Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Whiter Shade of Pale

There's an article in todays Guardian about A Whiter Shade of Pale. It gets a number of facts wrong, not least the fact that Procol Harum's first album was not called AWSOP, nor did it even have the song on it when it first came out. The central argument in the article is all about how odd it was that it became a hit. Apart from the fact that it's odd that many records became hits it was not that odd in the case of Procol Harum's debut single.

It became a hit, in part, by being championed on pirate radio, at the time when these stations were hugely influential. I remember hearing it first on Radio London and I loved it from the opening bars. I, like probably many others, picked up on its pseudo classical leanings - it somehow gave credibility to pop. I was forever arguing with my parents that pop was not as disposable as they tried to make it seem. My Dad was always saying things like, "it has no musical merit." a WSOP somehow proved that it did.

Years later when I interviewed Gary Brooker - he sang it - I asked him about it.

"I learned classical piano at one point when I was younger, but then discovered Elvis songs and started playing different sort of piano but throughout that period I learnt every soul song, blues song and R & B song that there was. I also had to play some classical music and somewhere along the line I heard a bit of jazz but eventually I got fed up with covering things and thought I'd try and write some of my own things. If you take Whiter Shade of Pale it is rather, in fact I think at the time it was quite off the wall, there was nothing quite like it. But if you take those influences - a little bit of blues, but I was trying to play Air on a G String, (He then played it, but fluffed it) I still can't play it! There's a little bit of classical in that but the vocal over the top is just a straight blues really. The words are very different of course so it was really a mixture of all of the things I'd heard up until then."

It's easy to dismiss things from forty years on as boring and not that clever, you hear many people today say just that about this record, but it really was groundbreaking stuff.


r morris said...

A great song; in fact, a classic.

Birthday Girl said...

Ah, Richard, once more you've stimulated ancient memories! I was 15, my first boyfriend was a Procul Harum nut, and insisted making a copy of a Robin Trower album for me. We drove with some friends to Bristol to see another band - can't remember who - and didn't get back til 2 in the morning. My Dad was furious (I can understand why, now). Probably my first act of rebellion ...