13 March 2010

Whiter Shade of Pale: Procol Harum- 1967

Procol Harum are a British band formed in the 60s who contributed to the development of progressive rock in a most substantial way. Their best-known recording is the 1967 single A Whiter Shade of Pale- which I myself consider one of the greatest pop songs in history. Although noted for its baroque and classical influence, Procol Harum's music also embraces the blues and soul- and to dramatic, haunting effect...

In April 1967 Procol Harum was formed, the name has been said to be Latin for "beyond these things", but the correct Latin translation of "beyond these things" is Procul His. Alternatively, the name has been translated as "of these far off things"- the name of the band is frequently misspelled with Procul, Harem, both, or myriad other variations.

Whiter Shade of Pale was released on 12 May 1967, and with the sudden success of this single and The Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin, their obscure producers Deram Records became known as a premier progressive rock label.

Featuring a structure reminiscent of Baroque music, a countermelody based on J.S. Bach's Cantata no. 140 assigned to the Hammond organ, with soulful vocals and mysterious lyrics A Whiter Shade of Pale reached #1 on the British charts — extraordinary for a debut release. It did almost as well in the US, reaching #5. In the years since, it has become an enduring classic, placing on several polls of the best songs ever...

The group's follow-up single, Homburg was almost as successful in the UK as it reached #6, but the LP Procol Harum was less so... subsequently a series of singles charted lowly in the US and UK.  A Salty Dog was popular among fans, and was their first album to sell well in the UK. Procol Harum produced a unique sound that emphasized melancholy vocal style and an evocative mix of eclectic piano, elegant, church-like organ, dramatic drumming, along with  Robin  Trower's searing guitar with frequent black humor... all that plus a penchant for experimentation.

Musically, Procol Harum was split during all these years between a blues rock style and a more structured classical rock sound. The group often combined the two into a dynamic fusion, but by 1971 the disparities in style became too great; the end of an era was marked for Procol, with the release of their fifth album Broken Barricades, and subsequent departure of guitar maestro Robin Trower to form his own band.

Procol Harum returned to success on the music charts in the following years with a distinctly symphonic rock sound, often backed by symphony orchestras. At this they were one of the first groups to achieve success; Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was a #5 gold album in the U.S. in 1972, and Conquistador was a hit single in 1972, getting to #16 in the U.S. with considerable additional FM radio airplay. Their follow-up album Grand Hotel did fairly well, reaching #21 on the U.S. Billboard Chart in 1973.

More personnel changes contributed to declining sales in the later part of the 1970s, with Pandora's Box being their final UK top 20 hit in 1975; the band finally broke up in 1977. They reunited for a single performance five months later, when A Whiter Shade of Pale was named joint winner (along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody") of the Best British Pop Single 1952–1977 at the BRIT Awards, part of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee.

The band still plays some special occasions... you can see what they're up to at the official website -here-