Its haunting organ fused Bach with pop to create one of the most enduring hits of the flower-power era — and next week A Whiter Shade Of Pale returns to centre stage.
The Procol Harum song is at the centre of a million-pound royalties dispute to be heard at the High Court in London on Monday. Released in 1967, it became a global smash, selling 10 million copies. It is still used in advertisements and regularly features in “greatest song of all time” polls.
The song has always been credited to Gary Brooker, Procol Harum’s frontman, and lyricist Keith Reid. Now almost 40 years on, Matthew Fisher, the band’s classically trained organist, claims that the song’s signature winding melody line was his work. Fisher, 60, now a computer programmer in Croydon, South London, is claiming a share of the song’s copyright and past sales, which could earn him up to £1 million.
The dispute is complicated because all sides agree that Johann Sebastian Bach originally inspired the song’s mournful melody.
With Bob Dylan’s records then popularising the Hammond organ sound, the band called on Fisher to embellish the track, but the organist argues that his contribution was far greater. Musicologists will tell the court that he transformed the organ melody into something far superior to the chord structure that Brooker borrowed from Bach.
His organ melody includes lines running in counterpoint to the vocal melody and also the memorable eight-bar solo that appears between verses. He transformed the tempo and rhythm of the cantata “lift”, cleverly disguising its classical source.
Brooker, who strongly contests the claim, concedes that Fisher, who left the band in 1969, “refined” the song’s use of Bach. But the organist believes he created an original melody.
A keyboard will be installed in the High Court for Fisher to demonstrate his contribution, his solicitors said.
Youtube Videos of 'A Whiter Shade of Pale':
Annie Lennox (Not as good as the original & Annie looks decidedly manic...)
A crazy evil re-mix by Sarah Brightman