When is a Salty Dog not a Salty Dog? Procol Harum and Robin Trower…

You know the difference between a “Salty Dog” and a “Greyhound”?  My friend Harriet would think this question is a lay-up.  A greyhound is vodka and grapefruit juice, but a salty dog is gin and grapefruit juice served in a salt rimmed cocktail glass.  Now that we got that straight we can move on to the title question of this blog:  When is a Salty Dog not a Salty Dog?  Well, when it’s a compilation and not the original LP.

This LP was given to me by my good friend J.D. from San Francisco, CA.  It came to me in the following FedEx box:

 

FedEx envelope sent by  J.D.

FedEx envelope containing my copy of "A Salty Dog"

The profanity on the FedEx box is a inside joke that I share with J.D.’s family. When J.D. was in high school his Dad,who is my very close friend “Chip”; took him to see Green Day at an outdoor venue here in the Dallas Ft. Worth area. Amid the pushing throng of teenagers my Buddy ran into a young teen-aged girl. She turned around and yelled at Chip:   “F*#% YOU, OLD MAN!”. It’s been a running joke ever since.  (Check out my blog from September 2011 at the ACL Festival in Austin Texas and you can see pictures of “Chip” in his F%&# You Old Man T-Shirt that my wife made him for the concert!) Needless to say I was very interested in what the envelope contained, but I waited till Christmas Day to open it anyway.  When I finally opened the gift I was really blown away by what a cool gift J.D. had sent my way.  It was a copy of an LP by Procol Harum called “A Salty Dog”.  Here are some pictures of the LP:

Album cover of the compilation LP "A Salty Dog" by Procol Harum

Album cover of the compilation LP "A Salty Dog" by Procol Harum

 

I knew Procol Harum had released a great LP called “A Salty Dog” but it had been so long since I had seen or heard this record that I couldn’t remember what it looked like. My memory was good enough to recall that this was not the cover I thought it would have. I noticed that the LP had 6 songs on each side instead of 5 songs. U.S. LP’s always had 5 songs on each side and European LP’s had 6, so i concluded that it must be the English import version of the album. In addition, this mystery LP was also on a Label I didn’t recognize as well. Here is a picture of the record label:

Record Label of "A Salty Dog" by Procol Harum

Record Label of "A Salty Dog" by Procol Harum

This record was released on MFP records sometime in the very early 1970’s. MFP turned out to be a subsidiary of EMI records. The disc was a English import after all. Very cool! But the “Salty Dog” turned out not to be THE “Salty Dog”. Here is the album cover to the original LP by Procol Harum called “A Salty Dog”:

Original Album cover of "A Salty Dog" by Procol Harum

Original Album cover of "A Salty Dog" by Procol Harum

So here’s what I discovered: The LP I was given was a “Best Of…” compilation that was released sometime between 1970 and 1972. It was released to capitalize on the enormous success of their best known song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. It just happened to have the same title as one of the early LP’s of Procol Harum. “A Salty Dog” was also one of their better known songs. It is interesting that not even Procol Harum’s own web site knew exactly when this compilation was done. After doing much research on these two records that have the same name, I’ve come to the conclusion that this compilation LP is much more rare than the original LP.  There is an interesting comment on the back of my LP I will quote in it’s entirety:

“It would be impossible to write about Procol Harum without mentioning A Whiter Shade of Pale.  This was a song with a distinct Bach flavour to it which was undoubtedly the making  of the band as far as wide public recognition was concerned.  It also had its drawbacks, however, in that many people identified them by this sound and expected all their music to be in the same vein.

The group’s follow-up to Whiter Shade was Homburg, which was also a Top Ten hit.  Like all the tracks on this record it was written by Keith Reid who is a talented original and much under-rated lyricist.  Listen to the broad selection of titles on this album, which features pianist/vocalist Gary Brooker, and you will soon realize that Procol Harum has progressed far beyond the style of A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

So let’s give it a listen and see what you think.  By the way all of these songs are from the earliest period of Procol Harum so all the lead guitar work is by the great English guitarist Robin Trower.

Side 1

Homburg

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It is interesting that the quote is trying to distance the band from that Whiter Shade of Pale sound but this follow-up song has exactly the same sound and feel as it’s much more famous Big Brother.  The dominating organ sound, the cryptic lyrics(“…you better take of your Homburg because your overcoat’s too long”), the pace all sound very Shade of Pale like.  By the way a Homburg is a type of Fedora styled Hat. Hmmm….

She Wandered Through The Garden Fence

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I like some of the long titles to songs on this LP. You can hear the germ that Genesis grew out of in this song.

The Milk Of Human Kindness

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This song features the great blues guitar work of Robin Trower. I love the bluesy feel to this song and it’s a shame they fade out the song while Robin is ripping off a great guitar solo.

