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Fifty Year Friday: Procol Harum “Procol Harum and The Doors “Strange Days”

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When I first heard Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade Of Pale” single in the summer of 1967 on AM radio, I had assumed it was an older song, perhaps from the late 1950s.  I was now twelve years old, but still musically very naive with no musical training except listening to AM radio and my very limited 45 collection assembled from the occasional 45 my grandfather gave me (he worked for Firestone and somehow he would sometimes get unused 45’s from the late 1950s) or from one of the few 45s my dad had purchased including two or three 45s of Ethel Merman and cast singing songs from “Annie Get Your Gun”, a Stan Kenton 45 of “Artistry in Rhythm” and a 45 with “Third Man Theme.”

“Whiter Shade of Pale” came and went on the Billboard charts, and I never gave the song or the group much thought, until later in life, when my next door neighbor brought over their “Grand Hotel” album.  Well, better late than never, and eventually I purchased their “Salty Dog” album, the A&M reissue of the first album, and their album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  This would be one of those rock groups that didn’t neatly fall into the progressive rock category, and one group that I was never particularly head-over-heels excited with, but I respected and appreciated for the well-written lyrics and well-crafted and arranged compositions.

Their first album, “Procol Harum”, was released around September 1967.  The original North American version on Deram includes “Whiter Shade of Pale” and omits “Good Captain Clack”, (also found on the b-side of the “Homborg” single), however the A&M 1972 reissue includes all the tracks of the original UK album plus “Good Captain Clack.”

Gary Booker’s dark baritone voice, along with his keyboards, Matthew Fisher’s Cimmerian organ, Robin Tower’s expressive guitar work and the high quality of Keith Reid’s lyrics and Booker’s compositions make this an engaging album.  Highlights include “Whiter Shade of Pale” (included on CDs and on the American LPs), “Conquistador” and “She Wandered Through the Garden Gate”, the guitar passages on “Cerdes” and “A Christmas Carol”, the organ and guitar in “Kaleidoscope”, the organ accompaniment and solos in “Salad Days”, and the Matthew Fisher composition, “Repent Walpurgis” which includes a Bach piano interlude and a couple of notable Trower guitar solos.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, except as noted.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Conquistador 2:42
2. “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” (two versions of this song were released—one with a “firm” ending, not a fade-out) 3:29
3. “Something Following Me” 3:40
4. “Mabel” 1:55
5. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” 5:07
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Christmas Camel” 4:54
2. “Kaleidoscope” 2:57
3. “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” (from the film Separation, 1968) 3:44
4. “Good Captain Clack” 1:32
5. “Repent Walpurgis” Matthew Fisher 5:05

US version

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. A Whiter Shade of Pale Brooker, Fisher, Reid 4:04
2. “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” 3:18
3. “Something Following Me” 3:37
4. “Mabel” 1:50
5. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” 5:04
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Christmas Camel” 4:48
2. “Conquistador” 2:38
3. “Kaleidoscope/Salad Days (Are Here Again)” 6:31
4. “Repent Walpurgis” Fisher 5:05
German version

Personnel[edit]

Procol Harum
Additional personnel
Technical
  • Simon Platz – executive producer (for Fly Records)
  • Eddy Offord, Frank Owen, Gerald Chevin, Keith Grant, Laurence Burridge – engineer

1967 had plenty of colorful, bright shimmering bands providing technicolor, rainbow-glistening music with plenty of upper register sunlight.  Procol Harum and the Doors provide a notably contrasting, distinctively dark, often gloomy, sound. They are more Mahler than Mozart, more Buxtehude than Vivaldi.  Even the bright spots, “Like People Are Strange” on the Doors second album, absorbs more light than it radiates.

“Strange Days” opens up with a repeating pattern anticipating German space rock, seetting an austere bleakness that is carried throughout the album.  The bass guitar intro that opens up “You’re Lost Little Girl” comes from dark subterranean underground caverns, supplemented by atmospheric and Morrison’s moog-synthesizer processed baritone vocals.

The dark, reflective music continues through the album.  “Horse Latitude” breaks the mood as it is more indulgent than germane to the overall mood of the album.  “People Are Strange” is more melodic and accessible, more catchy than indispensable, and more of a commercial single than an essential part of the album’s broad fabric, providing relief by breaking the general mood as well as providing an effective mood-based modulation to the upbeat “My Eyes Have Seen You.”  Elements of dusk and darkness resume with “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” and are nicely concluded with the final track, a nearly 11 minute psychedelic, expansive “When the Music’s Over” with its moog synthesizer, organ and Fender Rhode’s piano bass.

The lyrics, are dark, but at times spirited and environmentally militant.  Does Morrison foreshadow his death or the death of our environment?

“When the music’s over
When the music’s over
When the music’s over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights”
….
“Before I sink
Into the big sleep
I want to hear
I want to hear
The scream of the butterfly

“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down
I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it…
We want the world and we want it…
Now
Now?
Now! “

 

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by The Doors (Jim MorrisonRay ManzarekRobby Krieger, and John Densmore).

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Strange Days 3:11
2. “You’re Lost Little Girl” 3:03
3. Love Me Two Times 3:18
4. “Unhappy Girl” 2:02
5. Horse Latitudes 1:37
6. Moonlight Drive 3:05
Side B
No. Title Length
7. People Are Strange 2:13
8. “My Eyes Have Seen You” 2:32
9. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” 3:26
10. “When the Music’s Over” 10:58

Personal (from Wikipedia)

(Note: Not credited in Wikipedia, but there is clearly a moog synthesizer on the last track, “When the Music’s Over.”)

