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Procol Harum-A Whiter Shade of Pale

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Published on Jul 3, 2010

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" is the debut song by the British band Procol Harum, released 12 May 1967. The single reached number one in the UK Singles Chart[1] on 8 June 1967, and stayed there for six weeks. (Without much promotion, it reached #5 on the US charts, as well.)

With its haunting Bach-flavored instrumental melody, soulful vocals, and unusual lyrics—by the song's co-authors Matthew Fisher, Gary Brooker, and Keith Reid respectively--"A Whiter Shade of Pale" reached #1 in several countries when released in 1967. In the years since, it has become an enduring classic. It was the most played song in the last 75 years in public places in the UK (as of 2009),[2] and the United Kingdom performing rights group Phonographic Performance Limited in 2004 recognized it as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years.[3] Also in 2004, Rolling Stone placed "A Whiter Shade of Pale" #57 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The original writing credits were for Brooker and Reid only. On 30 July 2009, Matthew Fisher won co-writing credit for the music in a unanimous ruling from the Law Lords of the House of Lords.

The song was performed and recorded at Olympic Studios, with Gary Brooker providing the vocals and piano, Matthew Fisher on a Hammond M-102 organ, David Knights on bass, and Ray Royer on guitar. Drums were provided by session drummer Bill Eyden. A few days later, the song was re-recorded with the band's then newly-recruited drummer Bobby Harrison. That version, though, was considered inferior, and one of the original mono recordings was chosen for release.

Producer for the record was Denny Cordell and Keith Grant was the sound engineer.[5]

The song was included on the original U.S. release of the Procol Harum album, but not on the UK version.

Reid told Songfacts that he got the title at a party, which gave him a starting point for the song.[6] He overheard someone at the party saying to a woman, "You've turned a whiter shade of pale," and the phrase stuck in his mind.[7][8] The original lyrics had four verses, of which only two are heard on the original recording. The third verse has been heard in live performances by Procol Harum, and more seldom also the fourth.[9] The author of Procol Harum: beyond the pale, Claes Johansen, suggests that the song "deals in metaphorical form with a male/female relationship which after some negotiation ends in a sexual act."[8] This is supported by Tim de Lisle in Lives of the Great Songs, who remarks that the lyrics concern a drunken seduction, which is described through references to sex as a form of travel, usually nautical, using mythical and literary journeys.[10] Other observers have also commented that the lyrics concern a sexual relationship.[7]

The phrase a whiter shade of pale has since gained widespread use in the English language, noticed by several dictionaries.[11][12][13] As such, the phrase is today often used in contexts independent of any consideration of the song. (See [14] for many annotated examples complete with links to original sources.) It has also been heavily paraphrased, in forms like an Xer shade of Y--this to the extent that it has been recognized[15][16] as a snowclone - a type of cliché and phrasal template.

The single was released on 12 May 1967 (UK, Deram Records). It entered the UK charts on 25 May 1967. In two weeks, it had reached number one, where it stayed for six weeks. All in all, it stayed 15 weeks on the UK chart. A May 1972 re-release on Fly Records stayed in the UK charts for a total of 12 weeks, and reached number 13 as highest. In the US, it reached #5 and sold over one million copies.


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

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
and would not let her be
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

She said, 'I'm home on shore leave,'
though in truth we were at sea
so I took her by the looking glass
and forced her to agree
saying, 'You must be the mermaid
who took Neptune for a ride.'
But she smiled at me so sadly
that my anger straightway died

If music be the food of love [see note, left, about this verse + its opening]
then laughter is its queen
and likewise if behind is in front
then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
and attacked the ocean bed

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