Shock. I simply could not believe it when the National Public Radio announcer made reference to the fact that Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was the most publicly played (meaning via jukebox…) song in U.K. history for the past 75 years. I mean…surely there has to be some mistake. Not that I don’t generally love hearing it whenever it happens upon the radio, but it’s a staggering thing to figure when you consider what else Britons might have been tapping their toes to since 1934. Sinatra, The Stones, Sir Cliff, Abba…name it. Not there. Not even in the top three according to the report.
Having been two at the time of it’s release, I don’t think I became aware of the song until I was in my mid-twenties when I read an account of a very stoned pair of Beatles listening to it over and over on the record player inside John Lennon’s Roller. When I finally sought it out, I thought: “My God….Traffic!” It wasn’t until I sat behind a drum kit playing the song in a covers band that I came to grips with it. Band rehearsals are mostly dreadful yet necessary evils, but I do remember one early morning session where we actually got through a fairly decent rendering of it just as the sun began to purl through the grimy windows of our practice space. There was something to it just then, that made it all seem…er, beatific.
Nevertheless, I’m still half unconvinced of the tally. I’d read about the bitter lawsuits surrounding the song’s royalties, so maybe there is something to it’s apparent standing…but #1? Really? Could they have that large of an extended family? Even my wife, who long ago buried her tolerance for pop minutia thanks to me, was staggered by the idea of it.
I was, however, forced to re-harness a portion of my disbelief tonight after running back to the office to retrieve my forgotten laptop. As I was turning back into my neighborhood on the return trip, “A Whiter Shade…” promptly appeared on the airwaves. Unbelievable.