Following Tuesday’s look at Brian Protheroe’s albums collection, we’re exploring another recent box from Cherry Red and 7Ts!
“Oh-ho-ho, it’s magic, you know…”
With that memorable 1974 international hit, Pilot burst into the public consciousness. While the band founded by David Paton, Billy Lyall, and Stuart Tosh was only able to spin off three more chart singles, “Magic” remains a classic radio staple. 7Ts has collected the band’s first four long-players from 1974-1977 on a clamshell box set entitled, simply, The Albums.
Producer-engineer Alan Parsons played a significant role in shaping the Scottish soft rockers’ sound. Pilot’s first album, 1974’s From the Album of the Same Name, was cut with Parsons at Abbey Road’s Studio Two. Though Parsons was not yet a household name, he was known to the members of Pilot for his association with The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Guitarist Ian Bairnson was brought into the lineup as a guest but soon was invited join full-time. Lead vocalist David Paton’s high-pitched vocals lent Pilot a distinctive sound; so did the harmony guitars (Paton recalled stacking four Rickenbackers on the LP’s opening track, “Just a Smile”) and the inventive use of woodwinds, strings, brass, and orchestral textures. From the Album of the Same Name had anthemic rock, bright Beatle-esque pop, and even a dash of bossa nova. Songwriters Lyall and Paton were credited in a Lennon/McCartney-style arrangement. They had complementary sensibilities, with the former more consciously “arty” and the latter aiming squarely for pop melodicism. But Lyall (who tragically died of AIDS in 1989 at just 36 years of age) only stayed around for one more LP, 1975’s Second Flight.
The band had high hopes for its lead single, “January.” While not slavishly aping “Magic,” it had the elements of the earlier hit such as a catchy hook (if a bit more bubblegum this time around), soaring guitar riffs, and a big, clean Parsons production. It topped the Singles Chart in the U.K. – besting the peak of “Magic” by ten spots – but languished in the lower reaches of the U.S. charts whereas “Magic” had reached the top five. Second Flight was a strong continuation of the first LP in most respects, blending prog sounds with bouncy pop (“Dear Artist,” “Love Is”) and even dance rhythms (the funky, electronic, and disco-anticipating instrumental “55 North 3 West”). The instrumental variety proved Pilot’s chops; it’s no wonder Parsons poached the group for his own Alan Parsons Project’s debut record Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
With Parsons busy launching the APP, Pilot recruited Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker to helm their third LP, Morin Heights. Session player Peter Oxendale replaced Billy Lyall on keyboards for the LP, and Ian Bairnson stepped up to contribute songs, as well. Baker’s sound was a bit heavier than Parsons’; Paton admits in Michael Heatley’s notes that he and Bairnson wished to “toughen up” Pilot’s sound. Baker emphasized the guitar rock element though there were still plenty of high-quality pop nuggets including “Canada” and the dreamy, slow “Running Water.” Paton finished off one of Lyall’s leftover songs as the rocking “Maniac (Come Back),” lyrically commenting on his former bandmate’s fast living. The harsh sound of Morin Heights may be alienated some Pilot listeners; even Paton acknowledges that the compressed sound of the record proved fatiguing.
With Bairnson, Tosh, and Paton all having recorded with The Alan Parsons Project – Bairnson would play on all of the APP’s albums and Paton on almost all of them – it’s unsurprising that Parsons’ APP collaborator Eric Woolfson was the catalyst for Pilot’s fourth album. Two’s a Crowd referred to the fact that Tosh left the ranks of Pilot to join 10cc; Parsons was encouraged by Woolfson to return to the producer’s chair. Clive Davis at Arista in the U.S. encouraged the band to return to their roots: “David, all you have to do is write a song a bit like ‘Magic’ and a bit like ‘January,'” Paton recalled him quipping. Clive felt that “Get Up and Go” had those special ingredients, and indeed its chiming guitars instantly recalled “Magic.” But in the face of changing musical tides, Two’s a Crowd sank without a trace. Featuring Steve Swindells on keyboards, it wasn’t without its charms, though, as it attempted to balance the original Pilot sound with the edgier milieu of Morin Heights. In addition to “Get Up and Go,” the album featured another lament for Billy Lyall (“Mr. Do or Die”), a shot at Pilot’s former managers (“Evil Eye”), the smoothly-grooving “There’s a Place,” and the attractive ballad “Library Door.” As the years passed, Two’s a Crowd gained such an international cult following that Paton and Bairnson re-recorded it for the Japanese market in 2002 under the title Blue Yonder.
Ten bonus tracks are spread across the four discs, though there are omissions from past CD issues. The 2009 reissues of the first three albums on Cherry Red’s RPM imprint added bonus demos which are not reprised here; neither is the “Original Version” of “Magic.” However, there’s plenty to enjoy here including solo sides from David Paton and Billy Lyall, non-LP singles, and both sides of the pre-Pilot outfit Scotch Mist’s lone EMI single.
Pilot: The Albums is housed in a clamshell case (with each disc in an individual paper sleeve adorned with the original album cover) and includes a 16-page color booklet with Michael Heatley’s liner notes with contributions from David Paton. James Bragg has remastered. In the years post-pilot, Paton has played with Elton John and Albert Hammond, and in 2014, he and Bairnson recorded A Pilot Project in which the old friends re-recorded many of The Alan Parsons Projects’ greatest hits in Pilot style. With the group’s legacy happily intertwined with that of the APP’s, this set makes a fine adjunct to a Parsons collection as well as something that any fan of classic soft rock and pop can enjoy.
CD 1: From the Album of the Same Name (EMI LP EMC 3045, 1975)
- Just a Smile
- Lucky for Some
- Girl Next Door
- Lovely Lady Smile
- Sooner or Later
- Don’t Speak Loudly
- Over the Moon
- Never Give Up
- High Into the Sky
- Auntie Iris
- Sky Blue
- Just Let Me Be (EMI single 2217, 1974)
- Pamela – Scotch Mist (EMI single 2208, 1974)
- Ra-Ta-Ta – Scotch Mist (EMI single 2208, 1974)
CD 2: Second Flight (EMI LP EMC 3075, 1975)
- You’re My No. 1
- Love Is
- Call Me Round
- 55 North 3 West
- To You Alone
- Do Me Good
- Heard It All Before
- Bad to Me
- You’re Devotion
- Passion Piece
- Dear Artist
- Are You in Love (EMI single 2238, 1975)
- Just a Smile (Second Single Version) (EMI single 2238, 1975)
CD 3: Morin Heights (EMI LP EMA 779, 1976)
- Hold On
- First After Me
- The Mover
- Penny in My Pocket
- Lies and Lies
- Running Water
- Maniac (Come Back)
- Too Many Hopes
- Lady Luck
- Us – William Lyall (EMI single 2215, 1976)
- Maniac – William Lyall (EMI single 2215, 1976)
- No Ties No Strings – David Paton (EMI single 5063, 1980)
- Stop and Let Go – David Paton (EMI single 5063, 1980)
CD 4: Two’s a Crowd (Arista LP SPARTY 1014, 1977)
- Get Up and Go
- Library Door
- Creeping Round At Midnight
- One Good Reason Why
- There’s a Place
- The Other Side
- Monday Tuesday
- Ten Feet Tall
- Evil Eye
- Do or Die
- Big Screen Kill