A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Album: Procol Harum (1967)
Charted: 1 5
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  • Procol Harum's lyricist Keith Reid wrote the words to this song. In a Songfacts interview, he explained: "It's sort of a film, really, trying to conjure up mood and tell a story. It's about a relationship. There's characters and there's a location, and there's a journey. You get the sound of the room and the feel of the room and the smell of the room. But certainly there's a journey going on, it's not a collection of lines just stuck together. It's got a thread running through it." Reid got the idea for the title when it came to him at a party, which gave him a starting point for the song. Says Reid: "I feel with songs that you're given a piece of the puzzle, the inspiration or whatever. In this case, I had that title, 'Whiter Shade of Pale,' and I thought, There's a song here. And it's making up the puzzle that fits the piece you've got. You fill out the picture, you find the rest of the picture that that piece fits into."
  • Reid formed Procol Harum in 1967 with Gary Brooker, becoming an official member even though he didn't sing or play any instruments. "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" was one of about 15 songs that he wrote for their first album.

    Says Reid: "We were really excited about it and liked it a lot. And when we were rehearsing and routine-ing our first dozen songs or so, it was one that sounded really good. But there were a few others that we liked I would say equally - we have a song on our first album called 'Salad Days (Are Here Again)' that was a strong contender. At our first session, we cut four tracks, and 'Whiter Shade of Pale' was the one that recorded best. In those days it wasn't just a question of how good is your song? It was how good of a recording can you make? Because it was essentially live recording, and if you didn't have a great sound engineer or the studio wasn't so good, you might not get a very good-sounding record. And for some reason everything at our first studio session came out sounding really good."
  • Procol Harum had a few more modest hits, including "Homburg" and "Conquistador," but they attracted a devoted following, releasing 10 albums before breaking up in 1977 (they would re-form in 1991). The band was always more concerned with the quality and integrity of their music than with serving the singles market, which them unlikely candidates for one of the most successful singles of all time. When Songfacts spoke with Gary Brooker on the subject in 2010, he explained: "What is a hit? I think that any song that's going to immediately capture people and stay with them for a bit. What happens with a song that becomes a hit is that people want to hear it again, they've got to hear it again. Therefore, that requires what we call 'hooks,' doesn't it? And hooks can be all sorts of things, they can be just a little turnaround in the song. Often the people that aren't musicians, the producers and the people at record companies, are the ones that pick up on what is the hook. It might be an unimportant part of the song to you, but suddenly that is the part of the song that captures you. That's the part that hooks you and gets you in. So if you're thinking of a single, then you've got to have hooks and/or you've also got to have something that's quite different to everything else that's around. I think 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' fell into that category, something like - what's the one by the Irish girl that was a Prince song? 'Nothing Compares'? That's got lots of hooks in it, also. It was very different to whatever else was around musically, off the wall and interesting. We don't always want what we heard last week. It doesn't mean to follow the fads and fashions is what makes a success, often it's the complete opposite of that. The go-where-no-man-dares-to-tread."
  • Gary Brooker recalled the writing of the music in an interview with Uncut magazine February 2008: "I'd been listening to a lot of classical music, and jazz. Having played rock and R&B for years, my vistas had opened up. When I met Keith, seeing his words, I thought, 'I'd like to write something to that.' They weren't obvious, but that doesn't matter. You don't have to know what he means, as long as you communicate an atmosphere. 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' seemed to be about two people, a relationship even. It's a memory. There was a leaving, and a sadness about it. To get the soul of those lyrics across vocally, to make people feel that, was quite an accomplishment.

    I remember the day it arrived: four very long stanzas, I thought, 'Here's something.' I happened to be at the piano when I read them, already playing a musical idea. It fitted the lyrics within a couple of hours. Things can be gifted. 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."
  • In the same Uncut interview, Keith Reid recalled the writing of the lyrics: "I used to go and see a lot of French films in the Academy in Oxford Street (London). Pierrot Le Fou made a strong impression on me, and Last Year In Marienbad. I was also very taken with surrealism, Magritte and Dali. You can draw a line between the narrative fractures and mood of those French films and 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale.'