The Devil Came From Kansas

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Everything about this song is great!  The lyrics, the vocals, the drum work, and most of all the awesome guitar work of Robin Trower.  This is simply great rock-n-roll.  By the way, he’s right about the Devil coming from Kansas.  I dated her in college!

A Salty Dog

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This is Procol Harum at their best! It’s no wonder it is the title cut of two different LP’s. Again we have the feel of A Whiter Shade of Pale. But it’s simply awesome. The art rock feel of this song with the strings and the soaring vocals is fantastic. Once again I can hear the Peter Gabriel era germ of Genesis in this music. Procol Harum was always a trailblazer in the area of “Progressive” or “Art” rock. I could listen to this song ten times in a row!

Magdalene, my Regal Zonophone

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The nostalgic sound of song relates to it’s title. A Zonophone was one of the first types of record players. RCA Victor eventually bought the company that made the Zonophone and put it on their record label with the phrase “His Master’s Voice”.

Side 2

Shine on Brightly

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Once again great lyrics and great vocals. “And watch as my befuddled brain shines on brightly, quite insane…” Great guitar work from Robin Trower too. “Shine on!!!”

Boredom

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This song has almost a calypso feel. They have that steel drum sound working. Light and airy. Easy to listen to. The opposite of Boredom, really.

Conquistador

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This is the original studio version of one of their greatest hits. (Notice on the Album Cover they have the big yellow blot that screams “Including Conquistador”) The version I remember is the one from their great live album “Procol Harum Live”, but it’s great to hear it in it’s original form. Once again the song has great lyrics and is driven by the great guitar sounds of Robin Trower. It has that symphonic art rock sound that they are so famous for.

Your Own Choice

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“Draw your own conclusions..” but I think this is a great song.  As the song says “choose your own examples…”

Rambling On

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By this time in the LP it’s pretty evident that the writer of the liner notes is right about the lyrics of Keith Reid. He knew what he was doing. After all he did come up with “…that her face at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.” Great guitar work at the end of the song by Robin Trower.

Pilgrim’s Progress

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It is ironic that the song is called Pilgrims Progress.  It’s as if Procol Harum has looked “across the pond” to the U.S.A. and adopted the innocent style of The Beach Boys to sing a simple song in the style of the descendants of the Pilgrims.  Of course the Pilgrims wouldn’t have liked this song at all!  It is also ironic that the organ is an almost exact copy of A Whiter Shade Of Pale.  So we end as we began.

As a side note they got their name from a friend’s cat.  The guys’ cat was named Procol Harum.  They liked it and took it.  They never looked in to what it might mean.  Later on people said it was Latin for “Beyond These Things” but the spelling would have had to be different. (Prucol Harum).  So it’s the name of one of their friends cat.  Cool piece of trivia, eh?

So what happened to Procol Harum?  They are still around.  They still tour too.  Robin Trower left the band a long, long time ago and their fame faded without him.  But in a way they are just like George Fredrick Handle.  They say Handle would have been every bit as famous as he is today if he had only written “The Messiah“.  But the good news is he wrote a whole lot more great music than “The Messiah“.  Procol Harum would have been every bit as famous today if they had only written “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.  But the good news is they wrote a whole lot more great music too.

So a “Salty Dog” turned out not to be a Salty Dog”,  but in the end,  the taste was just as sweet!

Thanks J.D. for a great Christmas gift!

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About John

I taught myself how to play the piano and read music when I was 9 years old. I've been been consumed by music ever since. I majored in Piano performance in College and I still play, although not as well as when I had time to practice 4 -6 hours per day. This blog is about music. Music is the sound track of our lives. All it take is one song, one composition; and we are transported across time and space. I think it was Beethoven that said: "Music is the landscape of the soul."
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7 Responses to When is a Salty Dog not a Salty Dog? Procol Harum and Robin Trower…

  1. Ken West says:

    Ah, Procol Harum. I’ve never seen that album, either, and Procol Harum is one of those bands I’m always on the lookout for when browsing records. Love Procol Harum, I have a 2 CD comp called Secrets of the Hive that gets played regularly, along with live album with the Edmonton Symphony. We saw Ringo Starr’s All Starr band in 1997 here in San Diego, and Gary Brooker was in the band-we were about 20 feet away from him as he sang a Whiter Shade of Pale. One of the most memorable moments of live music I’ve ever experienced. That version of the All Starr Band also featured Jack Bruce, Todd Rundgren and Simon Kirke. Here’s a link to link to peformance of Conquistador from that tour (the guitarist is Peter Frampton, Todd replaced him midway through the tour):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqAs-xkPG0Q

    Was it you I saw Robin Trower with in Dallas, John? Styx was the opening act-I have a vivid memory of all those cigarette lighters ablaze when they performed Lights Out.

    Shifting genres for the moment, I have to tell you that I get to cross off a musical bucket list item this coming Saturday-I’ll be going to Los Angeles to hear Gustavo Dudamel and the combined forces of the L.A. Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony of Venezuela (plus a mind-boggling combination of choral forces perform
    the Mahler 8th at the Shrine Auditorium. They are performing all of Mahler’s symphonies this season to celebrate the centennial of his death.

