“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”
I don’t listen to a lot of 60s music, I probably can’t name more than a handful of 60s bands. They are the kind of tracks you hear on a radio station once in a while and never pay much attention to. Sometimes though, they are used to perfection in film and TV, forcing me to listen more closely.
The 2006 movie The Boat That Rocked achieves this perfection when ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ is played as the ship carrying the DJs of a fictional pirate radio station sinks to the icy depths. It is a heartwrenching final scene that forced me to finally listen to more than the organ on ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and to acknowledge it for what it is: a lyrical masterpiece.
‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ tells a tale of a buzzing bar, and the protagonist’s encounter with a mysterious woman. That is all that is certain in a track so packed with psychedelic metaphors and oceanic themes that you can make almost anything of this stormy masterpiece.
The first verse is probably one of the clearer ones, as beautiful as it is relatable. Though that is not to say anything has a single meaning. Does the “fandango” that our protagonist avoids in the first line refer to people dancing, fooling around, or fighting for example?
I imagine the scene set in the first verse as the bar that you end up in towards the end of the night when the ground swells beneath your feet and something unknown within yourself drives you forwards. When you stumble through the doors and come across the chaotic throngs of revelers, and you fall through the crowd. And sometimes you arrive just as the night reaches its crescendo, you forget where you are, and the ceiling flies away.
The lyrics of ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ go on to be drunker and drunker as our protagonist meets a woman, and what exactly is happening becomes vaguer and vaguer. I forget what I have heard immediately after listening to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ as if I too am participating in a drunken conversation. I have to listen to it again and again, each time struck by a beautiful line forgotten since the previous listen.