Procol Harum - A Salty Dog

Procol Harum
A Salty Dog

Released 1969 on Regal Zonophone
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 28/02/2007ce

I first became aware of this album in a sort of roundabout way. My mother had bought me a cassette player/recorder at Christmas 1969, it was the first year they were available to the public I believe and they were all the rage. The previous Christmas I received one of the long forgotten 4 track cartridge players which of course retired immediately.

My mother's best friend had a son the same age as myself and his mother bought him the identical cassette player for her son's present. So my mother bought her son 2 cassettes as a present. One was by the then hip teen idol Andy Kim, the other was "A Salty Dog"by Procol Harum. It turns out the kid hated the Procol Harum tape so my mother gave it to me. I was somewhat familiar with the group's mega-hit "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" but other than that I really wasn't aware of their other material, after all I was only 8 or 9 years old at the time.

However shortly after receiving "A Salty Dog" I became a huge fan of the group and they remain one of my favorites to this day. It's sort of odd nowadays that Procol Harum are for the most part a forgotten group who are for all intents and purposes considered to be "one hit wonders." Of course that's not the case, but history has not been kind to them.

Back in the late 60's Procol Harum was critical favorites in almost every corner of the globe, they were especially big in the USA, where they were much loved by Crawdaddy Magazine and the former music publication Rolling Stone (which of course these days is a combination fashion magazine and tip sheet for MTV culture not to mention an excellent liner for bird cages.) Procol were also very respected among musicians in the know.

The group's first album "Procol Harum" (Deram 1967) stands as one of the strongest album debut's in rock history. Musically they were obviously heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and The Band, and I believe they influenced The Band as well. Basically the group had it all, a world class lead singer in Gary Brooker, a vastly underrated lead guitarist in Robin Trower, complimented by one of the greatest drummers in rock history B.J. Wilson. Not forgetting their surreal wordsmith Keith Reid (who was at one time considered as the house lyricist for Traffic.)

Procol's second album "Shine On Brightly" (Regal Zonophone 1968) was a stunning follow up that charted new ground for the group almost overnight (the album was a big favorite of The Who's Peter Townshend.) However it was 1969's "A Salty Dog" (Regal Zonophone) that was Procol Harum's unqualified masterpiece. Everything that was great about the group finally came together as a cohesive whole.

The lyrical theme of the album is the sea, and almost every song on the record has a nautical lyric reference from Keith Reid. The opening title track is a majestic and dramatic opener about a lost soul adrift at sea. Strings are used tastefully and Brooker's voice is just fabulous (he is easily the equal to Steve Winwood.) "Milk Of Human Kindness" blends a cryptic Reid lyric to the sound of 1966 Dylan. "Too Much Between Us" is a gentle but disturbing acoustic track with the lovely organ touches of Mathew Fisher.

"The Devil Came From Kansas" is quite simply a lethal blast of hard rock action that is as raw as anything by Captain Beefheart, Robin Trower's guitar work is astonishing, he sounds like he is playing in a separate room from the other group members with his axe cranked to 10 and bleeding all over the place. Side one ends brilliantly with "Boredom" which is a bright and breezy South Seas tune sung by Mathew Fisher which turns the mood of the album on it's face (this track was covered by an obscure UK group Tea & Symphony.)

Side two begins with an ultra raw blues called "Juicy John Pink" which is super cool and sounds as if it was recorded in a hotel room on tour. "Wreck Of The Hesperus" also features Fisher on lead vocals, this one is an elegant piece with wonderful keyboard work. The combination of Brooker and Fisher as lead vocalists on the album works magically, both singers complimenting each other perfectly.

"All This And More" is classic Procol Harum which looks forward to the title track of their 1971 album "Broken Barriacdes." On "Crucifiction Lane" the group sound like "Music From Big Pink" era Band, I'm not sure who is singing lead, possibly Robin Trower. The record ends with it's best song "Pilgrims Progress" which is once again sung by Mathew Fisher. This is a gentle and extremely moving piece that can almost bring a tear to the listeners eye without much effort. Musically it is a second cousin to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and "Homburg", but Fisher's vocal takes it to another plane. The song ends in a raveup that sounds like German beer hall music. There is a 1972 live Procol Harum TV appearance on the German "Beat Club" show that features Brooker singing lead on "Pilgrims Progress" that is also stunning (Fisher had left by then.)

Sadly Mathew Fisher left the group after "A Salty Dog" as did bassist David Knights. Fisher would be greatly missed, although Procol Harum still made some great records after his departure. "A Salty Dog" remains their finest achievement as a group. They were one of the great groups of the late 60's early 70's and they certainly deserve top shelf status by now. (Procol obviously influenced the groups Shy Limbs, Felius Andromeda & Mandrake Paddle Steamer, but that's another story.)

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