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Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Whiter Shade Of Pale", "When A Man Loves A Woman" and "Canon In D Major"

The UK's Procol Harum broke onto the scene in 1967 with their very first single becoming a number 1 hit. "Whiter Shade Of Pale", known for it's unusual lyrics and Hammond organ, has become a monument to Rock and Roll.

To state just how big the song is, in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named "Whiter Shade Of Pale" #57 in it's 500 greatest songs of all time. In that same year Phonographic Performance Limited recognized it as the most played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years. There are over 1000 known covers of the song.

Procol Harum has always said that their song was based on Bach's Orchestral Suite Number 3 in D Major (remember that, it will come into play again later).

"A Whiter Shade Of Pale" sounds very similar to another famous song. Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman", even down to the cadence the lyrics are sung in both (Particularly the very last line you can hear as "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" begins to fade out and the famous opening line of "When A Man Loves A Woman").

Recorded and released in 1966, "When A Man Loves A Woman" was also a number 1 hit on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Rolling Stone magazine ranked this song #54 on the 500 greatest songs of all time.

The coolest part of the story behind this song is that when they went in the studio to record it, the song had no title or lyrics and Sledge completely improvised the song. He was so convincing that the band assumed he had the lyrics written down.

And they both sound like Pachelbel's Canon in D Major!

Canon In D Major was most likely written in the late 1600s. It was forgotten for a couple of centuries but was rediscovered and published for the first time in the early 1900s. It became wildly popular and if Billboard had existed back then, it would have been a number 1 hit. We've all heard this song at more than one wedding and the song seems to have no desire to fade away.

Now the crazy part of this story is, it is speculated that Pachelbel may have written the song for a wedding. In fact it was probably written for Johann Christoph Bach's wedding, who just happened to be the brother of Johann Sebastian Bach!

Well what is it about these three songs that made them so popular? Is it the power of D Major as a key? Is it the use of descending chord progressions? If you figure it out, please tell me so I can write the next big classic hit.

1 comment:

  1. First time I've ever seen the Whiter Shade of Pale video--it looks remarkably current-hipster. I think I've seen permutations of this video by gaggles of them, in fact.