Procol Harum Debut Album (Reissue)
The master class in how to reissue an album continues with Fly Records’ and Salvo’s Procol Harum releases. Yes, the label and distributor behind the recent Move reissues have come up trumps again, putting to shame the first round of Universal’s Rolling Stones ’71-onwards remasters.
First one out the trap, the group’s debut from 1967 (though not released in the UK until January ’68) simply titled Procol Harum, which arrived in the wake of the record breaking success of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Recently named number one in a BBC Radio 2 chart of ‘Most played songs in public places’, the “Summer of Love” favourite was left off the original album – as was often the case with singles in those days – but is restored here as one of the eleven bonus tracks in all its classical, Hammond organ-soaked psychedelic glory. The rest of the album’s not half bad either.
Procol Harum continues the trend set by ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, incorporating classical elements, whirling Dervish organ riffs and abstract lyrics throughout, skilfully delivered by Gary Brooker’s powerful, ‘blue-eyed soul’ voice.
The largely piano-driven songs mix the sombre (‘Something Following Me’, ‘Repent Walpurgis’) with the oft-jaunty (‘She Wandered through the Garden Fence’, ‘Good Captain Clack’), without sounding like a mish-mash of styles, although the abundance of jauntiness does make it a little lightweight in places. But hey, this was 1967 and psychedelic poppiness was still the main event, even though Procol Harum do experiment with a more progressive/psychedelic rock sound on tracks like the mythology courting ‘Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)’ and the instrumental closer ‘Repent Walpurgis’.
The songwriting partnership of Gary Brooker (music) and Keith Reid (lyrics) is a peculiar one, in that that was all Reid did. He was a writer first and foremost and despite Procol Harum being a fully functioning band, Reid was content to remain in the background, acting as the Bernie Taupin to Brooker’s Elton John.
A lot has been made of the abstract nature of Procol Harum’s lyrics, so much so that ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ has gone on to have serious theses written about its supposed meanings. Whatever was going through the mind of Reid when he penned these songs is neither here nor there, all that matters is that they evoke powerful images when listened to in verse, the true mark of a skilled writer, song or otherwise.
The ten original songs on Procol Harum are complemented by a feast of bonus tracks, including ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’s’ follow-up single, the classical lament of ‘Homburg’, and what is the crowning glory of the entire album, the gently moving, previously unreleased, ‘Understandably Blue’ aka ‘I Realise’.
Complete with orchestral segments throughout, ‘Understandably Blue’ is a real find, here seamlessly mixed from two different recording sessions. It just pips the evergreen ‘Whiter Shade…’ to the title of HFoS fave, which in itself is a first, drawing both the top tracks from the bonuses.
A proud booklet accompanies the reissue, filled with in-depth liner notes and photographs from the vaults, what has become the norm with these Fly Reissues and the standard to which other labels and artists should aspire (Universal/ The Rolling Stones take note).
A little lightweight in places, as already stated, and by no means the group’s best – that was still to come and the following album Shine on Brightly would signal this with its shift towards a more concrete footing in progressive rock – but overall Procol Harum is an enjoyable cathedral of organ-laced psych-pop. One that’s well worth taking time out for the occasional pilgrimage.
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