In this magazine’s tradition, we’ll avoid well-trodden paths when considering this stellar overview of Procol Harum’s 50-year legacy and take the scenic route after those two first hits instead. Although their self-titled first album surfed 1967’s psychedelic tidal waves with grace, elegance and imagination, classical-referencing instrumental Repent Walpurgis confirmed Procol were busy inventing modern prog as we know it before any usually-cited bands; Gary Brooker singing Keith Reid’s surreal lyrics at the core of their sound.
After 1968’s Shine On Brightly boasted one of nascent prog’s first epic suites with the 18-minute In Held ’Twas In I, A Salty Dog stands as their greatest achievement in the 69 tracks drawn from 13 albums in this lavish set. Still hauntingly beautiful, it was their first to use an orchestra, subtly enhancing the emotion swelling through Brooker’s brine-battered vocal. The Devil Came From Kansas plugged Procol into proto-Americana infused with crashing drama, despite Trower straining towards power trio exhibitionism.
1970’s Home continued the schizophrenic dashes between gothic classical and US roots, though Trower was gone when this writer saw Procol prove blindingly powerful live. 1971’s Broken Barricades clinched their progressive crown with tracks like the Mellotron-garnished Luskus Delph, consolidated by 1972’s Live: In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra presenting a richly-effective classical rock fusion, including full-bore realisation of In Held ’Twas In I. 1973’s fabulous but overlooked Grand Hotel highlighted Procol’s sweepingly romantic, decayed ballroom grandeur, the title track’s palm court ghosts imbued with sepia classicism. 1974’s Exotic Birds And Fruit and ’75’s Lieber and Stoller-produced Procol’s Ninth refined this heady brew, Pandora’s Box’s dark marble hoodoo their last hit before they buckled under punk and bowed out with 1977’s robust Something Magic.
Procol picked up where they’d left off with 1991’s The Prodigal Stranger, then 2003’s The Well’s On Fire showing the pair’s writing chops still in rude health. After more touring, Procol returned with 2017’s late-period peak Novum, veteran poet Pete Brown now Brooker’s lyrical foil, its poignantly spot-on The Only One closing disc three.
Disc four presents a 1973 Hollywood Bowl show with LA’s Symphony Orchestra while five features a 1976 Bournemouth set, both previously unreleased. There are also three fascinating discs culled from UK and German TV appearances, starting with A Whiter Shade Of Pale on Top Of The Pops, completing this stellar prog monument.