The Meaning Behind “Time” by The Alan Parsons Project and Why It Might Be Co-Founder Eric Woolfson’s Finest Moment

No, The Alan Parsons Project was not some kind of hovercraft, as Homer Simpson once asserted. They instead stood as one of the most successful progressive rock bands of the mid- to late-’70s. When they attempted a transition to the pop charts as the ’80s began, the beautiful ballad “Time” helped to make it happen.

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What is “Time” about? How did it reflect on the changing focus of the band that recorded it? And why was it an important moment for the band’s co-founder Eric Woolfson to step into the spotlight? Let’s answer all the important questions about one of the loveliest, saddest prog songs you’ll ever hear.

A “Project” Undertaken

The Alan Parsons Project formed almost as a secondary notion concocted by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson. The pair met in 1974 when Woolfson was only 19 and trying to build a career as a musician and songwriter. Parsons meanwhile was starting to produce albums on his own after working behind the scenes in Abbey Road Studios on monumental albums by The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Woolfson became his manager and helped him get production gigs.

Since Parsons was starting to become a brand as a producer, the pair decide to parlay that into making an album based on songs they co-wrote. The album was Tales of Mystery and Imagination, released in 1976 and credited to The Alan Parsons Project. Parsons and Woolfson received help from members of some of the bands that Parsons had produced to fill out the instrumentation and vocals. Although the name of the band suggested a one-off, the album did well enough that there was demand for more records.

As a result, The Alan Parsons Project churned out an album a year from 1976 through 1979, with songs composed by Woolfson and Parsons and a rotating cast of musicians. The albums sold well, especially considering that APP didn’t tour. But hit singles escaped them—their highest charter in the ’70s was “Damned If I Do,” which made it to No. 27 in 1979.

About “Time”

Parsons and Woolfson decided that they wanted to expand their focus on their 1980 album, The Turn of a Friendly Card. It featured a loosely connected theme that was inspired by the band members’ proximity to the gambling mecca of Monte Carlo. But the band also aimed for a few streamlined singles that could do damage on radio.

They achieved that with the propulsive lead single “Games People Play,” which hit No. 16. For the follow-up, the band went with a slow one that was mostly written by Woolfson. For the first time in his career with APP, Woolfson was given the opportunity to sing lead on the track. He did so well that he sang lead much more often in subsequent years, including on the smash 1982 single “Eye in the Sky.”

What is the Meaning of “Time”?

With its beautiful melody and spacey atmospherics, “Time” managed to echo both The Beatles and Pink Floyd, as Parsons paid homage to the bands for whom he once worked. Lyrically, the song muses on how the titular construct can dominate our lives, even though we don’t stop to think about it until the time has evaporated before our eyes.

What the song suggests is we only tend to notice time when we have to say goodbye to someone. As the narrator says farewell to love and friends, he explains why he has to go: Time, beckoning me. He’s realistic about the chances for reunion: Who knows when we shall meet again / If ever. And he imagines time as a finite construct, as Woolfson soars into his upper register to bemoan: But time keeps flowin’ like a river / To the sea, to the sea / Till it’s gone forever.

Because of the somewhat anonymous nature of The Alan Parsons Project beyond its creator, you might not know much about Eric Woolfson, who passed away in 2009. He was responsible for many incredible tracks from the band, both as a singer and writer. “Time,” a gorgeous meditation on the cosmic clock on the wall that ticks away for us all, might be his finest moment.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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