Clips & Pix: Procol Harum/A Whiter Shade of Pale

We skipped the light fandango/Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor/I was feeling kinda seasick/But 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…

I had not listened to this Procul Harum classic for several years and caught it by chance on the radio in the car earlier this evening- damn, what a truly magnificent tune! A Whiter Shade of Pale was the British rock band’s debut single that appeared in May 1967. And what an impact it made! Within just a month, the tune climbed to the top of the U.K. Singles Chart where it stayed for six weeks. In the U.S., it reached no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. And apparently all of it without much promotion.

A Whiter Shade of Pale was co-written by Procul Harum’s pianist and lead vocalist Gary Brooker, together with lyricist Keith Reid and Matthew Fisher, a singer-songwriter who played the beautiful Hammond on the recording. “It’s sort of a film, really, trying to conjure up mood and tell a story,” Reid told Songfacts. “It’s about a relationship. There’s characters and there’s a location, and there’s a journey. You get the sound of the room and the feel of the room and the smell of the room. But certainly there’s a journey going on, it’s not a collection of lines just stuck together. It’s got a thread running through it.”

Songfacts also notes the title came to Reid at a party, which gave him a starting point for the lyrics. Brooker and Reid formed Procul Harum in April 1967, together with Fisher, Ray Royer (guitar) and David Knights (bass). The band’s original manager Guy Stevens came up with the name, inspired by a Burmese cat, Procul Harun.

Between the amazing Hammond organ line that’s derived from a classical piece by German Baroque period composer Johann Sebastian Bach and Brooker’s soulful singing, I loved this tune from the very first time I heard it many moons ago. I still get goosebumps. Interestingly, A Whiter Shade of Pale became Procul Harum’s biggest hit by far. The band broke up in 1977, reformed in 1991 and exists to this day, with 75-year-old Brooker remaining as the only original member.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

18 thoughts on “Clips & Pix: Procol Harum/A Whiter Shade of Pale”

  1. Eigentlich habe ich dieses Lied in den letzten Jahrzehnten zu oft gehört, um es noch wirklich geniessen zu können – vor allem, weil es so oft als Hintergrund abgenudelt wird. Aber 1967 war das wirklich etwas ganz Neues und einfach schöne Musik.

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  2. To most people the song explores what it means to be wrecked, in more than one sense of the word, becoming a snapshot of a drunken sexual escapade gone awry, reaching its culmination in the oblivion and forgetfulness of sex. I have a different take on the meaning of this song and I think that it is about a groupie that wanted to travel around with the band. The miller told her that there was no more room for this girl in the entourage, which shocked her. She knew many of the other groupies that were traveling with the group and she wanted to be with the band and with her friends. Since the “miller told his tale” is mentioned twice in this song and one of the stories in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is The Miller’s Tale, this should not be ignored. If you read that story you will find out that the miller’s wife slept with another man and the miller finds out about this and I think that when he repeats this story, it makes his wife turn a whiter shade of pale, because she is embarrassed about what happened.

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    1. Frankly, I never quite understood the meaning of these lyrics, so basically took Keith Reid at his word.

      While I recognize lyrics can add to a tune, most of the time, I primarily pay attention to the music and the vocals. In this case, between Brooker’s soulful singing and Fisher’s amazing keyboard playing, they could have put the words of “Old Macdonald”, and it still would have been a great song, IMHO! 🙂

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  3. The Old McDonald thing made me LOL. Seems like a trippy drug thing to me. It’s like “Come Together.” What the fuck do THOSE lyrics mean? Speaking of which, the Beatles and John Lennon, in particular, loved this song. It is one of a relative handful of songs to have sold 10 million copies.

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    1. …One of sixteen vestal virgins/Who were leaving for the coast/And although my eyes were open/They might have just as well’ve been closed…

      That’s some shit that’s way too deep for my brain to process! While I realize I may miss out on stuff, I mostly pay attention to the music and the singing when it comes to songs.

      When artists come up with such lyrics, sometimes I wonder whether they just make them up. And then get a kick out other folks trying to figure out what it all means! 🙂

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      1. Dylan has admitted in the past that he has done exactly that. I think he feels that some of the “Dylanologists” are fools who are chasing something that has no real meaning, or certainly not what they think. And I am also amused when a songwriter comes up with some stream-of-consciousness thing, likes the sound of it, doesn’t really know what it means, and says – when asked – ‘Well. Each person will interpret it his own way.” Meaning – how the fuck do *I* know.

        I once heard an interviewer ask Elton John what ‘Take Me to the Pilot’ meant. Of coure they were Taupin’s lyrics but Elton just shrugged it off and said he didn’t know. Maybe it just doesn’t matter.

        Here come old flattop, he come grooving up slowly
        He got joo-joo eyeball, he one holy roller
        He got hair down to his knee
        Got to be a joker he just do what he please

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      2. When it comes to lyrics, I guess a lot of it really comes down to how the words sound once you speak them out loud and, of course, how fit the rhythm of the song.

        The above lyrics are a great example, IMHO. These words literally come together very well and perfectly fit the rhyhtm of the tune, which btw I agree is a great song!

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  4. Christian…how the hell did I miss this? This is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s up there with “Can’t Find My Way Back Home”… the imagery this song brings to the table is awesome…not to mention the great singing he did. It’s close to a perfect song…psychedelic and commercial with a perfect blend.

    Great post man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I easily must have listened to this tune tens of times over the decades, maybe even 100 times – obviously, I didn’t count! After all these spins, it hasn’t lost anything. It’s just such a beautifully crafted song, though I still have no idea what these lyrics mean! But that’s okay.

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