Procol Harum

the Pale

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from 'Kaleidoscope Eyes'

book by Jim Derogatis

Kaleidoscope Eyes: Psychedelic Music From the 1960s to the 1990s : Jim Derogatis. Fourth Estate. London. 1996.

Page 84:
"... Procol Harum, the Moody Blues and King Crimson herald the move from psychedelia to art rock. As the name for a genre of music, "art rock" is misleading. Great rock is art, but there isn't much great art rock. What art rock, or "progressive music" is, is music that self-consciously tries to elevate rock'n'roll to high culture by embracing high-culture values such as technical virtuosity and conceptual density. Many musicians in the first wave of British psychedelia were upper-middle-class kids who discovered, rock, drugs, and the London nightlife and dropped out of college or art schoool. Sgt. Pepper's convinced them that they could make music that was just as serious as the art they'd been studying before they tuned in, turned on, and dropped out- and maybe it might even be respectable enough to please Mum and Dad.

"Why British bands feel compelled to quote the classics however tongue-in-cheek leads into the murky waters of class and nation analysis" critic John Rockwell wrote. "In comparison with the British, Americans tend to be happy apes. Most American rockers wouldn't know a Beethoven symphony if they were run down by one in the middle of a freeway. One result of such ignorance is that American art (music, painting, poetry, films etc) can develop untroubled by lame affectations of a cultured sensibility. In Britain the lower classes enjoy no such isolation. The class divisions and the crushing weight of high culture flourish essentially untrammeled. Rockers seem far more eager to "dignify their work to make it acceptable for upper class approbation".

Procol Harum took its name for the Latin phrase for "beyond these things" and scored its biggest hit by paraphrasing a Bach cantata, Suite No.3 in D Major. The pretensions are thick even without hallucinatory lyrics about vestal virgins, flying ceilings and light fandangos, but nevertheless, A Whiter Shade of Pale remains a hauntingly effective single. The band plays as if it is barely restraining an emotional outburst: the group could be a hippie version of the dance orchestra on the Titanic, dutifully playing as the ship sinks into the icy depths. The quintet's first three albums explored increasingly less [sic] interesting variations of the theme until the band finally lapse into a fatal coma in 1970 after the departure of guitarist Robin Trower.


Procol Harum do not get discussed further in this book. The "Select Psychedelic-Rock Discography" at the back of the book recommends : The Collection [Castle 1990], the author presumably having failed to notice the presence of many tracks recorded long after the fatal coma!

Praise be to indexers everywhere: the entry in the index is for "Procul Harum". Jim Derogatis is a music journalist.

Thanks, Sam

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