A week or so ago I realized that I did not have A Whiter Shade of Pale either in my CD collection or on iTunes, and I set out to correct this massive oversight. I’ve done so, but in the process I learned a lot about this venerable song. First, I found out that the CD of the original Procol Harum album is prohibitively expensive, so I went with their Greatest Hits. But, more importantly, I learned from Wikipedia that:
It was the most played song in the last 75 years in public places in the UK (as of 2009), and the United Kingdom performing rights group Phonographic Performance Limited in 2004 recognised it as the most-played record by British broadcasting of the past 70 years.
More than 1000 recorded cover versions by other artists are known.
Since I got those quotes from Wikipedia, they must be true.
There is even a website devoted to cataloging these cover versions, which you can peruse here. It is truly reassuring to know that the world is big enough to contain at least one person obsessive enough to collect every version of this song ever made.
So I decided to visit youtube and find some of these cover versions. This is not unprecedented; I recall doing the same for Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More. If you’re not interested in checking these out, skip to the last video, which will surely be worth your while, and of course, feel free to pick and choose.
I want to assure you that I’ve been selective here. Sara Brightman, who apparently has sung the song often, didn’t make the cut. Absolutely awful.
Before we start let me say that the song deserves the multiple covers, even if I can say with some assurance that I defy anyone to give a coherent explanation of the lyrics. It truly is one of the greatest rock songs ever.
First, a moment of silence for some that didn’t make the cut for reasons other than awfulness. I decided not to break the rules and post a version featuring Eric Clapton, as it has no video. For the same reason Johnny Rivers didn’t make it. Clapton’s version was great, and featured Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker on vocals. River’s wasn’t actually too bad, but the most surprising also ran was Willie Nelson, who would have made it had there been video to go along.
So, let’s start.
First, in honor of the new Pope, here’s Gregorian, giving us a slightly different take, but nonetheless an interesting one, on this worthy song:
Here’s Percy Sledge, and while I wouldn’t have come up with him as a candidate, once I saw he’d covered the song, it seemed like a natural fit.
As did Joe Cocker:
We can’t be parochial about this. Here’s an Italian guy I never heard of named Claudio Baglioni teaming up with Michael Bolton:
Before we get to the finale, here’s an instrumental version by King Curtis and the Kingpins:
Now, the video you’ve all been waiting for. As the old song said, the original is still the greatest. Brooker sounds the same now as he did back in 1967. This was recorded in 2006 in Denmark. The group is backed by the Danish National Concert Orchestra. It’s just great.