A is For “A Whiter Shade of Pale”

It’s time for this year’s A to Z Blogging Challenge to get underway. My theme is classic rock songs. Each day during the month (except for the first four Sundays, I will post a classic rock song: a video from YouTube, along with a brief bit of background about the song and the recording artist(s).

My first song is “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” from the British rock band Procol Harum. It was released in May of 1967 as the group’s debut record and it reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart and number 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was considered to be one of the anthems of the 1967 Summer of Love, and is one of the most commercially successful singles in history, having sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. In the years since, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” has become an enduring classic, with more than 1,000 known cover versions by other artists.

The song was composed by Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher, while the lyrics were written by Keith Reid. Reid told Songfacts that, “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. He overheard someone at the party saying to a woman, “You’ve turned a whiter shade of pale,” and the phrase stuck in his mind. That became his starting point for the song. Reid said, “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.”

I have found the song to be kind of surreal. The song’s lyrics and meaning have been analyzed countless times and many have come to the conclusion that the song deals in metaphorical form with a male/female relationship, which, after some negotiation, ends in a sexual act.

Reid said it was, indeed, metaphorical, but it was essentially a 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 was trying to be evocative.”

The original lyrics had four verses, of which only two are heard on the original recording. The third verse has been heard in live performances by Procol Harum, and more seldom the fourth.

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But 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 the miller told his 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
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have 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

And so it was...

Extra verses:

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

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 straightway quickly
and attacked the ocean bed

52 thoughts on “A is For “A Whiter Shade of Pale”

  1. pensitivity101 April 1, 2023 / 6:44 am

    I have never heard the extra verses……….. not a April Fool is it Fandango?
    Good track though

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Misky April 1, 2023 / 7:07 am

    Gosh, I was in high school then. Is this where your namesake comes from? Or maybe it’s that Spanish dance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango April 1, 2023 / 8:45 am

      This is one of the sources that inspired my pseudonym.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. newepicauthor April 1, 2023 / 7:22 am

    I have a different take on the meaning of this song, and I think that it is about a groupie that wanted to travel around with the band. In the beginning the band is partying in some club. What the hell did this miller say to make her face become ghostly? The miller told her that there was no more room for this girl in the entourage, which shocked her. She knew many of the other groupies that were traveling with the group, and she wanted to be with the band and with her friends. She wanted to be one of the sixteen vestal virgins that would be traveling towards the coast. The guy singing the song heard her plea, but he was not listening as if his eyes were closed. And so, it was the latter, she was not going with them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Maria Michaela April 1, 2023 / 7:54 am

    Great song choice as it has your name in it hehe. But I do love this song

    Liked by 1 person

  5. eschudel April 1, 2023 / 10:21 am

    Definitely a weird song, but everyone has heard it. Good choice for A!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bushboy April 1, 2023 / 1:50 pm

    Fabulous starter Fandango 👍 I have the LP so I knew that there was more verses than what the record label decided to cut down for a 45

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango April 2, 2023 / 9:56 pm

      Thanks. No, I didn’t see the article about Reid’s death. Thanks for sharing it. I’m not sure I have the answer about the two additional verses and why they weren’t used. Maybe it had something to do with the length and a concern that including the extra verses would have made the song too long for commercial purposes or would discourage some radio stations from airing the longer version.


      • John Holton April 3, 2023 / 9:21 am

        There was always the three-minute rule on radio, where you wanted to keep songs under three minutes. The longer version might have gotten play on FM, which was just starting to be a thing around the time that song came out…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. leigha66 April 8, 2023 / 8:42 am

    Oh, a good song to start with. I especially loved the lost lyrics to the end of the song.

    Liked by 1 person

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