Most of the psychedelic-era in the underground movement of the late ‘60s to find a way to push the musical revolution a step further and being considered ‘one-hit wonders’, all it takes a five-piece band to release some hit singles and make some dynamic albums that have been considered a classic among their fans with gospel, blues, haunting, and dark at the same time. And no other band that genre pushed that envelope a step further that took those types of genres and mixed it all together as Procol Harum.
Alongside the British Invasion in the underground movement along with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Nice, and Pink Floyd, Procol Harum didn’t sing about leaving your girlfriends or did any bubblegum music nonsense, nor pick up groupies after a concert, they wanted to be themselves and be on who they are. These first four albums from 1968 to 1970 reissued on the Salvo label, finds them writing songs and making symphonic technology to a glorified essential masterpiece, all of it is a work of those two men, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid who have a majestic imagination than to appear like sex gods.
More of its Psych sound and the melodic lines than their self-titled debut album released in 1968, entered the world by storm and among their supporters including Paul McCartney, Bernie Taupin, Elton John, and Jimmy Page, it just goes to show you they could do no wrong. Beginning with the tight gripped punch in the face number, Conquistador, Brooker’s vocal arrangements which is a cross between Steve Winwood, Ray Charles and Otis Redding, its part of the soulful take that he does in an angelic way as if the gods have watched him and praised him like a Magician. From there, we get to the way of the variations of the compositions, from the suggesting darker tones of A Christmas Camel, Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of), and the last instrumental piece, Repent Walpurgis to the homage to Traffic with Mabel, She Wandered Through the Garden Fence, and the bonus track which seems very Carnival Rock music on Good Captain Clack, each of these songs including their pastoral hit single A Whiter Shade of Pale and the Italian version of Shine on Brightly, dwell a dimension where the listener can soar upon into a world of unknown lands.
Procol Harum’s presence goes through the landscape and becoming the first band to make an epic, seems like an huge explosion with Shine On Brightly released the same year in September. A glorified introduction of Quite Brightly So is part gospel and part driving force: A magnified opening number as it segues into the marvelous titled track and based on the album cover which was done by David Bowie’s friend George Underwood, turns the psych power into a church-like asylum into a quantum leap of wonder; The Sgt. Pepper influences of the upbeat Mr. Kite homage in Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) which seem very 19th century in a Carousel Rocker format while they do a blues puzzle box sound with Wish Me Well that is almost straight out of Traffic’s Medicated Goo. Rambling On is a ballad turned soaring composition about a man who always wanted to fly like Batman who he had seen the ‘60s movie version of the TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward; Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) is a militant funeral number along with a classical guitar solo along with a horn section seems very Barbershop like but it fits well to the song. And then, we get to the holy grail of epic suites of all epic suites of the 17-minute number In Held ‘Twas In I. Beginning with Brooker’s spoken introduction and then a shattering moment on the guitar, piano, and drums while it goes into a cavernous musical harmony from the piano and the vocal arrangements and then Keith Reid comes in quietly on Glimpses of Nirvana and then goes into the Carnival music again with ‘Twas Tea Time at the Circus whilst it heads back into the melodic gentle music after a warhead explosion as the vocals done by Keith Reid on In The Autumn of my Madness. Meanwhile on Look To Your Soul, it becomes an Entr’acte with the sinister guitar solo while the drums are pounding mercilessly and the organ is doing an epic battle soundtrack sound and then it becomes a mournful ballad as Gary Brooker harmonizes the vocals. The music all of a sudden becomes a glorified broadway rock musical number as we come to the Grand Finale. It is revealed that everything is fine, and god’s in our hands as the band do sort of a ballet music style on the piece that climatic like no other (in a bombastic way).
A Salty Dog finds Procol Harum on the symphonic ground and one of their crowning achievements – if its about a ship looking for new land. A masterpiece, classified work, it has the band featuring a symphony orchestra with the lovely title track and Wreck of the Hesperus which explodes in this dynamic energy that it only can never let go while the gospel barrelhouse piano brunch hits a major note with The Milk of Human Kindness. Elsewhere, they decided to go proto hard blues rock on The Devil Came from Kansas and Juicy John Pink which seems odd but fits perfectly. Later, there is a lukewarm acoustical love song on Too Much Between Us and Boredom which has this Jethro Tull flavor to the mix. Gary Brooker decides to go a little George Harrison like with this homage to The Beatles on All This & More and back into the slower blues rock ballad sound which is almost a tribute to Janis Joplin which features lead guitarist Robin Trower taking over the lead vocals based on a real street name in the borough of southwark in London called Crucifiction Lane and then it closes with the progadelic take of the Phil Spector sound on Pilgrim’s Progress.
Home released in 1970, moves away from the epics and the hit singles to singer-songwriting techniques as they become more of Steve Winwood and Traffic’s little brother on here. Whisky Train is more of a prequel to Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory as you can tell that Steve was listening to this and wanted to go into the Jam improvisations on this heavy rockin’ jam; Dead Man’s Dream in which Keith Reid mentions it was a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe, but its dedicated to Dustin Hoffman’s character Rizzo in the 1969 controversial classic, Midnight Cowboy; Still There’ll Be More is a pissed-off number which deals with people who get a high blood pressure and threatening them really bad including the line “I’ll blacken your Christmas/And Piss on your Door” why not? Nothing That I Didn’t Know is a British Folk dark celtic number about a young girl’s death from suffering which features a glorified sinister accordion during the finale; About To Die, a suicidal song that the band tells the story of a young man who is near his fatal death as the candle fades, its very Paul McCartney influential sound, but it fits like a charm; the final part of the death trilogy is Barnyard Story, a funeral mourning song and meeting the heavens that is very lushful; Piggy Pig Pig a diminished tribute to Piggies and Polythene Pam in this heavyweight material; Whaling Stories peaks in as a 6-minute masterpiece with a darker feel and the anti-pop song of all anti-pop song; the finale Your Own Choice is a drinking sing-along song which deals with since you’re grown up, you can do whatever you want. You get the general idea, Procol Harum’s music wasn’t just a bunch of pompous bullshit, but more of a glorified mastering group of prog proportions.