Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum's place in history

Garry Herzog

Garry Herzog writes to BtP from New Jersey (June 2003)

Dear Procol Harum (dot-com):

Just a note to say, well done, and how wonderful to have a site dedicated to this band. If anyone wants to bear with my opinion on Procol:

It's been on my mind for many, many years that Procol has not been given its due place in the history of rock music, particularly in the era referred to as "The Sixties." It's typical to hear the Beatles, the Who, the Stones, and maybe even the Doors referred to as the "top" bands of the era. But I would argue that, by every objective measure (apart from record mega-sales), Procol has to be on the short-list of the best bands, and perhaps deserves the absolute top billing.

Procol certainly is the equal of the Beatles, in terms of creativity, the concept approach to an album, arrangement, and lyrical accomplishment, or songwriting. And Procol may surpass the Beatles in all these considerations. What other band produced something of the order of A Whiter Shade of Pale on its début record?

Keith Reid has to be acknowledged as a lyricist operating on a par with John Lennon and Bob Dylan, and on certain albums his consistency from piece to piece is unmatched, and he can sustain a delicate, fragile, elusive and complex mood like no other.

The great thing about Procol is that Reid's unique voice finds its setting in Gary Brooker's wonderful compositions and the complete band's musicianship. And this is what I think has been grossly overlooked in considering the bands of what is loosely called "The Sixties" : Procol is on a plane of its own when it comes to musicianship. The band's classic, incredibly original sound blends the virtuosity of Brooker, Matthew Fisher, Robin Trower and B.J. Wilson, but the high level of musicianship survives the departures of Matthew Fisher (listen to Home and Chris Copping's beautiful, righteous organ work) and then Trower (listen to the live album with the Edmonton Symphony, clearly still by far the best rock recording with an orchestra, and then Grand Hotel, a singular accomplishment, and for my money Exotic Birds and Fruit as well). Can one imagine the Beatles or the Who or the Stones losing key members, and continuing to produce the same standard of extraordinary work as if they hadn't broken stride?

Ah, well, I suppose I've raved enough, but as far as my view of Procol's proper place in rock music, believe me this little letter is just a spontaneous tip of the iceberg, because I could go far deeper into the topic, chapter and verse. In summary: What a great band, in imagination, in originality, and in musicianship. I don't think anyone else, at least in this broad field of music, is in the same league. And I don't mean to slight the others: I love that genius John Lennon! But there's something amiss when the historical consensus about a musical era just plain overlooks or at least slights a band that, by any objective measure, must be deemed at least Lennon's equal. Past that, I'll accept it comes down to personal taste.

Congratulations on the website. I'm sure to return. It's good of you to listen, too.

Garry Herzog
New Jersey, USA

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