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

Something Magic

The tenth reissue reviewed online by Matthew R. Perrine

Order from The BtP Store where there are lots of other Procol goodies as well; or get it from Amazon (click here) and Amazon UK here

Procol Harum (the A Whiter Shade of Pale group) readies reissues
UK-based reissues specialist Union Square Music ( is reissuing expanded digital versions of Procol Harum’s classic albums Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruit, Procol’s Ninth and Something Magic on 1 November 2010 allowing fans of sophisticated music the chance to re-evaluate one of rock’s most consistently innovative bands. Careful remastering has brought out hitherto elusive nuances; judiciously-selected bonus tracks offer a unique insight into the compositions of Gary Brooker (music), Keith Reid (words) and their less-frequent collaborators, and into Procol Harum’s studio methodology.

Something Magic

Something Magic’s side-length suite – The Worm & the Tree - and surrealistic sleeve may echo earlier glories, but Brooker and Reid themselves harboured no retrograde intentions. An immediate follow-up might have revealed this album as a fruitful mutation, not an evolutionary dead-end; but injury and exhaustion took their toll, and the band dissolved unceremoniously after the promotional tour. Knowing now that Procol Harum regrouped in the early 90s, released three concert DVDs and two further studio albums, and is currently (2010) performing and recording exciting new material, we are well-placed to reconsider Something Magic as an intriguing milestone.

The album was made in America, where Procol had previously recorded only individual numbers like Wreck of the Hesperus and Long Gone Geek. Miami’s Criteria Studios then had an impressive track record, boasting more singles in the top ten than New York and LA combined; its clients included Clapton, The Bee Gees and The Eagles. Following the 1975 success of Pandora’s Box (recorded in London under Americans, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) Procol Harum was once more a chart band, and as they took up residence on Ocean Boulevard in Golden Beach they hoped the Criteria producers would work something magic for them again.

In the market-place Procol may have been ‘swimming against the tide’, as Reid observes in Skating on Thin Ice; in other respects they were in fertile flow. The tracks that originally made up side one are stuffed with detail – distinctive middle-eights, multiple changes, strong lyrics – although Wizard Man (chosen for single release) employs just three chords, staples of the flourishing pub-rock movement.

The suite, The Worm & the Tree, features strong melodies and ingenious harmonies is essentially romantic music v, worlds away from the fussy histrionics of Prog, though the shifting time-signatures and demanding keys do require real concentration onstage, from the pianist in particular. Some see The Worm as a 19-minute piano piece, decorated with rock-band and orchestral colouring; others rate its stylistic breadth alongside 1968’s celebrated In Held ’Twas in I. Either way it makes for fascinating listening, an ambitious and fitting end to Procol Harum’s first ten years.

The digital release is augmented by three bonus tracks selected by Gary and Keith from the session tapes – Backgammon, You’d Better Wait (live) and This Old Dog (live)

More Salvo reviews  | More from Salvo records

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