1967 was a magical year in the history of Psychedelic and the beginnings of what is now known as Progressive Rock. The Beatles released their landmark album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, The Doors self-titled debut, Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, The Moody Blues symphonic masterpiece Days of Future Passed, and Procol Harum’s sole self-titled debut album released in that same year also.
Procol Harum were often overlooked in the history of the British Invasion and were only known for that one hit single, A Whiter Shade of Pale. But it was more to it than just the single that would declare them as champions. That and the 2-CD set reissued by the good people from Esoteric Recordings, knowing that this is the must-have set to explore and take note on the history of the band’s music and some recognition’s they deserve in the history of the Psych and Prog genre.
Originally released in the time period on the Regal Zonophone label, this has everything on here. Blues, Soul, Psych, and Classical music. And with the geniuses between Gary Brooker and Keith Reid as songwriters, a perfect match, a perfect team, and a perfect duo, something magical is happening. The bass line intro done by David Knights for Cerdes (Outside the Gates of) adding a soulful Stax-like sound thanks to Robin Trower’s guitar, and Gary’s voice in the style of Ray Charles, makes it a beautiful crunching groove.
The powerful dynamic opener of Conquistador in which it starts the album off, gives it a perfect introduction to kick it off thanks to Matthew Fisher’s mind-blowing organ work and wonderful rhythm section while they show their excellent sense of humor. Mabel is Procol Harum having a blast and a grand old time in the styles of Traffic’s Giving to You as the drinking sing-along twist for the characterizations of Good Captain Clack, the midsection for the vocalizations and Matthew’s carousel organ-like touch, fits the humoristic touch.
The touching and emotional structure with the minor chords on A Christmas Camel, just hits you with the piano, organ, bass, and drums setting the tone of a haunting movement before Robin’s guitar come in and sends the chills down the spine on his solo. Matthew Fisher’s composition of Repent Walpurgis in which it’s perhaps one of my favorite tracks from the album, is chilling, mourning, and with a powerful yet dramatic/ascending tone.
With classical, beauty and well-composed, it’s essence between both Tchaikovsky and Bach. Matt’s organ takes into those areas very well that captures the touch and power of Procol Harum. Not only both Matt and Gary take center stage between the piano and Hammond, but Robin’s guitar just comes at you with intense power followed by the melodic heavenly moment and then back into the finale with a chilling climatic ending.
The bonus tracks on here released this year from Esoteric, feature unreleased material including BBC Sessions they did for Easybeat and John Peel’s Top Gear. Followed by alternate mono mixes, 1971 stereo mixes, extended versions for A Whiter Shade of Pale, the gentle Homburg, and Repent Walpurgis. Instrumental versions of Pandora’s Box and Understandably Blue in which it was originally written for the late great Dusty Springfield is a beautiful haunting waltz and the string sections in which Tony Visconti arranged and produced, gives it a warmth feel while the shuffling soulful blues of Alpha, has an excellent beat and foot tapping rhythm to it.
And I just wished that they could have given this to Ray Charles or Otis Redding for this song and it would have fitted for their vocals. There’s also a 23-page booklet in which it features liner notes done by expert Henry Scott-Irvine who also wrote the book, The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale, photographs, promos, and memorabilia, is a trip down memory lane. There’s also a mini poster in which it was promoting album and features the lyrics of the album.
Mark and Vicky Powell have done it again this year and they did it right this time to bring the spirit of their music back again into the frame. They are, for me, the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of reissuing projects when it comes to them. So if you, myself included, love the music of Procol Harum, then I highly recommending getting the 2-CD set of their debut album. Esoteric Recordings have finally scored the world cup and a home run for an amazing reissue.