Ain’t Gonna Ride That Whiskey Train

Keith Reid’s lyrics for Procul Harum have always been a preeminent part of the group’s presence. Reid as poet is a lyrical chameleon. From tracks like ‘Still There’ll Be More’ which is both scatological and frightening to ‘A Salty Dog’ whose tender lyrics command the gorgeous symphony treatment it received, Reid rarely tries the same trick twice, and just as rarely is he simple. Whatever he is, however, in the case of one of my favorite Procul Harum songs, simple seems to be exactly what he was trying for.

‘Whiskey Train’ from the album ‘Home’ opens with the lines

Pourin' my bottle down the drainAin't gonna ride that whiskey train

By the time we reach these lines in the last verse

Gonna find a girl who'll make me choose'Tween lovin' her and drinkin' booze

it’s clear that Reid was composing a simple, direct, country and western song. Fortunately Robin Trower got hold of it before it suffered such ignominy. Opening with Trower’s guitar blazing, BJ Wilson starts hammering his drum kit, trying to keep up. He never quite does, but he never quits trying. Trower seems bent on convincing us it was never a country song, but was meant to be screaming electric all along.

I, for one, agree.


Trivia question: the drummer on Steve Miller’s “My Dark Hour” is listed in the credits as ‘Paul Ramon’; what’s his real name?

Hover here for one hint

Another hint


Some random thoughts regarding the tunes I listened to on my way to work today:

  • Hush” – Deep Purple – Jon Lord once said, “I think my organ playing has something to do with the sound of the band.” In stand-up comedy, we call this ‘humor by understatement.’ While many of the band members were extremely talented it is Lord’s performances on a Hammond B3 organ which typify this band’s sound for me.
  • Quinn the Eskimo” – Manfred Mann – No, not the wimpy studio version (and please, for your own sake, avoid Dylan’s original; a classic example of bad arranging.) Side two (did I say that? well, on vinyl, it was side two!) has three tracks, two of them live, which show what a powerful rock band this was. The closing track is a huge keyboard extravaganza. After the opening verses, the pace becomes frenetic as drums, guitar and keyboards all try to out-intense each other. Chris Slade should have stayed with the band. His drumming is almost machine-like in its precision, but there’s too much feeling to ever mistake it for anything electronic.
  • “I Still Miss Someone” – Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys – Lester Flatt was a great singer. No, his voice isn’t polished and refined, he doesn’t reach up to those impressive high notes; instead, he made simple tunes about human emotions sound genuine. When Lester was happy, you were happy; when he sang a sad song, you cried. While Earl’s banjo was the flashy partner, Lester’s voice is what I miss.
  • Commercial music?
    • “Rock and Roll” – Led Zeppelin – I was mystified by the brouhaha over the band allowing Cadillac to use this song in their commercials. Let me see; huge commercial conglomerate wants to pay aging rock stars an annuity every time one of their commercials runs. Am I missing the moral dilemma? I’ve been muting commercials since the advent of the remote control, but I listen to this one. Loud.
    • “Lust for Life” – Iggy Pop – Sorry; can’t even remember the product or service. Maybe Royal Carribean cruises? Had you told me 25 years ago that this pounding irresponsible tune by a guy considered a freak (even in an era of freaks) would be played on commercial television to augment the selling abilities of the medium, I would have laughed. But then, I still do, every single time I hear this song.
       "I've been hurting since I bought the gimmick About something called love; Yeah, something called love. Well, that's like hypnotizing chickens."
  • “(Outside the Gates of) Cerdes” – Procol Harum – Robin Trower occasionally got ahold of Keith Reid’s lyrics before Gary Brooker got to them. While Brooker tended toward the beautifully orchestrated pieces, Trower is a bluesman. “Cerdes” opens with a bass line I just can’t resist, and includes some fine guitar work by Trower. As usual, Reid’s lyrics hover somewhere between confusing and bizzare.