Posted by: pop-break | October 19, 2011

Brent Johnson’s Lost Songs: ‘Conquistador’ by Procol Harum

brent johnson digs up another lost treasure, this week from Procol Harum …

It’s not every day when a fast-food restaurant sound system introduces you to a great piece of music.

But I was waiting for my order at Five Guys Burgers And Fries recently when I heard a song that caused my ears to perk. The intro pulsed with strings. The verse featured a pretty staircase melody. The chorus boomed like a symphony. The words sounded like a ancient poem.

I had no clue what it was or who it was by. Thank God for iPhones. I Googled some of the lyrics.

The song, it turns out, was ‘Conquistador’ by Procol Harum.

Most of the world knows Procol Harum for their massive 1967 hit ‘A White Shade Of Pale’ — a Summer Of Love classic with a Bach-like organ line and surreal lyrics about skipping the light fandango. It was one of the best examples of a time when ‘baroque’ was a common adjective to describe pop music.

The British band — led by singer/pianist Gary Brooker, who later played keyboards on many George Harrison records — had a penchant for mixing classical into rock. They cut the single version of ‘Conquistador’ with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It proved to be the only other sizable U.S. hit, reaching No. 16 in 1971.

But even classic-rock radio — with its endless loop of Eagles and Aerosmith songs — doesn’t play it much anymore. Too bad. It’s a song that manages to be both epic and immediate — the kind of track the Top 40 hasn’t touched since Nixon was is office.

Plus, it’s our Lost Songs selection this week in honor of Keith Reid, who turns 65 today. Reid was Procol Harum’s lyricist. He didn’t sing. He didn’t play an instrument. He simply wrote the strange words to Booker’s lilting music. That’s another thing you don’t see much in music anymore — the standalone lyricist. But it’s quite a cool job.

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