    I'd been listening to music since I was 10, from '56 to '66-The Beatles, Dylan, Stax, Ray Charles. The period of 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' was the culmination of that 10 years of listening. But my main influence was Dylan. I could see how he did it, how he played with words. I'd met Pete Townshend through Guy Stevens (A&R man and Procol Harum's original manager), and he'd put my name forward when Cream were looking for a lyricist. Then Guy put me and Gary together. I was writing all the time. 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' was just another bunch of 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."
  • The "Vestal Virgins" were the virgin holy priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and home. There were six of them chosen by lot and they were sworn to celibacy. Their main task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta. The Vestal duty brought great honor and afforded greater privileges to women who served in that role. The Vestals lived in the Atrium Vestae near the circular Temple of Vesta at the eastern edge of the Roman Forum.
  • This was the first song Procol Harum recorded. After it became a hit, they fired their original drummer and guitarist, replacing them with Barry Wilson and Robin Trower - more experienced musicians who could handle the subsequent touring.
  • Nearly 40 years after this song was released, Matthew Fisher, who played the organ in the recording, filed a lawsuit claiming that he deserved songwriting royalties for his contributions. In 2006, a judge agreed and awarded Fisher part of the copyright. In 2008, the British court of appeals overturned Fisher's right to collect royalties due to the delay in filing his claim, but it upheld, by a unanimous decision, his composer credit which had been awarded by the High Court, confirming that Fisher's organ solo was part of the song's composition. Fisher was granted permission to appeal this decision in the House of Lords and on July 30, 2009 the Law Lords unanimously ruled in the organist's favour, pointing out that there were no time limits to copyright claims under English law. The ruling means that he now receives a share of future royalties for the track. A delighted Fisher commented: "This was about making sure everyone knew about my part in the authorship." One of the five judges who heard the case, Baroness Hale, said: "As one of those people who do remember the '60s, I am glad that the author of that memorable organ part has at last achieved the recognition he deserves." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Neil - Melbourne, Australia
  • On July 24, 2008, Matthew Fisher's friend and collaborator Alan Fox told Songfacts why Fisher waited nearly 40 years to bring his lawsuit: "In fact, Matthew did not wait 40 years to bring this case to court. He tried four times between 1972 and 2005, but was told each time by counsel that he had absolutely no chance of making a successful claim. This of course was never reported. It wasn't until he met his current lawyers Jens Hill, that he was told that he had a very strong claim and decided to proceed."
  • This was one of the biggest hits of the "Summer Of Love" (1967). John Lennon was a big fan of the song.
  • A video was filmed for this song showing Gary Brooker singing it in various London locales as his bandmates look on stoically. It was made for video jukeboxes, which were popular in the '60s. The companies that made these machines typically paid for the videos. Since these were usually seen in bars, videos like Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" were ideal, but five dandy-looking Englishmen could also earn some quarters with a song like "A Whiter Shade Of Pale."
  • There are two additional verses that Procol Harum used to sing at live events. They're listed on the lyrics page. Reid told us why they were removed: "Originally it was twice as long, and that was partly because at that time there was somewhat of a vogue for really long songs, whether it be Dylan or The Beatles "Hey Jude." So I was trying to write a really long song. But as we started routine-ing it and getting it ready to record, one of the verses just fell away pretty naturally - we dropped it pretty early on in the process. We felt it was just a bit too long, because, the song was like nearly 10 minutes. We were rehearsing it with three verses, so it was running about 7 minutes or so, and our producer said, 'Look, if you want to get airplay, if you want this record to be viable, you probably should think about taking out a verse.' And we did. I didn't feel badly about it because it seemed to work fine. It didn't really bother me."
  • This song has a chord progression that is similar in spots to that of "When A Man Loves A Woman" by Percy Sledge, although its melodic line is quite different. It is the chord progression, melodic line and song lyrics working together that make a song into a unique artistic entity.
  • The lyric, "As the miller told his tale" sounds like a reference to "The Miller's Tale," from Chaucer's English novel The Canterbury Tales. This tale is well known to English students as a vulgar or bawdy story, told by the miller. Given this, the line, "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" is an attempt by a young man, who has just caused a girl to turn pale by telling some vulgar story, to explain away her signs of disgust as due to other things. Such as the dancing, the drinking.

    Reid, however, disproves this theory. He told us: "I'd never read The Miller's Tale in my life. Maybe that's something that I knew subconsciously, but it certainly wasn't a conscious idea for me to quote from Chaucer, no way."
  • Annie Lennox released the most widely known cover version on her 1995 album Medusa, taking the song to #16 in the UK and #101 in America. These are the other versions that charted in the US:

    The Hesitations #100, 1968
    R.B. Greaves #82, 1970
    Hagar, Schon, Aaronson, Shrieve #94, 1984

    Other artists to cover the song include Willie Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Bonnie Tyler, Joe Cocker and Sarah Brightman.

    An instrumental version by the saxophonist King Curtis plays behind the opening credits of the 1988 film Withnail & I.
  • The song was heard in the NBC and Hallmark Entertainment Miniseries The 10th Kingdom, a five-hour miniseries about a teenage girl and her father who are engaged in a fantasy world of the Grimm Fairy Tales coming to life. The scene has John Larroquette and Kimberly Williams, as the father and daughter, entering a swamp, where Talking Mushrooms trick the two to eat them. The song "A Whiter Shade of Pale" plays from just a faint sound to a full audio clip. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Logan - Troy, MT
  • In 2004, the UK performing rights group Phonographic Performance Limited named this the most-played record on British TV and radio of the past 70 years. In 2009 it was announced that this song is still Britain's most played record. The runner-up in the list was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The two songs share one unusual similarity-on both of them the word "fandango" crops up in the lyrics.
  • In the UK, this was re-released in 1972, reaching #13.
  • This song also won a Brit award for Best British Pop Single 1952-1977. It was the joint winner along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
  • Denny Cordell produced this track. He became Joe Cocker's manager and in the '70s started an independent record label called Shelter Records, whose acts included Leon Russell, J.J. Cale and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
  • The German hard rock singer Doro Pesch covered this song on her 1989 solo album Force Majeure.
  • Greg Kihn's novel Shade of Pale takes it title from this song. The song itself is referenced quite a few times within the story. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Charlie - Las Vegas, NV for above 2
  • This is one of Billy Joel's favorite songs. He performed it on his 2014 town hall special with Howard Stern, where he said: "It sounded different from anything else that was on the radio at that time. It had a keyboard part that was the main theme through the record - Matthew Fisher's organ part. There was an element of classical music in it; I didn't know what the lyrics were about, but it took me to another place, it was atmospheric. I lot of the music speaks to you."
  • Procol Harum isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but in 2018 this song was honored in their inaugural "singles" category along with:

    "The Twist" - Chubby Checker
    "Rocket 88" - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats
    "Rumble" - Link Wray
    "Louie Louie" - The Kingsmen
    "Born To Be Wild" - Steppenwolf
  • The song has an unusual ending, fading out just as Gary Brooker starts the first line of the chorus ("And so it was..."). In 2017, an extended version with a very different ending was released. In that one, Brooker completes the chorus and the song resolves in a tidy manner. This extended version runs 5:52; the original clocks in at 4:04.

Comments: 115

  • Dorice from Providence,roHeard this on 99.1 60’s on six tonight coming home. This song sounds as good today as when it came out- talk about staying power. Hard to believe it’s 55 years old. I was 13 when it came out. There was nothing on the radio like this in 1967. Hooks you in from the start of the song. Awesome song by Procol Harum.
  • Armin from Dallas/fort WorthOne thing that seems to get overlooked among the song's hypnotic organ and intriguing lyrics are the killer drum fills between vocal lines.
  • Rusty Russell from Apex NcIt sounds as though Keith Reid has given us a framework for the song but once the song is released to the public it is up to the listener to interpret it the way that best fits his own world view. There are some interesting comments as to the meaning of the song. As far as the best version if ever is subjective. For me the original will always be the best. Some covers are better than others. I have not heard any other covers mentioned however. Sonically I just can't get past this version that I heard when it presented itself some 54+ years ago.
  • Canamike from CanadaA plane flying cross country (leaving for the coast) staffed by rookie flight attendants (vestal virgins) hits wicked turbulence (fandango, cartwheels). I think the other parts of the song refer to the narrator pursuing one af the aforementioned attendants.
  • Diane from AustraliaI've always thought that the Miller reference came from the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin. The Miller boasted that his beautiful, clever daughter was so talented, so above all others, that she could spin flax into gold. The King hears the story and takes the Miller's daughter. If she can spin flax into gold then she will marry his son and heir, if she can't she's to be killed. The Miller's daughter probably did turn a, 'Whiter shade of pale' as the Miller told his tale. The girl of the song was supposed to be a 'vestal virgin' leaving for the coast (College/University) but now she's lost her virginity she isn't that any more. She has failed to live up to parental expectations and turns a 'Whiter Shade of Pale' at the thought and the consequences. The word 'later' could even imply that her father 'The Miller' found out and she turned a whiter shade of pale over her father's (The Miller's) words.
  • David Gargiulo from Teaneck NjThanks so much for this info. I'm going to share it with other musician friends of mine, if I can.
  • Alain P from UkI have found out that the drummer on the original WSP hit record was Bill Eyden. He has history of playing drums with with Miles Davis, Tubby Hayes, Dick Morrissey and the Goon Show. He was most likely supplementing his income by working as a daytime carpenter with my Dad. I now see this as proof of my Dad's story.
  • Alain P from Devon UkI adore this song, definitely one of the most memorable and haunting hits of the 60s. My father was a carpenter in the late 1960s and a workmate of his in Chiswick, West London was also a session musician. He claimed that he was the drummer on the hit song Whiter Shade of Pale. He was paid a flat fee and never saw or worked with the band again. I have not been able to either prove or disprove this story. If anyone knows anything please do comment.
  • Sandra Williams from Washington D.c.Love the song. Haven't heard it in a long time. Thanks for the memories.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Music Lovrs !

    I’m ready for letting everone know the fact now ! The lyrics of the song came from the short story called, Mr. Know-All, written by the English writer named Somerset Maughm. Because I think that both climax are very similar ! Very.
    You can read it on Youtube and also can see how it did.
  • Rich from Las Vegas, Nv, United StatesI think everyone is wrong and something is being hidden. "At first her face just ghostly,turned a whiter shade of pale. "I think they were partying and a girl passed out and actually died, that's what I think.
  • Jay from Wisconsin UsaI can't believe so few people are aware that there is a remake that is not only the best version ever recorded of Whiter Shade of Pale, it's done by someone who will go down easily in the top 5 best guitarists in history. Not opinion, fact. Ironically he doesn't play the guitar on this song, that's what makes it so magical. It's just him playing the piano and singing, that's it. No other singers, no other instruments, it will give you Goosebumps .......
    I am not going to try and sell this to anyone, the music will speak for itself. Whether you agree or not, if you like this song at all, and appreciate talent, you will enjoy this version.
    It's by a Mr Zakk Wylde.
    Founder of the band "Black Label Society"
    YouTube it or whatever you choose for music, its well worth the listen.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanTo Jennifur,

    After uploading my comment below about the interpretation of the lyrics of the song on this page last year, I happened to know the real meaning of the lyrics earlier this year. It did not come from the Titanic, you know! (Laughs) It came from somewhere else. I'm sure that everyone in the world must be interested in it. So I'd like to share my idea with many readers and you soon. Would you please wait it until it happened.

  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaAlways thought it was a strange song.
  • Ron from Clifton, VaThey just don't write 'em like this anymore kids. Such imagination. And if you're into re-living London mid-1960s at the height of British dominance in western pop culture - check out the video of this song....
  • Todd from Gb Wisconsin Can anyone confirm if the line "and so it was that later" was originally "and so it was that lader" meaning "that during the time of loading or lading" as used in old english? This would've tied in nicely with "the Miller" and made some sense with the ship and sea references. So if written translated the line would state: and so it was during the loading of (implication of ships?)as the Miller was telling his story, that at first her face just ghostly(or ghastly in old language) turned the whiter shade of pale.
    I thought I read that somewhere and that the lyric was changed because the song already had so many analogous references.
    I wont even attempt an interpretation and I've studied the two left out verses. Thank you.
  • Michael from C.v. Ca UsaI was born in '53 & this song has always been the go 2 "continental dance" {read; slow dance} tune since 7th grade! + the Hammond organ, tempo, bluesy voice & lyrics all grabbed U like a ballad should. Mostly tho, I think the girls generally wouldn't say no when this number played. Still love it, & reminisce and dance with my wife 2 it.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Music Lovers,

