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Procol Harum - Procol Harum [Aka: A Whiter Shade Of Pale] CD (album) cover


Procol Harum


Crossover Prog

3.92 | 322 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
5 stars So, you think that progressive rock was created in 1969 by King Fripp and his pals? HA! It was created in 1968 on This Was. Okay, actually it was created in 1967 by Procol Harum, on the oddly titled Procol Harum, which can never be spelled correctly. And, here’s the best part. This album is nearly flawless.

Now, I bet you think I’m setting that up, “this album is nearly flawless...EXCEPT blah blah blah.” And you’re wrong. I mean that literally. It’s hard enough to create a really good album, truly flawless ones come around...well, never, to be honest. This sucker here is ALMOST that, and head over heels better than the best most bands are capable of producing.

(Now, you’ll have to bear with me for the first half of the review here, since there are only about a hundred versions of this album floating around. If mine isn’t set up exactly like yours, or the bonus tracks seem different, FORGIVE ME!!!)

“Conquistador” is just a fantastic track, maybe the best thing on the album. It’s a downbeat, organ based rocker, and an amazing opener for the album. Great start and stop verses, and an equally great, headbangin’ chorus. And they only improved it on stage! Go figure.

“She Wandered Through the Garden Gate” is the other side of Procol Harum; next to the dark organ rockers, they have English music hall nonsense. Okay, so the jolly good chorus sounds fun, but listen to those lyrics. Scary and hilarious. Nice organ solo too. “Something Following Me” is a great example of progressive blues for you. More focus on piano for this one, but pay attention to Trower too. Pretty heavy for the time I think. These guys were dark, heavy AND bloozy. Maybe they invented metal as well as prog...

“Mabel” is another music hall bit. Cute piano and sound effects (kazoo?), and pay careful attention to the lyrics. They’re VERY important. Heh. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” predates Pete Sinfields’ psycho fantasy lyrics by a bit, but there’s more to the song than that: fuzzy guitar, psychedelic organ, fantastic, bloozy bassline.

“A Christmas Camel” is actually a really, really good song. Maybe not the best on the record, but REAL close. An organ rocker with an awesome piano riff, cool lyrics, great guitar solo, absolutely cold atmosphere. Pretty much sums up what’s good the band in a single song.

“Kaleidoscope” is a jumping number, if not the most memorable. Nice soloing though, especially the organ. “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” is a gentle piano piece, but it’s actually pretty funny. Once again, sparkling organ tricks, nice solo. Goes on maybe a little too long, but you probably won’t mind.

“Good Captain Clack” is our last shot at musical hall fun, particularly the chorus (and dig the tuba); but the ending is just CREEPY. But the HEAVIEST song of the album, perhaps of the year, is the classical instrumental “Repent Walpurgis.” Listen to Trower’s guitar, as he smokes up the room with killer guitar lines backed by blazing organ, sturdy bass and great drums, traded off with gentle (and evil) piano arpeggios. Endless? Sure, but that’s no problem. Hell of a finisher to the album; possibly the best thing on it. So hard to tell.

Now, the weaknesses of the album can be summed up in an instant. It’s all kinda samey. As a result, some of the weaker tracks (“Kaleidoscope,” “Good Captain Clack”) come off as throwaway. Of course, almost every one has some kind of novelty value. But that’s all that’s against the album.

In favor? Too much. For one thing, all these guys are killer musicians. Oh, sure, you’ve got your Trower, and those keyboard dudes, but there’s nothing wrong with bass player David Knights, and B. J. Wilson is a really, truly underrated drummer. I won’t even bother giving key tracks for him, just pay attention to his drum rolls, that range from subtle blues to hard rock heroics.

And the progressiveness value? Unbeatable. Who was doing this at the time ("Repent Walpurgis," anyone)? The Beatles? Nah, they were too busy being art pop geniuses to create anything this mature. The Moody Blues? They were too busy competing with said art pop geniuses. The Who? Well...I will always have a soft spot for Pete, but The Who Sell Out is still a joke.

Nope, folks might have been trying to create intelligent music, or use keyboards for a symphonic sound, or combine genres, or create rock poetry, but all at the same time AND craft it under such a musically mature skin? No one. At all. And all this before In the Court. Who inspired these guys?

And, not only is this album pre-Court, but I’d even go out as far to say that it’s BETTER than In the Court. I know that it sounds a bit samey, and the Procolers were never quite able to live up to it again, but that doesn’t matter. This is an essential bit o’ prog rockin’ from a historical point of view, and, at the same time, a fantastic listen. How lucky is that?

(Okay, here we go. There are only about a hundred remasters of this thing floating around, and mine has A LOT of bonuses, so gird your loins. We are, of course, treated to “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” the quintessential Procoler track. I know I said that “Living in the Past” was the greatest prog single, but I had forgotten about this thing. It’s startlingly good for a band that was just playing basic blues progressions a few years ago. I shouldn’t even have to describe the deep, ambiguously mystical lyrics or the gorgeous, Bach inspired organ passages, so I won’t. “Lime Street Blues” is a decent blues shuffle, but I prefer the stuff on the album. “Homburg” is a just fantastic, thoroughly depressing, but very pretty piano/organ ballad. Nice refrain. A longer “Salad Days,” a quieter “Mabel,” a thinner “Cerdes” and, uh, “Something Following Me” are all outtakes from the album itself. I actually prefer this “Salad Days” to the final one; it’s much livelier, and there’s more guitar (although its placement here makes me realize it’s a bit of a rewrite of “Homburg”). The final three are all unpolished versions of later songs: “Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)” is a beautiful piano ballad, although maybe the chorus behind Brooker is a bit much. “Quite Rightly So” is, however, totally fantastic; a stately and lively, hopeful but downbeat organ rocker. “Shine On Brightly” lacks the buzzy guitar undertone, but it’s still good, and you can’t beat those insane lyrics. All in all, what can I say? I’d have preferred more b-sides than alternative versions to songs from the original (or the second) record, and it does stretch out forever, but I love this album so damn much! Ugh. I don’t know...oh, what the hell. Does yours have the original album AND “Whiter Shade of Pale?” Essential.)

The Whistler | 5/5 |


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