July 22, 2013

Contemporary Classics, Compare and Contrast: A Whiter Shade Of Pale (1967-2006)

Procol Harum performing A Whiter Shade of Pale with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and choir at Ledreborg Castle, Denmark in August 2006.

But before that there was -- as far off and faded as the shadow of smoke cast on shaded water -- the 1967 version.... or there should have been, except that nobody, ever, was this young.....

This is the original 16mm Scopitone conversion, from the 'summer of love' 1967 hit record. Vocals and piano played by Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher played the Hammond organ, and these original lyrics were written by Keith Reid;

We skipped the light fandango
turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda' seasick
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 a mirror told its 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
would not let her be
one of sixteen vestal virgins
who were leaving for the coast
and although my eyes were open
they might 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...

Posted by gerardvanderleun at July 22, 2013 11:44 AM
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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.

One of the best popular mixes of Bach counterpoint ever...lyrics hard to place but the music moves you...

Posted by: Dex Quire at July 22, 2013 12:14 PM

He's still got the pipes...thank you for posting this. I've never had the slightest idea what this song is about; I just know that it's true.

Posted by: RigelDog at July 22, 2013 6:44 PM

I didn't pretend that song made any sense even when I was that young.

Posted by: Joel at July 22, 2013 7:01 PM

I really like the Annie Lennox cover:


Posted by: Fat Man at July 22, 2013 7:53 PM

Robin Trower.

Posted by: Jim at July 22, 2013 8:09 PM

Hearing the song always makes me think of Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette in Life Lessons (New York Stories-one of Scorsese's better work).

Posted by: Doug at July 23, 2013 9:08 AM

The original song has four verses. The final two verses were cut to reduce the length of the song to a duration that could be played on radio. The lyrics above make no narrative sense because the final two verses are missing--the story ends midway through, before the narrative is complete.

The song is about a man examining his drunken seduction of a (probably married) woman in a bar, their subsequent sexual encounter, and her shame over the act--hence her face turns a whiter shade of pale.

Also, the "mirror" lyric is incorrect. It is "the miller", which is a reference to The Miller's Tale, another story of sexual seduction of a married woman.

And sorry, Fat Man, but the Annie Lennox adaptation is horrifically bad, nearly a sacrilege. This song was written to be sung as a tortured ballad, reflecting the emotional pain of the singer as he considers the morality of his act and the pain and trauma he has inflicted upon the woman. She turned the song into bubble gum pop elevator music. Puke.

Posted by: Ed at July 23, 2013 11:02 AM

My 3 yr old granddaughter caught me watching this. On the new video I pointed out all the various instruments (beautifully played). I'd started the 60's version, and had to take a phone call. She watched the old version about 4-5 times while I was on the phone. It's good to know she appreciates and enjoys great music.

Posted by: Mark at July 23, 2013 5:42 PM

Whiter Shade of Pale is the most affective piec of music I have heard. I have listened to just about everybody's version. It just doesn't work without that organ.

Posted by: cafengocmy at July 23, 2013 7:28 PM

Thank you for this Gerard!

Posted by: Mary*Ann at July 24, 2013 6:00 PM

The original used an organ (B-3?) and the organist recently won a suit for a bigger piece of the royalties since the song was a bomb without the organ. The court agreed.


Posted by: Jim Parker at July 24, 2013 11:17 PM

This song for me makes me feel they way I did then

Posted by: Steve Hug at July 25, 2013 12:24 PM

I was 17. She was 16. It was our song in the summer 0f 1967. Ahh... what wonderful memories :)

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