Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum (1967)

Daniel Reilert in Trinity Tripod, 10 October 1967

Bee Gees, Country Joe and the Fish, Procol Harum Brighten Rock picture

Three recent album releases have aroused quite some interest in music circles, and merit comment.

The Bee Gees' 1st, by the young Australian group, has caused mixed reaction. The album, one of the first to be released without any changes around the world, contains fourteen tracks, all complex and commercial. The album is one of the best-produced of the year, and some claim that it is more of a technical than musical work. The songs vary from rocking (in a 1965 Beatle way, as in In My Own Time) to Gregorian chant (Every Christian Lionhearted Man will Show you) to slapstick (Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts). Most of the songs are vaguely worded, with accompanying instrumentation (often with strings and brass) intended to augment the effect of the lyrics.

Some people may ask whether the Bee Gees are putting on something in their songs about death and disorder, but Barry Gibb (group leader and eldest of the three Bee Gee brothers) explains that they are only trying to face common fears, from which many other artists have stayed away. Although some have said the album is a teenybop, pseudo-psychedelic collection, I have to disagree.

Next come Country Joe and the Fish. This San Francisco group is, as a noted East Coast guitarist told me, a musical circus full of fun, noise and acts. There isn't much blend: it's as if there are five lead instruments taking turns enjoying themselves. It can't be judged seriously, but that in itself is refreshing, since too many people are taking too many groups too seriously since Sgt Pepper came out. One vocal, Superbird, rips President Johnston apart (“it's a bird, it's a plane, it's a man insane, it's my President LBJ”) and others like Happiness is a  Porpoise Mouth and Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine are grooves. There is also one long and fine instrumental, called Section 43. A good LP for a complete rock library.

The third album is by Procol Harum. This English group, whose Whiter Shade of Pale was the largest-selling single in European history, recorded an entire album of songs this spring before breaking up. The phenomenal sale of their single reunited the group, which now plans to make an American tour and a movie.

This has to be one of the best pop albums ever made. It blends R&B, blues and serious music beautifully. They combine organ and piano, producing a full and intoxicating effect, heightened by the continuity of style throughout the album. The lyrics are all as obscure as those of the single, heightening the dreamy uncertain mood of the suite,

Your skin crawls up an octave
Your teeth have lost their gleam
The peaches smother over you [sic]
Into the clotted cream
And for some unknown reason
My watch begins to chime
And though I beg and plead with you
You say that it's not time

The organ is Bach, the mood is religious and, after the instrumental finale, Repent Walpurgis, it is hard to leave without putting the disc on for another play. This possibly represents the first good bridge between rock and serious music, and many expect this album to have a profound effect on the pop scene.

Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA

More reviews of the same album
More reviews of other Procol Harum albums

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