You’ve Turned A Whiter Shade Of Pale!

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Procol Harum

In June 1967, Procol Harum went to number 1 on the UK singles chart with a song that over 40 years later would be named the most-played record of the past 70 years (with more than 900 known recorded versions by other artists).
The song, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.

John Lennon was said to be a great fan of the song and was known to have played it repeatedly on the record player fitted in his psychedelic Rolls Royce. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” became a huge hit around the world, reached number 5 on the US charts, and is now one of fewer than 30 singles to have sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

With its haunting Bach-inspired instrumental organ motif, soulful vocals and unusual lyrics, the song is said to have been inspired by a conversation lyricist Keith Reid heard at a party, when a man said to a woman “You’ve turned a whiter shade of pale,” and the phrase stuck in his mind.

The Hammond organ line of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sleepers, Wake!” and “Air on the G String” but contrary to popular belief, the song is not a direct copy or paraphrase of any music by Bach although it makes clear references to both pieces. The music also borrows ideas from “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge.

The song was recorded at Olympic Studios in London, England, with Gary Brooker providing the vocals and piano, Matthew Fisher on a Hammond M-102 organ, David Knights on bass and Ray Royer on guitar. Drums were by session drummer Bill Eyden. A few days later, the song was re-recorded with the band’s then newly recruited drummer Bobby Harrison, but that version was discarded and one of the original mono recordings was chosen for release.

For session drummer Bill Eyden, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” became his most famous recording, for which he was paid the princely sum of 15 guineas, (which was around £15.50 or $25). Sadly, Bill died on 15th Oct 2004.

Later, the Illinois Crime Commission included the song in a list of ‘drug-oriented records’ (along with “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, and The Beatles “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”), which is always good for a few extra sales.

Unfortunately, the song has dragged its authors through the courts over the past few years. Now, try and keep up, this gets complicated:

Although for almost 40 years the song had been credited to lead singer Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid, Matthew Fisher, a founding member of Procol Harum, recently won a High Court battle over who wrote the song. Fisher, who played organ on the hit, argued he wrote the distinctive organ motif. A judge ruled he was entitled to 40% of the copyright; Fisher had wanted half but the court decided lead singer Gary Brooker’s input was more substantial. Fisher’s claim for back royalties – of up to £1m – was also rejected.

Back in court, singer Gary Brooker then regained full royalty rights to the song at London’s Court of Appeal, the court ruling there was an “excessive delay” in the claim being made. However, Fisher then took the case to the UK House of Lords, who unanimously ruled in Fisher’s favour on 30 July 2009. They noted that the delay in bringing the case had not caused any harm to the other party (Gary Brooker), and the right to future royalties was therefore returned to Fisher.
I hope they’re all still friends.

And now, for a lighter shade of tale, an interesting fact. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” was named joint winner of the Best British Pop Single 1952–1977 at the first BRIT Awards, along with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody“.

Both songs contain the word ‘fandango’.

Important Dates In The Life Of Procol Harum:

