A Whiter Shade of Pale
|"A Whiter Shade of Pale"|
|Single by Procol Harum|
|from the album Procol Harum|
|B-side||"Lime Street Blues"|
|Released||12 May 1967|
|Studio||Olympic Sound, London|
|Procol Harum singles chronology|
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" is the debut single by the British rock band Procol Harum, released 12 May 1967. The single reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart on 8 June 1967 and stayed there for six weeks. Without much promotion, it reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. One of the anthems of the 1967 Summer of Love, it is one of the best selling singles in history, having sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
With its Bach-derived instrumental melody, soulful vocals, and unusual lyrics – by the song's co-authors Gary Brooker, Keith Reid and Matthew Fisher – "A Whiter Shade of Pale" reached number 1 in many countries when released in 1967. In the years since, it has become an enduring classic. It was the most played song in the last 75 years in public places in the UK (as of 2009), and the United Kingdom performing rights group Phonographic Performance Limited in 2004 recognised it as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone placed "A Whiter Shade of Pale" 57th on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
In 1977, the song was named joint winner (along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody") of "The Best British Pop Single 1952–1977" at the Brit Awards. In 1998 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. More than 1000 recorded cover versions by other artists are known. The song has been included in many music compilations over the decades and has also been used in the soundtracks of numerous films, including The Big Chill, Purple Haze, Breaking the Waves, The Boat That Rocked, House M.D., Martin Scorsese's segment of New York Stories, Stonewall, Oblivion and Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's documentary series The Vietnam War. Cover versions of the song have also been featured in many films, for example, by King Curtis in Withnail and I and by Annie Lennox in The Net.
The original writing credits were for Brooker and Reid only. On 30 July 2009, Matthew Fisher won co-writing credit for the music in a unanimous ruling from the Law Lords.
Keith Reid got the title and starting point for the song at a party. He overheard someone at the party saying to a woman, "You've turned a whiter shade of pale", and the phrase stuck in his mind. The original lyrics had four verses, of which only two are heard on the original recording. The third verse has been heard in live performances by Procol Harum, and more seldom the fourth. Claes Johansen, in his book Procol Harum: Beyond the Pale, 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. 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.
Structurally and thematically, the song is unusual. While the recorded version is 4:03 long, it is composed of only two verses, each with chorus. The piece is also more instrument-driven than most songs of the period, and with a much looser rhyme scheme. Its unusually allusive and referential lyrics are much more complex than most lyrics of the time (for example, the chorus focuses on Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale"). Thus, this piece can be considered an early example of progressive rock.
The phrase a whiter shade of pale has since gained widespread use in the English language, noticed by several dictionaries. As such, the phrase is today often used in contexts independent of any consideration of the song. It has also been heavily paraphrased, in forms like "an Xer shade of Y", to the extent that it has been recognised as a snowclone – a type of cliché and phrasal template.
The song is in moderate time in C major and is characterised by the bassline moving stepwise downwards in a repeated pattern throughout. In classical music this is known as a ground bass. The harmonic structure is identical for the organ melody, the verse and the chorus, except that the chorus finishes with a cadence. The main organ melody appears at the beginning and after each verse/chorus. But it is also heard throughout, playing variations of its theme and counterpointing the vocal line. As the chorus commences "And so it was, that later ...", the vocal and organ accompaniment begin a short crescendo, with the organist running his finger rapidly down and up the entire keyboard. The final instrumental fades out to silence – a common device in pop music of the time.
The similarity between Hammond Organ line of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and J.S.Bach's Air from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 BWV1068, (the “Air on the G string”), where the sustained opening note of the main melodic line flowers into a free-flowing melody against a descending bass line, has been noted.
Gary Brooker said of his composition in his interview with Uncut magazine:
If you trace the chordal element, it does a bar or two of Bach's 'Air on a G String' before it veers off. That spark was all it took. I wasn't consciously combining rock with classical, it's just that Bach's music was in me.
Allan Moore notes in the 2018 BBC radio series "Soul Music" that the resemblance "creates the sense of [Bach’s] music without actually quoting it." The similarity is also referred to humorously in the 1982 play The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard and in the 1991 film The Commitments. Other writers have noted similar "family resemblances" to other works by Bach: the Sinfonia which opens the cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV 156, the organ chorale Prelude "O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde groß" (O Man, Lament Your Sin So Great), BWV 622, from the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) and the Cantata Sleepers Wake, BWV140. The music also borrows ideas from "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge.
