Saturday, June 28, 2008


I just discovered that today happens to be the birthday of two members of Procol Harum, the band best remembered for their Summer of Love smash hit,

“A Whiter Shade of Pale”

(AWSoP). In honor of that, I’m going to offer some of the trivia I found, concerning the interpretation of the song, and of the band’s name. I won’t go into the in-depth merits of each one, or we’ll be here for months. Let’s just have some fun and see what there is to see about this classic oldie. Hang onto something to keep you well grounded, and let’s take a look.

At one time or other it had been claimed, verified, suggested, proven, disproven, and/or rumored about AWHoP that…

1) the melody was lifted from or inspired by J.S. Bach’s
"Air on a G-String” (Oh pull-leez, you just had to snicker didn’t you? You know perfectly well what that means!)

2) the melody was lifted or inspired by J.S. Bach’s
"Sleepers, Awake” (Well, both Bach pieces have some AWSoP moments, you decide)

3) the melody resembles (or at least has the same chord progression as) “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge. WAMLAW actually was recorded one year ahead of AWSoP, so perhaps the inspiration goes the other way ‘round.

4) the lyrics refer are a boy/girl breakup theme revolving around nautical imagery.

5) the lyrics are about a boy/girl breakup theme involving drugs.

6) the lyrics contain the elusive “answer” to what Billie Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Bobbie Gentry’s hit song, “Ode to Billie Joe.” This one particularly interested me, since I love OTBJ (does anyone else find these abbreviations as annoying as I do?) and wrote about it at length in my book, but, the answer? I think someone is pulling someone's leg.

7) the lyrics contain references to a) Roman/Greek mythology - Vestal Virgins, Neptune in the extra verse b) Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales” – The Miller’s Tale c) Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love…” and d) Milton’s L’Allegro, “light fantastic” which may have morphed into “light fandango.” I’ll add an e) to the list – I think that “playing cards” and “looking glass” could be an oblique reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (also see June 10/08 post).

8) the band’s name was borrowed from a pedigree cat.

9) the band’s name, Procol Harum, is “dog-Latin” (not to be confused with pig-Latin), which is kind of another way of saying bad Latin, and it might mean, more or less, any of the following: beyond those things, beyond these things, beyond that which is, far out.

Ah, the late ‘60s – AGTWHBA! (a good time was had by all)

Image of Bach, Vestal Virgin from Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous said...

A great page about this song is

Are you sure about the birthdays?

Deborah Godin said...

Thanks for your comment. Yes, that's an excellent site for AWSoP trivia and info. As for the birthdays, here's the site where I first came across the dates (I confirmed them with one other source,too) Still could be incorrect I suppose; we know how mistakes in online lyrics "go viral" all the time...

Quiet Paths said...

What a riot! I'm still smiling. Gee....Matt breaks his G string all the time.... hmmm.