Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

The King of Hearts

Albums: The Prodigal Stranger (1991),
One More Time (2000)

Authors: Brooker / Reid / Noble

 Read the words

Performed: formerly

Cover-versions: none

Like several other slow songs on the Prodigal Stranger album this lovelorn ballad begins with piano and percussion; guitar and organ then compile a wistful collage in the key of F minor. Despite the mildly exotic percussion, and the unexpected nylon-strung guitar fill-ins, the verse is built on classic 'Procolian' chord-progression, stepping in churchy fashion up the fourths, avoiding a dominant. The chorus stirringly moves up into the subdominant key for a while; its nine-bar phrase took some getting used to, though the extra bar devoted to emphasising the important word 'king' would not raise an eyebrow in folk music.

Though it lacks the signature melody of A Whiter Shade of Pale the song does mimic the structure of that great single in terms of the placement of its instrumental, verse and chorus sections, and in the way the Hammond decorates the verses with a linear counterpoint, broadening to a Leslie chorus for the refrains; of course the words directly hark back to AWSoP in several ways as well. The squealing, electric guitar is perhaps reminiscent of the doodling on the orchestral Walpurgis, or the snatched outburst at the end of Crucifiction Lane. The scalar episode before the final chorus, and the highly ornamented wind-down of the organ at the end, represent the side of Matthew Fisher's work that nostalgic fans most hanker to hear.

The King of Hearts was performed regularly in on 1991–92 promotional tours for The Prodigal Stranger album, but much less frequently thereafter; it surfaced occasionally in 1993 and on the last date of 1995's outings [Clacton-on-Sea] but seemingly not since, which is a shame since many Procoholics think it works better live than in the studio. It has been introduced by Gary Brooker as 'a tale about a Spanish lady', a remark no doubt inspired by the neo-Hispanic acoustic guitar stylings on the record: but there is nothing very Hispanic about the fundamentals of the music, nor about the words. It's a song that would seem to invite cover versions, though it would oblige the singer to present himself in the light of a victim; blues-singers would have no trouble with that but they seldom have the range or the control of a Brooker. 

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song

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