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Fifty Year Friday: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Arthur Rubinstein/Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

Jimi Hendrix

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin/Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones

Zappa/Beefheart

 

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Fifty Year Friday: The Doors “The Doors”

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“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till  he sees all things through narrow
chinks of his cavern.” William Blake from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

The Doors formed in 1965, in Los Angeles, signing in 1966 with folk-music label, Elektra, after Columbia failed to secure a producer for their first album.  Their name was inspired by Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception”, which recounts Huxley’s mescaline experiences and borrows its title from the William Blake poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”  This first album of theirs was released in January of 1967.

The album opens up with a promise, premise and pronouncement to “Break On Through to the Other Side.”  This first track, as do many on the album,  opens up in layer by layer (instrument by instrument) with John Densmore ‘s drums, staggered bass in first the left (guitar bass line) and then right channel (keyboard bass line), Jim Morrison’s vocals, Robby Krieger‘s  guitar and eventually Ray Manzarek‘s organ setting a standard of expectation for the rest of the album. Less than 2 1/2 minutes, the track is over — just the right length — leaving the listener hungry for more.

This album, in general, is dark, emphatic, reflective, well-thought out and a precursor to later American heavy metal (Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, and to some degree even bands like Blue Oyster Cult.)  Much of the music is blues-based, some adhering closely to that foundation (“Back Door Man”), some straying quite far but keeping the essence of the three chord pattern (“Soul Kitchen”) and some seemingly far removed but yet still with a blues essence. Within this wide range, all of this music has a freshness and originality to it, sometimes provided by Kreiger’s distillation of late sixties guitar, sometimes by Manzarek’s often ornate keyboards and sometimes from the overall arrangement.

Not enough can be said about “Break On Through to the Other Side”, and so I will say no more.

“Soul Kitchen” is a sexy, bouncy bluesy piece, with what was in 1967 pretty explicit lyrics. “The Crystal Ship” is lyrical, dramatic, intimate and in a minor key with a mystically evocative keyboard section.  “Twentieth Century Fox” is a clever title, not about a movie studio, but of course, to the “fashionably lean” “queen of cool” in-control modern woman well described in the lyrics:

“No tears, no fears,
No ruined years, no clocks;
She’s a twentieth century fox, oh yeah!”

The fifth track, “Alabama Song” is from the Kurt Weill opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny ( Bertolt Brecht lyrics) and I suspect the lion’s share of arrangement credit goes to Manzarek who plays the zither-like marxophone and keyboards. Note that nearly ever-present, oompah-oompah, ironic lilt — the essence of which resurfaces in at least a couple of 1970’s English progressive rock albums.

Not much needs to be said about “Light My Fire”, thanks goodness, for words poorly can capture the spirit of this song, it’s historic, seamlessly interwoven blend of jazz, baroque and rock elements, and its influence on early metal and early progressive rock bands.

“Back Door Man” is pure blues, written by  Willie Dixon and previously known for the 1960 Howlin’ Wolf version.  “Back Door” is a prominent reference in earlier blues music and refers to sneaking in the back door of a house when the unsuspecting husband is at work or out and about.

“I Looked at You” is another song that starts by adding layers.  It is almost a prototypical mid-sixties go-go dance number until that first brief detour (modulation at “cause it’s too late”), quickly shifting back to its initial state (“we’re on our way and we can’t turn back”) with a wonderful go-go style organ that follows. Here again we have a hint of baroque music embedded in what is essentially sixties pop.

“End of Night”, a soothing minor/modal ballad in the midst of more stormy tracks,  begins with a hint of spooky, Bartok-like nacht-musik into a leisurely blend of guitar and Morrison vocals.

“Take It as It Comes” starts with no introduction, appropriate to both the title and opening words of “Time to live.” It starts of with a e minor seventh chord which effectively creates the drive and resulting uplift for the next section (modulation to A minor at “Take it easy, baby. Take it as it comes”) and the short baroque-like organ solo.  A second ornate organ solo is followed by more vocals from Morrison (“Go real slow. You like it more and more. Take it as it comes. Specialize in havin’ fun”) and a quick, final flourish to end.

“The End” attempts to rise up to the height of the opening track, and would come very close, with its tender opening and exotic, Indian-influenced (voiced by guitar), expansive instrumental section.  The trouble is that after a few minutes, Morrison’s mumbling detracts from otherwise meditative, highly spiritual music.  Granted, Morrison is reaching for the furthest corners of personal discovery, but the track would have worked better if he stopped after the melancholic exposition:

“This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes, again”

which sets up the remaining instrumental exploration and inner-reflection nicely.

That said, this Morrison self-indulgence is only a minor weakness and doesn’t detract from the excellence and revolutionary nature of this album. When we talk about drugs, sex, and rock and roll, this album encompasses all three: from the name of the band, to the surprisingly suggestive lyrics (common enough for blues, but not so common for the mass media of 1967), to the self-assertive, unapologetic, counter-culture music.

door-back-album-cover-elektra

TRACKS

(From Wikipedia)

All tracks written by the Doors (Jim MorrisonRay ManzarekRobby Krieger, and John Densmore), except where noted.

All tracks written by the Doors (Jim MorrisonRay ManzarekRobby Krieger, and John Densmore), except where noted.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Break On Through (To the Other Side) 2:29
2. “Soul Kitchen” 3:35
3. The Crystal Ship 2:34
4. “Twentieth Century Fox” 2:33
5. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” (writers: Bertolt BrechtKurt Weill) 3:20
6. Light My Fire 7:06
Side B
No. Title Length
7. Back Door Man” (writers: Willie Dixon) 3:34
8. “I Looked at You” 2:22
9. “End of the Night” 2:52
10. “Take It as It Comes” 2:23
11. The End 11:41
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