Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Taking the Time

Album: Procol's Ninth (1975)

Authors: Brooker / Reid

 Read the words

Performed: rarely, for promotion

Cover-versions: none

Taking the Time is a sturdy, melodic blues, one of very few numbers in compound time that Procol Harum recorded (others include Something Following Me, Broken Barricades, One More Time and the unpublished Alpha). Lyrically it makes an atypical foray into the kinds of word-play beloved of songwriters in the sophisticated Porter / Coward vein, and Leiber and Stoller reinforce this 'old-school' aspect with a Peggy Lee-style night-club ambience, including a vamping middle section using acoustic guitar and jazzy winds. The Brooker piano playing is unmistakable, and it's clearly a composition from his stable, but in other respects the song is extremely un-Procol: Gary's bandmates are somewhat emasculated by the arrangement, which is about the nearest – perhaps with Barnyard Story – to a Brooker solo piece that had yet been offered. Some have speculated that this number (like several of the Prodigal Stranger set later on) was originally slated for a Brooker solo album.

The opening presents Brooker's bluesy voice unaccompanied, in a wide-spanning C major melody (it rises over six consecutive notes, spanning the interval of a tenth altogether) that has distinct kinship with Crying in the Chapel and Gershwin's Someone to Watch Over Me … even with Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?. The sequence of poignant, jazzily-diminished chords that follows is played by 'Big Band muted brass' as the album Press-kit put it (also drawing to our attention 'a 20s clarinet run' which has so far eluded these commentators). Then comes the first true Procol moment, the stair-climbing tripletty piano run (reminiscent of the way Gary links the verse phrases of The Idol) and the characteristic dead-stop, here on an unexpected A flat major in its last inversion. The contour of the opening melody is now repeated, with various notes flattened to accommodate the new harmony, and a transposed set of the poignant chords brings us home in A flat again, which seems to be establishing itself as the home key. But now the bass strikes out on an upward scale, creating a number of 'classical' chord-inversions, which pass through various keys on their way to an F, which ushers in the much more straightforward, predictable material of the B flat major chorus. The middle sixteen bars, which meanders somewhat whimsically through minor chord backwaters to a dead-stop at the start of the second verse, is a structural and textural surprise, but it spawned 'descendants' in the instrumental sections of later songs like Something Magic and (You Can't) Turn Back the Page.

On the record the guitar has little to do except in accompanying the choruses – the track is tactically sequenced between two heavyweight Grabham vehicles – yet Mick told Déjà Vu (1977) 'Taking The Time is a fantastic song': he did get the chance to solo on it, in fluently melodic fashion, on the road, in place of the acoustic guitar and wind arrangement (mp3 here): curiously little organ was used live. In some performances Gary started the song with a very free solo-piano run-through of the middle sixteen, with some Bachlike ornamentation (mp3 here), and re-used that section as an ensemble play-out … so it was heard three times overall. But the song was only rarely played (example set-list) at gigs shortly after the publication of Ninth, and has not been found on any set-list from 1976 onwards. It did see a 7-inch release, as the B side of The Final Thrust (CHS 2079) which was issued as a single in October 1975 in the UK.

Keith Reid evidently liked the way the recording turned out: 'Leiber and Stoller did the brass. In some ways they were very good,' he said in a Danish interview (2 February, 1984); he also selected the words for his book in 2000, My Own Choice]. The song portrays an indecisive person, whose inspiration is at a low ebb, further promoting his indecision by pondering it instead of acting. This theme – the core of Shakespeare's Hamlet of course – is unsurprisingly a rare one in the world of rock, although one might compare the early Kinks song Too Much On My Mind; there is also a faint hint of Lennon's I'm Only Sleeping, in the mood of mildly complacent self-criticism. Compared with its companion piece Barnyard Story, and with the fatalistic Your Own Choice, these words have a relatively untroubled mood, but their restless indecision marks the pathway to the terminal ethos of the final original song on Procol's Ninth.

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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