In 1966, a British band called The Paramounts became dismayed that their ballsy covers of R&B classics weren’t bringing them the fame that bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had found down the same road. So they decided to write their own tunes. And so it was, that lead singer/pianist Gary Brooker hooked up with an enigmatic poet named Keith Reid, and organist Matthew Fisher blended a churchy, Bach-inspired organ into the mix. Lo and behold, with one single, A Whiter Shade of Pale, they gave birth to a musical movement that would later be called progressive rock.
Unfortunately, that single (the #1 hit of 1967) would prove to be their albatross, as well. A fickle public decided that subsequent singles did not measure up, and they abandoned the group to an excited and growing niche audience who had discovered other reasons to buy albums besides three minute chart toppers. (This audience in turn gave birth to a movement that would become Album Oriented Radio.)
Procol Harum’s strength was its melding of classical composition and style with the wicked chops the band had developed as The Paramounts. Brooker’s soulful voice and guitarist Robin Trower’s Hendrixian licks lent a bluesy conviction to Reid’s playfully oblique lyrics, and this framework in turn supported whatever symphonic or psychedelic ornamentation was hung upon it.
The band turned out ten albums over the next decade, peaking in 1972-73, with the wildly popular Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, followed by their masterpiece, Grand Hotel. Changes in personnel and tone followed, as they adopted a more straightforward pop rock sound, before finally disbanding in 1977. Brooker made three albums on his own during the eighties, and then the band reformed triumphantly in 1991. Now, after another decade, they have come together again, with what may be their strongest album ever, yet another indicator of a progressive rock renaissance in the new millennium.