Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Learn to Fly


Album: The Prodigal Stranger (1991)

Authors: Brooker / Fisher / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: once !

Cover-versions: none

This is predominantly an upbeat song, unusually danceable for Procol Harum, which many bands would have chosen to close an album in preference to the gloomy, despairing The Pursuit of Happiness. Set in a cheerful D major, the song juxtaposes two contrasting musical ideas: the verse embodies a simple build-up alternating two chords, the dominant and subdominant, while the chorus squarely inhabits classic Procol territory, complex harmonies defined by a moving bassline and hallmarked with Fisher's 'celestial' grands orgues sound. The featured solo instrument is a rocking piano break, either very carefully double-tracked or given presence by ADT or some similar technique; there is some great guitar in the fade-out.

The original demo was a more loose-rocking affair in which Brooker reverses the lines the 'deal is done' and 'the die is cast', and in which there is a featured guitar solo instead of the piano work-out; its introduction is derived from the verse material, not the chorus material as on the released recording. The final version presents a much more marked differentiation of verse and chorus in terms of texture and instrumentation, and the carefully programmed 'slack moments' in between lend apparent variety. This stop-start proclivity, as opposed to conventional rock momentum (which even 80s synth-bands retained) is a hallmark of the album. For all that 'inserted' variety there's a fair bit of repetition here and though the words do repay scrutiny many fans have sensed a certain banality, which is probably attributable to the jaunty melody, which does little to bring out the darker aspects of Reid's text.

The harmonic basis of the chorus (read about it here) derives, by Brooker's own admission, from a Bach chord sequence, Well-Tempered Clavier, book one, Prelude 21 [mp3 here], which he has transposed up a major third, collapsing the demi-semiquavers into block chords [he was heard to play these chords, similarly collapsed, during the sound-check at The Barbican in 1996: clearly a prelude he likes!]. In view of Brooker's evident origination of the chorus, it might be safe perhaps counter-intuitively to assume that the two-chord scheme of the verse is Matthew Fisher's:

Learn To Fly appeared as track two of the German The Truth Wont Fade Away 1991 CD single, but was not performed on the Prodigal Stranger promotional tour, 199192. To our knowledge it has been played live only once, at Valley Forge Music Fair, Devon, Philadelphia on 22 July 1995: following straight after Kaleidoscope, it finished the show. Unfamiliarity led Gary to sing 'Its in the air, Its everywhere' six times, omitting the 'We're on the air' lines. Better-known songs of this title have been recorded by the Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd and Tom Petty: they are quite different compositions.

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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