Procol Harum

the Pale

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Pandora's Box (backing-track)

A Procoholic Double Review

This page presents part of a unique Procoholics' double-act: Larry Pennisi presents 'The Secrets of the Hive' and Clyde 'AJ' Johnson contributes 'Extracting the Honey' … both being detailed and personal looks, from very different perspectives, at tracks from the Westside Pandora's Box album

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The Secrets of the Hive
by Larry Pennisi / Cerdes

Extracting the Honey
by Clyde ‘AJ’ Johnson

Pandora's Box (instrumental)

Instrumental Fetus Abandoned At Dawn

Interestingly, this voiceless seminal version is far closer to the eventual Leiber and Stoller Pandora’s Box than one might expect. It is a lazy, moon drenched excursion into dementia with BJ providing a rare glimpse into the style that would surface later on in his career. His playing is not in the rock-drumming arena here. Rather, it is almost samba-like in its fluidity and maturity. It is in moments such as these that BJ parts company with his contemporaries. I cannot imagine Keith Moon inventing something this fitting, nor John Bonham for that matter. Perhaps I should back off a little. I dislike both of those drummers playing immensely. The track was never completed. It needed some work and a vocal but would have done the early repertoire proud had it ever been born.

Robin Trower had one of the most advanced guitar sounds of the 1967 crop of outpourings. Other gents were fuzz-boxing and wah-wahing but Robin had a resonance that was so mature, so pristine and yet so immeasurably powerful. Listen to his almost-nothing intro to this track. The guitar is smooth, yet thick and horn-like in its depth and long term sustain. I am to understand that this was recorded using the same setup as the first album. Since this is so, he had great control over the aural palette of his technology. Most impressive! Other bands seemed cheap-sounding retrospectively. Procol was always a Rolls Royce sound-wise. I am optimistic that the words did exist already, as that was Procol’s way. It would not have made it this far if there was not a full song there somewhere. I’ll never understand the finalized Latin American treatment it was given, as the words are distinctly Far Eastern. Leave it to two American Business producers like Leiber and Stoller. Perhaps they thought Magic Carpets were from Mexico. Who knows? "Is that all there is?"

Keith’s original conjuring of Pandora may have stemmed from the same Lysergic pool from which he may have imbibed upon composing Cerdes. Then again, it may have simply been where Keith was at during that gestational period of the band. The 'delic tone is there however; the assorted arcane references and the image of a solitary marble staircased plain just hovering there on its own are breathtaking visiones di 'edelica. Magic carpets, troublesome doctors and resurrected classical composers riddle this out-world landscape. Perhaps it is where Cerdean wizards vacation? Bathing lifeguards; why are they needed? Pegasus could easily scoop up any fading bather in an instant. But we are told there is no one to be saved. A strangely depopulated place this Box is. Is it by preference or has an imposition occurred?

Once again, Matthew is shedding teardrop organ lines. His simulation of a magic carpet taking off is quaint and not altogether effective. He accomplished this by several glissandi up the manual and back down again. The D minor decline of later years is nowhere to be heard in the "like some pirate sailor,’ section. There are no solo sections to be found this early on. Here the bass of the Undertaker, Mr Knights, and the solitary note of the guitar hold the moment where the F7th now rests today. Incomplete, questing and decidedly lost, the track ends after a couple of runs-through of same, with the bass mentioning four notes. The track then hangs and is over. 1973 saw this song truly born. I recall first hearing it at the Felt Forum that year. I distinctly remember thinking how akin the arrangement was to Blood Sweat and Tears Spinning Wheel. Though a superior composition, it has that hesitating quality that the verse of Spinning Wheel had and the chords were similar with the exception of a minor in Procol’s and a major in BST’s. Remember, these were just initial impressions, but ones that stuck long after the book was closed. Even at this stage of the game, it had, "classic" writ upon its brow.

Pandora’s Box … Neil Young Would Have Been Proud Or Where Did Gary Go?

When I first heard this lost piece of PH history and lore, the first thing that came to my mind (the mind of a fellow-guitarist for well over 30 years who worked and slaved for a bit in LA and the 60s' Hollywood scene) was ‘Why is Neil Young jamming with Procol Harum? And making a go of it at that?' Well I suddenly came out of it and laughed out loud! Yes Mr Young was making a very similar tone in 1967 far away in West Hollywood at Goldstar Studios off Santa Monica blvd!

I immediately realized the connection here: Robin and Neil used similar Gretsch semi-hollow body guitars on both their first albums accompanied by lots of early fuzz and tube amp overdrive, albeit different amp set-ups (Robin’s being very British and Young using an American Fender amp). Well this is as close as it gets for me and I love that part of it, especially the lovely descending notes at the end of each passage Robin throws in as an afterthought. Very close to a Wish Me Well …hey I’m going down riff!?

The stereo spread is as usual on here perfect and well balanced, and the backing track is noiseless and well this is technically a very well-done track to say the least for the sessions in general. Shame it only came out half-baked with no sign of Gary’s vocals … sigh! Were they there? Were the lyrics in the room? The best laid plans and a time-schedule that left this masterful attempt at the Gates of Cerdes never to enter the domain called their first album?

It would have been an inspiring piece if they had had a week or two to ponder the possibilities as with the Beatles and the Floyd over at EMI that spring and summer. If only El Producer and Robin had the wherewithal to see the possibilities of laying the keyboards on the single backing track and letting (for the first time) Robin work up with BJ and bass a truly fine metronome of a song with two whole tracks dedicated to just the guitars! What a joy it would and could have been: up tempo’d, and Robin basically playing the riff on this take à la another overdub on track three featuring him doubling and really getting it on, as I have always seen this song as a guitar fueled work à la Whisky Train. Unfortunately it would be almost two years before Mr Trower exerted his influence on the rest of the lads. No, at this point Robin’s job was as a sideman who ran off a cool lead riff to fill in the holes.

And of course this led to him leaving PH later on. I remember when Bridge of Sighs came out and he was interviewed by Rolling Stone. He talked bluntly about stretching out and copying the Hendrix vibe and admitting as a member of PH he enjoyed his job but felt it was only to back up the awesome double keyboard driven music magic which he did to perfection. Let’s face it, PH was never the same after HE left no MATTER what anyone says to the contrary.

In conclusion this (for all that is missing) is sonically one of the best of the batch for some unknown reason in my estimation and like I said before would, and could, have been a highlight – if only. But the whole history of Procol’s recording career in the studio is made up of years piled upon years of ‘IF ONLYS’.


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