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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 | 320 ratings

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jammun
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Procol Harum's first LP certainly deserves credit as one of the progenitor's of progressive rock, being in many way out of the gate ahead of the Moody Blues or King Crimson. From that stark black and white album cover -- no Disraeli Gears day-glo here! -- to the absorption of the Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde influence, this is a groundbreaker. I'll review the American version of the LP, as that is the one I've known and loved for 40 years.

Because this is such a seminal album, I find it difficult to parse song-by-song -- it's best absorbed as a whole -- but let's take a look at each track briefly.

So we start with...

A Whiter Shade of Pale: I don't have a lot to add to what everyone else has said. That descending bass line, that organ figure, Reid's lyrics, Booker's voice. It's all good. Certainly this song is a reflection of its time, but it still resonates today. The obvious reference to Chaucer's Miller's Tale gets it bonus points in my book. Too bad ownership of this song is still being argued in the courts, 40 years later.

She Wandered Through the Garden Fence: The first of the 'psychedelic' tracks with a another somewhat Baroque organ solo -- though full of trills and ornamentation -- from Fisher.

Something Following Me: Bluesy number, creepy, just like the title suggests. Always reminds me, emotionally, of Robert Johnson's Hellhound on My Trail.

Mabel: Yep, this is a music-hall sounding track, and if it had been recorded by The Kinks, critics would be falling all over themselves praising it. In the context of this album, somewhat of a throwaway.

Cerdes (outside the gates of): More progressive blues. In a sense, the first song embodying the dichotomy that would plague Procol Harum for their first several albums: are we a Trower-driven blues/prog band, or are we a Booker/Fisher-driven classical/prog band?

A Christmas Camel: Another classic progressive track, infused with Hammond organ and inscrutable lyrics (My Amazon six-triggered bride/Now searching for a place to hide), and punctuated mid-stream by an excellent Trower solo.

Conquistador: Remarkably sophisticated rocker for its time, which later became a hit when performed with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in the early '70's.

Kaleidoscope: Nice but essentially non-descript psychedelic rock. Average solos from Fisher and Trower.

Salad Days (are here again): see Kaleidoscope, but at a slower tempo and lacking a Trower solo. Pronounced Blonde on Blonde influence.

Repent Walpurgis: Simply one of the finest songs ever recorded, by any band, at any time. The most emotionally intense offering on the album, this sucker starts off with B.J. Wilson thumping out a mid- tempo, driving rhythm, over which Fisher overlays a haunting, evocative minor-key melody -- at times brooding, at times wistful -- while Brooker anchors the song with bass-clef chords. The song slowly builds in intensity, until Trower's wicked, high-tension solo -- his best on the album -- ups the ante further. The intensity doesn't fall off until Trower fades and Brooker's solo, which is note-for-note the first twelve bars of Prelude No. 1 from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, brings a calming effect to the proceedings, following which the song repeats some of its themes with Trower's soloing overhead, and finally comes to a somewhat bombastic albeit rock-arena-friendly end. I say progressive rock started right here.

I'd love to give this album five stars, but the psychedelic numbers drag it down a bit. Still, anyone interested in early progressive rock will need, at minimum, Repent Walpurgis in their collection. So it's really a 4.5, rounded down.

Oh, and as the liner notes say, To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made

jammun | 4/5 |

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