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

PROCOL HARUM [AKA: A WHITER SHADE OF PALE]

Procol Harum

 

Crossover Prog

3.92 | 332 ratings

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SteveG
5 stars Where history and music collide, you will often find sparks. And the explosion that is Procol Harum's eponymous debut album is as brilliant as sunlight.

But let's start at the beginning. This review is of the 2 CD Esoteric 2015 Special Edition which features 24 bit digital mastering, the entire UK mono debut album and, of course, the bonus smash single release of A Whiter Shade Of Pale and follow up hit Hamburg, along with various album track stereo mixes, alternate takes and bonus B sides. A Whiter Shade Of Pale is recorded in much the same vein as is the follow up album. The bass being muddier and less defined than the album tracks, with Hamburg sounding more detailed than both, but not showing them up to any degree. Which works well for continuity and long, long listening.

What's sets AWSoP apart from the album, aside from it's being involved in one of the costliest legal battles over the music authorship (with organist Mathew Fisher awarded a 40% songwriting credit for his musical contribution in the 2005 (!) court case against cowriter pianist Gary Brooker) is the fact that the song was recorded with session drummer and Georgie Fame band member Bill Eyden, who also sued Procol for a sales royalty percentage in 1868!

But Eyden's contribution to prog is more than monetary. His metronomic percussion work would become the standard barer for prog drumming styles in a few short years. Full time drummer BJ Wison, who was recorded on the entire eponymous debut album and replaced the drum parts on the hit Hamburg, would go on to forge his own idiosyncratic style which was both precise and flamboyant. The result? A melding of both styles would become a prog style in itself. Now that's a lot to say about just one song on this double CD, but it is one of the greatest selling hit records of all time and remains a standard after many others have fallen out of consciousness.

AWSoP can be said to be the blueprint for the album proper with it's Bach inspired polyphony, descending bass line and surrealistic lyrics. Lyrics from a person who only wrote lyrics for a rock band. A first at the time. And, despite it's timeframe, these lyrics do not drip of lysergic excess, like the meanderings of the Beatles' I Am The Walrus. Keith Reid's lyrics were Salvador Dali-like expressions in words mixed with the stark introspection of Bob Dylan, and are quite beyond their time. Throw in a stellar blues guitarist like Robin Trower, and a solid as a rock bassist like David Knights, and you've got quite a potent proto prog stew bubbling up with all kinds of wonderful flavors.

The album's leadoff track Conquistador, a reworked hit with orchestra accompaniment in 1972, is notable for it's absence of the familiar orchestral backing, but the original version is given a healthy boast with a memorable organ solo from Fisher. Gary Brooker's vocals are not quite as strongly developed at this stage, but his emotional delivery is paramount to the success of every song that warrants it, and he delivers admirably.

She Wondered Trough The Garden Fence is still as joyous and ridiculous as ever, with the band quickly getting into a groove that would wind it's way though the entire album. Something Following Me is Reid's first lyrical ponderings on the eventuality of death and is in stark contrast to the mostly upbeat, albeit regal, musings of the rest of the album's songs. Especially when contrasted against the two silly music hall throwaways Mabel and Good Captain Clack. But the Bach inspired frenzy continues with the songs Cedes (Outside The Gates Of), Kaleidoscope, the only song have dated lyrics, Salad Days (Are Here Again), and the album's magnificent instrumental closer Repent Walpurgis. Repent Walpurgis is a Mathew Fisher penned tour de force that features the angry lead guitar of Robin Trower trying to claw it's way out of a cage of swirling organ and piano runs and never quite succeeds. But it's the spirit of that fight which sends the song over the edge and into it's grand crescendo, and finally a release from the intense musical drama.

The Esoteric Special Edition also features an earlier extended run through of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, with a drummer that is probably the quickly departed Bobby Harrison, as he lacks the precision and drama of both Eyden and Wilson, along with the previously mentioned alternate and stereo mixes. An early instrumental version of the 1975 UK hit Pandora'a Box is also featured and works well on it's own terms, as it's an eerie gothic piece that is pure ear candy.

So there you have it. One of the cornerstones of prog rock that, despite it's modest recording techniques and mono sound, remains remarkably undated when compared to other proto prog albums of it's era. And did I mention that it's a damn good listen? 5 stars. Absolutely essential.

SteveG | 5/5 |

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