Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

The Final Thrust

Album: Procol's Ninth (1975)

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: very rarely, for promotion

Cover-versions: none

Despite being selected as follow-up to a big hit single (this led to a UK TV appearance on Supersonic for a most unusually-presented Procol Harum, piano and organ at ground level, the fretmen stacked up above them on scaffolding, and BJ's drums head high above that ... see below) this is one most neglected items in the canon. In vinyl terms it presents an anti-climax to the end of side one of the album, and its pretty melody and 'facetious tango tempo' (as the Press kit put it) pall on repeated listening. Its topic appears to be martial – yet in his droll song introductions about the band's 'trilogy' of war songs [there are arguably a lot more than three] Gary Brooker avoids references to this one; he even ventured a rare criticism of his own writing when he told Henry Scott-Irvine that The Final Thrust should not have got on to a record.

The song is taken at a moderate pace, in A major, and presents an uneasy marriage between shades of an English hymn tune and a military marching stomp vaguely angled towards white reggae. The sparse introduction sounds like a trite early 60s pop single, and the hook gets frequent repetition: in this respect the song is ancestor to an even more simple stab at the charts, Wizard Man. The rich C sharp major chord (after 'place or show') is the furthest that the song gets from its home key: chiefly it progresses predictably through the cycle of fourths, avoiding glibness by the way vocal melody hits accented notes outside the chords and then lets them resolve – in an echo of the popular Sunday-school tune to Oh Jesus I have promised. Given the all-'male' line ends in Reid's libretto, however, this technique involves some awkward distending of monosyllables over the two notes, not least when the vowel (such as the 'u' in 'thrust') does not carry very well, or is followed by a sibilant consonant-cluster.

Chris Copping's organ-playing makes several important textural contributions, a cold shiny mist in the high register and a warmer tone in the tenor; during the middle instrumental it acquires a creamy crematorium tremolando. Alan Cartwright's bass is very active, contributing some of its most prominent runs on record, clearly an integral part of the composition; the Grabham guitar work is confined to squalling off-beats on one channel, and his expected solo never comes, being taken instead by a sprightly piano, even though that has already been featured heavily, and double-tracked, in the introductory material to each verse. BJ spends most of his time on the snare drum playing either off beats or contributing a military-sounding snare from his Boys' Brigade heritage; but there is another effect, a knocking sound on the right channel, tracking the bass line, whose origin is difficult to judge: it could even be a tuned percussion sound emanating from a synthesiser.

A lot of work evidently went into the realization of this slight piece, and the hands of the new-boy producers are much in evidence. It does, however, contain some classic Procol motifs, not least in chord-inversions of the chorus; the scalar keyboard writing (cf She Wandered Through the Garden Fence, Grand Finale .. and later Backgammon) is in keeping with fans' expectations, though the same cannot be said of the vestigial guitar and the anaemic rhythm track. Keith Reid disclosed that the song had posed problems of interpretation: 'I really liked the song, before the group had played it. When we started rehearsing it, it just didn’t work out at all. We just couldn’t see a way of doing it, at all. In fact when we played it to Leiber and Stoller, they couldn’t see how to do it … It just seemed to come together in the studio. I really liked the way it turned out.'

The record company must have liked it too, since The Final Thrust/Taking The Time (CHS 2079) was released as a single in October 1975 in the UK, the A side being an edited version (3:15 instead of 4:32). It was advertised as "The follow-up to their smash hit Pandora’s Box,' but – competing with numerous strong contenders including a re-released Homburg on Cube – it was a miss. It was played live only a couple of times, at gigs shortly after the release of Ninth. It was last heard at the Kongressaal, Munich on 19 January 1976, a concert whose setlist contains numerous rarities; it may be that unfavourable reviews of the single (' …sounds like classic 'B' side material, ie half-hearted ... ' NME) caused it to be dropped from the set, or maybe it just isn't very enjoyable to play?

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song

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