'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
The Pursuit of Happiness
Predominantly a religious-themed song, this slow, relatively undramatic closing-track in the unusual key of F# major ought to sound very 'Procoloid', with its melancholy Hammond counterpoint to a soulful melody, academic chord inversions, dramatic drum-punctuation and stirring guitar solo. Oddities of harmonic rhythm are nothing new to Procol listeners (from Conquistador onwards) but the uneasy phrase lengths, six-and-a-half bars, then six bars, then a ten-bar chorus remain unsettling – though such adventurousness is characteristic of the album. Perhaps they emanate from Matt Noble's collaboration, or perhaps they are signs of Gary Brooker doing something genuinely new, but they somehow give an impression of pieces-bolted-together, rather than being the ironic setting to the pursuit mentioned in the song's title. The fractured piano-introduction is uncharacteristic, as is the tambourine at the end and the fussy opening percussion – though that style is familiar to listeners to Brooker's solo Echoes in the Night.
It was puzzlingly never performed live as far as we can ascertain: it would work well with natural bass-guitar, and without the interpolation of synth strings at 2:00, a somewhat arbitrary decoration. It offers a thoughtful setting of a very thought-provoking lyric [selected by Keith Reid for his book, My Own Choice] whose complexity has been overlooked by critics who sense triteness rather than despair in the final 'round and round and round', which the record emphasises so subtly with the organ playing 'a round' in the sense that it would be understood by campanologists.
A corresponding fascination with bells and chiming motifs pervades Matthew Fisher's contributions to 'Twas Teatime at the Circus, Pilgrim's Progress, and most conspicuously in the extended playout of his solo piece, Journey's End part II. The final chords here are closely-related to those of Pilgrim's Progress though the present song falls to pieces desultorily, reflecting nothing of the triumphalism of its 1969 precedent.
- The title of this song comes from the US constitution which prescribes 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' as the inalienable rights of US citizens: the Philosopher John Locke was reputedly instrumental in its incorporating. 'Worth a cent' later confirms a transAtlantic sensibility, and it's possible that 'howling at the moon' recalls Kennedy's space-race clarion-call. The title is also the name of the power-pop band fronted by Edmonton's Moe Berg, who started their recording career on Chrysalis in 1988, and whose 1993 album, The Down Road, was produced by Ed Stasium who is among the Imponderable Strangers credited on the liner of this Procol CD. Nuno Bettencourt's Pursuit of Happiness (on 1997's Schizophonic) is not a cover, but a different song. The title phrase was heard in the Rolling Stones' Mother's little helper: 'the pursuit of happiness is just a bore'.
- The opening calls to mind the gnomic refrain of Green Grow the Rushes-Oh: a whole generation of British schoolchildren can chant 'One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so', enjoying the sounds without necessarily responding to their esoteric significance (they present a mnemonic device for students of the Quabalah) or worrying about their apparently nonsensical meaning. Reid's equally sonorous, eminently visualisable compilations of phrases are often enjoyed in a similar way.
- 'One into one won't go': this enigmatic opening proposition is not strictly true from an arithmetical point of view, since one may be divided by one; but the end-product is unity again, so the calculation is pointless, appropriate in a song so riddled with the imagery of futility and oblivion ('Planet Earth is going soon') and with the pointless rotation of an empty planet which at 'the very end' goes 'round and round and round and round again'. On a vinyl album of course this final silence corresponds with the empty rotations of a take-up groove, but this neat conceit is lost on a convenience generation accustomed to the hermetic revolutions of the CD, for whom it's no longer true that 'the music goes round and round …'
- 'Two out of three don't know' adopts the terminology of the street-poll, and evoking a downbeat population that has lost its way, emptily proclaiming its right to pursue happiness, while doubtless acquiescing to market pressures (a prime concern of All our Dreams are Sold, the song's close cousin) and '[doing] what we're told'. Notably no blame is ascribed for this by an uncritical populace, beyond the vague notion that 'Someone's screwed the master plan'.
- 'Time and tide in man's affairs' adapts Shakespeare's 'There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune' [Julius Caesar, Act IV scene iii]; in its original setting it's the forward-looking remark of a political opportunist; here it appears rather more defeatist, as befits a narrator who feels he has no option but to 'take their word on trust'.
- 'Trouble always comes in pairs' is a curious adaptation of the common parlance, 'Bad luck comes in pairs'; perhaps it earns its place here in that it completes the arithmetic pattern of the opening verse.
- 'Wonder where the picture went?': the line would seem to relate to 'the big picture', relating to the master-plan a few lines below. Reid uses 'picture' in a variety of ways, as this selection shows: 'Our local picture house' (Rambling On); 'Picture ... rush (and so forth)' (The Thin End Of The Wedge); 'The close of the picture' and 'Which kills the picture' (New Lamps For Old); 'Painting the picture' (Skating On Thin Ice); 'that's the way the picture reads' (Into The Flood); 'I've still got your picture' (One More Time); 'a picture through the glass'; (the unpublished Last Train to Niagara) and 'her picture's in Vogue' (the unpublished A Real Attitude)
- 'Bite the bullet in the dust': a brilliant portmanteau phrase, richly encompassing a variety of related notions: the sense 'take the bull by the horns' is conflated with 'bite the dust', a grimly graphic euphemism for 'die', familiar from Western movies, but here appropriated to the discourse of starvation, where dust is all that remains to eat. Half of Reid's references to 'dust' occur on this record (Man with a Mission, All our Dreams are Sold)
- 'All God's children' got rhythm, some would contend; here they are 'running scared': perhaps it's those who harbour a religious faith who find the most terror in the inevitable extinction of a race they have been led to believe is part of 'the master-plan' of a God who now apparently refuses to intervene paternally on their behalf. References to God also come in Piggy Pig Pig, Whaling Stories, A Rum Tale, Nothing But the Truth, The Mark of The Claw, Holding on, Perpetual Motion.
- 'Running scared': common phrase, also title of 1986 buddy-cop film by Peter Hyams, 1991 book by Jenny Arden, another book by Jim Guilbault, etc etc
- 'Planet Earth is going soon, Starving children stand in line' : relatively uncharacteristic and blunt references to real-world woes from Keith Reid, as found also in Holding On. 'Planet Earth' is a phrase that has achieved widespread currency since the space race (see above) allowed man to apprehend the whole globe in one go: it occurs in Bowie's Space Oddity and is the title of a song by Duran Duran.
- 'howling at the moon': the more usual expression is 'baying at the moon' … again Shakespeare has 'I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon / Than such a Roman [Julius Caesar, Act IV scene iii: a play that shares with the present song an interest in the malleability and thoughtlessness of popular opinion]. It might equally have been derived from Dylan's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues in which 'Sweet Melinda … the goddess of gloom … invites you up into her room … and she takes your voice, and leaves you howling at the moon': the additional relevance of this to The King of Hearts needs no explication.
- 'howling at the moon': the moon tarot card in the most common (Waite) pack shows two dogs howling at the moon. They are supposedly protecting the moon and thereby the fate of humanity. This symbolism is said to be of ancient Egyptian origin.
- 'to the very end': the end of happiness is aptly ambiguous: is it the fulfilment, or the termination? This chimes with 'Faithful to the end' in All Our Dreams are Sold ... another song about being told what to do.
- 'round and round and round' is a numbingly ironic riposte to the opening line: 'one into one' might seem to refer to the indivisibility of God at the start of the song, but – once man has pursued his happiness – the album's final impression is 'round and round and round' again, evoking not only the perennial orbits of earth and moon, but the emptiness of the round number 0, cycling to infinity …