Procol Harum

the Pale

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Faith and the Sea

Kendra Johnson

Procol Harum was the most creative band to emerge from the British Invasion. The band recorded so many different types of music: orchestral, jug band, light, psychedelic, pop, heavy. The one constant throughout these varied songs was the presence of insightful lyrics, and A Salty Dog is no exception. A Salty Dog, like most Procol Harum songs, was written by the band's vocalist Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid. Brooker, a great Rhythm & Blues singer, and the philosophical Reid have blended their talents to create an incredibly symbolic song. A Salty Dog is a song about life, death, and faith in God. This idea is conveyed through the lyrics, use of instruments, and Brooker's use of his soulful voice.

The story told in A Salty Dog is, at the surface, about a ship and its crew that, after following the captain's orders, land upon a beautiful island. After close analysis, however, it can be proven that the song is really about faith in God and reaching heaven. God is symbolized by the captain, who gives his crew strange orders. The crew does not question these bizarre orders, such as "running afloat" or "replacing the cook", but instead follows them and goes through a terrible journey to fulfil them. "Explore the ship, replace the cook" could mean that one should take risks and repent for their sins. The "twisted path" and "tortured course" could symbolize life and how it is unsure and sometimes tumultuous. The second verse gives more evidence to the conclusion that the captain is God. Nothing can "match" or equal him, as is suggested by the third and fourth lines of the verse. Also, the ship dies in this verse and goes to "no mortal place at all". This can be translated into the death of a person who then goes to heaven. Lastly, the third verse starts off with the firing of the gun that burns the mast. This is the actual death of a person, since a ship can no longer be used after the mast is gone. The ride from the ship to the shore is the ascension from death into heaven. While these lyrics prove what events are occurring, they do not portray the emotions behind them.

The instruments lend incredible depth to A Salty Dog. The short, choppy strings used in the beginning give a feeling of tension or nervousness. This works well with the strange orders given by the captain and the nervousness that the crew must have felt. The entrance of the drums in the fifth line of the first verse gives a more upbeat tone in order to enhance the more upbeat tone that the voice takes. The militaristic drum roll adds to the second verse a more honorable feel, which delivers more of an effect to the praise of the captain. The strings disappear after the second verse and a piano plays the peaceful and serene interlude that suggests heaven. Strings that sound dark and foreboding interrupt the piano, which is a good introduction to the third verse that begins with the burning of the ship. In the fourth line of the third verse, the violins quickly perform an inspiring scale that gives a sense of joy to the song. At the very end, the serene piano solo begins again and is then interrupted by the ominous strings. This repeated instrumental segment signifies that life is an ongoing process that will repeat itself again. Even though the instruments in this song convey many emotions, there is still one more component left.

Gary Brooker's vocal talents give extra depth to A Salty Dog. He starts every verse softly and hesitantly. This obviously shows his initial doubt in the captain and his fear of what is to come. He does, however, make a transition to an uplifting and powerful tone to end the verses. He does this by putting a gradual crescendo on one word in the verse. For example, he crescendos on the word "fly" in the first verse to make his transition. Also, the admiration and pride in his voice is evident in the fourth line of the second verse. Brooker's expressive voice adds extra depth and feeling to this song.

Through the use of talented and emotional lyrics, instruments, and vocals, Procol Harum made A Salty Dog a successful and meaningful song. The band used incredible symbolism to convey everlasting faith in God and the hope of reaching heaven after death. The emotions of doubt, hope, and admiration were successfully portrayed through the use of voice and instrument. A Salty Dog is obviously one of the greatest and most extravagant pieces of music to emerge from the music scene.

Kendra Johnson, aged 15: Song Analysis Paper
Mark awarded: 100
Quite Rightly So!

More Procol Harum features Keith Reid's song-words
Gary Brooker's extra, Latin, spiritual words for A Salty Dog  


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