A Whiter Shade Of Pale

June 13, 2024


This month I’m focusing on Rock Songs of the 60s.


Today our song is:  A Whiter Shade Of Pale


Wikipedia tells us this about the song:


Keith Reid got the title and starting point for the song 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. 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. Claes Johansen, in his book Procol Harum: Beyond the Pale, suggests that the song "deals in metaphorical form with a male/female relationship which after some negotiation ends in a sexual act". This is supported in Lives of the Great Songs by Tim de Lisle, who remarks that the lyrics concern a drunken seduction, which is described through references to sex as a form of travel, usually nautical, using mythical and literary journeys. Other observers have also commented that the lyrics concern a sexual relationship.

Contrary to the above interpretations, Reid was quoted in the February 2008 issue of Uncut magazine as saying:

I was trying to conjure a mood as much as tell a straightforward, 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. I suppose it seems like a decadent scene I'm describing. But I was too young to have experienced any decadence, then. I might have been smoking when I conceived it, but not when I wrote. It was influenced by books, not drugs.

Structurally and thematically, the song is unusual. While the recorded version is 4:03 long, it is composed of only two verses, each with chorus. The piece is also more instrument-driven than most songs of the period, and with a much looser rhyme scheme. Its unusually allusive and referential lyrics are much more complex than most lyrics of the time (for example, the chorus alludes to Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale"). The lyricist, Keith Reid, said: "I'd never read The Miller's Tale in my life. Maybe that's something that I knew subconsciously, but it certainly wasn't a conscious idea for me to quote from Chaucer, no way."

The phrase a whiter shade of pale has since gained widespread use in the English language, noticed by several dictionaries. As such, the phrase is today often used in contexts independent of any consideration of the song. It has also been heavily paraphrased, in forms like "an Xer shade of Y", to the extent that it has been recognised as a snowclone Рa type of clich̩ and phrasal template.







Enjoy! 



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