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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Without a Doubt

Album: Procol's Ninth (1975)

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: promotionally, and beforehand

Cover-versions: None

Without a Doubt has some claims to being the grandest conception on the Procol's Ninth album, a strong, square number in an authoritative D major, with punchy bass work and drumming, and some of Keith Reid's most concentratedly effective song-words. It is one of a small handful of Procol songs whose working titles we know, this one having been introduced on stage as 'The Poet’ at concerts before the Procol's Ninth album sessions began. But a good while earlier, in November 1973, Keith Reid revealed to an interviewer that 'There’s a song about me, writing, saying: I got out of bed, this is how I did it, I couldn’t sleep … ' quoting several salient images in detail: he spoke of it with atypical vim, implying that it was a track due to appear on Exotic Birds and Fruit. It seems very likely that The Poet was rejected from that album by producer Chris Thomas, and, though it was announced from the stage as the next Procol single, it never materialised in such a form (when they changed producers, and were without a doubt(ing Thomas), it became Without a Doubt.

The song starts with a commanding piano flourish, which the band grandly takes up and repeats with increasing excitement on the guitar; the voice that comes in is energetic, the rhythmical accompaniment dramatic. However the brilliant production lasts for 48 seconds, before we seem to cut to drop-ins from an entirely different treatment: the voice goes echoey, weedy tambourine takes over the percussion duties, a toyland reggae off-beat develops and the piano appears to be reprising a syncopated piano motif from Butterfly Boys. Listening to the pre-Ninth touring version of the song (mp3 here), it is clear that it had some under-developed passages, and presumably Leiber and Stoller felt justified in obtruding some gimmicky variety if their mission was to create a hit single. But whereas the flute solo on Pandora's Box created a memorable melodic effect, the present elaborations are merely fussy, and doubly inexcusable to Procol fans is the loss of the space allotted to BJ's drum fills. Maybe, as song writers, they could have assisted in finding some alternative harmonic material for that underdeveloped passage, rather than transporting us fleetingly to a different sound-world to distract us from it. Gary Brooker once mentioned that Without a Doubt was a tribute to Little Feat, a band spoken of admiringly by several Procolers: the band did their own early demo of this song: it would be interesting to hear if it sounds like Dixie Chicken!

Whatever one's reservations about the verse, the chorus is as Procolian as could be hoped for, with its ascending bass-line and marvellously dramatic chord-inversions. The first chord of each line has its seventh note at the bottom, resolving upwards into a second-inversion chord, then a diminished and a minor, before dropping to start again: the singing is suitably soulful and we could be listening to something developed at the same time as In Held 'Twas in I. It was often heard during the album promotion, when this chorus always seemed specially moving; and though the Leiber/Stoller syncopated bassline lived on in the verses once Ninth had come out, that seemed satisfactory on stage, when the disc's fussy instrumentation-shift wasn't practical. Impossible also was the stage recreation of the brass section that decorates the recorded track, but their funky honking is not integral: BJ's decoration, in a live setting, was all that the song required to lend it drama.

According to the album press-kit, the song is '… kept good-humoured … by the poet's delusions of grandeur.' The words offer a rock-lyricist's sustained fantasy about breaking out into literature or dramatic writing. In interviews Keith Reid would claim that he could satisfy his artistic needs within the Procol format; nevertheless he later branched into play-writing, though he assured BtP that this side of his work would not be coming up for public scrutiny in the future. Some feel that, by using many of the clichéd terms that one finds in reviews, Reid aims to sustain a fantasy about success in writing, while simultaneously mocking the language of the critics whose approval any author needs to court. Crawdaddy (October 1975) saw this track as 'a cathartic spring breeze for Procol' ... yet the breezy optimism of the verses is in sharp contrast to the despair on the same subject which follows in Typewriter Torment: and the choruses seem to reflect much the same, deep anxiety.

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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