On 5 January 1980, “Damned If I Do” by The Alan Parsons Project was at #27, its highest position in the 80s.
I don’t know of anyone who gets passionate about The Alan Parsons Project. There are all sorts of progressive rock bands that have very passionate fans. There are Genesis people and Yes people and King Crimson People; heck, I’m a Frank Zappa person, and if he’s not a prog rock act, that’s only because he’s involved in so many styles of music that he doesn’t fit into one genre, and let me tell you the Frank Zappa people are downright crazy fans. So, sure, there are quite a few passionate fans of prog rock, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who gets excited about The Alan Parsons Project.
“Damned If I Do“, I think, is indicative of why. Progressive rock is all about doing unusual things with music, at least unusual things by mid-70s standards, and fans of progressive rock want unusual time signatures, interesting instrumentation, acrobatic guitar, and epic set-piece songs. This song is none of that. It’s a straightforward song about a dude in a difficult relationship in a 4/4 time signature with tame synthesizers pretending to be brass. It even has violin, though admittedly not the horrible disco violin I usually complain about. Sure, it’s darker and more brooding than your standard top 40 song — the twinkling keyboard notes sound like fading lights of hope over the relentless moody pace of the rest of the song — but it sounds exactly like what it is, the sanitized for top-40 version of progressive rock. Don’t get me wrong, I like this song: it’s haunting how this singer is pursued by the gloom of the music and the situation he’s found himself in. But it’s not special in the way progressive rock is supposed to be special.
I don’t want to sound unfair here, because I think The Alan Parsons Project has their place. They’re an easy on-ramp to building up an appreciation for progressive rock, and they did do a lot of interesting work in building concept albums. And they do eventually put out an incredible, unforgettable single, which we’ll talk about a bit later. But most of the material they put on the charts, “Damned If I Do” included, is the kind of stuff normal listeners note as a pleasant curiosity and progressive rock fans grow beyond.