Procol Harum recorded "A Whiter Shade of Pale" at Olympic Sound Studios in London, England. The recording was produced by Denny Cordell. Because they did not have a regular drummer, the drums were played by Bill Eyden, a session musician. The track was completed in two takes, with no subsequent overdubbing.
A few days after the session, the band re-recorded the song with their newly recruited drummer, Bobby Harrison, at Advision Studios. This version was discarded, and one of the original mono recordings was chosen for release as the band's debut single. The B-side was "Lime Street Blues", another Brooker–Reid song, which the band recorded at Advision.
Cordell was concerned that the sound of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" might prove problematic on the radio, due to the prominence of the drummer's cymbals. He therefore sent an acetate copy to Radio London, and his worries were assuaged when the disc jockey played the disc on-air and announced: "That sounds like a massive hit."
Release and reception
The single was released on 12 May 1967 in the United Kingdom by Deram Records and entered Record Retailer's chart (later the UK Singles Chart) on 25 May. In two weeks it reached number 1, where it stayed for six weeks. Writing in 2005, Jim Irvin of Mojo said that its arrival at number 1 on 8 June 1967, on the same day that the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the national albums chart, marked the start of the Summer of Love in Britain.
According to music historian Harvey Kubernik, in the context of the Summer of Love, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the "one song [that] stood above all others, its Everest-like status conferred by no less than John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who were enthralled by the Chaucerian wordplay and heavenly Baroque accompaniment". Kubernik also writes that, amid the search for higher consciousness during the flower power era, the song "galvanised a congregation of disaffected youth dismissive of traditional religion but anxious to achieve spiritual salvation". In his 1981 article on the musical and societal developments of 1967, for The History of Rock, sociomusicologist Simon Frith described "A Whiter Shade of Pale" as the year's "most distinctive single", through its combination of "white soul vocal and a Bach organ exercise" and enigmatic lyrics that "hinted at a vital secret open only to people in the right, drug-determined, state of mind".
In the United States, the single reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over 1 million copies. It also peaked at number 22 on the soul charts there. The song was included on the US release of the Procol Harum album, in September 1967, but not on the subsequent UK version. In the Netherlands, the single entered the chart at number 1 in June 1967 and reached number 1 again in July 1972. A May 1972 re-release on Fly Records peaked at number 13 in the UK. Due to concerns about overexposure, the song was removed from the band's repertoire in 1969 for a number of years.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" has continued to receive critical acclaim. Along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was jointly recognised as "The Best British Pop Single 1952–1977" at the BRIT Awards, part of Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. In 1998 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, it appeared at number 57 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". British TV station Channel 4 placed the song at number 19 in its chart of "The 100 Greatest No. 1 Singles". In 2018, the song was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a new category for singles.
The first promotional clip for "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was shot in the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire, England. It features four of the five musicians who played on the hit single: Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher, David Knights and Ray Royer, in performance and walking through the ruins. Only the drummer in the video is not on the record: early band member Bobby Harrison is seen miming to session man Bill Eyden's drumming. The film was directed by Peter Clifton, whose insertion of Vietnam War newsreel footage caused it to be banned from airplay on the BBC's Top of the Pops TV show.
Procol Harum subsequently made a second promotional clip, using "Scopitone" technology. By this time, Robin Trower and B.J. Wilson had replaced Royer and Harrison in the band, so only three of the five musicians on the recording are represented. No performance footage appears in this film – only scenes of the five musicians cavorting around London and running across fields. The same lineup, with Fisher wearing a monk's cowl, mimed to the song on Top of the Pops, although Brooker sang live. Black-and-white footage of the performance has been shown online. The song represents 1967 on the 2004 DVD release Top of the Pops 40th Anniversary 1964–2004.
There was also a film shot as part of Joel Gallen's Deja-View music video series. Originally airing on various networks from late 1985 into 1986, this video starred Harry Dean Stanton and Bernie Taupin, but featured no member of the band. It has also aired on VH1 Classic, and has recently surfaced online.
In 2005, former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher filed suit in the High Court against Gary Brooker and his publisher, claiming that he co-wrote the music for the song. Fisher won the case on 20 December 2006 but was awarded 40% of the composers' share of the music copyright, rather than the 50% he was seeking and was not granted royalties for the period before 2005.
