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Procol Harum Meaning

12/15/2021
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Fifty years ago this spring, a then unknown British rock group called Procol Harum released its very first single, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” The distinctive recording went to No. 1 in the United Kingdom and hit the top 10 in the United States, casting the mold somewhat for “progressive rock” on its way to becoming one of the enduring classics of the 1960s and of the entire rock era — the most-played song ever in public in the U.K.; a staple of classic-rock radio, and one of only a few dozen singles to sell over 10 million copies worldwide.

Conquistador Procol Harum Song Meaning

PROCOL HARUM was one of many groups in the late 1960s who succumbed to the influence of psychedelia and - lacking any other model - imitated Bob Dylan in an attempt to come up with something. It was the manager of the band, Guy Stevens, who came up with the band name: a friend of his had a cat called Procol Harum - at least that was what the cat’s name sounded like. Later Stevens (who also thought up the band name Mott The Hoople ) made other attempts to attach a meaning to the name: according to him Procul Harun is Latin, meaning something like 'far beyond these things'. Procol Harum: formed in London in 1967 and are most famous for the hit A Whiter Shade of Pale. In an interview, lyricist Keith Reid, who was always listed as a full-fledged member of the group on their albums, recalls the genesis of their name: 'It's the name of a cat, a Siamese cat. It's the pedigree name, and it belonged to a friend of ours, just somebody that we used to hang out with when we were forming the.

Album A Salty Dog. The Devil Came from Kansas Lyrics. The Devil came from Kansas Where he went to I can't say Though I teach I'm not a preacher And I aim to stay that way. The original version was included in the band’s debut album, Procol Harum). Later, an orchestral version was the centerpiece of their live album, Procol Harum Live.

Conquistador Procol Harum Meaning

The song’s most innovative feature is its unique pairing of musical source material from Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and from soul singer Percy Sledge’s hit, “When A Man Loves A Woman.” The music was originally credited to bandleader Gary Brooker, although decades later, keyboardist Matthew Fisher would be added officially as a co-composer for his signature organ solo. The trippy lyrics — “We skipped the light fandango… .“Her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale” — were the product of the band’s co-founder and poet-in-residence, Keith Reid, one of only a handful of nonperforming members of rock bands.

Both Reid and Brooker were born in heavily Jewish East London, Brooker in Hackney and Reid in Mile End Road. Like many residents of the heavily bombed-out area, Brooker’s family moved out to the suburbs. But Reid’s family stayed put — perhaps as immigrants they were most comfortable living among their own people.

Reid’s father, Irwin Reid, a Viennese lawyer fluent in a half-dozen languages, was one of over 6,000 Jews arrested in Vienna during Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938. Like most Viennese Jews, he was transported to Dachau. He was, however, released several months later after promising to leave the country; with his younger brother, he promptly immigrated to England, leaving behind his parents, whom he would never see or hear from again and whose fate remains a mystery.

Keith Reid’s mother was born in England, to Polish-Jewish parents. While she raised Keith and his older brother, Michael, in an observant home, Keith rebelled against the traditional rite of passage, once telling an interviewer that having had his fill of Holocaust stories and having suffered anti-Semitism in primary school, a bar mitzvah was out of the question. “The last thing you wanted to do as a kid was to stick out, but I just stuck out,” Reid told “Stars of David” author Scott Bernarde. Judaism, he added, “only has negative associations for me. It goes back to my dad and what happened to him and the events of those times.”

Like many early English rock ‘n’ roll groups, Brooker’s previous band, the Paramounts, mostly recorded versions of American hits. They scored a moderate British success in 1964 with their version of “Poison Ivy,” written by the American-Jewish songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were responsible for numerous Elvis Presley hit records. By 1967 the Paramounts had split up, and Brooker and Reid teamed up as a songwriting duo. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” was one of their very first efforts; other than keyboardist Fisher, the recording didn’t include any other members of what would become Procol Harum. Even guitarist Robin Trower, who went on to garner independent fame, had yet to join the group.

In its original incarnation, the band stayed together for 10 years, never duplicating the success of its initial hit. A few songs came close, including “Conquistador,” which, even if you think you don’t know it, you would recognize if you heard it (or at least I did). Still, the group released a half-dozen albums, which is on a par with the output of such likeminded groups as Yes, Genesis and the Moody Blues.

Reid penned all the group’s lyrics. While his idol was the American Jewish songwriter and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, his lyrics relied more on a superficial surrealism, perhaps inspired by his love of French avant-garde films and the art of Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. Many assumed his lyrics were inspired by or about drugs, but as the band’s in-house intellectual, Reid scoffed at the notion, insisting they were derived from “books, not drugs.”

While songs like “A Christmas Camel” and “Bringing Home The Bacon” were presumably not inspired by anything in Reid’s upbringing, “As Strong As Samson,” released in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, clearly addressed conflict in the Middle East as well as geopolitics in general, while basing itself on a biblical metaphor:

Conquistador procol harum lyrics meaning

“The tone of my work is very dark, and I think it’s probably from my background in some subconscious way,” Reid told Bernarde.

The name of the group, incidentally, has been the subject of some debate. It’s widely agreed upon that a friend had a cat named Procol Harum and the name stuck. The cat’s name, however, is believed to be a corruption of the phrase procul harun, procul, being Latin for “beyond” or “afar,” and Harun, being an Arabic name derived from the Hebrew Aharon.

Procol Harum reconstituted itself in 1991, but Reid no longer works with the group. This month, the band releases “Novum,” its first studio album in 14 years, and then hits the road for the requisite 50th-anniversary tour, at which fans will continue to puzzle over the fate of the “sixteen vestal virgins / Who were leaving for the coast,” immortalized in Reid’s lyrics to “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Those virgins, of course, were Roman, although Reid seems to have added 10 to the original six.

Seth Rogovoy is a contributing editor at the Forward. He writes frequently about the intersection between popular culture and Jewish themes.

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray
And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale
She said, 'There is no reason'
And the truth is plain to see
But I wandered through my playing cards
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well've been closed
And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale
And so it was that later

Lyrics submitted by Psycho_pr, edited by Mellow_Harsher, CrimsonApostle, george1037

A Whiter Shade of Pale Lyrics as written by Keith Reid Gary Brooker

Lyrics © T.R.O. INC., Onward Music Limited

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Whiter Shade Of Pale Meaning

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A Whiter Shade of Pale is found on the album Procol Harum.

Found on more albums:
Early Years
Greatest Hits [A&M]
30th Anniversary Anthology
Halcyon Daze: The Best of Procol Harum
The Best of Procol Harum [A&M]
Kuschelrock, Vol. 1
Pandora's Box
Greatest Hits [Metro]
A Whiter Shade of Pale [A&M]
Greatest Number 1's Ever
Classic Tracks and Rarities: An Anthology
Homburg & Other Hats: Procol Harum's Best
Definitive Collection
The Essential Collection 1967-1991
Best of Procol Harum [Repertoire]
Collection
In Concert with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir
The Ultimate Collection
Spirit of Nøkken
Live at the Union Chapel