Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Lyrics & their meaning Part 2- A Whiter Shade of Pale

This continuing story of song lyrics and there meaning in some of the worlds best loved songs.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale(1967) Procol Harum

There are people in this world that think that all decent rock music ceased to be recorded after 1972 (the people who vote for the Grammys come to mind). They take hold of a style or a band and never seem to let go. One band that draws this attention is Procol Harum and in particular their first hit A Whiter Shade of Pale.
In 1967 following the dissolution of his former band pianist/singer Gary Brooker formed a song writing partnership with Keith Reid, who sent him lyrics by post. Included in the first batch (?) were those of A Whiter Shade of Pale (or AWSoP as the enthusiast like to call it), Brooker composed >the music and melody. It took him about half an hour, but it was organist Mathew Fischer and not Brooker who stretched an improvisation based on Bach’s Air on a G string or Sleeper awakes (depending which classical purist you want their opinion on) to create the memorable opening riff.
Brooker had to form Procol Harum as a band proper when AWSoP drifted from pirate radio ships and unexpectedly tore to No.1 Even though the production of the song and an ill-defined mono mix the music and Brooker’s soulful voice stood out. It was lyrics that had every one scratching their head.
Though Keith Reid was song-writing partner to Gary Brooker he was actually considered a standing member being included in all band promotional photographs and interviews. Brooker must have seen some novelty value in him or secretly owed him lots of money. Reid was compulsively morbid and interviews he attended with the band usually ended up with him contributing nothing because he spent all his time gibbering to himself in the corner. Which may just explain those lyrics for AWSoP. When AWSoP was first released Jimi Hendrix in an interview with NME brought attention to the song when he said “ when I first heard it I understood the first verse and that was all. But as you hear it again and again you begin to put things together”. Sadly Jimmi died before he could share that with us. Unlike Stairway to Heaven and American Pie AWSoP doesn’t attract the deep analytical studies the others receive in fanzine and on the Internet. In most articles I read nearly everyone agrees it’s about a pair of medieval lovers breaking up during a coffee break between catching the plague and heading off to the crusades and more often than not finish with the cowardly conclusion ‘find your own interpretation’. Reid's own explanation – “It’s like looking at an abstract painting” is proof enough he just stacked a heap of catchy phrases and stolen medieval lines together.
Reid over the years has become obsessed with his little bit of nonsense revealing in an interview with Shine On in 1977 his disappointment in missing out on additional income. “The phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale’ has been ripped off so much ever since. To this day, every day, I pick up a newspaper and somebody’s using either that phrase or an approximation of it. I feel that I should get some of the credit for introducing something into the English language; it’s been used so often. It seems to me it was just a very powerful statement in so many ways…”
Quite frankly if he hadn’t written it some copywriter would have for an advert for washing powder.
This last remark by Reid is shared by Procol Harum’s devoted fan base who despite not knowing what the phrase ‘whiter shade of pale’ means, other than its literal sense, post examples of its impact on the human race on the bands web site. A visit to http://www.procolharum.com/ is a view into the mind of the obsessed. Any title is accused of ripping off Reid’s contribution to the English language from A Deadly Shade of Gold to A white thought in a white shade and Just another shade of Brown.
All I can say is ‘Hue must be joking’.
The sixties had a lot to offer it’s a shame they couldn’t take this song back.

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