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Boomer Ballads: A Whiter Shade of Pale, live in Denmark 2006

Keith Reid recalled the writing of the lyrics:

I had the phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale,’ that was the start, and I knew it was a song. It’s like a jigsaw where you’ve got one piece, then you make up all the others to fit in. I was trying to conjure a mood as much as tell a straightforward, girl-leaves-boy story. With the ceiling flying away and room humming harder, I wanted to paint an image of a scene. I wasn’t trying to be mysterious with those images, I wasn’t trying to be evocative. I suppose it seems like a decadent scene I’m describing. But I was too young to have experienced any decadence, then, I might have been smoking when I conceived it, but not when I wrote it. It was influenced by books, not drugs.

It was twice as long, four verses. The fourth wasn’t any great loss, but you had the whole story in three. When I heard what Gary’d done with them, it just seemed so right. We felt we had something very important. As soon as we played it for anyone, we got an immediate response.

In rehearsal, instrumentation was added. We had this concept for the sound of Procol Harum to be Hammond organ, piano and blues guitar. No other band had that; it gave us a bigger sound. It’s a live recording… I think we did three takes. It’s equal parts Dylan and Stax. On our own terms, we were always trying to make a Soul record. Funnily enough, Otis Redding wanted to do it, but we wanted our record out first, and Stax wanted the exclusive.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale /Songfacts

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

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

[Verses not recorded but heard in concerts from time to time.]

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

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

If music be the food of love
Then laughter is it’s 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

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

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Brendan July 29, 2018, 1:34 PM

    Wow, this was a slow dance favorite in the late sixties.

  • Dan Patterson July 29, 2018, 1:43 PM

    Oh no! Not that again?
    Right up there with Layla, some other crap with “…you were wonderful tonight” in the lyric, and anything with Michael McDonald in it.
    You guys go with what you like; if it’s important to you then run with it.
    I’ll be someplace else doing stuff.

  • Vanderleun July 29, 2018, 2:07 PM

    Just keeping track of all those old songs known to switch on the Love Light, Dan.

  • Vanderleun July 29, 2018, 2:08 PM

    You Know, Dan, like “Light My Fire” and, dare I say it, “Layla.”

  • Dan Patterson July 29, 2018, 3:17 PM

    Ah Gerard you old devil. Love light…yeahhhh… uhh, wait…no.
    Can’t seem to get the synapses to respond.
    All my best work is done in the dark, so to speak, and touch/smell are excellent energizers. The music stuff is more a boner killer than anything.
    But as always much thanks for the inputs!

  • steve walsh July 29, 2018, 4:30 PM

    Love that song, love that version. I’m not old enough to have tuned in to Procol Harum in their heyday, I came to them by my research into Robin Trower’s background around the time of his release of “Bridge of Sighs”. I suspect you aren’t pimping Progressive Rock with this post, but would point you to a book I’ve read, “The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock” by Dave Weigel. If you like the music you will enjoy the book. Many of those bands were up to some very interesting, evocative, and edgy stuff.

  • jwm July 29, 2018, 5:22 PM

    This is fine. Let’s just don’t descend into
    Feelings, nothing more than feelings…
    And it’ll be allright!


  • Hale Adams July 29, 2018, 5:57 PM

    “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is one of my favorite songs, not so much for the lyrics or their meaning, but for the music. I was born in ’62, and so I’m too young to have paid much attention to the music scene and related things in the ’60s and ’70s in any adult sense, but when I was in elementary school my sister was in high school, and it was through her that I got exposed to a lot of mid- to late ’60s music, and some early ’70s stuff. The voices of Marilyn McCoo (of The 5th Dimension) and Karen Carpenter can still turn me into a little puddle on the floor.

    When I was growing up, my mother was still able to play the piano at home (for her own amusement) before her arthritis put an end to that, so I acquired a liking for keyboard instruments. I can’t play any musical instrument, but I know what I’m hooked on, and I *love* pianos, organs, and synthesizers.

    When “A Whiter Shade of Pale” plays on the radio, I crank it up. Rapture!

    Yeah, I’m weird.

    Hale Adams
    Pikesville, People’s still-mostly-Democratic Republic of Maryland

  • Hale Adams July 29, 2018, 6:03 PM

    A penny’s worth more ……

    Marilyn McCoo singing “One Less Bell to Answer” sends shivers up and down my spine — I stop whatever I’m doing and just let her voice soak in ……..


  • pbird July 29, 2018, 6:20 PM

    Is a very dreamlike song for me. I was living alone for the first time up on Capital Hill in Seattle on the third floor of a brick building that summer. It was so hot. I remember playing that band, and Bill Evans album, Romaine. Funny how it works, memory.

  • pbird July 29, 2018, 6:28 PM

    Spirit goes in that time slot too.

  • Casey Klahn July 29, 2018, 8:37 PM

    It’s a Romantic song (Big R). Meta-R.

    Not a ballad, Gerard – an anthem.

  • ghostsniper July 30, 2018, 4:24 AM

    “I can’t play any musical instrument…”

    Yes you can.

  • Jack July 30, 2018, 8:16 AM

    JWM…love the comment. Made my morning! Thanks

  • RigelDog July 30, 2018, 1:47 PM

    ….and just like that, it’s 1978 and we’re all so impossibly young and dreaming and beautiful….

  • ostinato August 3, 2018, 12:23 AM

    Not one honorable mention to JS Bach ? The classical musicians performing this most all knew the plagiarism in which they were partaking. Hat tip to Bach, not appriciated in his own time- nor then nor now.