Which "A Salty Dog" is Best?

21st Century Procol Harum neglect is one of our time's most serious musical scandals if you axe me. That it took until now to get a high quality reissue of this most excellent album, while other less stellar records are one their 3rd or 4th reissue is a leading indicator of the neglect and lack of appreciation for this super group.

Everyone knows the tune "A Whiter Shade of Pale" but how many know this record and many more fine ones that followed? What a line up on this one! Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher, Robin Trower (!), drummer Barrie "B.J." Wilson, bassist David Knights and lyricist Keith Reid. Too much talent and differences of artistic opinion sunk the lineup, with Fisher walking out after supposedly being squelched by Brooker, despite having produced this spectacular record! Damn!

And let's not forget that Ken Scott (do I have to cite credits?) engineered on most tracks of the 1969 release with Henry Lewy (!) doing the honors on one and Ian Stuart (that Ian Stuart) recording the short but tasty blues number "Juicy John Pink" Brooker's vocals on this record to this day produce "the chills" on the stunning opener "A Salty Dog" (a new Brooker-led Procol Harum is currently touring Europe and Scandinavia this fall of 2017). Not going to do a song by song of such a familiar album, but let's just say this lineup, which was soon over, when the bass player, Trower and Matthew Fisher split shortly after the recording of this album, was sensational ( Trower tried to get Fisher back, he returned for part of the next album and then was permanently gone). The album hit Robert Christgau in the right place. He gave it a rare A+.

If the opener, with strings arranged by Brooker doesn't get you, the tender "Too Much Between Us" by Trower will and if that doesn't, maybe the heavy metal-isn "The Devil Came From Kansas" will, or maybe the caribbean tinged "Boredom" will sink your dinghy. The depth charge of a closer "Pilgrim's Progress" Yes, this is a eclectic mix of tunes, but more disciplined than Shine on Brightly the group's Regal Zonophone/A&M debut.

For those who loved this record in 1969 it surely stood the test of time. It still has the atmospheric goods and the ability to send your mind packing for 40 minutes or so, helped by really fine sonics (thanks Ken!). So how do these three versions compare? All are excellent though the new Mo-Fi reissue offers the greatest dynamics, the best bass extension and the most vivid harmonics—particularly on the strings, which admittedly are only on two tracks. You could argue that the originals have more "atmospherics" but I'd argue back that that was the product of distance and haze not on the tape.

The A&M (probably mastered by Bernie Grundman) and the Regal Zonophone have the advantage of being sourced from a fresh tape, which does produce a few attractive but hard to pin down qualities, especially in terms of transient precision, while the Mo-Fi's tape is almost fifty years old! It's held up well. Was this one a safety copy with the original having burned in the Universal fire? Is this the original from the EMI/UMe U.K. vaults? Mo-Fi doesn't say, but lets the record do the talking. And you can be sure the vinyl pressed at RTI is the quietest of all.

If you love this record I think you will be very happy you bought Mobile Fidelity's reissue. Your happiness will begin on the opening track when Brooker begins singing and the strings enter. You've never heard Brooker sound so tonally "Brookerish", nor have the string harmonies ever sounded so lush and "right".

A great job by the Mobile Fidelity team!

Music Direct Buy It Now

DaveB's picture

..how they could get "full size" instruments and vocals (and still have plenty of space) on a recording 48 years ago, and today everything sounds thin, congested and cramped. Does modern convenience gear make it too easy to fail?

Michael Fremer's picture
I wonder all the time about this. However when I hear a really fine ProTools recording (on vinyl) it makes clear the problem is not 100% the storage medium....though I still like tape.... listen to Clapton's latest AAA album for instance....
martinjohnbutler's picture

Cool. I may have to check it out.

Dave, I think it's a digital vs. analogue thing, plus the loudness wars made over compressed product a necessity.

lindisfarne's picture

I'm collecting records for almost 55 years. I like to believe I have great "taste". This record is a top 25 of all time for me. A must listen, if you have not heard it.

