June 22, 2015

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

Posted by gerardvanderleun at June 22, 2015 1:36 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I love Annie Lennox's version of WSP. The girl can sing. Just don't let her talk.


Posted by: Fat Man at June 22, 2015 8:31 PM

A haunting dirge-like song. Great lyrics and the right instrumentation to carry it.
I'd listen to this song in varying stages of intoxication or junk-sick sober.
I cannot think of a better way to say good bye to a love lost.

It is better to love a woman and be disappointed than to eat your soup alone.
Take it from me, I've done both.

Posted by: chasmatic at June 22, 2015 11:01 PM

Brooker still had the pipes after all those years. What a voice! That DVD is one worth owning.
Geoff Whitehorn's guitar work alone is a master class for any young guitarist interested in learning how to suit a solo to the material.

Posted by: Mal at June 23, 2015 5:58 AM

Its a cool song that works well but I'll die not ever knowing what the heck it means.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at June 23, 2015 9:27 AM

Chris, I think the writer mentioned something about a love lost. A farewell song for the girl departing and his contemplations on how miserable he now is/will be.

Maybe if we were all stoned on psychotropic drugs we'd get it, shrug.

Posted by: chasmatic at June 23, 2015 4:25 PM

I got it.

Posted by: Van der Leun at June 23, 2015 7:12 PM

Just for fun, I plugged the lyrics into IBM's "Personality Insights Demonstration" analyzer, which works on samples of writing.


Takeaway: Watson is pretty good at this. The day I get back "I love that song!" will be the day to worry.

Posted by: Joe at June 23, 2015 8:12 PM

It is one of those songs I can forget until the next time I hear it. It doesn't whistle well.
Neither does Purple Haze. I can do most if that one except the drum solo.

Posted by: chasmatic at June 24, 2015 8:35 AM

Got to see them twice; once with Trower on guitar and Fisher on the Hammond. The other time with Chris Copping on organ and Mick Gobham on guitar. First time was at the old New York pavilion at the '64/'65 world's fair grounds, second time at the Budkokan in Tokyo. Both performances were memorable. When Brooker hit the high note at the end of A Salty Dog, it gave one chills.
One of my all time favorite bands.

Posted by: brinster at June 24, 2015 9:24 AM