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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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3 stars Pale by Name...

Procol Harum were part of a flourishing progressive scene - and no more important to the development of Progressive Rock than any of the other big acts of the time, like The Moody Blues, The Nice, The Syn, The Yardbirds, The Pink Floyd, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Traffic, David Bowie, Art and, of course, The Beatles. Then there are all the other unsungs, like 1-2-3, Wynder K Frogg et al.

The point here is that 1967 was this massive melting pot of all the various styles of popular music, and creativity had reached a new peak, which seems to have been fuelled mainly by inspiration from Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Who and the Beatles (and everyone else I left out...).

So here we have a band with not one, but two keyboard players, much as Dylan had on the revolutionary album Highway 61 Revisited (and the no less brilliant Blonds on Blonde), delivering organ- driven rock music similarly to the Graham Bond Organisation and the Animals before them, with occasional references to classical music, as was the case with The Nice and 1-2-3 - and a whole load of other acts going right back to Elvis Presley, and more recently to Procol's debut, The Beatles, whose string quartet arrangement of Eleanor Rigby cannot have passed unnoticed.

The point here is that Eleanor Rigby showed the world that Pop music could be serious, to the point that it could be taken as seriously as classical music - and it's this that Whiter Shade of Pale built on. It's the song that made and effectively broke Procol Harum - a massive hit single in the revolutionary Summer of Love, spoiled only by the fact that it stood out like a sore thumb from the rest of their material, which lacked the striking immediacy.

The other famous track on this album, Conquistador, is rightly praised by other reviewers of this album, but lacks the almost magical aura that surrounds the title track - an aura that sadly becomes more broken with every successive overplay.

Everybody knows the title track - and most people overrate it terribly with the references to Bach; It's the music, the composition that makes it such a special song, not the Bach quote.

Other bands have also quoted Bach, usually with laughable results. What makes this song more special than other attempts to fuse classical with rock/pop (such as Elvis Presley's Wooden Heart or It's Now Or Never - or the more contemporary Groovy Kind of Love by the Mindbenders (1965)) - is that it's arisen from the Progressive Music scene, and is infused with that desire to create something a bit more than a pop song, right down to the Dylan-esque lyrics with the psychedelic twist.

Conquistador features a Beatles-esque piano, with delicious Jimmy Smith/Brian Auger flavoured Hammond, and a superb riff from Robin Trower that equals anything from the Yardbirds or any of the other riff-merchants of the time. The combination makes for a great overall sound, but makes a rock song with a quality that made it timeless until the end of the 1970s. It's still difficult to appreciate that it was recorded in 1967.

Then, for me, the album takes a nosedive. I've never really got into any of the remaining tracks, and there doesn't appear to be very much of note in them - although several of them sound like cool blues rock numbers.

She Wandered Through the Garden Gate features a particularly annoying upwards organ line - which becomes cringe-worthy in the instrumental break, making a quite pathetic (and smudged) attempt to quote classical music - Handel, IIRC. Real throwaway rubbish, which is repeated at the end to disastrous effect.

Something Following Me is a return to the R&B roots, and again, the Dylan influence appears to shine through the vocals.

Mabel is an unusual short track, very Vaudeville in flavour, and reminds me of The Kinks and the Bonzo Dog DooDah Band - but I don't like it.

Then we get on to the first of two long tracks (over 5 minutes, by 2 seconds...), but Cerdes (Outside the Gates of) doesn't set me alight - it's an organ-driven blues rock song that reminds me strongly of a less funky Traffic, with fantastical lyrics. The guitar solo is a real treat, though, Trower proving to be every bit Clapton's equal - perhaps then a bit, and is the reason for the song's length. Trower's rhythms are also notable in making this stand out from the more average blues rock fayre available in 1967. Matthew Fisher's Hammond also shines, but mainly from a tonal point of view - the sound is so thick and chunky you don't want to stop hearing it - but he doesn't actually play anything exciting.

Christmas Camel is pretty much in the same vein, the addition of the piano creating an unusual texture and overall style, with some nice chord progressions and another, much less convincing guitar solo - but no turning the music upside down here, I'm afraid.

Kaleidoscope - obviously a popular theme in 1967, as there was a band in the US as well as a band in the UK that named themselves after the famous light-refracting device. Again, great textures, lovely thick organ, crunchy guitar and driving boogie piano - all the same elements as before, and a chuckaway solo. Oddly this song feels much longer than it should, clocking in at 2:54.

Salad Days (Are Here Again) would be unremarkable if it were not for the lyrics, which lose their freshness after a while - just like most salad vegetables, by co-incidence.

Back to the Vaudeville for Good Captain Clack (people might think that this album was inspired by Sergeant Pepper's, Piper, or Ogden's Nut Gone). Here the Hammond sounds like a Cinema Organ... not that I remember them or anything... Horrible track.

Finally, the second 5-minuter, Repent Walpurgis, which is based on a sombre organ theme and carries a similar atmosphere to Whiter Shade..., almost as if it's part II. This rounds up the album well, but doesn't really compensate for the huge amount of filler here.

It is a great track, though, with some stunning melodic play from Trower that does not bore you rigid with pentatonic noodlrey, but instead forges inspired lines from somewhere very deep... until it's cut across with another classical reference on the piano - this is really annoying, and simple padding that this song does not need - but from this piece, it's easy to see why many see this as a fundamental album in the development of Progressive Rock.

There's no doubting this album's importance in the history of Prog, but there were so many others at the time (in fact, this album wasn't released until 1968, by which time many other equally or more important albums were already in the collective consciousness), it's not worth getting excited about it.

Just enjoy it for what it is - a collection of Dylan-inspirerd organ driven blues rock with an occasional penchant for simple classical (mainly Baroque!) themes, and you'll really enjoy it.

Good, but by no means essentaial.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |


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