Procol Harum

the Pale

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Taking Notes & Stealing Quotes

Authors' introduction

Index to notes on all the songs

Part of the unique richness of Procol Harum comes from the extraordinary breadth of reference in their music, taking in diverse genres such as blues, vaudeville, country, and the 'serious repertoire', while the words trawl a similarly diverse ocean of sources, taking in mythology and sacred writings, literature, popular culture and common parlance.

Many critics have based their attitudes to the band, ranging from adulation through indifference to vituperation, on an apparent assumption that these borrowed threads were deliberately woven into the Harum fabric in an attempt to baffle, to tantalise or, worst of all, to impress with specious and ultimately hollow grandeur.

In Taking the Time Keith Reid appears to confess to 'taking notes and stealing quotes' in order to 'make a name'. But that song comes from the far end of his career, where the quotations he is stealing already tend to be from himself! Still, if did steal he stole wisely, in the manner often quippingly equated with the hallmark of genius. Brooker and Fisher, by their own admission, were also not averse to judicious choices of compositional quotation and inspiration. Ultimately their aim was never a quick financial return nor a desire to change the world; these were artists, not scholars or seers: young men with ears wide open and minds set against commercial precedent.

Irrespective of the authors' intentions, their references and allusions tend to resonate in the more-or-less educated ear (perhaps particularly in the British ear) and so contribute to the formation and growth of a song's meaning for the inquiring listener. To someone living beyond the cultural milieu from which the references derive, the works may appear particularly mysterious, fractured and contradictory the more so given the frequent difficulties of hearing the words as written, a complication further compounded by some risible renditions of the texts in songbooks, pirate lyric-books and record word-sheets.

In dilating upon these resonances in what follows, we fanorakademics make no claim to completeness although completeness was the aim. The intention was to collate as many instances of precedents in both words and music, in aphorisms, other songs and musical works, slang, literature and so on as we could conveniently track down given the limits of the resources available to us: the main one being our feeble, sick and weary brains.

Our commentaries have been written with an international audience in mind, which may mean that some readers consider us to be wasting their time occasionally expounding the downright obvious. We trust that patience will guide anyone thus vexed through the sequence, hopefully to some uncovering of illumination and inspiration. We have attempted to make a recreation of a recreation and hope that, if these Notes and Queries are read at all, it will be in the spirit in which the songs that they relate to were originally made. Above all we hope they will prompt readers to give a fresh listening to each song that they comment upon.

All entries have been jointly produced, and both authors accept all blame that can be laid at their doors: nonetheless thanks are due to all contributors to 'Beyond the Pale', to Frans Steensma, and to the procolorg message-list for a legacy of information and formative thinking.

More features at 'Beyond the Pale' | Other Procol Harum books

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