Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale/A Salty Dog (Fly Toofa 7/8) (1972)

I was really pleased two find this Fly Doubleback compilation (or “Toofa” as the catalogue number would have it) for a number of reasons. Firstly, Procol Harum’s debut and third records have been on “the list” (a sometimes literal, usually Platonic, docket of albums I simply must buy) since I spied 5 ***** reviews for them in the first Rolling Stone Record Guide a few decades ago. Quite why I’ve never managed to get them until now, I don’t know. Secondly, I only paid 99p for them at Oxfam. At Oxfam you say, the same Oxfam that charges £4.99 for good condition George Michael Faith records? The very same and I’ll tell you how it happened. I was in Rochester yesterday picking up a washing machine (Oh! The life I live!) and popped in to the chaz for a quick browse. The selection was wide, well-organised and only slightly overpriced with most stuff selling for between £1 and £4. In a bin marked “New Arrivals” I found the present item without a price tag. I assumed it would be at least £4, but took it up to the counter to get a costing, prepared to take it right back whence it came. It was nearly 5 o’clock on a Friday and the manager, having been consulted by the clerk said, “Is 99p alright?” Yes, it was and I declined a bag and let them keep the penny change.
But was it worth the 99 pennies and the decades-long wait? For sure, and I had a thoroughly pleasant Friday evening finding out. Given the times (1967), Pale is a surprisingly grown-up sounding collision of the Zombies’ minor-keyed somnambulance, Caravan’s prog japery, Traffic’s Brit-Soul Ray Charlesisms, the heavy-lidded surrealism of B. Dylan and the Band’s dual keyboard roots reverence, even as nothing quite measures up to the title track. The mono edition featured here does have some peculiar audio drop outs, as if the technology couldn’t quite capture what this musically muscular band were playing and simply got overloaded. Salty Dog (1969) is more ambitious, more consistent and better produced. Not totally without the tweeness that plagued English musicians immediately before and after (and during, obviously) the so-called Summer of Love, these almost entirely mid-paced Lps represent early, definitive examples of “sixeventies” rock in exegesis.

The label’s pretty cool looking too. Set up as a production company, Fly would lease their product to various labels then re-release back catalogue items capitalising on, say, Deram’s hard promotion work of a few years previous, as happened here when this re-issue outperformed the band’s contemporary live record in the UK album charts.
Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 8:21 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Can you help me understand why there are 2 “A Salty Dog” Lps, both with different covers, and different playlists, albeit 3 songs are the same on both, yet in a different sequence? I would have assumed that even if released by different labels, or as an import, all the tracks would have stayed the same, or an additional track either added or even deleted. My friends at my record store don’t know of an answer either. I hope maybe you could clear the air on this one. Thanks.

  2. It is a bit weird, imagine publishing the same book with different plots. I believe the answer would vary depending on the Lp and the record company.

    With the Beatles, for example, US Capitol records managed to contrive 11 Lps vs. eight in the UK by making the albums shorter and adding non-Lp singles. Same thing with the Stones. It was economics: mo’ albums = mo’ money.

    In other cases, hit singles were added to albums in other markets after Lp releases in the home country. My guess is that this is what happened with PH. I think most decisions at this time were probably made on the fly, based for short term monetary reasons.

    Latterly, Elvis Costello’s first few records had different tracklistings for the US and UK, the reasons being that the alternate songs would appeal to the different markets and, I suspect, Costello’s own willfullness.

  3. I have both versions of A Salty Dog (one from the TOOFA) you are reviewing, which is the original studio album, and the other, also on FLY, which seemed to include stuff that had originally only been released as singles. My TOOFA, by the way, is in almost perfect condition.

    • Nice one.

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