    I think that there always are some traces left behind when someone tried and finished writing whatever they are the lyrics or music. I think that the idea of the lyrics of the song 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' in 1967 came from the lyrics of the song ' A Hazy Shade Of Winter' written and played by Paul Simon in 1966. Because at first titles of both songs 'A Whiter Shade Of Pile' and 'A Haze Shade Of Winter' are almost the same. Also they have some common words on both songs ! On 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' have 'skip', 'for another drink', 'the waiter brought a tray' and ' the truth is plain to see', On 'A Hazy Shade Of Winter' have 'carry your cup in your hand', ' an easy to thing to say' and 'drinking my vodka and lime'
    If the songwriter of 'A Whiter Shade Of Pile', Keith Reid, heard the song 'A Hazy Shade Of Winter' in 1966 and thought that it was a good song and he tried to write a song like this as he described 'It's sort of film, really, trying to conjure up the mood and make a story.' I think it make sense, really ! I hope it helps you understand the song.
  • Ann from Pennsylvania UsaFinally the truth! Now it makes sense. Someone on YouTube said it was about the Titanic.
  • Steven from Urania, La.First heard this song on AM KAAY Little Rock on my Trutone transistor radio. Was so inspired, I pitched a no hitter the next night and struck out 16 during a Dixie Youth game. Could not get the darn song out of my head... 43 years later I still can't!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 18th 1967, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #80; and on July 23rd it peaked at #5 (for 2 weeks) and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 7 of those 12 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
    And on June 10th it reached #1 (for 5 weeks) on the United Kingdom Singles chart...
    The English quintet had two other Top 100 records; "Homburg" (peaked at #34 in 1967) and "Conquistador" (reached #16 in 1972)...
    R.I.P. Barrie Wilson (drummer, 1947 - 1990) and lead singer Gary Brooker celebrated his 69th birthday twenty days ago on May 29th, 2014.
  • Paul from Eindhoven, NetherlandsIn 2067, when this song has its 100th anniversary, I'll be 113 years old and it will still be one of my alltime favorites.
  • Raunchy from Tulsa, OkThis was a big hit in 1967 during the heyday of psychedelia in the music world. I was in college at the time & loved this beautiful song. At the time, many of my friends were puzzled over the lyrics and the meanings of this song. And the word was out that John Lennon loved the song too. This song seemed to be played on the jukebox a lot at our favorite off-campus college pub. Then, people contemplated those lyrics. I read the composer's explanations in interviews, but it's so obtuse that I am still adrift.
  • Paul from Eindhoven, NetherlandsThe Procol Harum version of Whiter Shade of Pale is still unsurpassed, but did you ever hear the Hollies cover?
  • Eb from Fl Keys, FlListening to Glenn Hughes version of this song and loving it. In it's original and various interpretations it has a dreamy-trippy kind of fairy tale quality.
  • Sunsong from Calgary, AbShe 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

    If music be the food of love [see note, left, about this verse + its opening]
    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

    ~ these are the missing verses that we not recorded because they were advised that they wouldn't get air time if the song was too long.
    Suzen - Calgary, AB, Canada

  • Sunsong from Calgary, AbPatsy ~ that would be Sarah Brightman you saw.
    Suzen, Calgary, AB, Canada
  • Thomas from Mannum, AustraliaThis song just sounds like it's about getting totally wasted. Maybe that's what it meant to Joe Cocker and why he did a version?
  • Peggy from Villa Park, IlThis has been my number one song that I stop and get into every time I hear it. It is ethereal, mood evoking, soul stirring, dream-like and incredibly played and sung. An all-time hit.
  • Sandy from Enterprise, FlAlways thought this song was kinda boring.
  • Cid from Argyle, NyI'll always will believe it is "as the mirror told his tale".
  • Petronella from Tacoma, WaIf you are troubled by the lyrics... David Lanz has a beautiful piano rendition of a Whiter Shade of Pale on his Return to the Heart album. Every song on this album was cut at a different European location. The music to this song is intoxicating. I heard it first in 1968 and no other song has surpassed it - it's my all time favorite. Everyone seems to have a different take on the lyrics, however - maybe this is why John Lennon listened to it so intently - it will always be a mystery. That is why this song is timeless.
  • Mel from Midland, MiKeith Reid wrote this after he had a dream about saxs crying and organs wailing in the distance. In the dream he discovered a cave in some New England location and in this cave was many golden abandon instruments. His dream continues to this day . . . making sense only to the Gods of Harmony. I read this in London in some tabloid years ago (1960's). Lennon and Dylan had a conversation about this song while riding in a limo. This part was never recorded. - Caruso, Colorado
  • Paula from Charleston, ScPaul McCartney said in an interview that this song was playing when he met Linda Eastman at the Bag O' Nails club in London and always thought of it as "their song". I love the video of '60s London. Beautiful, one of my favorite songs of all time.
  • Valentin from Beijing, Chinamagical song...one of the greatest ever
  • Fred from Santa Clarita, CaThat woman was probably Sarah Brightman. You know her better for her work as Christine in Phantom of the Opera.
  • Joe from Austin, TxThe song is also used in the 1989 film trilogy New York Stories. The first part, directed by Martin Scorsese, starred Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette, is called "Life Lessons".

    A Whiter Shade of Pale is used in the opening credits.

    The film also uses a live Bob Dylan and The Band version of Like A Rolling Stone as the song which the tortured artist Lionel uses as a backbeat as he paints.
  • Doug from Kansas City, Moabout 38 years ago or so they used to play this song alot at sock hops and also at roller skating rinks (when they quit skating on Fri nites and you could dance). A very listenable song and very danceable too. At the time I had no clue as to what it was about...lyrics then werent as readily available as they are now, eh?
  • Nanciellen from East Weymouth, MaThis has to be one of the best & prettiest of songs in music history.
    Thanks Gary
  • John from Grand Island, NyJohn Lennon was obsessed with this song and played it repeatedly for weeks after its release. Quite a compliment I'd say.
  • Paul from Liverpool, United KingdomWasnt there a lost verse of this found a few years ago that made the meaning all clear? I cant remember the details but I seem to remember it turning out to be about a group orgy!
  • Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnMy mom's favorite song, it really is amazing thanks to the singer's stellar vocals.
  • Kelley from Hickory, KyI am surprised that no one has mentioned this, or maybe I just missed it in the above comments, but the organ intro can be heard in the movie "The Commitments". When two of the lads go to the church to seek out their friend as keyboardist for the band, he is playing the intro during Mass. The priest gives a dirty look into the organ loft. Very funny scene.
  • Jim from Cincinnati, OhI first heard this on our new Cassavant Frere Organ in Rochester, NY, played by a, then, teenager, and when I heard it played on that new organ, never having heard the song before, well, I simply cried at its simple beauty. Such a sound on such a beautiful instrument, and so right for that church. It is deeply religious in its tone, and filled the chancel with a sense of beauty I shall never, ever forget. To this day, when I hear it, I am transported back to that day. to that moment, to those tears, to all those memories. It was during the Civil Rights/Viet Nam, etc., era, and it just seemed to fit so well................
  • Luis from Baton Rouge, LaOne of the most memorable songs of the Sixties! I've always been intrigued by the band's Latin name, noted above to mean "beyond these things" or "something more than this."

    On April 14, 2009, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" won the Times Online (UK newspaper) poll for "Most played songs in public places over the last 75 years," beating Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and The Every Brothers... See:


    I didn't discover this song until I was in high school in the late Seventies but I learned to play the intro chords on my little Hammond organ, and just hearing them "casts my memory back there, Lord..."
  • Chloe from St. Louis, Moi read a quote someplace that paul mccartney had said about this song- "When we heard it the first time, we said 'This is the greatest song ever.'" Must be pretty good, huh?
  • Wayne from Salem, VaIn Latin "Procol Harum" means Far From These Things or Something More Than This. The bands original name was The Paramounts. "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" was originally released as a single with "Lime Street Blues" on the B-side.
  • Andrea from Rome, ItalyWhat is the relationship between this song and the Colosseum "Beware the Ides of March"? They share the same melody, but the latter does not seem to be a cover of the former.
  • Wayne from Salem, VaLove it! One of my all-time favorite songs.The opening chords are beautiful,timeless.After hearing the(Previously unreleased stereo version)from the Procol Harum 30th Anniversary Anthology.I almost prefer the stereo version over the original.Of course they are both great! Plus Procol Harum is one of my all-time favorite rock bands.A thinking man's band.Just like The Who and early Jethro Tull etc.,progressive rock.I saw Eric Clapton for the 1st time in June of 1982.And Gary Brooker was in his tour band.He performed"A Whiter Shade Of Pale".And the lyrics were different from those of the original.Of course it was great with Eric singing along on the chorus.Willie Nelson does a nice version of this song on his "Red Headed Stranger" album.For those of you who don't know all of the Procol Harum catalog.Then check it out.Especially "She Wandered Through The Garden Fence" and "Something Following Me" from their first album (Procol Harum). Shine On Brightly,A Salty Dog etc.,you won't be disappointed. I read somewhere that Keith Reid grew up in the slum section of London.It just goes to show that you never know where great talent lies.-Tim,Salem,VA
  • Linda from New York, NyI was 5 years old when this song came out. I loved it then as I love it now. It always has and always will be my favorite song....no matter who covers it. It is the best song of the modern era, in my opinion.
  • John from London, United KingdomIt was probably the most iconic of all sixties pop songs, so I was surprised to discover on TV's Top 100 Songs, that Matthew Fisher's organ contribution was influenced by the Hamlet TV commercials.
  • Jon from Ny, NyTo Janetlee, Panama City, FL:

    The lyrics to make sense , if you know what the other two verses are (see http://www.procolharum.com/w/w9901.htm if you want to know)

    To Dave, Enumclaw, WA. I don't think they ever recorded all 4 verses (Gary Brooker has been known to play it occasionally). That said there is a recording of 3 verses. You can find it on a DVD called "Live at the Union Chapel."
  • Gerry from Baton, Rouge, LaIf I remember correctly, when the song came out there where questions in an interview as to the lyrics in the chorus that are now thought to be, "that at first her face just ghostly". I remember one of Procol Harum saying that it was actually a Latin phraze. I've been searching for them, does anybody know them?
  • Jean from Montréal, QcTo end all confusion about J.S. Bach's works mentionned concerning AWSoP, here are the facts:

    - Air on the G string: 2nd mvt (AIR) from SUITE no 3 in D major, BWV 1068

    - Sleepers, Awake: SCHUBLER CHORAL no 1 "Wachet auf" BWV 645 (not the intro, but the Choral tune)
    This Choral was also used for the Cantata BWV 140.

