346. “Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum

What an easygoing song, and yet unassumingly intense, like a flirtation masking the emotion of once-in-a-lifetime attraction.

The organ part defines all memory of this song, but I wouldn’t call it exceedingly beautiful. It’s more like the Bach baroque music that inspired it, its oddity meant to challenge you, its technical rigor meant to show you it cares. It is seeking its own salvation in trying to help you find yours. 

But Bach would never burst into these choruses. Those are thanks to ‘60s Soul. These two worlds were waiting centuries to mix. 

What a voice on this anonymous singer. The late ‘60s and early ‘70s were a time for immense, soulful vocal talent in rock music, evident here right along with Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Janis Joplin, and much more. They’ve never been equaled. 

Underrated drumming too, that echoing snare cracking off a patient backbeat. If only trap sets were around in Bach’s time. It’s the one major advantage we have over those orchestral composers. So much feel can be created with drums, cymbals, and a few simultaneous limbs. 

The lyrics were composed by the band’s dedicated lyricist; he had no other job. They hint at some kind of romance going on, and I guess the Boomers thought pretty highly of their ideas back in that Summer of Love when this song was tearing up the charts and becoming an emblem of that event. 

The Miller telling his tale is a reference to the great Middle English epic poem the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Before Shakespeare arrived on the scene, the C-Tales was the greatest writing eked out of the charming new tongue of English. It’s a series of tales, each told by a character from a large, varied cast. And the Miller was a drunken lascivious sort, so his tale was appropriately dumb and sex-obsessed. 

Not sure why this would cause the woman in the song to turn a whiter shade of pale. It’s a mystery, maybe. A Mona Lisa for our time.