    • John says:

      Ken:
      It was you and I that saw Robin Trower and Styx. I remember the sea of lighters being held up too. That was a great show. I believe it was the “Bridge of Sighs” tour. I am very envious of you seeing the Mahler 8th. When is the concert going to be? I am thinking about going to Anaheim,CA in June to attend the annual meeting of the Million Dollar Round Table. Mahler died in May though. Are they performing this on the date of his death? I have seen the Mahler 1,2,4,5,6, and 9th. I would like to be able to say one day that I have seen them all performed live. Since this is the centennial of his death there might be a good chance to add the 3rd and the 8th to my list. I guess the 7th is one of the least performed of all the Mahler symphonies. I’m planning a major blog about Mahler this year. It is taking some time to do the research and prepare the music selections. I just got through creating the WAV file of “Das Lied von de Erde”. I think “Der Abschied” is such a fitting tribute to his centennial. Bruno Walter gave the first performance of “Das Lied” in November of 1911 after the death of Mahler in May of 1911. When Mahler first showed the score of “Der Abshied” to Bruno Walter he asked Bruno: “Can this be endured at all? Won’t the people kill themselves afterwards?” Powerful stuff. If I can make it out to Anaheim I’d really like to try to see you. I know it’s a ways from sunny San Diego, but maybe we could work something out. I hope so. In any case, thanks for the support and great stuff you add to the blog. I really enjoyed your comments on Procol Harum and the attached video. Keep it coming!

      Peace, Out…

  2. Ken West says:

    Great memories-that was my very first rock concert! I can still remember how great Too Rolling Stoned sounded live.

    The Mahler 8th was beyond my ability to describe-an amazing, uplifting, spiritual experience. I was directly below the balcony to the right of the stage where they positioned soprano Kiera Duffy, who sang the role of Mater Gloriosa-it truly was a voice from heaven. The choral ensemble was incredible, it’s an amazing feat that they were able to accomplish it with so many different amateur and professional ensembles involved. The pipe organ in the Shrine Auditorium is a beast-that huge chord that opens the first movement was powerful. The final tally of the performing forces was 1, 017-a true Symphony of a Thousand. Here’s a link to the L.A. Times review:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/02/music-review-dudamel-and-multitudes-tackle-mahlers-eighth.html

    I’ve heard the same ones you have, as well-I have the 3rd and 7th to go (plus Das Lied von de Erde). I look forward to reading your Mahler blog! Let me know if you end up going to Anaheim, maybe we could work it out & meet for lunch or something, it’d be great to catch up after all these years.

    Getting back to the original topic, I heard Broken Barricades on satellite radio driving to work today-great song! I need to get some more Procol Harum in my collection.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the link. It gave me a taste of what you might have experienced. Awesome!! is all I can say. That has got to be a mountaintop experience. I think I’m going to do a Robin Trower blog next. I had forgotten that Trower was your first rock concert experience. Not a bad on to start with if you ask me. I’ll keep you in the loop about Anaheim. It would be great to see you again.
      God Bless.

  3. jerrychicken says:

    Hi John, just dug up this post when searching for the album A Salty Dog for a post I’m writing for my own blog (will be posted next Saturday) 🙂

    What you have discovered is the Music for Pleasure label that many of us in the UK were conned into buying in the late 60s, early 70s, I have at least three MfP albums in my collection that I bought as a teenager including this one and a Joe Cocker one (I think the other is a Simon & Garfunkel Sound of Silence compilation).

    Luckily both the Procol Harum and Joe Cocker albums are the genuine article but many of the MfP albums would be covers or very poor studio versions by the artist the sort of thing that gets rejected in the studio, so you play the album and it sounds like the actual band but the track is nothing like what you know.

    The attraction of MfP albums was of course that they were cheap, from memory a chart LP would cost around £2.50 while a MfP version would be knocked out at £1, a big saving but you took your chances with the quality – to my mind you have a BETTER product in the Procul Harum MfP album then the original as you get Conquistador and Homburg included, which weren’t on the 1969 original.

    Again from memory I bought the MfP version around 1971 or 72, my theory is that Procol Harum had fallen from grace since their peak in the late 60s and the recordings were sold off to the MfP label to try and screw a bit more income on the cheap label, if you check out Joe Cockers “With a Little Help from my Friends” MfP album you’ll see that its a mixture of his first two albums that had charted four years earlier, Cocker was doing very little new studio work in the early 70s so again, a chance to screw some more money out of earlier product.

    Interesting to read your own opinion on the album though, now I must go and write my own post 🙂

    • John says:

      This was great additional information. Thanks for sharing. I’d love to read your blog when you post it. I could also link your blog to my blog. what is the address?

      Regards,

      John

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