    The beginning of AWSoP is similar (tune and harmony) to these BACH's works.

    Jean* -Montréal
  • Fred from Laurel, MdJim in PA--Regarding disco, there were discothèques (a French word) in the U.S. in the early 60's (1964, I believe, if not before--Wiki cites the original one in Paris in 1941, which would have been occupied Paris!--does this mean the Nazis invented disco?!?!), some years before AWSoP. Some here may remember the disco-dancing girls in the "disco cages" from that era. The name discothèque came from the fact that they played records ("disks," thus "disco-thèque") instead of hiring a live band. The "disco" style of music, which derived its name from those establishments, became popular much later (early 1970's?), after AWSoP. So the reference here may or may not be to discothèques.

    --Also, I think the line(s) in "Ode to Billy Joe" that James in Ocala was asking about wasn't that one, but the one that goes, "He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge / And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin off the Tallahatchie bridge." This line has been speculated about since 1967 when the song hit the airwaves. If you go to that song's page here on songfacts, you'll find tons and tons of comments just about this part of the song. My hunch is that if a member of PH told an interviewer that there was a clue to this mystery in AWSoP, then he was just having some fun with the interviewer. And with all of us, who will now go poring through the lyrics looking for that clue!

    Layla, Van Buren, AR--you are blessed with the name of perhaps the greatest rock song ever, and it's a beautiful name, besides. That song and the folksong, "Darcy Farrow" (w/m Steve Gillette, popularized by Ian&Sylvia), are responsible for the naming of countless girls born in the 60's and 70's. I knew a couple, Chuck and Lisa, who were friends of my kid sister, college age in 1972, who named their daughter Layla, because Chuck was a rock musician and was absolutely in love with that song.

    Finally, as an amateur astronomer, it occurs to me lately, and it's probably sheer coincidence, but "Procol Harum" sounds an awful lot like the correct Latin pronunciation of the largest of the lunar maria (those dark patches on the moon), Oceanus Procellarum ("pro-kuh-lah-rum"); it means Ocean of Storms. Gee, am I swift? It only took me 40 years to notice that. So if the band took its name from a friend's cat, was that friend an astronomer?
  • Leftykc from St Joseph, Mojohn Lennon once told me this was one of his favorite songs.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United States"We skipped the light fandango" is a takeoff on a lyric from an 1890 song called "Sidewalks of New York", written by James W. Blake and Charles E. Lawlor: "We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York." Before anyone says that charming little number had to be about drugs, well, at that time "tripping" meant dancing, and "tripping the light fantastic" came from a 1645 poem about dancing by John (Paradise Lost/Regained) Milton! The godawful Spoon River Anthology renders the line as "skip the light fantastic", so perhaps Keith Reid was thinking of that, too.
  • Dennis from Broxbourne, EnglandI've been told the orignal lyrics at the start of the song where, we tripped the light fandango, not we skipped,anyone else heard this?
  • Jim from Somewhere, PaHey, Jak in Seattle...... Just caught your drift (I should have the whole thing) LOL

  • Jim from Somewhere, PaTo: James in Ocala, Fl.
    The line in "Ode to Billyjoe" is " The day billyjoe Mcallister jumped off the Talahatchy brige"

    To: Jak in Seattle: This song came long before the disco era....

  • Jak from Seattle, WaI might add, that the Annie Lennox also recorded the song and did an completely miserable execution of it. If memory serves me, Annie said right after her version was released that she hated the song, and only did it because she was told to do it.
  • Jak from Seattle, WaI love the artsy explanations and the creative conjecture guys, but the lyrics are pretty simple if you just listen to them.

    First off, it's a disco scene. They were dancing and the crowd wanted more, so they were showing off. They were getting a buzz on because the room got hotter, and the waiter brought them a whole tray, probably because everyone bought them drinks in appreciation for their show-off dancing (typical of the disco era).

    The guy was playing his percentages with one of the vestal "virgins", who were apparently were on vacation, and figured he would get "lucky" with one of them. It's apparent they were all pretty drunk by then.

    So it was a little later, when the Miller beer told it's tale, her face was burst just ghostly and she puked all over the place, and that's your "whiter shade of pale".

    Now I do love the haunting melody though, because I have a Hammond B-3 and have performed that number on stage many times. But please get real about the lyrics.
  • Nunzio from Darwin, AustraliaHey, Layla, check out Joe Cockers version.
  • James from Ocala, FlWhat is the connection between this song and Ode to Billy Joe by Bobby Gentry?
  • James from Ocala, FlIn the seventies i heard an interview with one of the band members{dont know which one] but i remember him talking of a LINK to Bobby Gentrys' song Ode to Billy Joe in regards to what they threw off the bridge. They said the answer is in the lyrics of A W S of P. has anyone else heard of this?
  • Julius from Amsterdam, NetherlandsThis song is in key with and resembling of "No Woman No Cry", even more so than "When A Man Loves A Woman" if you ask me. But Bob Marley wrote it later on, so he borrowed chords from this song, no doubt.

