Procol Harum – Beyond These Things
Phil Jackson's Procol Harum retrospective was intended to introduce newcomers to the band's music following the elaborate cover of In Held 'Twas In I by TransAtlantic. Read his introduction and his comments on Home below, and follow the numerous links to other regions of BtP that you may not have visited in quite a while!
And now to the fourth album ‘Home’ with its board game cover – snakes but no ladders and Procol members appearing as cartoon heroes.
Sam Cameron has done a very entertaining analysis of this LP on the ‘Beyond The Pale’ web pages. This whets the appetite for a re-listen to this 1970 release:
"The varieties of esotericism can be traced to questions that can be attached to specific songs. Is there life after death? (Dead Man’s Dream, About To Die, Barnyard Story) Can you gain control of another person or alter the elements through casting spells? (Piggy Pig Pig, Still There’ll Be More). Is it possible to obtain knowledge through psychic transference or subconscious exploration? Can the future be predicted? (Nothing That I Didn’t Know)
Nothing is ever straightforward in the world of Procol Harum!
As Keith Reid wrote in his lyrics to 'Twas Teatime at the Circus:
‘And though the crowd clapped desperately they did not see the joke’
And when you listen to some of the ghoulish lyrics on Home you can understand why receiving Reid’s latest batch of lyrics put Matthew Fisher off.
"All the same old coffins and rotting corpses," (in Record Collector #247) – this may have been literally the last nail in the coffin for him!
Ritchie Yorke in NME (11/7/70) was ‘really convinced that this album is just about as historic a landmark as Sgt. Pepper was’. Er, well yes, maybe – perhaps I wouldn’t have gone quite that far!
He also opined, "I’m sure it will go straight home to #1." Wrong (unfortunately) – it dented the top 50 in the UK and made US #34.
This is an amazingly overlooked album as the shortage of reviews on the web site will testify. That’s strange because even Rolling Stone seemed impressed at the time.
And Patrick Humphries in his liner notes for the Castle CD re-issue in 1988 was also kindly disposed towards Home:
"With Gary Brooker’s gutsy vocals, Trower’s flamboyant guitar, B.J.Wilson’s relentless drumming. He was, after all, Jimmy Page’s first choice for the Led Zeppelin drumstool – and Keith Reid’s enigmatic lyrics, Home shows how far Procol had come since their days as the Paramounts, and how much they’d developed in the three years since A Whiter Shade of Pale"
As to the music itself it has tremendous raw energy and consistency despite the departure of Matthew Fisher and bass player David Knights (to be replaced by former Paramount Chris Copping on bass and occasional keyboard – bass keyboard when on tour.)
Whisky Train, a tribute to Elvis Presley’s Mystery Train, is a grand opener, a showcase for Wilson’s drumming and Trower’s bluesy guitar – it fairly rocks along and is the best Trower composition to date.
Dead Man’s Dream is a return to the Gothic horror of the first album, only more explicit – this is a personal favourite but I guess not to everyone’s taste!
The driving rock of Still There’ll Be More was described by Gary von Tersch in his Rolling Stone review as ‘violent’ and I can understand why. If it were a film it would probably be ‘X’ rated! So far this album is straight down your throat and the pace has to relent!
Procol duly oblige with Nothing That I Didn’t Know a plaintive, melancholic song showing a gentler, more acoustic side to the group
Side one concludes with the second Trower composition on the album About To Die as our hero seems in gladiatorial dire straits – well done but not entirely convincing.
Side two doesn’t have a weakness. Barnyard Story is a marvel – ‘Chicken’s in the farmyard, there’s an oven in your bin’ are the unlikely opening lines (Is anything unlikely in Procol Harum?) with a stirring vocal and piano performance by Brooker.
Piggy Piggy Pig is totally infectious, very Beatlish (And I don’t mean ‘Harrison’ Piggies from The White Album – it’s more upbeat than that, definitely more Lennon influenced – in one of his whackier moments perhaps!) Sam Cameron goes to great lengths to examine the magical and mystical elements in this song, by the way.
Whaling Stories is the album’s Repent Walpurgis, In Held 'Twas In I or A Salty Dog – ‘an epic song which paved the way for many 1970’s progressive rock groups’ says Henry Scott-Irvine in his liner notes to the 30th Anniversary collection.
Finally, there is the catchy Your Own Choice with an uncredited Larry Adler on harmonica!
So that is Home – their rockiest album to date with the exception of the epic Whaling Stories and the quieter, more reflective songs scattered lovingly like pillows around the album.
But Home has a typical Procol sting in the tail largely attributable to some of Keith Reid’s weirdest lyrics yet and the ‘no nonsense’ approach of the reincarnated Paramounts!
Rating – 9/10
And so we have it – the first four albums, every one of them a classic – how many bands in rock history have produced 4 such quality works consecutively within the space of 4 years?
And there was much more to come from the band that has influenced and impressed (among many others) Pete Townshend (‘In Held Twas In I was a major inspiration for Tommy), Brian May of Queen, Daryl Steurmer of Genesis, Ant Phillips and Kayak on albums such as See See The Sun and Royal Bed Bouncer.
Next time join me again to see Procol extend their series of classic albums to six then go into a gradual but terminal decline.
I will also examine briefly the solo careers of key members of the band.
Meanwhile please buy the Westside 30th Anniversary box set containing the first 4 albums and all singles and outtakes (including Long Gone Geek which many people think should have graced the Shine On Brightly album.)
You really have no excuse not to listen to the box set and to visit the www. procolharum.com ‘Beyond The Pale’ web site if you possibly can.
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