'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
This song is the album's novelty item, following in the sporadic tradition of
Souvenir of London, Boredom, Mabel and so on. Ostensibly a
paean to healthy eating and as such an antidote to the tales of excess that
pervade the preceding album it is nonetheless also shot through with playful
sexual imagery, which the voluptuous quasi-Caribbean presentation is presumably
intended to enhance.
At a literal level, the song has claims to being the title-track of the
album, whose cover painting by Jakob Bogdani (1670 1724) was originally
entitled merely Birds and Fruit. However the picture does not show juice,
seeds and so forth, nor any expectant dogs or victims of disease, so we can
scarcely claim that Keith Reid's song has grown out of the image. More likely
the painting was selected on its own merits, a decision perhaps clinched by the
part-overlap with a song in preparation. ('We named [the album] after the
painting because we liked it and we hate the idea of naming any more albums
after one of the cuts on it,' said Keith Reid here).
The picture is compiled with some artifice: the fruit itself looks like a
still-life, but the presence of the three various birds and the rampant
vegetation suggests just the opposite. Yet if these creatures are real, it's
hard to believe that they would have left such a trove of posed peaches and
grapes unsampled. The picture shares none of the messy, sensuous emphasis that
Reid places on pulp-gulping, but its superimposition of two frames of reference
is precisely mimicked in the song's ingenious words.
Focussing on the interpolated word 'exotic' in the album-title, and reading
'birds' in its slang relation to women, the thoughtful observer may find the
ground being prepared for a realization that Fresh Fruit has a subtext
recommending particular sexual specialisms; readers of a prudish disposition
will doubtless not want to visit this intelligent link
about 'dirty' blues songs, nor to contemplate the notion that the present
song (whose blues origins are evident in the chord sequence of the opening bars,
and in its characteristic flattened melodic seventh ) is a covert paean to
cunnilingus, as a pleasure in itself, and as a way to avoid disseminating
Though Brooker has been known to improvise references to genuine foodstuffs
(hear oranges, chives (?) and coconuts in this mp3)
while performing Fresh Fruit on stage, a rock audience hearing references
to bananas, lost cherries, and so on is not likely to imagine they are hearing a
lecture on nutrition. Keith Reid's song, with its references to Vitamin C and so
on, achieves a more coherently fruit-oriented surface-meaning than Robert
Johnson looks for in 'squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg': and
even when the joke is decoded as it surely must be, if we are to find
anything funny about Fresh Fruit we sense that his intention is not
so much to purvey a smutty double entendre as to model himself on
well-crafted, risquι novelties such as I'm Going to Bring a Watermelon to my
Girl Tonight, covered in a 1966 rarity by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
Fresh Fruit is in G, like the numbers before and after it on the Exotic
Birds record a rare lapse of variety for Procoldom. The music itself is
in a jaunty four time, harmonically straightforward, slightly varying its
blues-basis by visiting alternate chords a fourth above the expected ones. The
chorus goes poppily up into the subdominant C major, and passes through a
pleasing B7th into E minor, before coming home in unremarkable fourths. The
guitar solo, conventionally placed, stays close to the vocal melody, including
its characteristic and highly-emphasised flattened seventh; the organ swirls
about engagingly, and the marimba or xylophone (presumably Brooker, though
Matthew Fisher is credited with that skill on Boredom, the last Procol
outing into tuned percussion) nicely offsets the nimble boogie piano. Like the
equally diet-oriented Mabel (and like Piggy Pig Pig of course)
this song makes use of sound effects that are generated in the studio, rather
than being lifted from effects libraries.
