Sunday, December 8, 2013

Procol Harum -- "Hotel Grand" (1973)

It's serenade and sarabande, 
The nights we stay at Hotel Grand 
Les nuits qu'on passe à l'Hotel Grande

I own a lot of record albums.  A few of my friends over the years have owned more, but not many.

I started buying albums in the mid-1960s.  I'm not sure which of my LPs was the first one I bought.  

It might have been Jan and Dean's 1963 album, Surf City (and Other Swingin' Cities), which featured not only the title track but also a number of other songs that referenced cities (including "Kansas City," "Memphis," "Detroit City," ""Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," and -- surprisingly -- "I Left My Heart in San Francisco").

Or it could have been the Beach Boys' 1964 concert album, Beach Boys Concert, which featured hits like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" and "I Get Around."  But I was most excited by the Beach Boys' cover of "Long Tall Texan," a novelty country song that was a minor hit for Murry Kellum in 1963, and is definitely not in the same class as "I Get Around."  (I was only 12 when that album was released, after all.)

It even might have my first Rolling Stones album, December's Children, which included "Get Off of My Cloud," "As Tears Go By," and "Route 66."  (Sadly, the Stones' version of "Route 66" -- unlike the original Bobby Troup recording -- left out any mention of Joplin, Missouri, which is my hometown.)

I didn't buy a lot of albums when I was a kid -- yo no tengo mucho dinero

I remember buying five albums on one red-letter day in 1969, when they were on sale for $2.22 each.  I know that Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the Doors' Soft Parade, and Janis Joplin's I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! were among them.  But I don't remember where I bought them.  (I would have said Walmart, but a friend of mine pointed out to me that the first Walmart in Joplin didn't open until 1972.  So maybe I bought them at Arlan's, a discount store that stood at 15th and Rangeline in 1969 -- Walmart later took over that space.  Or maybe it was Katz, another long-defunct discount retailer whose Joplin store was located at 7th and Rangeline.)

I picked up the pace in college, but there was so much music around the residence halls that you didn't need to buy a lot of albums -- your roommates or neighbors were usually happy to share their records.

I won Johnny Bond's Greatest Hits album by being the first person to call the Rice University radio station (KTRU) and answer some obscure trivia question.   Most of the old country songs on that album were about either cars ("Hot Rod Lincoln" and "Great Figure Eight Race" -- you don't see many figure-eight races any more) or getting drunk ("Three Sheets in the Wind," "Ten Little Bottles," and "Sick, Sober, and Sorry").

I bought a lot of records while I was in law school -- I got most of my records at the Harvard Co-operative Society (the "Coop"), but picked up quite a few cut-outs (including two Big Star albums and two New York Dolls albums and some Todd Rundgren albums) at the scruffy little record stores located in and around Harvard Square.

I kept buying albums after graduating from law school and moving to Washington, DC, in 1977.  There were a lot of interesting record stores in Dupont Circle and Georgetown, and I continued to search for obscure but worthwhile LPs in the cut-out bins.  Those were the days of "new wave" music (think the Talking Heads and Elvis Costello) and edgy music from New York City (Ramones, Blondie, Television, etc.).

I think my album purchases tapered off considerably in the 1980s -- I don't remember buying many records then.  I got a CD player in 1991, and I'm not sure if I ever bought another vinyl album after that.  

I bought a lot of crappy albums over the years.  Unlike today, when it's easy to at least listen to short samples of all the songs on an album and there are tons of online reviews available, we were generally dependent on radio airplay.  Very few radio stations played more than two or three cuts from most albums, so buying an album by a new group was pretty hit or miss.

All too often, I'd hear one or two great songs from a new album on the radio, go out and buy the album, and find out that all the other songs on it SUCKED.

God only knows what inspired me to buy Procol Harum's Grand Hotel album, which was released in 1973, but I have a theory.

When I was working at one of my brutish but usually well-paying summer jobs while I was in college, I would buy at least one album per week.  I'd get paid on Friday, swing by the bank to deposit my check, get a $20 bill for spending money, and hit Walmart to buy a record.  Sometimes I couldn't find anything I really wanted, but that didn't stop me from buying something -- including, mayhaps, Grand Hotel.

(The same thing happened years later, when I had three small children.  My wife and I would get a babysitter and go to a movie every Sunday afternoon.  We saw some really bad movies back then.)

Procol Harum
Procol Harum, a British progressive rock band, is best known for its debut single, "A Whiter Shade of Pale," which was a #1 hit in the UK and a #5 hit in the United States.  The song was based on a melody from a Bach cantata, and featured extremely obscure lyrics.

Click here if you'd like to know where the band got its name.

Grand Hotel was Procol Harum's sixth studio album.  I was sort of a sucker for fancy-pants, pseudo-intellectual groups with arch lyrics (think 10cc and Sparks) back in those days.  But I don't really have an excuse for falling for this enormous pile of bullish*t.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

Here's the first verse of our featured song:

Tonight we sleep on silken sheets 
We drink fine wine and eat rare meats 
On carousel and gambling stake 
Our fortunes speed, and dissipate. 
It's candlelight and chandelier, 
It's silver plate and crystal clear. 
The nights we stay at Hotel Grand 

I don't think I need to quote any more.  You get the picture . . . and it's not a pretty one.

A sarabande is a triple-meter dance (like a waltz) that first became popular in the New World colonies of Spain.  Baroque composers like Bach and Handel routinely included a 3/4 (or 3/2) sarabande movement in their suites.  ("Grand Hotel" is mostly in 4/4  but does have some 3/4 sections.) 

I thought about spotlighting the second song on the Grand Hotel album, "Toujours L'amour."  Here's a sample verse from that oh-so-sophisticated little ditty:

I'm thinking of renting a villa in France
A French girl has offered to give me a chance
Or maybe I'll take an excursion to Spain
And buy a revolver and blow out my brains

I vote for Spain.

Here's "Grand Hotel":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment