29/8/14 – Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade Of Pale – 1967

Procol Harum 1967 pic 1When your debut single goes to No.1 in the British charts and stays there for 6 weeks you have to pinch yourself to see if it’s real or it’s just the acid kicking in. It also went to No.1 in Holland, Germany, Ireland and Australia as well as No.5 in the USA and has sold over 10 million copies. Not bad for a surreal lyric based on a Bach ‘church cantanta’ reinterpreted by a bunch of young men from the south of England in their early twenties with a taste for colourful clothing.

The song was written by Gary Brooker lead singer, keyboard and piano player for the band along with Keith Reid who wasn’t actually in the band but wrote the band’s lyrics. In 2009 organ player Matthew Fisher was awarded a co-write for the song after judges ruled that his contribution, although based on a Bach piece, substantially added to the composition and success of the song – the issue must have been playing on his mind for decades!

At the time of the recording other members of the band were Ray Royer on guitar, David Knights on bass and session drummer Bill Eyden on the drums. Eyden was a Jazz drummer who played with Georgie Fame and Dick Morrissey amonst others, he died in 2006. They decided to try and record the song again with their new drummer Bobby Harrison but they couldn’t top the original recording so the new sessions were discarded. Although the song was included on the US version of the debut album, it was omitted from the UK release on Deram.

Royer and Harrison soon left to form Freedom. BJ Wilson from Brooker’s first band The Paramounts joined on the drums and stayed with the band from 1967-1977, he died in 1990. Shortly after Robin Trower who had also played guitar in The Paramounts joined – later Trower beacame a Hendrix styled guitar hero with many successful albums in the seventies. David Knights left the band after three albums to be replaced by original Paramounts bassist Chris Copping. A Whiter Shade Of Pale was produced by Denny Cordell who worked with The Moody Blues, the Move and Joe Cocker. He also started Shelter Records signing Leo Russell, Tom Petty and JJ Cale, he died in 1995.

The video has only three members that played on the record, Fisher, Knights and Brooker and features new members Trower and Wilson. The photo has no sign of Trower but Ray Royer is there in the front along with Brooker, Knights, Harrison and Fisher.

Here’s the lyrics to this classic sixties masterpiece:

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..

These are the missing verses that weren’t recorded because the band were advised that the song wouldn’t get airplay if it was too long:

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 straight away died

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 straight away quickly
and attacked the ocean bed