Maybe, like the equally suggestive Souvenir of London, this recording
accumulated its surprising soundscape in the hope of becoming a novelty hit
single (the next time the marimba surfaced, on Pandora's Box, it
worked!). The whistling here has none of the nostalgic quality of Lennon's Jealous
Guy whistling; rather, it reinforces the aura of innuendo with its cocky
suggestion of a nonchalant window-cleaner at work (Oddly enough we also hear a
whistle, albeit non-melodic, on the preceding track). In the heyday of hack
songwriting, the potential of a hit depended on the 'old grey whistle test': a
melody strong enough for the old grey studio doorman to pick it up, and whistle
it, had a good chance of success. This epithet became the title of the UK's
premier serious TV rock show of the 1970s, hosted by Bob Harris, whose whispered
song introductions, so different from the inane jollities of many of his
predecessors, were regrettably excised from the
commercial release of Procol Harum's 1974 Radio 1 concert. But the whistler
has in general been a despised species in popular music: few all-out whistling
assaults on the charts have succeeded, though one-hit wonder Whistling Jack
Smith took I was Kaiser Bill's Batman (Deram DM112) to number 5 in a
chart run overlapping with that of A Whiter Shade of Pale in 1967. Other
whistling hits like Roger Miller's England Swings (hit in 1965 and 1966)
and the South African Roger Whittaker's numerous smashes followed the
mainly-vocal formula offered on Fresh Fruit. The whistle record to which Fresh
Fruit bears most conspicuous relation is Guy Mitchell's Singing the Blues
[UK No.1 late 1956] with which it seems to share some key musical passages.
Gary Brooker encourages our investigation of the song's sexual content with
his determinedly sensual declamation of 'squeeze', and 'squeeze a little more
there'; but he simultaneously sends it up in a stage introduction (Vienna, 1975)
with the improbable suggestion that Keith Reid will be 'chucking bananas about
during this one' (mp3 here). In another introduction he
curtly advises that 'this one's about grapes'. There was no mention of any
subtext when (at Bilzen, 18 August 1973) Keith Reid enthusiastically told OOR,
the authoritative Dutch Rock Encyclopaedia, that he had just written a song
called In Praise Of Fruit, and quoted some of its lines while implying that
he had worked on this topic because fruit-eating was, to him, a simple
Keith said then that he had finished half of the songs for the new album, but
Gary still hadnt started on the music! Such was the band's heavy touring
schedule (see here) that Brooker did not
find time to write most of the music until early December 1973. Procol Harum did
not tour again until 28 February 1974, so the band clearly had no opportunity to
road-test most of these songs
Fresh Fruit certainly presents some
difficulties for live performance, since (perhaps because of a mismatch between
independently-written music and libretto) some double-tracking is required to
fit in the words at the ends of verses: this overlapping is highly unusual.
Stage performances were closely modelled on the album version of the track,
though the whistling (which was hard to keep in tune) copied the vocal melody,
not the recorded variant; the overlap vocals were taken rather indistinctly by
Cartwright or Grabham, who also contributed some goofy ad-libs as the song wound
up. The song saw active service in promoting the album, and was enthusiastically
received by audiences, but has seldom been heard since.
- 'Here kitty kitty': Gary Brooker's vocal double-tracking starts with this
apparently incongruous exclamation on one channel (mp3 here)
while the more conventional '
three, four' is heard on the other. 'Kitty'
is a young cat, a familiar form like 'pussy', and course 'pussies' in pop
music are almost invariably concealed references to female genitalia. It has
been suggested that this usually overlooked detail has been left in
the mix to prepare the eagle-eared for lubricity to follow.
- 'In praise of fruit I wrote this song': later on Reid's songs become more
and more self-referential. This one, and Pilgrims Progress ('I sat me
down to write a simple story') are in the vanguard of that trend.
- 'Because of fruit my heart is strong': listeners can take the 'strong
heart' here as a medical statement about the proper functioning of this
crucial organ, or as a metaphorical statement of courage, resolution that
one has found the right way forward, and so forth. Most of Reid's references
to 'heart' are downbeat, and have little in common with the usual use, or
over-use, of the word in popular music: 'Let him who fears his heart alone
':'Endless heartache until she died' (Nothing that I Didn't Know);
'it was tied to my heart' (Toujours L'amour); 'fills our
hearts with tears' (Nothing But the Truth; 'Fool's gold broke
my heart' (Fool's Gold); 'by the beating of a heart' (Something
Magic); 'Wizard man's got an angel's heart' (Wizard Man);
'I played the King of Hearts' (The King of Hearts).
