Procol Harum

the Pale

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'A Whiter Shade of Pale'

Quoted in a hit single by Sandi Thom and an album track by Emmylou Harris

29 May 2006:  Sandi Thom's single I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker went into the UK singles charts yesterday at No 2. The parent album, Smile ... It Confuses People, is out on 5 June.

In the early months of 2006 Sandi Thom resolved to quit driving to gigs with her band in a clapped-out car, bought a webcam, and announced a run of 21 shows to be performed on consecutive nights during February and March in the basement of her flat in Tooting, South London. The audience capacity in the flat itself was limited to just six people. But the half-hour shows were to be broadcast, free of charge, via her website. The first night, seventy people tuned in to watch; the next night it went up to 670. And by the middle of the second week she was performing to a peak audience of 70,000. At this stage record companies put in offers, and a fortnight after finishing her virtual tour Thom signed a recording contract with RCA.

Ms Thom, 24,  has become the overnight internet star who won a global audience and a megabucks handshake thanks to her investment in a £60 webcam. She grew up listening to her father's records, including Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; she claims the influence of singer-songwriter artists, like Dylan and Carole King. "It was a funny mixture that I'm sure influenced the way I sing now."

At 14 she joined a covers band playing pubs, social clubs, etc, learning a repertoire of classic pop and rock songs by artists such as Roy Orbison, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Studying at the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts, Sandi assembled the group of musicians with whom she continues to perform to this day – and started writing for the band. A period of hustling for work in the music business landed her several jobs as a session singer and a publishing deal; she toured as support with Nizlopi and the Proclaimers among others.

Thanks to the years of hard work Sandi is on the verge of stardom, at last. Her first single for RCA, I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker evokes a bygone era, sung against a clattering backdrop of shakers, handclaps and boots banging on a wooden floor. Sonically it starts very much like Janis's Mercedes Benz. The lyric recalls what Sandi fondly imagines to have been a better time when: "the head of state didn't play guitar / Not everybody drove a car / When music really mattered and radio was king." Presumably there is deliberate irony in the song's implication that Punk Rockers cared for flowers ... or does someone born in 1982 simply conflate the hippy and punk eras which seem so different to those who experienced both?

Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair / in 77 and 69 revolution was in the air
I was born too late into a world that doesn’t care / Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair

Some way into the song, Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale gets a name-check; it's clearly intended to symbolise the Sixties iconically in the same way that 'God Save the Queen' invokes the Sex Pistols' great anthem from ten years later:

When pop stars still remained a myth / And ignorance could still be bliss
And when God Saved the Queen / she turned a whiter shade of pale

Oddly enough you can hear the entire piece for nothing at Sandi's website (top-right corner) ... makes us wonder why the physical single is selling so well? Anyway, good luck to anyone who keeps the flag of AWSoP flying high, we say.

July 2008
John Commons writes to 'Beyond the Pale'

'Just listening to a new album by Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be. One track called Broken Man's Lament has the following chorus:
I was once a broken man
I was once a broken fool
Lost my wife and children
To one basic broken rule
Now I live my life in silence
Though I'm not quite in a shell
I drink and listen to that song
A whiter shade of pale
Oh, a whiter shade of pale.

Mainly country feel to it. Can hear organ in background of chorus (played by ex-Elvis keyboard man Glen D Hardin) and a small crescendo at end: this would be the only musical likeness to AWSoP.'

Listen (for purposes of scholarship only!) to this mp3, which contains every instance of Keith Reid's words in the song ... and judge for yourself the extent of the Procolish component in the arrangement.

Joan May advises BtP that Broken Man's Lament was miscredited to Harris on her CD, and in fact was written by Mark Germino. Michel Birrell adds that Emmylou 'mentions the above song six times: 'drinking and listening to that song A Whiter Shade of Pale' which is sung twice with the refrains 'Ooh,  A whiter Shade of Pale' sung once after the first time, and three times after the second, making six mentions in all.'

More about A Whiter Shade of Pale

More instances of that title-phrase in common parlance

Order this CD from Amazon USA

Order this CD from Amazon UK


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