Procol Harum – Beyond These Things
The Paramounts and AWSoP
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 the comments on The Paramounts and AWSoP below, and follow the numerous links to other regions of BtP that you may not have visited in quite a while!
Whiter shades of R&B – The Paramounts
So where did it all begin – the music that drove Roine and I to distraction?
Well, actually it was in the unlikely pop song Poison Ivy, a composition by Leiber-Stoller, whose acquaintance was renewed (less than symphonically!) on Procol’s unfortunate Ninth. Anyway, that’s for much later.
The Paramounts always avoided culling their cover versions from ‘the hit parade’, favouring instead the overlooked tracks from albums by Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard. Subsequently, Procol Harum also shunned the obvious in favour of the esoteric.
Gary Brooker in an interview in 1984 tells of The Paramounts' endless quest for ‘unusual’ material by American soul and ‘R&B’ bands and also of their first tentative steps in a jazzier direction with a cover of Charlie Mingus’s protest song Freedom:
"The scene seemed to be changing. We got a bit bored with it (soul and R & B). The last song we made, Freedom, wasn’t really like anything we’d done before and sums up the sort of influences in the air – there was jazz, everything. I’d never liked jazz at all but I heard Art Blakey and Charlie Mingus and it changed my world. Something about their approach struck a chord with me.
I was also listening to quite a bit of classical music, particularly Bach. Kaleidoscope had bits of Mars from The Planets."
(Those wishing to read a bit more about the classical and jazz routes to progressive rock are referred to my paper on ‘The Origins Of Progressive Rock’ (Acid Dragon Publications))
In those days, legend has it that Gary Brooker used any old upright piano available (with microphone placed strategically under the lid) and that egg boxes covered the walls and ceiling of Shades Cellar Club in Southend. Apparently, the latter idiosyncratic practice was not an attempt to recreate Dr Who’s Tardis but rather a primitive form of soundproofing!
The band that covered Coasters numbers (remember Yakety Yak and Charlie Brown?) and toured with Sandie Shaw (Can you forget Puppet on a String?) also featured Chris Copping, Robin Trower and BJ Wilson on and off. All were to become legends in Procol Harum history and Wilson left The Paramounts for what Brooker described as ‘a gambling career in the south of France’
THAT record: ‘Her face at first just ghostly turned a whiter shade of pale’
Nigel Smithers, writing in November, 1982’s Record Collector gets it exactly right when he observes:
"That one record (A Whiter Shade of Pale) has tended to blind people to the fact that Procol Harum made several albums displaying a high standard of musicianship and song writing."
As I write, Patrick Humphries in the March, 2000 Record Collector reports that there was life after A Whiter Shade and, in his brief re-appraisal nearly 20 years on states:
"In the decade between 1967 and 1977, Procol Harum recorded a stunning sequence of ten albums."
It could indeed be argued that ‘the flagship record of the summer of love', although a classic song (and, on a personal note, my ultimate ‘desert island disc’) became in one sense the ruination of the band in that it served to categorise them as a ‘singles’ band.
Rob Chapman writing in Mojo said, "Procol were shackled with the emotional baggage of THAT record."
Apart from the commercial success of A Whiter Shade, Procol didn’t have much luck at the beginning of their career. Their eponymous début album was undermined straight away by Essex Music Publishers and the Straight Ahead Productions Company (!) who actually decided to delay its release by six months!
The album was criticised at the time not only for not including ‘that single’ and the follow up hit Homburg but also for producer Denny Cordell’s decision to record ‘live in the studio’ and in mono. In retrospect this does not seem a wise move especially when considered in the context of the production values of The Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
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