Brooker and publisher Onward Music were granted leave to appeal, and a hearing on the matter was held before a panel of three judges during the week of 1 October 2007. The decision, on 4 April 2008, by Lord Justice Mummery, in the Court of Appeal upheld Fisher's co-authorship but ruled that he should receive no royalties as he had taken too long (38 years) to bring his claim to litigation. Full royalty rights were returned to Brooker.
On 5 November 2008, Fisher was granted permission to appeal this decision to the House of Lords. Lawyers say it is the first time the Law Lords have been asked to rule on a copyright dispute involving a song. The appeal was heard in the House of Lords on 22–23 April 2009.
On 30 July 2009 the Law Lords unanimously ruled in Fisher's favour. They noted that the delay in bringing the case had not caused any harm to the other party; on the contrary he had benefited financially from it. They also pointed out that there were no time limits to copyright claims under English law. The right to future royalties was therefore returned to Fisher. Both the musicological basis of the judgment and its effect on the rights of musicians who contribute composition to future works have drawn some attention in the music world.
- Gary Brooker – vocals, piano
- Matthew Fisher – Hammond M-102 organ
- Ray Royer – guitar
- David Knights – bass
- Bill Eyden – drums
Weekly singles charts
Annie Lennox version
- Annie Lennox – vocals
- Peter-John Vettese, Andy Richards, Mathew Cooper – keyboards
- Luís Jardim – bass
- Tony Pastor – guitar
- Dan Gillen, Neil Conti – drums
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||48|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||16|
|Canada Top Singles (RPM)||37|
|Canada Adult Contemporary (RPM)||2|
|Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)||45|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||77|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||39|
|Scotland (Official Charts Company)||11|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||26|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||16|
|US Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles (Billboard)||1|
|US Hot Dance Singles Sales (Billboard)||2|
|US Hot Singles Sales (Billboard)||66|
- Harrington, Joe S. (2002). Sonic Cool: The Life & Death of Rock 'n' Roll. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-634-02861-8.
- Beckerman, Jim (21 March 2015). "'Walk Away Renee' collaborator Michael Brown of Englewood Cliffs, dies at 65". The Record. Archived from the original on 9 August 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- "EveryHit.com". everyHit.com. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- Whitburn, Joel (2006). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Billboard Books.
- "Procul Harum Signer Gary Brooker Wins A Whiter Shade of Pale Royalty Court Battle". The Mirror, 4 April 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
- "Show 49 - The British are Coming! The British are Coming!: With an emphasis on Donovan, the Bee Gees and the Who. [Part 6] : UNT Digital Library". Digital.library.unt.edu. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- "Whiter Shade 'most played' song". BBC News. 13 April 2009. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- "Procol Harum Shades Rivals in UK Survey". 17 May 2004. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- The BRITs 1977". Brits.co.uk. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
- Grammy Hall of Fame Award Grammy.org. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale Versions – Martin's Collection". Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale Versions – Martin's Collection (archive)". Archived from the original on 15 October 2004. Retrieved 9 November 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- "Cover versions of Procol Harum songs". Retrieved 9 November 2017.
- Johansen 2000, p. 58.
- Simpson, Paul, ed. (15 December 2003). The rough guide to cult pop. Rough Guides. p. 249. ISBN 978-1-84353-229-3. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- "Miscellaneous Keith Reid words". Archived from the original on 15 April 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2009.
- Johansen 2000, p. 59.
- Lives of the Great Songs, Tim de Lisle, Trafalgar Square, 1995, ISBN 1-85793-374-5.
- Knowles, Elizabeth, ed. (2007). "Reid, Keith & Brooker, Gary". Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920895-1.
- Knowles, Elizabeth, ed. (2004). "Reid, Keith". The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860720-5.
- Ratcliffe, Susan, ed. (2006). "Reid, Keith". Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying, & Quotation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280650-5.
- "'A Whiter shade of pale' in common parlance". Retrieved 23 June 2009.
- "The Snowclones Database". Archived from the original on 22 June 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K; Liberman, Mark (2006). Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log. Wilsonville, Or.: William, James & Co. ISBN 978-1-59028-055-3.
- Maconie, Stuart (2014). The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records. Ebury Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0091933807.
