Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum's Brooker reflects on one of the all-time great songs

 Jon Ferguson online • Lancaster PA, 13 June 2010

Gary Brooker isn't sure if A Whiter Shade of Pale will last forever, but he's willing to stick around a while longer to try and find out.

"When I'm 90, then I'll start to believe it," Brooker said during a telephone interview from France.

The elegant song – powered by Brooker's stately vocal, Keith Reid's elliptical lyrics and Matthew Fisher's Bach-inspired organ lines – has survived quite nicely since it was recorded by Procol Harum 43 years ago.

The song has been recorded by more than 900 artists; it seems to show up on every compilation devoted to the music of the 1960s; Rolling Stone magazine put it at No 57 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time; and it is the most-played song by British broadcasting over the past 70 years.

There's a reason for all that: Whiter Shade of Pale is a great song. There's nothing quite like it in the rock canon, and it somehow sounds fresh every time it's cued up on classic rock radio, even though you're hearing it for the umpteenth time.

"If you hear it on the radio," Brooker said, "it still sounds fresh – whatever the mood is, whatever the fashions are."

The song, no doubt, is the primary reason Procol Harum's Wednesday concert at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square is sold out.

Also, Procol Harum rarely performs in the United States. This is the first time the band has played in this country since 1993.

Brooker, 65, is the sole original member still playing in the band, though Reid still contributes lyrics when he and Brooker write new songs for Procol Harum. Brooker, who also plays piano, says they have started work on a new Procol Harum studio album, which would be the first since 2003's The Well's on Fire.

"We're experimenting a bit, and we're probably halfway through what could be a CD," he said. "We need a strong set of songs, as always, so we've got a bit of a way to go yet."

The singer says he had an inkling that he and the other musicians in the recording studio had tapped into something special when they recorded Whiter Shade of Pale for the band's self-titled début album, released in 1967.

"I think I did," Brooker said. "I thought it came out well as a recording. Of course, it was liked by everybody that heard it. Well, they were in awe. They couldn't believe that this record could be made.

"It was a bit strange. If you make a record and you think: Well, that's a great song and we recorded it well, everybody played it well and I thought I sang it well – that's what you try to do. Of course, it's just lasted a long time."

The song has not been without controversy.

In 2005, 38 years after it was recorded, Fisher, who played the Hammond organ, filed suit, claiming he co-wrote the music for the song. Up until then, the lyrics for A Whiter Shade of Pale had been credited to Reid and the music to Brooker.

Fisher won his suit last year. As part of the settlement, he was awarded 40 percent [sic] of the song's royalties from 2005 onward.

Brooker declined to talk about the lawsuit brought by his former band mate.

On a happier note, he likes to point out that A Whiter Shade of Pale was released to the record-buying public weeks before the Beatles unleashed its album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

"There was a great deal of freedom – freedom and experimentation – at that time," Brooker said. "There was the thought you could do anything and it would be listened to – as long as it's good."

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