captured the blurry, ethereal music and thoughtful lyrics of The Moody Blues (as well as their somewhat over-the-top pretensions). This was another college early morning hours favorite that was packed with excellent sun-coming-up tunes.
I think any one of these would serve you in good stead at 5 a.m., Russell!