(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If you can remember 1967 and being in your teens or early 20s, you'll probably recall this soundtrack of the times, the band Procol Harum's incomprehensible piece of psychedelica, "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

The occasion for this flashback is the news from Britain that "Whiter Shade of Pale" has been determined to be the most played song in British public places -we're talking jukeboxes - over the past 75 years.

(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

Mr. GARY BROOKER (Lead Vocals, Procol Harum): (Singing) We skipped a light fandango, turned cartwheels 'cross the floor…

SIEGEL: That's right, going all the way back to 1934, more Brits downing a pint at the pub, have heard about the 16 vestal virgins who were leaving for the coast and her face at first just ghostly, than have heard about the "White Cliffs of Dover," a "White Christmas" or about not getting any satisfaction.

(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

Mr. BROOKER: (Singing) And so it was that later…

SIEGEL: Being at the pub, of course, they're taking on those "Whiter Shade of Pale" lyrics in a lubricated state, and they're fairly easy to please in the what-does-this-actually-mean department.

(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

Mr. BROOKER: (Singing) …that her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.

SIEGEL: And inaccessible or not, those lyrics were famously heard in the movie, "The Big Chill," and they appeal to everyone from Annie Lennox…

(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

Ms. ANNIE LENNOX (Singer): (Singing) …one of 16 vestal virgins…

SIEGEL: …to Waylon Jennings.

(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

Mr. WAYLON JENNINGS (Singer): (Singing) We're leaving for the coast.

SIEGEL: Now, the other reason we're reminding you of this is a new CD by Paul Potts, a British singer who won a TV talent competition there. Potts' CD is full of covers of famous pop tunes, translated into Italian. And on one track, you can hear him sing this lyric, a 1960s translation or adaptation, called "Senza Luce," without light. It's a song which raises the question: Does this lyric possibly make any less sense in Italian than they do in English?

(Soundbite of song, "Senza Luce")

Mr. PAUL POTTS (Singer): (Singing foreign language)

SIEGEL: He's singing, they'd already turned out the lights, but I was still there. And I felt seasick. I still had my glass. Waiter, leave me alone. I can still walk. The fresh air will wake me up, or maybe I'll go to sleep.

In the Italian version, you may be disappointed to know, they skipped the 16 vestal virgins. In fact, they even skipped skipping the light fandango. In fact, their version is more an old-fashioned boy meets girl after boy gets drunk song.

(Soundbite of song, "Senza Luce")

Mr. POTTS: (Singing foreign language).

SIEGEL: But once again, the news in Britain, the most played song in public places over the last 75 years is, surreally, "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

(Soundbite of song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale")

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.