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Procol Harum : Shine On Brightly
Released 1968 on Regal Zonophone
Procol Harum were and still are one of my all-time favorite rock groups and most all their records are essential, they have made at least four spectacular albums in Procol Harum, A Salty Dog, Home and this their second album Shine On Brightly which may just be their best. It's odd that I say that because when I first heard the record I didn't really care for it, but on repeated playings over the years it's become one of my favorite records.
Procol Harum sadly are only remembered in most parts for their chart topping summer of '67 hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale, a second single the somewhat similar [sic] Homburg also hit big in many countries but after that the group couldn't get arrested for the most part chartwise in the U.K. so they concentrated on the USA market where they had a very loyal cult following and were critical heroes especially in early Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy days.
Procol's first album simply titled Procol Harum was a wonderful début album right on par with if not better than Pink Floyd's first album, it also seemed to have a big influence on The Band's "Music From Big Pink".
Procol's second album Shine On Brightly however was not as well received as their début by most ( myself included ) yet with the passing of time to me it's a much more interesting album. Side one opens with the marvelous Quite Rightly So which was picked as a single and promptly bombed on the charts which seems bizarre as it was to me their best single to date, all the Procol strengths are right there in abundance, superb music, great Keith Reid lyrics and a top flight vocal by Gary Brooker (who must rank as one of the most overlooked singers of 60s British rock ) This song should have topped the charts but never reached higher than 50 in the UK.
The second number Shine On Brightly is just as good as the first and also should have been a hit single but was never issued on 45, this track sounds a lot like Traffic at their best. Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) also carries a Traffic sound in spots but it also gets quite weird and kinda doubles as a psychedelic waltz number and Russian battle song! Wish Me Well shows off the group's R+B roots and has a strong influence from the first Band album, Robin Trower plays some blistering guitar lines on this one that look ahead to future Procol heavyweights like Whisky Train and Devil Came From Kansas. Side one ends with the superb Rambling On which is one of the group's best-ever songs, which may in fact document a Keith Reid acid trip.
Side two is basically just one song that has several parts and could be described as one of rock's first concept pieces, Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) is a strange but beautiful ballad that slides into the ambitious In Held 'Twas In I which is a piece that greatly influenced The Who's Pete Townshend in the making of his pop opera Tommy. Some are put off by this track as it has a myriad of odd twists and turns that can confuse the listener at times, but if you hang with it the thing really flows together quite nicely. It begins with a spoken word section by Brooker about the meaning of life that is spiced up with some sitar runs, organist Mathew Fisher [sic] then recites a poem that leads into a hurdy gurdy [?] fairground type romp that recalls the end of Skip Softly, you then hear a fire engine bell and thunder clap then Fisher sings a beautiful tune called In The Autumn Of My Madness that could have been edited into a single. Next comes some heavy guitar/organ interplay with Trower and Fisher, Brooker then bursts in with a moving song section paced by a beautifully played harpsichord and Steve Winwood style vocal, ever-present is Reid's cryptic lyrics about graveyards and living amongst the dead and his usual "fun" subject matter. The whole thing is wrapped by with a lovely choir section followed by some devastating acid guitar by Trower and then some more angelic choir singing, then it's over! Whew!!!
Procol Harum were never really a hip band and are all but reduced to "one hit wonder" status these days, which is criminal! You won't see this record listed on rock critic's lists of the best albums of all time but it's near the top of mine.
A recent UK CD reissue adds some great bonus tracks and superior sound, so buy the thing already!!