- Moore, A., speaking on BBC Radio 4 programme, Soul Music, 11 April 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063z3s5
- Stoppard, T. (1982, p.74) The Real Thing. London, Faber and Faber.
- Parker, A., Introduction to Scott-Irvine, H., Procul Harum: the Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale. Omnibus Press.
- Holm-Hudson, Kevin (2008). Genesis and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Ashgate Publishing. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-7546-6147-4. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- Johansen 2000, p. 68.
- Johansen 2000, p. 68–69.
- Johansen 2000, p. 70.
- Irvin, Jim (Summer 2005). "The Beatles: After Pepper". Mojo. Available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
- Kubernik 2017, p. 191.
- Kubernik 2017, pp. 149, 191.
- Frith, Simon (1981). "1967: The Year It All Came Together". The History of Rock. Available at Rock's Backpages (subscription required).
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 473. ISBN 0-89820-160-8.
- "THE 100 GREATEST No.1 SINGLES". Retrieved 21 September 2006.
- "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inducts Songs for the First Time, Including 'Born to Be Wild' & 'Louie Louie'". Billboard. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
- "Hereford and Worcester - Places - Witley court". BBC. 14 July 2008. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- Robinson, Alan (November–December 2009). "Procol Harum". Shindig!. p. 55.
- Noel Holston (12 December 1985). "Deja View Looks into The '60s". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale - Harry Dean Stanton - Procol Harum". Youtube. 21 February 2009.
- "Deja View". Internet Movie Database.
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale authorship lawsuit". Retrieved 21 September 2006.
- BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Organist wins Procol Harum battle.
- "Judgment in the AWSoP lawsuit appeal, 4 April 2008". Procolharum.com. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- BBC - Procol Harum ruling is overturned.
- BBC News, 6 November 2008, Lords House to hear Procol battle; www.bbc.co.uk.
- "Law Lords hear Harum song battle". BBC News. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
- Bowcott, Owen (22 April 2009). "A Whiter Shade of Pale: House of Lords asked to rule in copyright wrangle". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Victory for Whiter Shade organist". BBC. 30 July 2009. Archived from the original on 31 July 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2009.
- "Judgments – Fisher (Original Respondent and Cross-appellant) v Brooker and others (Original Appellants and Cross-respondents)". 30 July 2009. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
- Gendelman, David. "Blogs :: Crawdaddy:: Paste". Crawdaddy.wolfgangsvault.com. Archived from the original on 1 September 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "Top Singles - Volume 7, No. 24, August 12 1967". Archived from the original on 20 June 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
- "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 12 August 1967. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "Top 40 - week 24". Top 40 Stichting Nederlandse Top 40. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
- "Flavour of New Zealand, 11 August 1967". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
- "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
- "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1972" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
- "Go-Set Magazine Charts". www.poparchives.com.au. Barry McKay. January 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
- "RPM 100 Top Singles of 1967". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
- "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1967". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
- "Top 100 Hits of 1967/Top 100 Songs of 1967". Retrieved 12 August 2016.
- Ryan Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988-2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
- "Ultratop.be – Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade of Pale..." (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Ultratop.be – Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade of Pale..." (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Top RPM Singles: Issue 2736." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 2743." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Hits of the World" (PDF). Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Lescharts.com – Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade of Pale..." (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Offiziellecharts.de – Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade of Pale...". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Annie Lennox". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Dutchcharts.nl – Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade of Pale..." (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Swisscharts.com – Annie Lennox – A Whiter Shade of Pale...". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Annie Lennox: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Annie Lennox Chart History (Bubbling Under Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Dance Singles Sales". Billboard. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- "Hot Singles Sales". Billboard. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
- Johansen, Claes (2000). Procol Harum: Beyond the Pale. London: SAF Publishing. p. 86. ISBN 0-946719-28-4.
Procol Harum Beyond The Pale.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Kubernik, Harvey (2017). 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love. New York, NY: Sterling. ISBN 978-1-4549-2052-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
- A Whiter Shade of Pale: authorised lyrics of all four verses
- "Procol Harum: The ultimate tale of A Whiter Shade Of Pale", article on the song's 40th anniversary, from Classic Rock magazine
- Bill Eyden Obituary
- on YouTube, live video from Eagle Rock Entertainment's official channel
- "A Whiter Shade of Pale" Scopitone film on YouTube