Procol scholar Frans Steensma writes to BtP
On 1 April 1971 Procol Harum began their tenth US tour (+ Canada). Brooker, Reid, Trower, Copping and Wilson had just finished their fifth album at AIR Studios London and it would be released on 1 May 1971 in the States. In March there had been a disturbing report in Sounds about some friction within the group (BJ Wilson to join The Grease Band?), but Barrie himself had squashed these rumours by giving an interview in Sounds (27 March 1971) which started with his quote: ‘I can’t see the day when the group will split up – we still have a long way to go.’ He admitted though ‘When we came back from our last visit to Italy, we were very tired and everyone was a bit crazy and I think things got a bit out of hand.’ [other - unnamed - sources indicate there had been a fight between Robin and BJ].
The friction in the band would make this tenth US tour Trower’s last Procol tour. He left early May 1971. In my opinion Trower had already decided to leave the band in March, but knew with the new album (and the promotional push it would get) this would have been a very bad moment to leave. Now we finally arrive at the subject of this feature …
A&M’s promotional push for Broken
I don’t know whose decision it was, but early 1971 Herb Alpert or Jerry Moss (or both!) at A&M decided the new Procol Harum album would be a millionseller (or at least a half-a-millionseller). Bob Garcia (Director of Publicity at A&M) and John Mendelsohn (Consultant for Special Projects) wrote in April 1971 that each of the three Procol albums A&M had released to date had sold over 100,000 (in the trade ad it said each had sold a minimum of 150,000). They continue: ‘Which ain’t hay, granted, but which strikes us as entirely too few in light of our conviction that Procol rank well within the Top Five of currently practicing rock and roll bands.’ They close with the remark ‘We attempt to raise Procol’s popular stature to a position correspondent to its artistic peerlessness.’
How were they going to do this? Next to making sure Procol would do a promotional tour, and the timely release of the new album in a luxurious cover including the words (+ the promo ads in the papers), they decided to surprise the US music press with a promotional item as extravagant as the world had so far seen: The Procol Box.
Procol for the Millions
A box (LP size) filled with goodies had to convince the US rock journalists
that Procol Harum would be the next megaseller (after A& M's topselling act,
The Carpenters): to put it in their words, 'Procol for the millions'.
One of the items in the box would be an interview album by John Mendelsohn. So early in April 1971 Mendelsohn invited all Procol members to an intimate recording studio in scenic Minneapolis (Minnesota), where three members began by singing Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner before discussing with Mendelsohn, among other things, their lack of image, starting at the top, the hostile music press and their history of bad management (see here for the complete interview). The other side of the LP contained five songs: Homburg, Shine On Brightly, Nothing That I Didn’t Know, Long Gone Geek (heard for the first time on LP) and A Salty Dog.
The album cover for this interview album shows a rare picture of Procol where all five are smiling. The back contains a short Procol history by John Ned Mendelsohn (among other things, the strange … ‘allowing Fisher’s organ to turn many songs into junior whiter shades of pale’….). This remark was expunged when the same short history was reprinted for BB promo ads in England in MM and NME on 12 June 1971.
Next to this LP the box contains a promo copy of the Broken Barricades LP (white label). The US Unipak cover worked well (showing the faces of all four players on the front cover – though it’s hard to recognize BJ – and Reid on the back) and the record itself (as with most promo copies) sounds a little better than the regular release.
The other items (next to the two LPs) stored in the box are:
The Procol Box is considered to be the rarest Procol promotional item. Its estimated value, according to some price guides, is US$ 400.
As we all know the promo blitz failed. Broken Barricades reached only #32 in Billboard and stayed in the charts 20 weeks.
The other A&M albums (SOB, ASD and Home) reached about the same positions in Billboard : #24, #32 and #34.
It wasn’t until the Live album in 1972 that Procol gave A&M their Top 5 album.
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