- 'Who could estimate its worth?': this curiously academic phrase is an
example of the surprising interpolation of economic terms that we find in
various Reid songs ('to pay the cost' in Robert's Box, 'enjoy
commissions on the proceeds' in Butterfly Boys, for example.) Reid's
importance in the management of the band may conceivably have played a part
in keeping such ideas afloat in his writing mind.
- 'Fruit's the finest food on earth': outside this song the word 'fruit'
occurs only in Strangers in Space, though grapes get a mention in Mabel
and in Grand Hotel, and peaches, with various shades of meaning, in Salad
Days (Are Here Again), Luskus Delph, and Grand Hotel. The
refrain of the unpublished A La Carte,
so Gary Brooker informed BtP, was 'The sweetest thing this side of heaven's
a great big slice of warty [= water] melon', but that was in fact
recommended for when you had a thirst, not as a food at all.
- 'Fresh fruit, juice and seeds': the resemblance of certain fruit to female
sex organs (internal and external) is acknowledged across cultures and
through the ages: it is by no means specific to popular music, though that
field has cultivated some particularly obscure innuendo in order to be able
to sell records and escape the censor. For example, consider the contents
and sleeve notes of the Various Artists CD Banana in Your Fruitbasket:
a less oblique case is I Want Some Sugar In My Bowl. It's not an
exclusively male preserve: Kate Bush has Eat the Music on her album The
Red Shoes (not one of the tracks Gary Brooker plays on). Reid here does
not name any specific fruits, unlike Bush who regales us with figurative
mangoes and pomegranates. The song Strange Fruit is of course one
that uses the image in a far more serious way, to depict the hanging corpses
from Southern trees.
- 'Please don't touch, please don't squeeze': this sounds like the typical
costermonger's admonition to his customers, but it also carries the coy tone
of the flirt whose intention is that only the words 'touch' and 'squeeze'
should be heard and responded to.
- 'Fresh fruit, juice and pulp, like to gulp the whole lot up': these words
are full of the sounds of slurping, but the music requires them to be
delivered at tongue-twister speed and much of the sensuality of the
onomatopoeia gets swallowed.
- 'Here's another point of view': the music shifts gear to underline the
'other point of view', which is certainly different, and certainly far from
true at a literal level.
- 'Fruit is good for doggies too': any self-respecting dog will turn up his
nose at fruit, rather than wagging his tail with glee, so we would be
ill-advised to take this line literally. However 'dog' is occasionally used
to represent the male sex organ (as we will explore in notes on A Salty
Dog); old blues songs evade the censor by alluding to 'walking the dog',
for example. 'Doggie' is of course a child-like formula. Parents teaching a
child to talk often add the suffix '-ies' to important words so that their
final consonants will be clearly heard. Although the childish suffix is
generally discarded once the proper form of the root word is learnt, it is
curiously enough adopted by adults in the jocular common parlance 'doggie
position', which describes sexual congress when the female partner is
crouching on all fours. The implication in this line seems to be that, while
oral sex is delicious, we should not forget that the female 'fruit' is also
a pleasant harbour for a gentleman's 'salty dog'. The panting 'doggie'
effects on this track may well have been perpetrated by Copping or Wilson,
since these recall their Pythonic proclivities, unwittingly revealed to the
world when Westside released the unworthily-trawled 'Procol Have a Laugh'
on the Home
. plus! album.
Other dogs in Procol songs include 'A salty dog, this seaman's log' (A
Salty Dog); 'My old dog's a good old dog' (Your Own Choice);
'let the wild dogs tear them up' (Beyond The Pale) 'Taking
out the dog for walks' (Taking The Time); 'I'm a dog in a
manger' (Man with a mission); 'This old dog has to learn some new
ways' (This Old Dog); 'She's seen at the races and walking the dog'
(the unpublished A Real Attitude).
