016: Procol Harum - Exotic Birds and Fruit (1974)
“If we had any particular concept on this album, it was, ‘Hey, we’ve done enough orchestral crap. Let’s get back to playing more like a band!’” —Gary Brooker
British art rock band Procol Harum is remembered today mainly for its 1967 single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and for almost nothing else. This is a mistake; far from a one-hit wonder, Procol Harum established itself from 1967 to 1974 as one of the more consistently solid album-oriented bands of the era, even as their style shifted from art rock to hard rock and back. In this episode, Prog John makes his triumphant return by leading Rich, Phil, and Mike through a look at a long-time favorite of his, the 1974 album “Exotic Birds and Fruit.” The album saw the band make a conscious turn from an orchestra-centered style towards a style that synthesized its whole past (including its mid-60s R&B roots). Join us we take a journey through a wonderful (mostly) album and a band that does, indeed, go far “Beyond the Pale.”
We mentioned it a handful of times in the episode, but tremendous thanks must be given to procolharum.com (“Beyond the Pale”), which was an invaluable resource in preparing for this episode. It’s an absolute treasure trove of esoteric details about all aspects of the band and its output.
The origins of the band’s name are somewhat shrouded in mystery, but the most commonly accepted narrative states that the name comes from a cat (named Procul Harun) that belonged to Gus Dudgeon, a friend of the band’s original manager, Guy Stevens.
An allusion was made to the band’s history containing a lawsuit. In 2005, Matthew Fisher (who had rejoined the band in 1991 and played with them through 2004) sued Brooker and his publisher regarding songwriting credits for “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (which previously had not been assigned to Fisher) based on his organ contributions. Fisher won 40% royalties on the song for sales from 2005 onward.
BJ Wilson’s greatness as a drummer, discussed in the “Nothing But the Truth” section, was noticed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who asked Wilson to join Led Zeppelin as the drummer. Wilson declined, John Bonham joined Led Zeppelin, and the rest was history. Wilson sadly died in 1990 at the age of 43, due to complications resulting from a 1987 drug overdose that left him in a vegetative state.
John wasn’t able to find a way to work this into the show, but there’s a personal story related to “Conquistador” worth sharing here. In college, John worked briefly for a Midwestern superstore called Meijer. One day while working there, John heard a muzak version of “Conquistador” playing over the loudspeaker. This would not have been especially notable except for the fact that, while the rest of the song was transformed into typical muzak, the mid-song organ solo was done in exactly the same way as on the studio album. This remains one of John’s weirdest music-related memories from his college years.
John somehow had a brainfart and managed to subtract 1997 from 2019 and get 18. Deeuhrrr, math (John has a degree in math but somehow arithmetic eludes him).
According to procolharum.com, Mike may be right in thinking that “Beyond the Pale” has a bouzouki in it. Mick Grabham indicates in an interview that the fadeout of “Beyond the Pale” either has a bouzouki or a mandolin, he’s not sure which.
“A Whiter Shade of Pale” official video (YouTube)
An introduction to Niles Crane (YouTube)
Discord & Rhyme roll call
John McFerrin (host)
Rich Bunnell (moderator)
Ben Marlin (special appearance)
Exotic Birds and Fruit tracklist
Nothing But the Truth
Beyond the Pale
As Strong as Samson
The Thin End of the Wedge
Monsieur R. Monde
New Lamps for Old
Drunk Again (bonus track)
Other clips used
Shine On Brightly
A Whiter Shade of Pale
A Souvenir of London
The Milk of Human Kindness
A Rum Tale
Fires (Which Burn Brightly)
A Salty Dog
Elvis Presley - Harem Holiday
The Moody Blues - Here Comes the Weekend
The Paramounts - Poison Ivy
J. S. Bach - Air on a G String
Robin Trower - Day of the Eagle
Rush - The Trees
Elvis Costello - From a Whisper to a Scream
Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht - Pirate Jenny
OneMic - Never Give Up
Elvis Costello - Man Out of Time
Tom Waits - 9th & Hennepin
Beach Boys - Johnny Carson
XTC - Fruit Nut
Mariah Carey - Butterfly
Elvis Costello - Clowntime Is Over
Genesis - That’s All
Songs we mentioned but didn’t clip
Procol Harum - Bringing Home the Bacon
Procol Harum - Rambling On
Percy Sledge - When a Man Loves a Woman
Rolling Stones - Poison Ivy
Guided by Voices - Chasing Heather Crazy
The Simpsons - The Amendment Song
Pet Shop Boys - What Keeps Mankind Alive?
Tom Waits - What Keeps Mankind Alive?
The Beatles - I Want You (She's So Heavy)
Carly Rae Jepsen & Owl City - Good Time
U2 - Lemon
The Kinks - David Watts
Steve Miller Band - The Joker
Crazy Town - Butterfly
Bob Carlisle - Butterfly Kisses
Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Takin' Care of Business
Gary Brooker – vocals, piano
Mick Grabham – guitar
B. J. Cole – pedal steel guitar
Chris Copping – organ
Alan Cartwright – bass guitar
B. J. Wilson – drums
“Discord & Rhyme (theme),” composed by the Other Leading Brand, contains elements of:
Amon Düül II - Dehypnotized Toothpaste
The Dukes of Stratosphear - What in the World?? ...
Faith No More - Midlife Crisis
Herbie Hancock - Hornets
Kraftwerk - Autobahn
Talking Heads - Seen and Not Seen
Procol Harum - Butterfly Boys (this episode only)
You can buy or stream Exotic Birds and Fruit and other albums by Procol Harum at your friendly neighborhood Sam Goody, as well as the usual suspects such as Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, and Amazon. Follow Discord & Rhyme on Twitter @DiscordPod for news and updates. Follow Rich @zonetrope, Phil @pamaddox, and John @tarkus1980. Check out John’s music review site at johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org. Special thanks to our own Mike DeFabio, the Other Leading Brand, for production duties. See you next album — sort of — and be ever wonderful.