What to say about A Whiter Shade of Pale? This is one of the essential songs. I grew to love it as a result of it showing up on the soundtrack of some of my favorite movies. If you’re watching a film that’s set in the 60s, chances are that you’re going to hear A Whiter Shade of Pale at some point. (The song is also used to haunting effect in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves.) To be honest, even before I knew the song’s title or that it was originally recorded in 1967 by a group called Procol Harum, I knew that organ melody.
A Whiter Shade of Pale was one of the biggest hits of 1967. John Lennon reportedly loved it so much that he would often play it over and over again in his limousine. I don’t blame him. It’s good driving music. There’s a lot of debate as to what exactly the song is actually about. Who or what are the Vestal Virgins meant to represent? Who is skipping the light fandango? What’s up with feeling seasick?
Here’s what lyricist Ken Reid told Songfacts about the song’s meaning:
“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….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.”
As for the video itself, this is actually the second video that was made for A Whiter Shade of Pale. (Of course, in 1967, they were called promotional films and they often played on a type of jukebox known as a scopitone.) The first video featured footage of the band walking through the ruins of a castle and playing the song. It also featured a few quick cuts of Vietnam War footage. This was considered so controversial that Top of the Pops banned the video from airing. Hence, a second, far less political video was filmed.
(Apparently, a third video was filmed in the 80s. It featured Harry Dean Stanton and, since it’s on YouTube, maybe we’ll feature it at some point in the future.)
Anyway, I really like the video above. It’s a real time capsule, even if it is bereft of references to Vietnam. I like the fact that the members of the band appear to be struggling to keep a straight face throughout most of the video.
Plus, it’s just a kickass song!