Procol Harum

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What makes a band record an epically long pop song?

17 June 2010 Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune


What makes a band record an epically long pop song?

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... not to be confused with the Prog Epic (Yes's Close to the Edge among others), the Jammy Epic (Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird, almost any live Grateful Dead track), the Funk Epic (James Brown's Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine) or the Ballad Epic (Bob Dylan's Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands among others).

We're talking about a grand suite with many shifting scenes, moving parts and bursts of melody. Think Queen's career-defining Bohemian Rhapsody: almost six minutes in which mournful piano balladry gives way to operatic chanting followed by head-banging rock and a heavenly coda. Could you imagine Led Zeppelin without Stairway to Heaven?

[ ... ]

Another band playing in town this weekend, Procol Harum, is considered a pioneer of the Pop Epic (and Prog Epic) with the 17-minute In Held 'Twas in I from its 1968 album Shine on Brightly. Procol Harum opens Sunday at Ravinia for Prop Epic masters Jethro Tull (Thick as a Brick).

Procol Harum wasn't the first to release a song of such length, but In Held 'Twas in I broke new ground as a suite separated into distinct movements.

"We were at the forefront of that particular idea," singer/songwriter/keyboardist Gary Brooker said this week from a tour stop in Boston. "I mean, it was very uncommercial; it was a very album-oriented idea, really."

The band's motivation, he added, was simple: "We wanted to do a great work, something that didn't just last four minutes or five or six minutes but went through various phases, started with the start of the universe and then ended in heaven and all that happens in between."

Modesty, after all, is not a trait of the Pop Epic.
 


Procol Harum concerts in 2010: index page | In Held 'Twas in I

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