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Boomer Ballads: The origin and history of A Whiter Shade of Pale


“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”. 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.[19] Other observers have also commented that the lyrics concern a sexual relationship.

“Contrary to the above interpretations, Reid was quoted in the February 2008 issue of Uncut magazine as saying:

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 was 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 was influenced by books, not drugs.

A Whiter Shade of Pale

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

{Bridge}

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

And so it was that later

{the following were only sung in concerts}

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 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

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

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  • ghostsniper January 4, 2018, 4:37 AM

    Spooky toon.

  • Chuck January 6, 2018, 5:26 AM

    I loved and still love this tune. At any party in the late ’60s, usually in the early morning hours, someone would put this record on and suddenly all of us who were previously boogalooing or frugging were dancing close like we used to in the high school gym. It was indeed the prelude to seduction.