In 1967, the English rock band Procol Harum recorded the song A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Naturally, such a beautiful song could not go unnoticed and instantly entered all possible charts. To this day, the text of the composition is considered one of the most mysterious and mystical in all rock lyrics on both sides of the Atlantic.
The history of the song “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”
It is known that most rock musicians wrote both music and lyrics to their songs. But there were also exceptions. So, Elton John has always used the services of professional poets. Pete Brown wrote poetry for Cream. Procol Harum also had his own poet. His name was Keith Reed, and he was even considered a member of the group, although he did not sing or play any of the musical instruments.
The name of the composition, and then its lyrics, came to Reed’s mind at one of the parties when he heard the phrase “You have become whiter than pale” by chance. Thus was born the name of the song A Whiter Shade Of Pale, which can literally be translated as “Whiter shadow of the pale.”
Keith Reed wrote the lyrics for four verses, but only two were recorded in the original version so as not to make the song longer, which the radio stations strongly objected to. And without playing on the radio, any song became just a delight for the ears of the band’s fans.
A little more about Keith Reed. He was fond of French “new wave” cinema, which was reflected in his lyrics to the songs. After studying until the age of 20, Reed dropped out of university and became a songwriter.
What is sung in the song A Whiter Shade Of Pale
Already the organ intro, performed by Gary Brooker, introduces the listener into an atmosphere of mystery. Brooker wrote the melody influenced by the music of J.S. Bach. Then the vocals come in. Gary sings too. The text can be called psychedelic, but without any hint of drugs.
A couple dances a fandango, a Spanish pair dance, not very familiar to the British. Young people dance easily and gracefully, which attracts the attention of others. Reed used idioms that Shakespeare and Milton used with might and main, since he was well acquainted with their work.
The dancing makes the young man dizzy, but the couple continues to dance, asking for more drinks.
Then comes the chorus full of ambiguities. “After the miller finished his story, her face became whiter than pale.” Who the miller is, Reed declined to comment, arguing that he was definitely not a character in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which he had not read. This phrase can be interpreted in such a way that the dancer, who is also a miller, said to his lady such that she became whiter than pale.
A man receives a refusal and wonders if his partner is a Roman Vestal Virgin, who were supposed to remain chaste until the age of 30. The young man thinks about all the layouts and finds himself beyond reality.
In the third verse, the girl seems to him a mermaid who got to the ball against the will of her father, Neptune. He looks into the mirror she holds in her hand, and she answers him with such a sad smile that his anger evaporates.
Reed begins the fourth verse with a direct quote from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” – If music be the food of love, which translates as “if music were the food for love”, and continues with his own – “then laughter would be its queen” . At the end of the verse, both the girl and the young man drown, sinking to the bottom. Some researchers of the group’s creativity believe that he managed to seduce his lady, others – exactly the opposite. And some see in the end of the song a hint at the wreck of the Titanic.
The unusualness of the text of the song A Whiter Shade Of Pale lies in the many interpretations of its content, which, coupled with the mystical melody, makes this composition one of the most memorable in English rock music.
The fate of the song A Whiter Shade Of Pale
Interestingly, this composition was the group’s debut single. She immediately climbed to the top of the British charts and stayed on it for six weeks. In the US, the song peaked at number five. In the list of the 500 greatest songs of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, compiled by Rolling Stone magazine, she takes 57th place, and this, believe me, is very honorable.