September 13, 2013

Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

From the ashes of The Paramounts, Gary Brooker and Robin Trower created The Pinewoods. They received an offer from Chris Blackwell’s new Island Records (later known for working with Bob Marley & The Wailers), but the group declined to sign with them. Instead, they signed with EMI, the same company The Paramounts had briefly been signed to, and changed their name to Procol Harum. Their first single, heard below, was their most successful, and was followed up by a tour in which they opened for Jimi Hendrix. Their subsequent singles sold well, but didn’t chart as high as their original. Their albums remained somewhat popular, especially 1969’s A Salty Dog, but with a vastly rotating lineup, their sound from album to album was too inconsistent for a solid fan base.

This song was written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, with some assistance from Matthew Fisher. Brooker, who wrote the music, was inspired to create the melody after being influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite N° 3 in D Major. Keith Reid, who wrote the song’s lyrics, had been inspired after overhearing a man tell a woman at a party, “You’ve turned a whiter shade of pale.” Reid took the comment and turned it into a title, and worked the rest of the lyrics in the song around that statement. After the song’s success, Reid was made a permanent member of the band, despite not playing any instruments or ever singing. He was responsible for 100% of the band’s lyrics until their break-up in 1977.

When the song’s lyrics were originally written by Keith Reid, there were four verses, each followed by the chorus. When it came time to record the song, it was reduced to two verses to be more radio-friendly. The band never recorded all four verses in the studio. Sometimes, when the band performed the song live, they would include the third verse. Even more rarely, they would include the fourth verse. If you’d like to hear the third and fourth verses performed live, check this YouTube video.

The song was released on May 12, 1967 and began its climb of the charts on May 25. Although it stalled at number five in the US, it reached number one in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, and Australia. John Lennon of The Beatles was a big fan of the song. It's rumored that he and his friends erroneously thought that the vocals (performed by Gary Brooker) were being sung by Steve Winwood of The Spencer Davis Group.

album art

Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

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We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kind of seasick
The crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray

And so it was, that later
As The Miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, “There is no reason”
“And the truth is plain to see”
But I wandered through my playing cards
Would not let her be
One of sixteen Vestal Virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might just as well have been closed

And so it was, that later
As The Miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale

And so it was, that later...

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