"PUT ON A STACK OF 45's"- PROCOL HARUM - "A WHITER SHADE OF PALE" - In Loving Memory Of Gary Brooker And Dedicated To Keith Reid- CHAPTER EIGHTY TWO - Featuring Bill Mesnik and Rich Buckland -The Boys Devote Each Episode To A Famed 45 RPM "Single"

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In the 1960s and early 1970s, Keith Reid was considered by some to be Procol Harum’s sixth member. Though he played no instrument nor did he ever perform with the band, he wrote most if not all lyrics and Gary Brooker all the music. What an amazing pair: Together they wrote (and produced) what I still in my brighter moments consider Classical Rock (no, not Classic Rock, Classical). Yes, up there with Bach and Ludwig van. Another aside: There are two other song-writing partnerships that, to me, reach the Reid-Brooker heights: Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia for the Grateful Dead and Bernie Taupin and Elton John for Elton John’s albums. As for great song poetry, I would also add Joni Mitchell, who I feel is beyond compare as a solo writer, and Bob Dylan, who, though mostly amazing, and his Nobel Prize notwithstanding, at times still strikes me as an amphetamine-induced word junkie. When Whiter Shade was released in May 1967, Procol Harum was already in the studio recording their first album. Once the single took off, and the band’s potential now clearly in evidence, their record company urged the band to wrap things up as soon as possible in order to capitalize on the single’s success. And wrap things up they did. Procol Harum, the album, was released to an excited and expecting world on September 1, 1967. However, both amazingly and stupidly, the record company decided not to include Whiter Shade on the album and as a result it did not do well on the charts since, unfortunately, none of the other songs were of the Whiter Shade caliber. Granted, this error of omission was corrected in re-prints, like the edition that reached Swedish shores later in the fall of 1967 — that edition began, as should they all have, with Whiter Shade. Still, an album that should have ruled the charts for a while, only whimpered. In September 1967, Procol Harum released their second single, Homburg, which, although great in my view, never made it to number one. It reached number six, and that was that. And, again amazingly, this song was not on the Procol Harum album either, but, curiously, replaced Whiter Shade on subsequent re-prints of the album — I had a Swedish release that began with Homburg and no longer included Whiter Shade. Go figure. I think the record company really muffed this one. Their second album, Shine on Brightly, released in 1968, sank like the proverbial stone. Rock critics labeled it as not a rock album (it wasn’t — it was so much more than that) and didn’t give it the time of day. I, on the other hand, bought it, loved it, and still do; but then I was (and am) a true Procol believer. Strangely, Paul Williams, at the time a middle-of-the-pack singer, and later a composer of some note, wrote the liner notes. This was not a marriage made in any sort of heaven; more like asking Neil Diamond to write the liner notes for Black Sabbath — in that ballpark anyway. And the critics, as I said, more or less unanimously tanked it. For me, it was and still is a wonderful album. But more wonderful still, and possibly their masterpiece: Their third album, released in June 1969, A Salty Dog. While not overtly a concept album, it still strikes me as one. And to paraphrase the Procol Harum site (procolharum.com), which agrees, the concept of this album is metaphoric, not literal, which allows the subtle writer’s art of suggestion, one of his most powerful tools, to roam (or sail) this loose, conceptual framework, giving the album its power, a power that seems only to grow with the years. And, A Salty Dog, magnificently executed by a great band at the top of its game, is also one man’s story: The story of one particular writer: Keith Reid. Throughout his partnership with Gary Brooker, Reid penned his beautiful, insightful, and meaningful lyrics in a genre that didn’t quite know what to do with them. Well, Gary Brooker knew (and sometimes Matthew Fisher), and set them to fantastic music. - ULF WOLF

By Rich Buckland 02/28/2022 01:09 PM

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