The continuing kerfuffle between Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher over the songwriting credits to A Whiter Shade Of Pale, highlighted in court this week, could be resolved very easily: give the money to Percy Sledge.
A Whiter Shade Of Pale owes more than a little musical debt to When A Man Loves A Woman. Both songs, of course, are based structurally on Bach’s Air On A G String, although neither is a direct copy. The problem here, though, is that Bach’s out of copyright and – I think you’re one step ahead of me – very much dead; the writers of When A Man Loves A Woman are said to be various, although the credit goes to just two men, neither one of them Sledge, so that loses its impact.
The Beatles, as ever, are recognised as an inspiration, with 1966’s For No One providing the chord structure influence (again, though, courtesy of Bach). The solution to this legal battle isn’t simple, although you have to wonder why it’s taken Fisher almost 40 years to bring the legal case. That’s a lot of money he’s missed out on over the years.
I’m sure the lyrics are quite heavily indebted to an old poem by Sidney (or Spenser; I get so confused these days) which I read a long time ago and thought, ‘I’ll remember that, so I can be a smart arse.’ I have, you’ll notice, forgotten (and saved myself from being a smart arse…) but I’m left with the feeling that A Whiter Shade Of Pale is a rip-off in its music, its lyrics and even the idea of taking that piece of classical music and making it into a pop song.