Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Butterfly Boys

Album: Exotic Birds and Fruit (1974), The Symphonic Music (1995), Live at the BBC (1999)

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: promotionally, then orchestrally

Cover-versions: none

Example of butterfly logo on otherwise irrelevant record

This song combines an exuberant rock feel with highly disillusioned words amounting to a transparent attack on the bosses of the band's record label. Gary Brooker recalls that it was the first song recorded when Procol Harum went into the studio for Exotic Birds and Fruit. 'We have a very close relationship with the people we work with over the AIR Studios, John Punter and Chris Thomas. They said, "Let’s boogie," so we started off with this one. They really enjoyed making it." There was less enjoyment when Chrysalis bosses, Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, got to hear it, and realized that the 'Butterfly' in question was their Chrysalis logo (shown right), and the 'boys' in question were themselves (the word 'Chrysalis' is a phonic elision of 'Chris' and 'Ellis'). As Gary revealed to BtP (see here) they were very disturbed by this (not least, presumably, by the up-front connection with 'fly-boy', someone not to be trusted) 'and wanted us to change the words and title to Government Boys. We said "Bollocks"'.

This is mid-period Procolised rock in the vein of Bringing Home the Bacon as far as pace and feel go, and inasmuch as it rides on the piano/percussion core. It lacks its ancestor's classic rhythmic hook, though, and substitutes an effectively crunchy piano riff that would sound fresher had we not heard something very like it already in the middle section of Nothing But the Truth (though different in pace and key, these chords relate closely to the piano opening of Grand Hotel!). The verses of Butterfly Boys (which is arguably in G, though it spends time in other keys too) are based on the alternation of D seventh and G seventh, but there is real originality in the deployment of the standard I, IV and V at 'They say we haven't got a choice', before the characteristic wind-down that precedes the chorus. This follows a dramatically exposed solo vocal moment, and is very nicely constructed, starting off with a C major flavour, cranking up the tonal centre line by line to a climax in E, after which the return to the D7 riff of the subsequent verse sounds fresh and bold. The chorus has features in common with Typewriter Torment (the down-a-fourth scalar riff in the bass) and with Without a Doubt (the rising bassline preceding 'give us a break' corresponds closely to the reggae-style drop-ins in the later number which, let us not forget, was originally slated for this album). In terms of sound the song exploits the full majesty of the five-piece in top gear, with the collaboration of Cartwright and Wilson being particularly solid; the texture of the song doesn't allow BJ much space, but he puts in some energetic cymbal work in the chorus before the guitar solo. Mick Grabham's electric guitar (an acoustic rhythm guitar is low in the mix too) flicks effortlessly from delicate fills to a searing and finely-articulated solo. This is double the expected length and is uncharacteristically placed in the song, after the vocal verses are done; it precedes a rhythmically-interesting coda, whose most striking feature is the metre-breaking triplet figure separating the heavily-harmonised reiterations of 'Butterfly Boys': this seems to owe something to the guitar fills in The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun .. and it's evident from encores through the 70s that Procol were not averse to throwing in the odd Beatle moment (reputedly they played Why Don't We Do it In the Road in 1970, to say nothing of Eight Days a Week, which they actually recorded, and Get Back was interpolated into The Unquiet Zone in Vienna (and two days before this, in Zurich on 22 January 1976, they soundchecked with Get Back (whole band) and part of Let It Be (voice and piano) though neither Beatle piece was heard in the concert). Brooker had by his time recorded with George Harrison, and Keith Reid is known to be a fan of Rubber Soul / Revolver era Fabs).

The chorus harmonies were taken, live, by Cartwright and Grabham, who tended to do an adequate job; they are rather raggedly exposed on the BBC live recording, made in March 1974 (see here), which is in other respects similar to the record, though it comes to a 'concert' ending, rather than fading, on the un-rocking words 'You got the cake', decorating that most typical Brooker three-chord cadence (strongly featured in Without a Doubt, The Piper's Tale, and many others) with powerful Quo-type chordings from the guitar. The song had first been played during the eight-date UK university tour that started 28 February 1974 at Exeter. It was a regular set-fixture for the rest of 1974 but after its promotional duties were done it was seldom heard: there's a lot to get right, chordally and rhythmically, while singing at the same time! It was probably the most surprising inclusion on the Symphonic Music album; but the fact that it was a rare Brooker orchestration, with his typical lively and eclectic touches, makes it of special interest: woodwinds delicately pick out the right-hand piano riff, with percussion section and featured tambourine for company, while Andy Fairweather Low's unmistakable guitar-fills could scarcely be further in style from Grabham. The piano is extremely muted, but heavy brass heralds the chorus, on which Brooker trades phrases with full choir: the effect of pitting the resentful words against this elaborate, staidly muscular accompaniment, is curious: but it's a real creative renewal of the song, unlike some of the syrupy orchestrations that have been decanted over the other songs. The fact that Gary included Butterfly Boys on this album, and that Keith selected it for his book, My Own Choice, may suggest that they retain a particular affection for the track.

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song



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