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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Procol Harum - "A Whiter Shade of Pale" Vinyl LP, Album, 1967, reissue 1973 (A&M Records)


"A Whiter Shade of Pale" is one of my favorite albums.  I bought the original album in 1967 but lost it through moving between locations.  It was about four years ago I found the American reissued edition at Rockaway Records.  Which in turn, makes me want to own the mono version that was first released in the U.K.   I have a faint memory of hearing the mono and loving it because the music seemed more forceful coming from one speaker or one direction.   At the end of the day, that is just otaku chat, because nothing changes the magnificence of the music made by Procol Harum. 

For one, they had a unique sound where you hear the soulful voice, but it juxtaposes with the classical orientation of the organ.  An odd and very magnificent arrangement, especially in their hit song "A Whiter Shade of Pale."   Keith Reid's lyrics are a throwback to Charles Baudelaire and the poetry of the 19th century.   Very reflective but with visuals and language that borders more on poetry than the great American songbook literature.  Gary Brooker, the singer and who wrote most of the music for the band, has a very standard 'good voice' for soul music.  So when he sings Reid's lyrics, it is almost he is distancing himself from the literature, which in turns make the listener to listen to the words.  The classic Bob Dylan had that technique as well.  The more abstract the words are, the more you listen, and in theory, the music /words hold up for repeated visits because each listen becomes something new.  Yet, the emotional punch stays the same.  Every time I hear "A Whiter Shade of Pale (the song) I feel a great emotional tug toward sadness that I don't fully understand.    Procol Harum's performance of the song is the best, but on the other hand, there is no bad version or cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale."  The Willie Nelson version is superb as well. 

This is not an album with one hit song, and the others are just fillers.  It's a brilliant and beautiful record from track one to eleven.  The Bob Dylan piano/organ sound from "Blonde on Blonde" and "Highway 61 Revisited" is impressive, but Procol Harum's sound is more dense and textured, due to Matthew Fisher's classical/Bach overtures.   I loved this album when I was 13, and now at 62, it's still an important piece of work for me.  I still hear new things on this LP.