By 1968, Procol Harum were already hitting the charts with songs like A Whiter Shade of Pale and Homburg. They didn’t want to be known as just one-hit wonders, but move into something more grandiose and almost a masterpiece to give it a real surprise. That and the release of their second album entitled Shine On Brightly released on Christmas 1968, was a landmark, an epic proportion, and the birth of Progressive Rock. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the little flower seed, Procol Harum’s follow up was the bursting galore of its magnum opus.
This 3-CD Set which includes both the Stereo and the unreleased Mono version, followed by the unreleased material and BBC Sessions they did for Top Gear, is reissued by the good people from Esoteric Recordings, is a gem of a kind. In the set, there is a poster that includes lyrics from the album, three postcards of replica artwork from the San Francisco International Pop Festival, and two from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. There is also a 23-page booklet which features interviews with the band about the making of the album and the liner notes done by Procol expert, Henry Scott-Irvine.
The bursting of ascending chords between Matthew Fisher’s Organ and Robin Trower’s guitar for the title track, is a killer. Matthew really brings the heavenly sounds from his Hammond for the heavens in the midsection that is a flying up into the sky momentum and it’s one of the best pieces along with the Italian version which is a bonus track on disc one that Brooker nails it in the language.
The kicking opener of Quite Rightly So, which in a strange way is psalm rock at its best as the lyrics tell about a lost letter to the United States as the mysterious yet catchy melody in which they do a take of Khachaturian’s The Sabre Dance at the very end for a fast and quirky finale on Skip Softly (My Moonbeams). Then, Procol Harum get down to the Blues Rock sound from Robin’s guitar for a clapping rhythm in the essence of a Gospel sing-along for Wish Me Well.
The danger on everything being fiction goes back into ascending beauty with emotions of seeing the original Batman movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward and flying into the skies as Robin is just hammering it down as BJ Thomas helps out through in what he will come up with next for Rambling On. The mournful Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) is very much like a funeral song as BJ does a militant feel in the style of the Salvation Army on the snare drum as Brooker sings gentle before going to the Mellotron in a Horn section at the very end section for background vocalizations .
Then, we have come to the 17-minute epic of all epics, In Held ‘Twas In I. This is where I mentioned before, the birth of Progressive Rock was born and where they gave birth to their magnum opus of a dystopian tale. The droning psychedelic spoken-word done by Gary of the tale of the Dalai Lama for the Glimpses of Nirvana before the band reach a dramatic ascending lift and Keith Reid coming on the doubting Thomas that will send shivers down your spine.
The tolling bells and heading off into the circus to watch the performers do their tricks in honor of King Jimi (Hendrix) on ‘Twas Teatime at the Circus. You could tell the band had a great time on this track being the audience applauding, cheering for the performers before the sound of a Nuclear weapon going off. In comes Matthew Fisher’s vocals of dealing with someone going insane during In the Autumn of my Madness.
In the piece, we are almost inside the mind of a person going into a deep dark depression and going nuts in an asylum as Matthew sings “For the milk has finally curdled/and I’ve nothing to say/When all my thoughts are spoken (save my last departing birds)/ Bring all my friends unto me and I’ll strangle them with words.” The effects of a car horn and ambulance sirens going off and the instruments going into a climatic haywire as shouts and screams in the person, makes you know something terrible is about to happen
The nightmarish and the struggle of finding peace on Look to your Soul starts with a dooming terror of the band followed by Robin’s guitar melody that have a tempo between sinister and goose bumping atmosphere. Dealing with the damage that this person does on the incidents that have happened, that the choice of living amongst the dead is the only option to stop hurting everybody.
The Grand Finale is the signal of hope and giving a second chance in life. The sound of the choral vocals and starting a new chapter in heaven, is a perfect send-off and a powerful closing melody from the band in an orchestral touch. It would also give the group to go into the symphonic route which would later be used in A Salty Dog which would be their third album.
I’m very proud in what Mark Powell has done with this. For me, being a Procol Harum fan, this was a crowning achievement in what Esoteric Recordings have done to have it at the right correct speed and its top notch at its best. This is a highly recommend 3-CD set for any fan in the realms of PH or Prog fan to sink their teeth into. And if you want proof, just ask Pete Townshend about where the inspirations for his 1969 classic rock opera Tommy came from.