    I think Fisher deserves only 33% of copyright to the single. Hope Booker wins the appeal against him, to be honest.
  • Layla from Van Buren, ArThe first time I heard this song was by "HSAS", Hagar, Schon, Aaronson and Shrieve. Then I found out that it was done by Procol Harum first. My dad had both versions. I listened to them both and still prefered HSAS's version. It's my second favorite song, after "Layla" by Eric Clapton. What can I say?... I was named after that song.
  • Kev O'carroll from Helensburgh, ScotlandOne of the two other verses is occasionally sung in concert, usually the "home on shore leave" one, and is also featured on one of the recently televised concerts.
  • Nolan from Florien, LaZakk Wylde did an awesome cover of this song on his "Hangover Music" album. Check it out.
  • Sean from Auckland, New ZealandThis has been my single most favorite song of all time. It was played at my wedding 35 years ago and it will be played at my funeral (by instruction).
    Btw, the Annie Lennox version is OK (he says damning it with faint praise) but I've heard a new one lately from a soon to be released album from Celine Dion called Songs Of Mass Destruction. It is the best cover version I've ever heard. Give it a go.
  • Bill Milner from Whitefish, MtPJ asked about a female singer. Answer Sara Brightman

    She's incredible!

    Check out her songs. "Harem" "Phantom of the Opera" "Time to Say Good Bye" Album, "La Luna"
  • Jeanne from Ontario, CaAttended high school with a gal who had this tune played when she walked down the church aisle to get married! ô It's a great song.
  • Andre from Cape Town, South AfricaI don't know when the comments above was written. A while ago (Feb 07?) I read a newspaper report that Matthew Fisher (I assume it was him) claimed royalties from the band for writing the tune - it was contested based on the fact that they (Brooker et al?) acknowledge it is a straight take on "Air on G-String". His claim is based on the fact that he added a unique character to the song.
  • Ken from San Diego, CaThis is one of the first songs influenced by Burrough's "cut-up" style. Bowie, Lennon, Dylan and Paul Simon use this style. Take a newspaper and cut it up into pieces and reassemble it into a jumble. Give it a try it works well.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesThe first Goth song.
  • Dave from Scottsdale, AzA million cover versions including- Herbie Mann, Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, Wailing Souls, James Last, Sara Brightman, Hagar & Schon, Kenny G, Jimmy Castor (excellent wailing sax), Black Label Society, Gerry & the Pacemakers, King Curtis, Kenny Fife & Bac Trac(?), and Doro & Warlock(??). My favorite song of all time. As I'm lying in my casket, people will be thinking, "what is that tune the organist is playing, it seems familiar".
  • Graham from Surrey, CanadaIs it true they named their band after a freinds cat.
  • David from Youngstown, OhAlong with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," "AWSoP" was honored in 1977 at the Brit Awards, the British equivalent of the Grammys, as the best British pop single of the past 25 years.

    Despite popular belief, Robin Trower wasn't the guitarist on this song. Along with Gary Brooker, Trower formed The Paramounts in the early 60s. The band broke up and Brooker formed PH. Trower joined about a year or so later.

    The band had a few other hits, most notably "Conquistador," a great song. Most people wouldn't recognize the song by its title, some may recall it if they heard it. The song was released in 1972 as a live song with the band backed by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and reached No. 5 in the US. It was originally on the band's debut album and didn't chart.
  • William from Saint Louis, MoI've always felt the lyrics refer to a girl who followed the band, who died of a heroin overdose. In that context the lyrics make perfect sense. "but the waiter brought a tray" is a reference to a plate upon which is a syringe, flame, heroin and a spoon. "her face at first just ghostly turned a whiter shade of pale." I've seen two heroin overdoses and these lyrics fit perfectly.
  • Eddie from Natchez, MsAs of November 2006 organ player Matthew Fisher has filed a lawsuit against Gary Booker for the rights to the song.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, Cagrant from wenatchee, I was going to say this is about a date or something but your idea is much better :)
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesI have always believed that "I wandered through my playing cards" was a reference either to playing solitaire or, more likely, to a tarot reading.
  • David from Mesa, AzThis has been parodied on the British radio comedy show "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again". In a musical bit, Bill Oddie portrayed a seaside organist influenced by the organ part of "Whiter Shade of Pale" and proceeded to perform a version of the bouncy British favourite "Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside". Surprisingly accurate--a Bach-influenced organ line, driving drum part, and soulful vocalising.
  • Illfolks.blogspot from Ny, NyThe opening organ solo isn't "sleepers awake" nor is it a direct copy of "Air on a G String" (both Bach) but a brilliant bit of faux-Bach created by Matthew Fisher, who filtered recollections of Bach through his own creativity to come up with something new. Many felt Fisher deserved a writing credit for this very key aspect of the song's melody and enduring appeal.
  • Matija from Rijeka, CroatiaListen to Doro's cover version... I like it more than original
  • Matija from Rijeka, CroatiaDoro also covered the song!
  • Greg from Victoria, CanadaI think there must be 10 different artists that did this song. When it first came out it fit right in to the hippie movement. I loved it....still do!
  • Grant from Wenatchee, WaAt one point this song was at least in part supposedly a reference to the death of a number of people when a dance floor collapsed domewhere in France. Some of the lyrics support that- anyone else ever have that understanding?
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThe drums on this song are great.
  • Toni from Brisbane, ArgentinaAs many Australians did in the sixties I had a working holiday in London. One of my jobs was at Olympic Sound Studios in Barnes and I was there the day "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was recorded. Little did I know that it would prove to be such a well known and well loved song. I'm sure many songs were recorded there that have been long forgotten.
  • Christian from Montreal, CanadaSummer or 67. the 'summer of Love'. I was 15 and made love for the first time listening to this amazing tune. Always been my all time favorite and will always be. I even wrote in my last will that I want this tune to be played at my funerals.
  • John from Jersey City, NjRe the Joe Cocker comment posted by Erin of New York, NY: It was an excellent bluesy arrangement by Cocker featuring lead guitarist Larry Byrom (formerly of Steppenwolf). I'm glad to know that I wasn't the only person to have heard it (it was released sometime back in the late 70s / early 80s). Thanks to Erin for bringing back a good memory!
  • Linus from Hamilton, On, CanadaMy father listened to this when he was a teenager in Lithuania. He didn't understand any of the words, but loved the music. It's still his favourite song.
  • Barbra from Bremerton, WaI just watched Procol Harum perform this song on a PBS show featuring various 60's groups, and was spellbound by their performance! Even after almost 40 years, the singer's voice was as great as his original recording, and the organ music sounded as hauntingly beautiful as ever! I was in Jr. High when this song was popular, and a girlfriend & I used to try to make ourselves cry while listening to this song...LOL! It seemed to be a sad song, and we wanted to learn how to cry on demand so we could be good actresses one day! :o) Barbra, Bremerton, WA
  • Bernard from Caracas, South AmericaI grew up with the original version, however, now I like much better the version by Annie Lennox (well, she can even sing Happy Birthday and sound great)
  • Wolf Chinnery from Hemel Hempstead,,, EnglandI believe that an istrumental version of this superb track also opened brilliant film "Withnail and I" I wonder if any of my stateside cousins have ever seen this film? It is a cult masterpiece!!
  • Doug from Lake Mary, FlIt has been said that John Lennon, in 1967, loved this song so much that he would listen to it through headphones over & over during long journeys in the back of his limo.

