By Stuart Mitchner
I sat me down to write a simple story which maybe in the end became a song…
—Keith Reid (1946-2023), from “Pilgrim’s Progress”
The first “simple story” Keith Reid gave to the world took some strange and wonderful turns. According to Beyond the Pale, Procol Harum’s rich, many-leveled website, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has inspired as many as a thousand known cover versions while becoming, says the BBC, “the most played song in the last 75 years in public places in the UK.”
And it all began when Keith Reid mailed the lyrics to singer/pianist Gary Brooker in an envelope addressed simply “Gary, 15 Fairfield Road, Eastwood, Essex” and postmarked South Lambeth. You can see the very envelope on the website, along with a photo of the Burmese Brown cat for whom the group was named.
Introduced by Scorsese
The song that has fascinated generations since it was released in the UK as a single on May 12, 1967 is not by any means Reid’s most impressive accomplishment. In his foreword to Henry Scott-Irvine’s group biography Procol Harum: The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade of Pale (Omnibus Press 2012), Martin Scorsese points out that the band “drew from so many deep wells – classical music, 19th Century literature, Rhythm and Blues, seaman’s logs, concertist poetry,” each tune becoming “a cross-cultural whirligig, a road trip through the pop subconscious.” more