Procol Harum

the Pale

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A Whiter Shade of Pale in 2005 poll

Commemorating the 1000th No 1 hit single

On the night of 21 February 2005 the UK's Channel 5 broadcast a long TV programme – in the currently modish format of the ascending countdown punctuated with grey talking heads, archive clips and yoof punditry – to commemorate the 1,000th No 1 chart record. The public had voted their top forty such singles and Procol Harum earned a pretty honourable Top Five placing. A special Reid and Brooker interview – if memory serves, they were the only composers talking to camera over the whole length of the programme – was woven into the presentation as follows:


Paul Gambaccini (‘Pop Professor’)
A song which is a period piece can still have appeal if it completely sums up that period.

A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
Procol Harum

Monochrome 1967 Procol footage (live vocal) going straight in to verse one, no organ intro.

This song is the biggest-selling record of 1967’s ‘Summer of Love’.

Monochrome 1967 Procol footage
… kinda seasick

Fade to Keith and Gary on screen; banner says 'Keith Reid, Gary Brooker, Procol Harum,’ but does not explain which of them did what.

Keith looks tanned and well in grey open-necked polo shirt and white tee-shirt; Gary also looks prosperous, but is half out of the picture apparently busying himself with his pipe, and wearing a white formal shirt with red crested tie and red patterned waistcoat. He is looking away from Keith as the lyricist speaks. The scene is apparently a bar somewhere (possibly 'On Anon' in Shaftesbury Avenue, we suspect).

Keith Reid
We had decided, you know, we wanted to do something new, something, you know, something that hadn’t been done, and there were a lot of people feeling that at that time.

Cut to 'Professor Allan Moore (Musicologist)', hirsute in another weskit, at his keyboard, and gesturing expansively to lend weight to his assertion.
It’s very much a song sort of opening up … ideas. You just sit there and allow the ideas to come and allow your own sort of thoughts to take their, to take their direction.

(The Professor will be very slightly more musicological when talking about chromaticism in Bohemian Rhapsody later on)

Back to 1967 footage for ‘the crowd called out for more’

Cut to colour still of the Royer / Harrison line-up (clad in the ‘Chinese clobber’)

Reid (voice-over)
The writing was a very personal thing, it was wasn’t really a commentary or anything, it wasn’t ‘oh, this is a song that’s gonna be …

Back to filmed interview of Reid and Brooker, the latter with arms folded and staring ahead somewhat sternly.

…you know thought of as part of some psychedelic revolution that was taking place’

Cut to 1967 ‘when we called out for another drink … and so it was …’ with brief over-shoulder shot of Matthew Fisher doing the Hammond glissando … so far the only shot of any other musician.

Cut to library footage of Beautiful People in '67 regalia, tie-dyed guitarists strumming, chicks breast-feeding, heads a-tokin' and a-freakin', etc etc

Brooker voice-over
The Summer of Love was never official and it didn’t last very long. We went to, um, San Francisco in America ...

(shots of some big festival, possibly Monterey)

... just at the end of that summer of '67, and it had all changed …

Back to the bar room scene. Brooker now smiling.

The good vibes had gone and everyone had started taking speed …

Reid nods in agreement.
Speed, that’s right.

… and nasty things, and they were killing each other. So it wasn’t quite as rosy as it seems.

Back to 1967 footage: Gary singing end of chorus

The song has been used to sell everything from cigars to paint – and has also been used as an 'art’ flick soundtrack

Brief clip of Matthew in monk’s cowl playing the instrumental break on a C3

Reid (very jovial)
It popped up, I remember, very early on it was in … in some Swedish porno movie

Brooker and Reid
My Swedish Meatball,’ ‘My Swedish Meatball(they look at each other and laugh)

I’ve never seen it.
Cut to film clip of well set-up fellow in white nappy carrying naked girl with over-made-up eyes on to bed … she licks her lips in ostentatious lubricity.

Voice over
And the song still arouses the senses in Flower Children everywhere

Cut to Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, squatting blokeishly on flight cases stencilled with the words 'Status Quo, London'.

That had a profound effect on everybody, that record, the mood, the two keyboard players


The whole mood of that band at the time. It was fantastic

And it doesn’t date either

1967 clip showing part of Trower and Knights

This is the best-loved No 1 among the nation’s 35–54 year olds

Reid voiceover
You can say … you know … that we made the whole world listen to us …

Cut back to barroom

… To realise that, that the whole world listened to you for four-and-a half minutes, to me that’s a hell of an achievement (weighty gesture of right hand).

The programme did not eschew controversy: it allowed Stewart Copeland to speak in a very irreverent fashion about John Lennon, and it homed in on a shameful case of a misplaced organist-royalty: Eric Burdon was unstintingly acerbic about Alan Price, whose 'arranger' credit means he gets the only income from the otherwise authorless House of the Rising Sun ... which mystifyingly trumped Procol! Here's that all-important top nine in full (if anyone remembers what came tenth, please let us know).

1 Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
2 Bridge over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel)
3 Hey Jude (The Beatles)
4 The House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)
5 A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum)
6 Do They Know It’s Christmas (1984) (Band Aid)
7 Imagine (John Lennon)
8 Dancing Queen (Abba)
9 Every Breath You Take (The Police)

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