The British progressive rock group Procol Harum was formed in London in 1967 under unusual circumstances. In 1966 singer-pianist Gary Brooker, formerly of the Paramounts ("Poison Ivy"), began a songwriting career with Keith Reid, a professional lyricist. One of their compositions, recorded by a group of studio musicians hastily dubbed Procol Harum, was "Whiter Shade of Pale," a poetic song with a melody based on a Bach piece. When the tune was released as a single by Deram Records in May 1967 it rocketed to the top of the U.K. charts and hit No. 5 in the U.S., selling more than six million copies worldwide. A permanent version of Procol Harum was put together with Brooker as frontman, Robin Trower (guitar) and B.J. Wilson (drums) from the Paramounts, and Dave Knights (bass) and Matthew Fisher (organ), who had worked on the studio version of "Whiter Shade of Pale." The revised group recorded a second single called "Homburg," which became U.K. Top 10 and U.S. Top 40 hit, leading to a self-titled full-length album by the end of the year.
Now a full-fledged group, Procol Harem returned in 1968 with Shine on Brightly, which continued their classically influenced bombastic rock style. Following the release of 1969's A Salty Dog Knights and Fisher left the group and were replaced by Chris Copping (bass/organ), another former member of the Paramounts. Procol Harum was now the old R&B the Paramounts along with songwriter Keith Reid. The group remained moderately popular in both the U.S. and Britain with 1970's Home, but not long after its release Robin Trower left the group to begin a solo career and was replaced by Dave Ball. At the same time Alan Cartwright was brought in as a full-time bassist, and Copping became a full-time organist. The reformulated group proved as popular or even more so: their 1972 recording debut, a live album recorded with the Edmonton (Canada) Symphony Orchestra, reached No. 5 in the U.S. and went gold, spawning the single "Conquistador."
With Dave Ball replaced by guitarist Mick Grabham, Procol Harum returned to the studio and recorded 1973's Grand Hotel, another prog-rock hit. 1974's Exotic Birds and Fruit and 1975's Ninth expanded the group's following in Britain, where "Pandora's Box" became a hit. Bassist Alan Cartwright quit the group and had his duties filled by Copping, whose organ duties were taken over by Pete Solley. Unfortunately after the release of 1977's Something Magic Procol Harum launched a farewell tour and broke up. Gary Brooker went on to a solo career, and by the late '80s began writing orchestral music. In 1989 B.J. Wilson died, but two years later Brooker reformed the group in its original form, sans Wilson and Dave Knights. After releasing the album The Prodigal Stranger and touring North America Procol Harum once again fell apart; Brooker continued touring for another with a rotating cast of musicians as "Procol Harum." The most recent Harum-related release came in 1995, when Brooker and several symphony orchestras recorded The Long Goodbye, a collection of orchestral Harum covers.