'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
This song is a musically straightforward, medium-paced basher in the guitarists' key of E, though it does shift up a tone for the instrumental break, obliging the organ to take a solo in F sharp major, a key that would defeat many players who like to let their fingers do the thinking. The glissando at the end sounds as if it's all white notes, suggesting that the solo was played in a 'comfortable' key and perhaps transposed via MIDI to the pitch we hear: in which case the instrument used cannot be a vrai Hammond.
The piano has little to do after its ostentatious introduction and the ensemble cruises along on pounding drums and seething keyboards, with the guitar confined, but for one wah-wah howl (on 'push too hard'), to a scratchy back-up role. Acoustic rhythm guitar, sounding like a twelve-string, injects some jangling excitement. Densely layered vocals characterise the chorus, but there is some deft harmony singing in the verses too. The straining 'woah-woah' style of the singing, and the antiphonal 'hand that rocks' in the backing voices, are not found elsewhere in Procol Harum music, and could perhaps be associated with the one-off collaborating composer, Chris Thompson, of Manfred Mann's Earth Band, who wrote with Keith Reid before the Prodigal Stranger album was made. Maybe the multiple authorship is also reflected in the mismatch of sentiments between verse and chorus. The verses seem to belong to the Procol canon ('right or wrong', 'looking-glass', 'wheel turns' ... the band have even played I'll be satisfied) but the chorus diverts the subject from right-living to good fortune. It's also an atypical Procol song in that it uses barely any rhyme.
It was performed regularly in 1991–2 and a fair bit afterwards, but not, so far, since 1995; stage versions have corresponded closely to the recorded performance, as far as the personnel has permitted. Gary Brooker makes out that the physical effort of singing it is enough almost to finish him off: ‘it’s a very taxing one to sing’, he says here.
- 'Out in the dark …nothing to believe in': compare this with 'The night surrounds me', opening (You Can't) Turn Back the Page. From these nihilistic beginnings the song weaves an uncharacteristically upbeat web of potential revelations from 'a man with a secret … a visionary sister' … though the song does not elucidate the nature of the secrets nor the visions. Reid has relatively few references to secrets (A Rum Tale, TV Ceasar and The Idol) until this album, which has three (Man with a Mission and A Dream in Ev'ry Home are the others); on the other hand his allusions to the dark are legion: 'In the dark I grope' (Kaleidoscope); 'It's dark in here' (Salad Days (Are Here Again)); 'darkness is no reason' (In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence); 'In the darkness of the night'(Glimpses of Nirvana); 'the nights are now much darker' (In the Autumn of My Madness); 'There's a dark cloud just above us'(The Devil Came From Kansas); 'In darkness through my being here' (All This And More); 'everywhere light, yet darkness engulfed me' (Dead Man's Dream); 'It was dark in the death-room' (Dead Man's Dream); 'down dark alleys sailors crept' (Whaling Stories); 'Darkness struck with molten fury' (Whaling Stories); 'We lie in darkest night' (Nothing But the Truth); 'Who will live in darkest night' (Beyond The Pale); 'It's the dark hours of the soul' (Something Magic); 'clouds which seemed so dark' (Something Magic); 'Slipping down on the darkest side' (The hand that rocks the cradle); 'you won't find favour on the dark side of the street' (Last Train to Niagara). Reid's uses of the word 'nothing' are also numerous, in such songs as Quite Rightly So, Glimpses of Nirvana, In the Autumn of My Madness, Look to Your Soul, Boredom, The Wreck Of The Hesperus, Nothing that I Didn't Know, Whaling Stories, Nothing But the Truth, The Idol, Monsieur R. Monde, Man with a Mission and the officially-unpublished Seem To Have The Blues (Most All The Time).
- 'And you can't find a way back home': a similar sense of alienation and disorientation pervades early lyrics of Reid's, where 'signposts cease to sign' and long roads 'go nowhere' … as well as having an album named Home and two song-titles featuring the word, Procol Harum use the word 'home' in no fewer than 14% of their published songs.
- 'Who knows what's right or wrong?': something of a truism, albeit at odds with the simultaneism of 'it was good, it was bad' in the opening track of the album.
- 'Little by little I turn to the light / And one day I'll be satisfied'. Two song-titles are hiding here: Little by Little was a No 17 single in 1966 for Dusty Springfield, to whom Brooker and Reid unsuccessfully pitched a song before they formed Procol Harum; while I'll be Satisfied is the 1959 classic Jackie Wilson hit, that Procol Harum played (twice!) at the Barbican in 1996.
- 'Little by little I turn to the light': there is not sufficient imagery in the song to enable us to establish what sort of 'light' is referred to here. Though it seems likely that a spiritual light is intended, from the proximity of 'visionary' and 'right or wrong', there's an uncomfortable overtone of honeysuckle or heliotrope which literally 'turn to the light', and uncomfortably little resonance with anything to do with cradles.
- 'The hand that rocks the cradle': US poet WW Ross (1819-1881) wrote '... the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world' and the phrase has passed into common parlance. It is of course particularly suited to popular music, thanks to the other meaning of 'rock' in that context. There are at least two films of the same name: a silent one from Universal Pictures (1917) and another (1991) directed by Curtis Hanson, concerning a 'nanny from hell' who wants to take revenge for losing her own child through a miscarriage. Some Procol scholars wonder whether the dark words of the song ('I'll be satisfied', 'the wheel (of revenge) turns around', 'I gotta be (gotta seem?) gentle') and the coincidence of its 1991 release, suggest that it might have been intended as a soundtrack piece.
- 'I gotta be gentle and strong': not a sentiment much found elsewhere in Procoldom; it is reminiscent of a commercial for some supposedly classy 'toilet tissue'.
- 'The lucky one': the terms of reference for 'lucky' are unclear, but it stands out as a very rare word in Procoldom, occurring only in the dismissive ' … you're lucky, we both know that's no find …' in Crucifiction Lane. 'Lucky' is the ironic name of the famously wretched factotum, about whom much crucifixion imagery revolves, in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, a playwright much admired by Keith Reid.
- 'wind blows cold / lose your resistance / Slipping down on the darkest side': promisingly Reid seems to be moving into the dark and diseased territory of some of his early work. 'The darkest side', in view of the line that follows, might seem to refer to the territory behind the mirror.
- 'Don't get lost in the looking-glass': the curiously anachronistic term 'looking-glass' crops up in 'I took her by the looking glass' (A Whiter Shade of Pale) and 'I was halfway through the looking-glass' (Last Train to Niagara): the latter in particular suggests a glance at Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, many of whose themes of darkly-comic dislocation and alienated wonder inform Reid's best work too.
- 'Little by little the wheel turns around': the wheel is a universal symbol of birth, death, fortune: see also The Pursuit of Happiness. This wheel evidently goes a lot slower than Reid's other specimen, the Ferris wheel that 'spins round' in Shine on Brightly.
- 'and one day I'll be satisfied': the song leaves its hearers puzzled as to what form this 'satisfaction' will take, whether bodily, spiritual or intellectual …