From: Mike Flemmer <>
Fans of A Whiter Shade of Pale, this song has a very interesting history and I've just learned new things about it that are fascinating. If you're a big fan of this song like I am you might be interested in this new info. Be sure to visit the songs comprehensive web links site at: http://www.procolharum.com/awsop.htm I've always considered A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum) to be a true pop-prog masterpiece. It borrows the harmony (in part) from Bach's 'Air On A G String'. And Mathew Fisher's organ melody also borrows elements from Bach, and uses some nice counterpoint. And of course the organ tone is the definitive Hammond organ sound! In my opinion, no one has recorded a better Hammond tone since. No one.
Not only is the song a rock masterpiece that has stood the test of time (now 30 years), but I always thought it was very unusual, not just because of the lyrics, but also because of the Bach harmony, the great organ, and the much better-than-average production. Even today, the audio quality is still amazing. But, I've recently learned (from usenet posts) that it is far more interesting than I ever knew. In fact, this one song stirs up a considerable amount of complex musical, compositional and ownership issues you may not have known or considered before: Here's a few facts and issues about this song that constantly generate controversy and debate:
1. Is the song by Bach? Yes and no- the harmony is partially by Bach, the first full measure is exactly from Air on a G String. After the first measure the progression changes as Bach modulates to another key and AWSoP stays in key. (Bach's progressions are more complex). Many people think the harmony is just like Air, but it's not. This web site contains an excellent Bach analysis of AWSoP: http://www.basistech.com/bach/awsopafg.htm
2. Is the organ melody by Bach? Only some parts of it. Even so, I consider the melody original enough to be called original. To me, it sounds like a variation of Bach's melody and I wouldn't argue with someone saying that both Bach and Fisher are the composers. (Bach wrote Air, Fisher wrote a variation of it)
3. What organ did Fisher use? Believe it or not- it was not a B3 or C3, but a M102! The organ was owned by Fisher and was stolen when he loaned it out to ex band members! He has never recovered it and he wants it back! (He had to rent a B3 for concerts) Details about the Hammond in AWSoP: http://www.procolharum.com/organlinks.htm
4. What speakers did Fisher use? I'm not sure if he used the internal speakers or a leslie. I'm trying to find out.
5. Why do we never hear the same organ tone from other organists? I don't know. Maybe because most bands use a B3? I think the M102 is 'cleaner' while the B3 is 'dirtier'. One thing is for sure- the tone Fisher got is unsurpassed.
6. Did Fisher write the organ melody? Yes (he claims so). He borrowed elements from Bach and a few measures are almost exactly from Bach.
7. Why is Fisher not given songwriting credit? There has been a long standing dispute. Believe it or not, other members will not give Fisher songwriting credit even though he wrote the organ melody! Gary Brooker wrote the main song components- the words/verses/harmony. But Brooker will not share songwriting credit with Fisher and it's unclear why! This is one reason why Fisher left the group. In my opinion if someone even writes 1 measure, if only a melody, that person created part of the song and deserves credit. I'm learning more details about this issue but Brooker keeps silent on the issue and Fisher doesn't seem to care much about it now. This is a shame if Fisher never got the credit he deserved. And apparently, he never has (officially).
8. Is Fisher a prog fan? What does he do now? He's not a prog fan and never was. Today, he writes database software. Fisher's homepage: http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~maf/ Fisher's AWSoP page: http://www.procolharum.com/procolmf.htm
9. What do the lyrics mean? Good question. Check here: http://www.procolharum.com/awsoplyrics.htm A timeless masterpiece. A great organ piece. A fascinating history.