Procol Harum
Most people discovered this British band with A Whiter Shade of Pale, Conquistador, or Simple Sister.  All great songs, but the first album that really did it for me was their second album: Shine on Brightly.  Then they knocked it out of the park with their third, A Salty Dog.  The title track, about a sailing ship lost at sea, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever.  

Though each succeeding album had a few iffy tracks, they hit their peak with their seventh, Exotic Birds and Fruit.  Every song worked, and so do those on subsequent albums.  This is the kind of music that elevates the genre. 

For the most part, pianist Gary Brooker (second from left, above) wrote the music, sang all the songs, and Keith Reid (on the right, and not a performer) wrote the words.  How many bands do you know that have a lyricist as a charter member?  It's not like they're deliberately being pretentious, they just choose not to tell their stories in the way everybody else does.  I don't even know what their name means.

One of my favorite lyrics is from the early song Homburg... the mirror, on reflection, has climbed back upon the wall.  Nonsensical, but also quite wonderful.

The musical style they developed is the interplay between Brooker's piano, which holds the song together, and the Hammond organ which follows the lead of the piano while adorning it with its own unique color.  The organ was played originally (and later) by Matthew Fisher and here by Chris Copping.  Oh, and for a while there, they had a guitar player you may have heard of -- Robin Trower.  This band could rock, but like The Beatles (Norwegian Wood, for example), they weren't afraid to do a song in waltz time. 

The song playing below is a waltz from the album "Grand Hotel."  Like all songs from Procol Harum, I haven't really got a clue what it's about.  You can understand the words, but not exactly, it's more about evoking a feeling than about saying anything outright.  This is the kind of broken-hearted song they do.  When your girl leaves you, you don't get blue, you run off to a tropical island, live on rum and write the whole world about it. 

Musically, it sounds simple, but it's rather complex when you sit down at the piano to play it.  The diminished C chord (second from the last chord) that resolves the main phrase just knocks me out.  Once they get into the phrase and the keys start changing to add tension to the melody, you wonder how they're ever going to get out of it.  Then they hit that diminished chord and it all just comes together.  Deceptively brilliant.  George Harrison loved to use diminished chords.  Me too.

Since I wrote the paragraphs above (one year ago), I've come to an even deeper appreciation of this band.  Seeing them live last June at the Gibson Amphitheater was an amazing musical experience.  No frills, no show, just five guys playing great songs from their catalog extremely well.  To continue the experience, I picked up a DVD of their live concert from 2005 at the Union Chapel.  It's incredible to think that music these guys wrote in their twenties is still relevant and vital today, as they're playing it in their sixties.  Not many bands can make that claim. 

Listen To The Band: A Rum Tale (Gary Brooker, Keith Reid) (c) 1973