Yanakis Dionisios's picture

.........stellar job by MoFi and a truly dead-quiet pressing! The title tune is still hair-raising and I've always gotten a kick out of singing the opening verse of AWSOP to Fisher's verses in Pilgrim's Progress - same changes, and more vintage Fisher Hammond playing. Check out the instrumental ending of PP where each time through, they add a different percussive instrument and finally a bell that cuts through beautifully, a testament to how well the tape has held up and the care MoFi went through on this. I still prefer Procol's eponymous first LP, but Salty Dog is a close second.

wylddave's picture

Thanks for the excellent review of the new MoFi LP Reissue of Procol Harum's A Salty Dog. I'm impressed by the depth and realistic reproduction of Brooker's vocals and Trower's guitar inventions. Matthew Fisher's organ and Drummer extraordinaire BJ Wilson are more prominent in the mix than previous editions. This is a timeless classic on par with "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society", Zombies "Odessey and Oracle", "The Who Sell Out" and Fleetwood Mac's "Then Play On" as one of the finest examples of influential British rock from the late sixties. I once read an article from long ago comparing Procol Harum to The Band. No doubt, listening to this seminal album with quiet backgrounds and warmly detailed analog reproduction makes that analogy work like never before. It's like listening to this fine work of art for the very first time, rediscovering it's nuances and brilliance. Cheers!

johntoste's picture

Love this record! Had the A&M since the get go. I should buy the Mo Fi just to encourage them. I do also have the (dare I say it?) Mo-Fi silver label CD, too. It sounds good!

pmatt's picture

Glad to hear you mention the age of the master tape, Michael. You may have addressed this elsewhere, but I am curious. Has there been a more analytical study of what might get lost with age? Clearly age creates problems like delamination, but what about loss of extended highs, etc? Not to mention "baking" a tape - fairly desperate insurance against losing a tape altogether.

timorous's picture

I just thought I'd mention...

After a long period of neglect, the Procol Harum catalogue has been re-issued by several labels in the last 10 years. These were mostly CD's.

The first serious attempt was from Westside Records in 2007. These contained many extra tracks, and were made from the best analog stereo tapes available. No vinyl for this set of re-issues.

There was a less than stellar attempt made by another label, Salvo. In fact, the Shine On Brightly disc, though made from first generation master tapes, was mistakenly transferred at a noticeably higher speed, owing to the fact that the original tapes were mastered on a machine that turned out to be running a bit slow. This was noticed and corrected during the original vinyl cutting, worldwide. Salvo didn't realize this had been done. They also took liberties with the EQ, and too much noise reduction.

The latest batch of re-issues, from Esoteric Recordings has been well-received elsewhere, and these are available on vinyl, also cut from the original stereo masters (the 1st album was only mixed in mono, so it is rightly mono).

mrl1957's picture

MFSL (their abbreviation at the time) reissued four PH titles on their "aluminum CD" line:

A Salty Dog (MFCD 823)
Broken Barricades (MFCD 846)
Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (MFCD 788)
Home (MFCD 793)

rijichert's picture

Thank you, Michael! I have this on my "to buy" list. I still can't get over last Jerry Garcia and David Grisman MoFi reissue. I bought the last one, literally. I keep turning over the records between The Thrill Is Gone, Russian Lullaby and Arabia.

That said, does anyone know and care to comment about Venus Records, Japan? I just purchased "The Richie Beirach Trio No Borders" record. Amazing album. I hope record company is well respected, unlike Jazz Workshop I inquired before. Thank you All!

bdp24's picture

Great album, one of the best of that era. The review contains one error: Robin Trower did not leave Procol Harum shortly after the recording of A Salty Dog. He was a member for the next two albums, 1970's Home and 71's Broken Barricades.

Garbia's picture

They are still producing great music 2017. Please check it out! 2LPs and yes they are digitally sourced but sound quite good. Most of all a suberb music!

Paul Boudreau's picture

The Japanese CD of Novum has an extra cut (waiting for a copy to arrive). Also, their previous record (The Well's On Fire) was released awhile ago as a 2LP set. It might be better than Novum. Several copies are currently available on eBay (where I bought mine).

