The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Monday, October 15, 2007


10-15-07 Pilot

One can almost instantly recall the U.S. hit by Pilot – “Magic” (as in “Oh oh oh it’s magic…”. Not quite glam rock, not prog rock; produced by Alan Parsons before anyone had really heard of him. Did you find the vocals annoying? I remember my friends making fun of it – too ‘pop’ for us ‘progressive people’. So, a memorable single – then off my radar for 20 years.

Yes, I think I recognized their names on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” by The Alan Parsons Project. Yep, that’s them on the first few records by Kate Bush. A couple of years ago, I found an LP by Billy Lyall, “Solo Casting” (EMI UK) – and that started the gears turning, as regards Pilot. No, I didn’t have any Pilot records – I may have had one of two cuts on “70’s” samplers (“Magic and “January”, most likely), but…

After finding the Billy Lyall solo album, I turned up a copy of Pilot’s “Morin Heights” on a visit to the state of Washington. From that album, I love the glorious non-hit single “Canada” – comparing the ‘great white north’ to California, my home state. Close, but no cigar, Pilot men!

In 2003, I went to Japan and began to experience my own personal renaissance of British 70’s “Glam Rock”, which, in turn, directed me towards a lot of British 70’s pop music that I had overlooked at the time. When I make my “mix tapes” of UK 70’s ‘glam rock’, I try and include some things that are ‘similar’ – and Pilot fits the bill exactly.

It is fairly amusing to read that some of them started out as members of the Bay City Rollers – it could truly be a case of the ‘image’ they were attempting to create worked against them. Those matching sweaters!

Still, some of it sounds pretty good in 2007. It’s all played by humans – there are synthesizers, but you definitely get the feeling that they were being played by a skilled keyboard player (Billy Lyall) – no sequencers here!

So, I am enjoying listening to Pilot. I’m not going to “collect” them – wouldn’t mind finding original UK pressings of their LP’s, but…not going to chase ‘em. I am a casual listener to their works. I am entitled to be a casual listener, on occasion, eh? Y’know, when a “Best Of” fits the bill? File under: “Oh, this is better than I thought it was”.

Of course, their final album on Arista was recently made into a little paper album cover (kami) CD in Japan – no, I didn’t see it when I visited Japan recently. I probably would’ve picked it up, if it had crossed my path…and been ‘used’.

So, what’s the verdict on Pilot? Worth chasing down their original albums? Better left to a “Best Of” CD? Tastefully produced or “over-produced”? Does this mean I now have to listen to some of the $1 copies of Alan Parsons Project LP’s that I found a while back?


Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Re: Pilot

Quote: "I remember my friends making fun of it – too ‘pop’ for us ‘progressive people.'"

But did YOU like it at the time Ron? Or did you cave into the pack?

I liked "Magic" a lot at the time as I was only aware of top 40 music. It has a ton of hooks and professionalism if not heart or brain. But that's okay. It's pop music and that's what its for!

This morning I was listening to New Musik's "From A To B" and it is not a million miles away from Pilot in terms of sound, given the vast temporal and philosophical differences that 5 years make for in the UK music scene from 75-80. Tony Mansfield as a producer is certainly as technically adept as Alan Parsons, albeit smarter and more humane. Alan Parsons just wants to blow you away with his technique no matter the product hes producing. Tony Mansfield wants to advance the themes of his music and uses craft in service of his art.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...

In '73 / '74, it wasn't much on my radar. No radio for me, other than Firesign Theatre on KPFK-FM. I never owned any Pilot until this year / last year. It's a 'production - for - production's - sake' thing, I suppose. Also curious, as to how it pertains to the Bay City Rollers. And the Billy Lyall album is interesting.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Production-For-Production's Sake:

That's a whole thread right there. I can't deny that Trevor Horn has advanced that concept as far as it could go in the 80s to the point thast there has not been another "name producer" with anywhere near the cachet that TCH had at the time. Subsequently, nothing TCH has done in 22 years has made an impact on me. There have not been ANY producers who have, either. For me production as a be-all and end-all too music has been dead in the water for dcades.

This may have everything to do with the move to desktop production where everyone has the same plug-ins or can obtain access to software FX that used to require creativity and ingenuity. Now everyone can sound like Joe Meek - but can they THINK like him? And would they want to...

8:14 AM  

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