    Upon reaching his destination, he would remain lying on the back seat, saying he had to hear it a few more times before getting out of the car....
  • Phil from San Jose, CaTheir are many comparisons to Procal Harum and The Band. Robin Trower was the guitarist for Procal Harum although I am not sure if it was him on this song?
  • Craig from Madison, WiUsed at least twice in the Alan Parker film "The Commitments" [1991?] First, a church organist and prospective band mate is playing Bach's "Sleeper's Awake" and then starts singing PH's words. At the end of the movie, the protagonist contemplates the rise and fall of his band, and he recites the first verse. The scene, and film, closes with him confessing he doesn't know what the words mean.
  • Aimee from Boston, Maplease please tell me that "the miller told his tale" is about the miller's tale in the canterbury tales by chaucer.

    on a side note, i once did an assemblage based on this song and my misunderstanding of it as a child. "one of sixteen vestal virgins" became "one of sixteen DISCO virgins"

  • Thomas from St.-niklaas, BelgiumThis song is also used several times in one of the 3 short movies of 'New York Stories'. The movie is named 'Life Lessons', feat. Nick Colte.
  • Gregmon from Intelbuquerque, NmI always interpreted this as about being on stage at a club where the drinks are free-- getting too drunk-- messing around with a f*cked up fan-- which the singer really wooldn't have done had he not been so trashed-- because he's married.
  • Chris from Fort Worth , TxThere is also a very awesome remake of this song on an album called HSAS. Released in 1984 featuring two very familiar names Sammy Hagar(The Red Rocker) pre-Van Halen, and post MONTROSE. Also another well known name Neil Schon, who is well known from Journey ,but also was in Santana at one point. The album was named Through The Fire and is out on CD.
  • Kane from Gonzales, LaGreat tune that people love to dance to; nothing
    sweeter than that B3 organ solo. If you want a
    terrific version, check out Jack Mack and the
    -The Kid,Gonzales,La
  • Jordan from WvA great song, and their most popular. Could be considered one of the first prog rock songs with its bold yet soulful organ. Produces a distict, psychedelic-tinged sound that is both glorious and lugubrious, and which may never be recreated. Probably has one of the worst fade-outs of any song ever recorded. This is one of those songs in which you'll never know the lyrics without looking them up.
  • Roman from Cologne, GermanyThe most remarkable version of this song is from Germany´s most favored jazz-musician Helge Schneider. It´s worth to look for it as an MP3-file on the web. You won´t regret it... ;o)
  • Brady from Fort Stockton, TxBlack Label Society released a cover of this on their album Hangover Music: Vol. IV.
  • Janetlee from Panama City, FlI LOVE this song...I only wish that it had lyrics that made sense ! :)
  • Dave from Enumclaw, WaAbout those two extra verses... Has anyone ever heard a recorded version of the song with them included? And if so, where?
  • Sarah from Ottawa, CanadaI love this song...it is awesome. I heard this song on a Fido commercial but it was just the instrumental part of it. It is a cool song.
  • Enzo from Adelaide, AustraliaA couple of extra verses gleaned from www.proculharum.com
    (1)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.
    (2)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 was cardboard
    Seemed to slip right through my head
    So we crash-dived straight quickly
    And attacked the ocean bed.
    P.S.check out the web-site:)it's awesome
  • Christopher from Houston, Txthe female singer who re-made it, flying in air in concert, is sarah brightman. it is on her "la luna" cd and concert dvd; annie lennox also re-did this song
  • Patsy from Laurel, MdLast October, 2002, I was in the hospital recovering from surgery, on heavy pain medication, and was watching an awesome concert with a woman who was singing AWSoP and she was in the air flying during this concert. She had a beautiful voice and was breath taking in this concert. The channel was on something like PBS. I wish I could find out who this artist was that gave this concert. She also had an entire orchestra and guest male vocalist who sang a few songs with her. Does anyone out there know anything about this concert? If so, would you please tell me the female artist's name. Thanks for all your help on this. PJ
  • Erin from New York, NyJoe Cocker also covered this song.
  • Dave from Eau Claire, WiWritten By Reid after he "turned a whiter shade of pale" right before he horked all over his shoes missing the toilet completely.....no wait, that was me.
see more comments

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