Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Fool's Gold

Album: Procol's Ninth (1975)

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: promotionally, revived 1995

Cover-versions: absurdly, none

Following directly from the sonic kaleidoscope of the Pandora's Box hit single, this second utterly-convincing number seemed to promise that the Procol's Ninth album would be a consistent marvel of energy, composition and performance: many would argue that this proved a 'broken promise', but this has not embittered fans, who continue to admire and enjoy the song. It's a substantial belter that wrings a marvellous vocal performance from its composer. From a gentle, poignant beginning with solely the piano for support, Gary's voice floats over a syrup of organ and sustained guitar, before Cartwright and Wilson start to pump, and the song develops with characteristic stops and starts, under an imaginatively and shapely guitar break, to a dramatic, cycling middle section. Through a characteristic climbing passage, of the Robert's Box variety, the song attains a dramatic peak, then drops back to the sparse arrangement of the introduction, to melancholic effect: we will encounter this A-B-A structure again on the album. More characteristically Haroid than many songs on this album, Fool's Gold stays true to A minor throughout, deploying some pretty standard jazz-rock chords to nonetheless dramatic effect; it's arguable that it started life as a set of chords, and that the hollered melody is somewhat secondary. The descending bass-line is a Procol staple, and Leiber and Stoller's wind writing (and the superb sound quality, notable also on piano and drums) puts the desultory brass-work of Playmate of the Mouth in the shade.

Despite the very powerful ensemble work, there's a quality of restraint at work in the arrangement: gaps are left unfilled, allowing small details (like the Fisherism at 'all my life', in that distorted curling Hammond sound which Copping patented on Grand Hotel) to shine through. Overall a lot of thought has gone into the control of light and shade here, which perhaps highlights an opposite tendency elsewhere on the album (in The Piper's Tune for example).Perhaps it is a pity that such a 'meaty' performance was permitted to end in a fade, though it does so on a fine bluesy cascade on the piano, echoing figures that we have heard earlier in the brass, but which may, of course, have been added after the piano was recorded. This fade revives another Procol trademark – allowing us to glimpse a fresh and interesting melodic detail just as the music sinks below earshot.

The song was played live as early as March 1975, at the Rainbow, but is not found on any known setlist from 1976 or 1977. It was revived in the 1995 tours, occasionally heard with a spectacular piano break in the centre. It's a puzzling shame that Fool's Gold has not been covered by any other artist, since it is conventional enough in its words and music to have general appeal, yet a sufficient vocal showcase to have tempted, one would have thought, the mainstream likes of Joe Cocker or even Rod Stewart. Unsurprisingly the allusive title has tempted other songwriters: a different Fool's Gold was a hit for the Stone Roses (it entered the Top 75 on three different occasions), and there is another use of it again by Starry-Eyed and Laughing.

 Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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