The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #219: Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harem (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #219: A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harem.

Of all of the songs on this countdown list, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem may well qualify as the most literate song of them all. Even to this day, there are many arguments as to what exactly this song, that uses an organ as one of its main instruments, borrows liberally from Bach for its musical structure and tells a story based on Chaucer’s, “A Miller’s Tale”, is actually about. Some say it is about a man being rejected by a woman as he attempts a sexual tryst. Some say it is a song about the hallucinatory effects of LSD and that it has nothing to do with coupling. The creators of the song, Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher (music) and Keith Reid (lyrics) have refused to say, one way or the other, what the song is about; preferring to leave listeners to revel in the song’s ambiguity.

Whatever the case, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” went on to be Procol Harem’s biggest hit, selling over ten million copies worldwide. The song reached #1 on the charts in 1967 in June and is universally credited as being one of the main songs that officially started off the famous “Summer of Love” which swept over the western world at that time. In 1977, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” tied with “Bohemian Rhapsody” at “The Brit Awards”, as being the most popular British song of all-time…….which really says something when you consider that it placed higher than anything by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Who.

As for the song, itself… soon as the opening organ notes begin to play and the first line is sung (“We tripped the light fandango.”), you know you are in for something completely unlike anything else that was being played at the time. In cases of a song such as this for a band such as “Procol Harem”, I am always reminded of the comment I told you about a few posts ago, made by the leader of a band about to play their one huge hit, “If this is the only song people remember us for, I am ok with that. It really is quite a song.” Jarvis Cocker was correct when he said this quote before launching into “Love of the Common People” by Pulp and it is equally true for Procol Harem. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” truly is “quite a song”; one that helped define an entire era in musical and in social history.

Without further delay, here is one of the greatest, most literate songs of all-time, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem. Just as an aside: this video is absolutely gorgeous! What a beautiful rendition of this lovely song! Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Procol Harem, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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