Song of the Day: Billy Sedlmayr on Procol Harum's 'A Salty Dog'

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You can thank Guy Stevens for Procol Harum. - COURTESY
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  • You can thank Guy Stevens for Procol Harum.

Producer Guy Stevens (Mott The Hoople, The Clash) is the sort of character rock 'n' roll mythology offers up. In fact, his sense of music and management led to the pairing of lyricist Keith Reid and singer/pianist Gary Brooker to become prog-rock forebearers (and darlings) Procol Harum.

The band survived the '60s and stood beside their peers as a vast island of creativity, one that overcame Death by Smash Hit Single in the monster, classical-music enhanced, "A Lighter Shade of Pale."

The group sounds more like a consortium on it's third LP, '69's A Salty Dog, and it's cover art depicts the ocean, a life-raft and a sailor, an homage to the old Player's Navy Cut cigarette logo. The 10-song affair was produced by band member Matthew Fisher, whose Hammond organ swells tactfully throughout. He accompanies the title song's first strafe of seagulls, a lone keyboard and "all hands on deck" as Brooker reports, urged on by a tug of strings each half-measure. (Has anyone else ever noticed how Giorgio Moroder lifted parts "A Salty Dog" for the key "Tony's Theme" in the Scarface soundtrack?)
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With a beautifully languid meter by drummer B.J. Wilson, the nautical theme where "ships come home to die" shines with considerable power. Lyricist Reid steers the ship "across the straits" and "around the horn" till the chorus breaks with sweeping gusts of instrumentation (featuring young Robin Trower's tasteful guitar): "How far can sailors fly."

It's a bargain drawn between classical and pop and ends thankfully in just over 4 minutes, but in those seconds the narrative is a call across water to find humanity and serve a purpose greater then oneself.

Keith Reid wrote all of Procol's lyrics, in all their manic metaphors, for 12 record albums.

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