- 'Rover wags his tail with glee': 'Rover' is a generic name given to
British dogs, more often in cartoons and fiction, one suspects, than in real
life. the gleeful wagging tail surely needs no explication, though some
readers may not recall that the Latin for tail is 'penis'.
- 'When he gets his vitamin C': Vitamin C, derived from fresh fruit, is
considered essential for warding off colds and flu, perennial hazards of
dwelling in the UK. But if we are taking Rover the dog phallically, it may
be that 'Vitamin C' is his female counterpart, denoting the vagina by the
initial letter of its (unprintable) demotic name
in the same way that
'Vitamin C' was 'cocaine' in 1980s' slang.
- 'Have you caught a touch of flu': influenza is not caught by touch, though
venereal diseases are. There is a long tradition of coded references to
gonorrhea, syphilis and so on in popular music. Brooker has had two records
banned by the BBC for just this reason (the Paramounts' Bad Blood and
Procol Harum's A Souvenir of London) and it seems entirely plausible
that the 'flu' here is another trick reference to that unwanted 'souvenir'.
- 'And you can't think what to do': the remedies for flu are well
documented, as indeed are those for sexually-transmitted diseases. Here,
however, the problem seems to be how to satisfy your partner while the
infection is clearing up: the remedy is to gulp the fruit., not to let Rover
- 'Famous doctors all agree': this sounds like an advertising slogan, but we
have not been able to trace it. It's most unusual for Keith Reid's songs to
appear to endorse the conduct of doctors: 'The doctors say they must
operate' (Song For A Dreamer); 'Got to show it to my doctor' (A
Souvenir of London); 'The doctors didn't hesitate', 'The doctors
said they knew no cure' (For Liquorice John); 'Doctor where's
your remedy?', 'Doctor where's your magic box', 'Doctor please don't lock
your door' (Robert's Box); 'Doctors cause uncertainty' (Pandora's
Box); 'If only my doctor could see that I'm ill', 'If only my
doctor would give me a pill', 'But why can't my doctor just say that I'm
ill?' (Typewriter Torment).
- 'fruit's the safest remedy': if the ailment in question were really flu,
the adjective 'safest' would not be particularly appropriate; and in any
case fruit cannot be a remedy, so much as a preventative, for flu and
kindred complaints. 'Safest' is however germane to the venereal reading of
the words: syphilis (unless morbidly advanced) would not be spread to a
woman by cunnilingus.
- 'Makes you want to give up meat': Reid's references to meat in other songs
are restricted to 'Don't eat green meat' (Mabel) and 'We drink fine
wine and eat rare meats' in Grand Hotel. However as with fruit,
'meat' is commonly used as a censor-defying, or simply amusing, way of
referring to sexual matters; male genitalia are jokingly referred to as
'meat and two veg', and Philip Roth's Portnoy refers to 'beating his meat'
for his solitary gratification.
- 'Ripe and firm': terms of this sort apply particularly to the female
breast in laddish 'street' lingo.
- 'Makes them squealing taste-buds squirm': the word 'them' is
non-standard English for 'those', all adding to a matey, leering effect.
Some listeners hear 'squeaming' here (see Dump My
Thesaurus) and the bass voice that accompanies the last iteration of
this word (2:55) remains unexplained. It is open to doubt whether fruit
really makes the taste-buds 'squirm', but the line has evidently been
designed to bring together images of tongue and (breast?)-buds in suitably
suggestive fashion. The advocacy of particular sexual practices as being
good for your health is common among those attempting to slough off
repression [cp the Kinks pro-onanism song National Health] doubtless
as a symmetrical riposte to scare-mongering from those of an opposite
persuasion. However in this case the tone is predominantly so unserious, and
the image of the dog hankering for Vitamin C so silly, that the song really
does seem to merit being taken solely on a comic footing. Gary Brooker told
Chris Welch (liner notes to this CD
re-release) that Fresh Fruit was a comedy song. ' It was very
much based on the sort of thing that Coasters mighty [sic]
have done. When I was growing up I was a big fan of the Coasters and I used
to sing all their songs.'
Thanks to Frans
Steensma for additional information
about this song