Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Perpetual Motion

Album: The Prodigal Stranger (1991)

Authors: Brooker / Reid / Noble

 Read the words

Performed: Very seldom

Cover-versions: none

A lilting 'slowie' with a waltzlike feel well-suited to its nostalgic subject-matter, Perpetual Motion is actually in a bluesy compound time, and much of the vocal styling harks back to Procol's earthier period. Its harmonic construction is in fact full of artifice which contrives to keep it sounding fresh: an opening sequence of shifting chords over a pedal A is reminiscent of the design of Homburg, as is the strong sub-dominant flavour of the chorus. There's also a middle-eight, however, though it is not very strongly differentiated from the rest of the material, and it ushers in a key-change verse, a tone higher: a standard Tin-Pan-Alley trick, though very rare in the Procol canon. Strangely, perhaps, the modulations following the Hammond solo bring the song back into its original key … transitions largely unnoticed by the casual listener [A Rum Tale also features a key-change instrumental that modulates back to the home-key, but in that case the effect is much more apparent]. The chorus juxtaposes a six-bar and an eight-bar phrase, sharing this slightly uneasy technique with The King of Hearts … maybe reflecting the influence of co-author Matt Noble, since this is a technique not found much on other Harum records.

The soundworld of the track, with very prominent Hammond, sinuously interpolating decorations behind the vocal melody, is very appealing to the 'traditional' PH fan; maybe it was being considered for a single from the come-back album (it's reminiscent in feel of successful Elton John 'grown up' chart songs like I guess that's why they call it the blues). The organ solo is strongly reminiscent of Fisher's work on Salad Days (Are Here Again) and Brooker's off-mic vocalisations, from that early period, make an interesting return. Gary sings one rather waywardly-pitched phrase, as he reprises the Grand Hotel words about silken sheets: the effect is strongly 'human' and attractive on a record often criticised overall for a somewhat mechanical sound. Less attractive to Procol purists are the heavily-layered backing vocals which – though they don't command much attention for record-listeners – are certainly missed in live performance.

Performances have been very few, and all in 1995: at the House of Blues, LA, on July 18; 'For any romantics in the room' at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA, on 30 July; at Cropredy on 11 August, and memorably at the UK's Cheltenham Town Hall where Gary said, of the title, 'lot of p's in that … it might go pop!'. At Cropredy it preceded Quite Rightly So, which always seems to crop up when Perpetual Motion is on the set list.

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song

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