1001 Songs Challenge,  1960s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #244: A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

We’re staying in the UK, dear reader. Yesterday we had the pleasure of Pink Floyd who were formed in London. Today, we’re over in Essex where Procol Harum originated, forming in 1967. Their name is a peculiar one with one suggestion being it is incorrect Latin meaning “beyond these things”, which sounds pretty cool in itself. 1001 Songs did not have difficulty in selecting the next song. Released in 1967, it is one of the most successful UK singles in history and really needs no introduction but for the purposes of this blog I already have provided one. Please welcome A Whiter Shade of Pale.

A Whiter Shade of Pale has some peculiar lyrics, so much so that many listeners have struggled to unravel its meaning, myself being one but I’ve never been particularly blessed in defining songs. Thanks to a bit of research, it seems the song depicts through complex metaphors the coming together of a man and a woman in a sexual relationship. The imagery itself is terrific with mentions of a ceiling taking off and flying away, maritime references to riding with Neptune and even sixteen virgins (that seems a lot!). The memorable chorus dips into Chaucer with reference to the Miller telling his tale and then the classic line of a woman’s face turning the “whiter shade of pale” of the title. Apparently the line was inspired by a conversation overheard at a party.  

A Whiter Shade of Pale was an unexpected but huge success in the UK, topping the charts and shifting 10 million copies globally. At one point it tied with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody as the best British single of all time after a popular vote. I try not to be easily influenced by popular opinion, dear reader, but this particular song deserves all the praise. The vocals are stunning, the music is mesmerising, the lyrics are confusing but you really do not care once the opening notes suck you into the psychedelic vortex. All one can do with this one is sit back and enjoy the ride. A Sixties masterpiece.


Favourite songs so far:

Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Who – Substitute (1966)

The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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