The story behind the record cover – I Robot (1977) – ALAN PARSONS PROJECT

“Whoever mentions ‘Alan Parsons’ also mentions ‘Pink Floyd’. When you mention ‘Pink Floyd’, you also mention ‘Hipgnosis’, the nr 1 design agency for record sleeves in the 1970s. So you also say ‘Alan Parsons’ when you say ‘Hipgnosis’. Makes sense, right?

Alan Parsons was the sound engineer on several Pink Floyd albums such as “Dark Side of the Moon”. He also made music himself, with his Alan Parsons Project. For his second album, “I Robot”, he asked the guys from Hipgnosis if they wanted to come up with something for the cover. That was rather easy. They drew a robot, off the cuff, colored it a bit with the ‘air-brush’ technique and pasted it onto a photo collage of escalators. For the photos, they went up and down from London to Paris in one day. What we see here is a piece of futuristic architecture of escalators surrounded by some kind of tubular structure. It reminds me of a certain amusement park in the vicinity of The Hague, Holland, but these are actually the escalators at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, designed by architect Paul Andreu.

People on escalators often look like robots. A bit cold and mechanical. But the people on this cover seem happy and surprised. That gives the cover something special. It is exactly the essence Alan Parsons envisioned for his concept album, based on Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book “I, Robot”. It makes you wonder about logic and amazement.
The past few days I have been fascinated by this book. Nine stories about robots. They have one thing in common. They are all programmed with two main laws in mind. First, a robot should not harm a person. In addition, a robot has to help people when they are in need.

One would say wonderful for humanity. But it produces comical and at the same time oppressive stories. For example, the story of robot Robbie, who functions as a nanny for ten-year-old girl Gloria. The girl loves Robbie and just wants to play with him. Makes sense, because Robbie will do anything to avoid putting her in harm’s way. The parents don’t like the fact that Gloria no longer wants to play with other children and has no boyfriends or girlfriends. They decide to get rid of Robbie. The girl becomes deeply unhappy. Ultimately, Gloria and Robbie accidentally bump into each other; Robbie saves Gloria’s life when she nearly gets hit by a car. The parents are overjoyed that nothing happened to Gloria, but at the same time they realize they have a problem: they will never get rid of Robbie. All lyrics on “I Robot” deal with these kind of dilemmas. Beautiful lyrics. Wonderfully sung, because that is the trademark of the Alans Parsons Project. He hired several studio musicians for his projects and especially guest vocalists with beautiful voices such as Colin Blunstone (he still performs regularly at De Boerderij) and Steve Harley, among others, on this album. The music is inspired by Pink Floyd. Brilliant synthesizer harmonies, guitar solos and melodies that will linger in your mind. But occasionally also a bit sugary sweet. In any case, Alan Parsons has had great success with his projects. Millions of albums were sold.

But who are these people on the cover and why do they look so happy? This question keeps haunting my mind. Is it because they see the robot? I don’t have an answer yet.
The person in the middle turns out to be Peter Christopherson, one of the founders of Hipgnosis. And the person at the bottom right is illustrator Humprey Ocean, a good friend of the Hipgnosis guys, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson. His drawings can be seen on Hipgnosis covers for Led Zeppelin and 10CC, among others. But did he also do the drawing of the robot? This remains a mystery. Which is great, at least according to “I, Robot”. The book states that fortunately there are still unanswered questions. Robots and computers can now solve almost all problems, but mystery remains. In fact, only through pure logic robots occasionally run wild and start doing strange things.
I wouldn’t want a life like a robot, but a robot wouldn’t want to be human, because we don’t think logically and therefore put ourselves in danger regularly. This theme is beautifully sung in the second song “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”. But who actually sings these lyrics? Robot or man? Hipgnosis does not elaborate much on this cover. For them it was just a quickie. An early morning flight to Paris. Feeling dizzy for a few hours on the escalators of De Gaulle airport. Dodge the security guards, because it was actually forbidden to take photos at the airport, have a quick lunch and then fly back to London. Makes sense, right?”

By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink

Translation: Alex Driessen