PGB's picture

An annoying habit of record companies to exclude a cut only to release on another country's version. There is actually yet another cut (a 'single' version of an album cut) missing from the Euro /North American release.

Paul Boudreau's picture

ASD is one of my all-time favorite LPs. I tend to think of it and "Home" as two sides of the same coin.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

This is one of the best sounding MFSL titles I have heard. Highly recommended.

garyalex's picture

I didn't know this had been released by MFSL. Just ordered it. It's one of my very favorite albums.

fstanke's picture

Speaking of Procol Harum re-issues, I have a copy of Grand Hotel apparently issued by Sweet Thunder, their "Edition 15". I put it on after reading this review and thoroughly enjoying my A Salty Dog, on the Fly label. I was way underwhelmed by Grand Hotel, e.g., lack of illusion of depth: everything "on a screen". My listening notes say this is 2nd time in a couple of years that I tried to listen to this album, and have not made it through. Anyone know what's up with the Sweet Thunder release?

PGB's picture

Haven't heard the Mofi vinyl, but I have a copy of the CD/SACD from Mofi, and to my ears the CD layer sounds better than the SACD. For vinyl, I suggest checking out the recent Music On Vinyl pressing (Dutch, I think) which is quite wonderful, and way cheaper than the Mofi. MoV also released Home, Shine On Brightly, and Home on vinyl - also quite wonderful.

Unfair blanket statement about the Salvo releases - the Shine On Brightly was certainly faulty, but the rest are at least acceptable, some excellent. In fact the Salvo ASD is on par with the Mofi (CD) - some think it's even better. I hear there's yet another re-re-release of the catalog coming.

Btw, a few inaccuracies re the contemporaneous history of the band surrounding ASD: "... which was soon over, when the bass player, Trower and Matthew Fisher split shortly after the recording of this album, was sensational ( Trower tried to get Fisher back, he returned for part of the next album and then was permanently gone). The bass player who left around the same time as Fisher was David Knights. Fisher produced, but did not play on, some earkly sessions of ASD, but he left and his recording were scrapped and re-recorded by Thomas. Also, Trower did NOT leave then - he was prominently featured on the follow-up Home, the Broken Barricades ... THEN he left, but returned (briefly) for the recording of A Prodigal Stranger in 1991.

Still ... nice to see all the attention. Finally!

PaulW's picture

Matthew Fisher played organ and sang lead on "Boredom" and "Wreck of the Hesperus" on the "A Salty Dog" album. He also sang lead on "Pigrim's Progress" along with playing piano, guitars, recorder and marimba on that track.

He was also not 'permanently gone' after "A Salty Dog". Along with playing on "Prodigal Stranger", he appears on "One More Time" (1992),the quasi-band album - "The Long Goodbye" (1995), "The Well's On Fire" (2003) and "Live at the Union Chapel" (2004).

PGB's picture

Yes, true. The 1991 Prodigal Stranger was not "Maf's Last Stand" - he stayed around until just after the Union Chapel gig, after which the real Long Goodbye between him and Brooker started (the co-composr lawsuit). And that was that. I had meat it was Rob Trower who left after Stranger.

Paul, have you heard the vinyl Mofi ASD yet?

PaulW's picture

No, not yet. But I have revisited the new MFSL, old MFSL, Salvo & Esoteric digital releases with frustrating results.

My evaluations of "Novum" and "A Salty Dog" on vinyl have been pencilled in for the end of November when I will have the music room all to myself.

Dual's picture

Just bought this record: I was a big fan of Procol Harum in the day and have early copies of everything through "Broken Barricades". My A&M copy of ASD is in very good shape.

I'll go against the grain here and say that I found the MFSL release super-clean and all, but lacking cohesion. My guess is that the original mix anticipated use of a 2-bus comp/limiter in the mastering chain*, and that limiting was deleted or reduced in the re-release. As a result, for me, the record just doesn't hold together. I get remarkably clear, present definition of the individual instruments, at the expense of a cohesive whole.

*as a retired recording engineer I can testify this was not uncommon practice.