On this day in music
23 Mar 2023
Keith Reid from Procol Harum, died aged 76 from colon cancer. They scored the 1967 UK No.1 & US No.5 single 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' (one of the few singles to have sold over 10 million copies) and the hits 'Homburg', 'Conquistador'. Reid wrote all the band's lyrics, but was not a performing member. As a songwriter, he also co-wrote 'You're the Voice', a UK 1986 top-10 hit for Australian singer John Farnham.
19 Feb 2022
Gary Brooker died from cancer at the age of 76. The English singer, songwriter, pianist was the founder of the rock band Procol Harum who had the 1967 UK No.1 and US No.5 single 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale', (one of the few singles to have sold over 10 million copies) and scored the hits 'Homburg' and 'Conquistador'. Brooker founded The Paramounts in 1962 with his guitarist friend Robin Trower and has also worked with Eric Clapton, Alan Parsons and Ringo Starr. Brooker also contributed to various George Harrison albums including All Things Must Pass (1970).
4 Mar 2021
Procol Harum’s former bassist Alan Cartwright died aged 75. He was part of the band’s line-up between 1971 and 1976, playing on four albums including their ground-breaking 1972 release Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
30 Jul 2009
Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher won his long battle to be recognised as co-writer of the band's hit ’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. Law Lords ruled that Fisher, who claimed he wrote the song's organ melody, was entitled to a share of future royalties. In 2006, the High Court ruled he was entitled to 40% of the copyright, but the Court Of Appeal overturned the ruling in 2008 saying he waited too long, 38 years, to bring the case to court.
13 Apr 2009
Procol Harum's 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' was the most played song in public places in the past 75 years, according to a chart compiled for BBC Radio 2. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was at number two followed by 'All I Have To Do Is Dream' by the Everly Brothers. Wet Wet Wet's 1994 hit, 'Love Is All Around', was at number four followed by Bryan Adams's 1991 hit '(Everything I Do), I Do It For You.'
4 Apr 2008
Procol Harum singer Gary Brooker won back full royalty rights to the band's worldwide hit, ’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ at London's Court of Appeal. The decision overturned a 2006 ruling that organist Matthew Fisher was entitled to a 40% portion of royalties on the 1967 hit after he argued he had written the song's organ melody. The court ruled there was an 'excessive delay' in the claim being made - nearly 40 years after the song was recorded.
20 Dec 2006
Matthew Fisher, a founding member of Procol Harum won a High Court battle over who wrote their song '’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’. Fisher who played organ on the 1967 hit had argued he wrote the distinctive organ melody, but Mr Justice Blackburne ruled he was entitled to just 40% of the copyright, (rather than the 50% he was seeking). The court decided lead singer Gary Brooker's input was more substantial and Fisher's claim for back royalties - of up to £1m - was also rejected. For almost 40 years, the song had been credited to lead singer Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid.
15 Oct 2004
Bill Eyden, the session drummer hired to play on Procol Harum's ’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ died after a lengthy illness at the age of 74. Eyden also worked with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Charlie Watts and was a member of the resident trio, led by Stan Tracey, at Ronnie Scott's club in London, England until the late 60s.
28 Aug 1981
Producer Guy Stevens died at the age of 38 years old, having overdosed on prescription drugs he was taking to reduce his alcohol dependency. He worked with Mott The Hoople, Free and The Clash. He was the president of the Chuck Berry Appreciation Society and it was Stevens who brought Berry to the UK for his first tour. He gave Procol Harum and Mott the Hoople their distinctive names.
31 Aug 1974
Traffic made their last live performance at the annual UK Reading Festival. Other acts appearing included; Alex Harvey, 10cc, Focus, Steve Harley and Procol Harum. £5.50 for a weekend ticket.
3 Jul 1973
Laurens Hammond the inventor of the Hammond organ died aged 73. Many rock artists including Procol Harum, Keith Emerson, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Allman Brothers Band and the Faces featured the sound of the Hammond. He also invented a silent spring-driven clock and during the second world war he helped design guided missile systems.
14 Apr 1971
The Illinois Crime Commission issued a list of 'drug-oriented records' including 'White Rabbit' by Jefferson Airplane, ’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ by Procol Harum and The Beatles 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.'
26 Aug 1970
Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, (his last ever UK appearance), Donovan, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, Arrival, Cactus, Family, Taste, Mungo Jerry, ELP, The Doors, The Who, Spirit, The Moody Blues, Chicago, Procol Harum, Sly and the Family Stone and Free all appeared over three days at the third  Isle Of Wight Festival. Weekend tickets, £3.
1 Aug 1969
The three day US Atlantic City Pop Festival took place at the Atlantic City race track with B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Santana, Three Dog Night, Dr John, Procol Harum, Arthur Brown, Iron Butterfly, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Little Richard, Tim Buckley, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Mothers Of Invention and Canned Heat. Joni Mitchell started to cry and ran off stage in the middle of her third song because the crowd was not paying attention to her performance.
28 Dec 1968
The three day Miami Pop festival took place, the first major rock festival held on the East Coast of the US, with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Chuck Berry, The McCoys, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, The Turtles, The Box Tops, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Pacific Gas and Electric, Procol Harum, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly and Grateful Dead.
26 Oct 1968
The two day San Francisco Pop Festival was held at Alameda County Fairgrounds. The Animals, Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Deep Purple, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Canned Heat all appeared.
3 Jul 1967
A private party was held at the Speakeasy Club in London, England for The Monkees. Guests included: John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Dusty Springfield, Eric Clapton, Lulu and all the members from Manfred Mann, The Who and Procol Harum.
24 Jun 1967
Procol Harum's ’A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ entered the Billboard chart, where it would peak at No 5. The song was written by the band around a melody composed by the group's organist, Matthew Fisher, who was inspired by the chord progression of Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Orchestral Suite in D', composed between 1725 and 1739.
8 Jun 1967
Procol Harum were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' the group's only UK No.1. In 2004 the song was named the most played record of the past 70 years. More than 900 recorded versions by other artists are known.
4 Jun 1967
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Procol Harum, Denny Laine and The Chiffons all appeared at The Saville Theatre, London. Both Paul McCartney and George Harrison were in the audience to see Hendrix perform the title track from Sgt. Pepper which had been released just three days earlier.
25 May 1967
Procol Harum's 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' entered the UK chart for the first time, where it went on to become a No.1 hit. 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' became the most played song in the last 75 years in public places in the UK (as of 2009). The first video for the song was shot in the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire, England. Directed by Peter Clifton whose insertion of Vietnam War newsreel footage caused it to be banned from airplay on the Top Of The Pops TV show. The band subsequently made another video.


  1. Colin fulton

    October 23, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I do think it is so sad when older members of a good band squabble over money
    And rights to a brilliant masterpiece of a song. Sometimes it’s better to talk and
    share what you accumulated over time. As a young lad I wore out my single
    vynle playing it over and over again. On a lighter side, A jolly good song to make
    Love to with my girlfriend.

  2. Helen Weaver

    February 28, 2020 at 11:12 am


  3. JC

    June 25, 2020 at 8:25 am

    It is about an unwanted sexual encounter, not drugs. I love the melody and I turn “a whiter shde of pale” when I get angry. Instead of getting red, the blood drains from my face.

  4. Jack

    June 26, 2020 at 6:44 pm

    Unique Hammond Intro. LG Mandy Me shiver. Although I Love it terribly

  5. Robert

    May 26, 2021 at 4:31 am

    1 Guinea was equal to £1/1s. At that time, £1 was equal to $2.80. There were 20 shillings in a pound, so 1 shilling was equal to $0.14. Thus, a guinea was equal to $2.94. 15 Gns would have been equal to $44.10.

  6. Ty Ford

    June 26, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    I recall reading that, upon being asked about the lyrics, Reid claims that it was all a mish-mosh of made up boy-girl stuff. Not a bad outcome for “made up stuff!

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