Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock

Two Procol Harum entries, by Charles Snider

Can you afford to be without this fascinating book? Have a rummage on its Prog-Rock timeline, read the two samplers below ... then click the image to buy it.


Procol Harum: A Whiter Shade of Pale


The members of Procol Harum suffered most of the 60s as the Paramounts, whose minor claim to fame was a cover of Poison Ivy that hit the UK Top 40 in 1963. They finally broke up in 1966, yet by the following year had resurrected themselves as Procol Harum. Released in May, their first single A Whiter Shade of Pale shot immediately to No 1 in the UK, selling over 4 million copies. Musically adapted from Bach’s Air On a G String, Keith Reid’s surreal lyrics were delivered by Gary Brooker’s somber  yet soulful voice over the swirl of Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ; in short, it brought a new sophistication to pop music and deservedly earned its fortune. Next, with guitarist Robin Trower and drummer BJ Wilson, the band regrouped (more or less) to their Paramounts line up to record their début album, also titled A Whiter Shade of Pale [sic]. Reid, the band’s full time lyricist, and Brooker wrote most of  the first album, though Fisher did contribute the excellent instrumental Repent Walpurgis. While none of the album could match the impact of the single, it did contain some great songs: Ceredes [sic] (Outside the Gates of) is quite ballsy, punctuated by Trower’s lead guitar, while the splendid (and splendidly titled) She Wandered through the Garden Fence featured more of Fisher’s great Hammond organ runs. Procol Harum delivered mature R&B, not far from Traffic on the map, yet always 100% original. The album failed to chart in the UK, but did break into the US Top 50.

Procol Harum: Shine on Brightly


Procol Harum’s second effort starts off [sic] predictably: Gary Brooker’s monochromatic [sic] wail over Matthew Fisher’s swirling Hammond chords on the title track offer elegance, while the pitter-patter of the following Skip Softly (My Moonbeam) [sic]gives way to something deeper. Wish me Well even attempts some blues, obviously at guitarist Robin Trower’s suggestion. Although the first side of the record could have easily come from their début, the second side of the record, containing the epic In Held 'Twas In I, is the real accomplishment here. Originally titled Magnum Harum, it’s a suite of intertwining songs, but serves as the blueprint for the most progressive of all accessories: the album-side long track. This idiomatic trait would remain the ultimate expression for the progressive artist: creating a composition with only the physical limitation of the vinyl record as a boundary. Opening with Keith Reid’s ramblings about the Dalai Lama the band breaks into some uncharacteristically hard and complex runs, in a theme it would return to over the piece’s various transitions. The success is the landscape; the track shifts between seriousness and folly, each movement well integrated into the next, and all culminating with Trower’s soaring guitar over the final refrain. No small achievement, the track combined the writing and arrangement talents of both Brooker and Fisher and the execution of the entire band. The album again charted in America, reaching No. 24, though like their début, it would fail to chart in their native Britain. Procol Harum would weather some personnel changes, as their subsequent three albums continued on a similar musical path, eventually earning some recognition at home. But Shine on Brightly would remain their shining achievement, and a milestone for prog rock.


Thanks, Peter, for the typing