Song: "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
Writers: Gary Brooker, Keith Reid, Matthew Fisher
Band: Procol Harum
Release Date: May 12, 1967
13 years ago, we were still living in our stuffy apartment in Burlington. One day, I was home alone with the baby. She was fussy. None of the usual tricks - feeding her, changing her, cuddling her, playing with her - seemed to help.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" came on the radio with its soothing, ethereal, Bach-inspired organ intro. The fussing stopped instantly. It was my first awareness that she was actually listening to the music. What's more, even before she had the words to express them, she was already developing her own opinions about the songs. A lifelong love was already underway. It was, without a doubt, one of the great musical moments of my life.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" is one of the most frequently played songs in the history of recorded music. It is one of fewer than 30 singles that has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and is a shoe-in for any greatest songs list anyone puts together. It has been covered by at least 1,000 different artists and turns up in movies all the time, most memorably for me in The Commitments:
It is an unusual hit song for the fact that so much of it is instrumental only. Over a four-minute recording, there are only two verses and two choruses. The organ is the star.
The trippy lyrics are suggestive of a sexual encounter, though Reid claims a more basic girl-leaves-boy scenario was intended. He also swears it's not about a drug experience (though they all say that). Whatever the words are about, they're certainly beautiful, well worthy of the song's musical sophistication:
"The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away"
"I wandered through my playing cards."
Procol Harum, formed in Essex, England and active for years, can't be considered a true one-hit wonder. In total, they charted six songs in the UK and three in the US. But "A Whiter Shade of Pale" will always be their greatest legacy, one of which they can surely be proud.