30 Years Ago: The Alan Parsons Project Releases ‘Ammonia Avenue’
Conventional wisdom suggests that middle-of-the-road (MOR) soft rock and highbrow intellectual conceits shouldn’t make for happy bedfellows. But that was before they converged in the Alan Parsons Project, which built a remarkably successful career by applying pop music of many stripes to Steely Dan’s studio-bound perfectionism and Pink Floyd’s dreamy progressive rock signature.
In 1982, the group’s sixth album, ‘Eye in the Sky,’ had already capitalized on past accomplishments by crashing the U.S. Top 10 and delivering a No. 3 hit with its title track. So once Pink Floyd dissolved following the next year’s ‘The Final Cut’ LP, all conceivable commercial lanes seemed cleared for the APP to find even greater success with their seventh studio effort, ‘Ammonia Avenue.'
And things couldn’t have looked rosier when the album arrived in February 1984, as its lead-off single, ‘Don’t Answer Me,’ promptly raced into the Billboard Top 15 — even though it broke with many of the familiar APP sonic hallmarks, and took the ensemble down a unique and nostalgic trip back to Phil Spector’s vaunted “Wall of Sound” aesthetic.
The follow-up single, ‘Prime Time,’ fared nearly as well while returning to more familiar sounds, and, along with a solid batch of album tracks, ranging from punchy rockers (‘Let Me Go Home,’ ‘You Don’t Believe’) to weepy ballads (‘Since the Last Goodbye,’ the title cut), and even an evocative instrumental in ‘Pipeline,’ pushed ‘Ammonia Avenue’ near the top of the charts in numerous countries.
Unfortunately, 'Ammonia Avenue' still failed to match ‘Eye in the Sky’s’ platinum sales (earning a Gold certification instead) and one can’t help but wonder whether the APP’s sudden incompatibility with the new, image-conscious marketplace dominated by MTV -- clearly no fit place for balding old men sporting studio tans -- wasn’t partly to blame for this shortfall.
Whatever the real cause, the Alan Parsons Project’s commercial profile continued to fade with their follow-up album, ‘Vulture Culture,’ which tellingly arrived a mere five months later, and had in fact been intended to constitute a double LP, alongside ‘Ammonia Avenue.’ Instead, it contributed to APP fatigue and the end-days of the group’s chart dominance.