Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Typewriter Torment

Album: Procol's Ninth (1975)

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: rarely for album-promotion, revived mid 90s.

Cover-versions: none

This raucous rocker continues the piano-punishing late tradition of Bringing Home the Bacon, Monsieur R Monde … songs still recognisably Procolesque, in terms of compositional detail, but verging ever closer to the Elton John style epitomised by Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting and so forth.

It's unusual, for a Brooker-Reid song, in being guitar-riff driven (other songs of this apparent character (like Drunk Again or Simple Sister) are often in fact driven by bass-riffs that almost certainly started life on the piano, Brooker's left hand having a life all its own). It also shares with Simple Sister the unusual trait of starting with an alliterative first line that is also the title … which it then follows with another alliterative doubleton, alerting us to the wit and verbal wile it will deploy as it ostensibly deals with the pains of writing. At the time of the album Keith Reid was wont to imply that he was only making fun of his theme of writer's block, but listeners cannot help but be struck by the heartfelt 'I've done with it all', poignantly heard on the album's last original song, which then yields to a ready-made Beatles retread, having come a mere two tracks after Without a Doubt's fantasy about becoming a celebrated writer outside the format of the rock lyricist.

The song starts with whole band together save the organ, running up and down a short scalar tune in the fret-friendly key of E; stinging rhythm guitar fills the texture, and there's a sense of restrained power. The song proper starts after an unexpected little handclap in a rogue five-four bar, just faintly reminiscent of the way irregular metre is used in The Devil Came from Kansas. No sooner has the song got going, with some nicely recorded, slightly-phased drums, than it loses impetus again with rhythmical halts; the melody is bitty, the chords restricted to E and A, all imitative of the inspiration-deficit the words will describe. When the music breaks away into B major, alternating with a C sharp minor, a backing of 'ooh and aah' sounds makes its insidious entrance; the hand-claps on the word 'clap' are amusingly timed. A Harrisonesque arpeggionic guitar figure takes us down, in B major, to an implied conclusion in E; it breaks back and tries again, only to settle on an A: again, the musical details very artfully underpin the dissatisfaction in the lyrical content. The chorus-chords ring clever changes on a highly typical Brooker 'cell' which has developed from Wish me Well onwards: here A major collapses into E, B into F sharp, and round again with the latter pair reversed. It's over these this pleasing sequence that Chris Copping improvises his characteristically serpentine solo, reprised in the playout where one might have expected a guitar solo, in view of the key. The final verse, which begins after a short-measure false-start (cf Man with a Mission) has helped us back into the right key, particularly shows the hand of producers, Leiber and Stoller, when the ensemble stops (imitating the final frustration in the words) and some very un-Harumesue percussion holds sway.

The song was probably first heard live at the 'Over the Rainbow' concert in March 1975, when the song attracted the scorn of a reviewer so unastute that he considered the band's self-parody to be 'unwitting' (see here). It may conceivably have been played in Poland and Yugoslavia when the early-released album was promoted there, but it is not to be found on any subsequent setlist from 1976 and 1977. The song was revived ('the little-known Typewriter Torment) in the 1995 tours by the 'New Testament' band, presumably because its palpable riffing suited the tastes of the bashy 90s. Its form was fundamentally unchanged, but the early five-four bar was gone, Fisher's organ work was often bluesier than Copping's, and a Whitehorn guitar solo decorated the middle instrumental section. Variant words included 'it bothers me still', and some of the unorthodox verbal stresses (such as the jerky groupings of 'if only … my-doctor') were regularised. The song had a formal ending, unlike the fading record, built out of the faint rhythm-guitar pattern on the original track … which underlined its kinship to Drunk Again (1995 mp3 here).

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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