December 01, 2008


A Whiter Shade of Pale

Anitaxanaxnow has presented a musical conundrum for which my contribution (I do not say solution) merely adds a 50 percent markup.

The Procol Harum song A Whiter Shade of Pale has been covered by various artists over its 40-year history, with most versions (here it comes) paling in comparison. Against the original Anita pits a live 1981 performance by Joe Cocker, perhaps on the tail end of his prime. It is, like so much that went before in Cocker's career, a sweet and awesome expression of one of rock's greatest songs, but I don't believe it attains the grandeur of the original creation. I've only experienced maybe three or four covers of any song that ever did (how about you?), and one of those is this performance of the song by the great but tragic saxophonist "King" Curtis Ousley from a recording in March 1971 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.

Featured in
the lineup with King (opening for Aretha Franklin) were singer/keyboardist Billy Preston and the Memphis Horns. Preston's Hammond B3 is the perfect soulful counterpoint to King's alto sax, which reaches a couple of fine crescendos here. I think the S.F. flower children attending this run of three shows out of curiosity or lack of anything better to do may have had pleasantly tingling spines through much of King's performance. As to whether or not this helps solve Anita's hippie conundrum, well...(note: you may, like myself, not know quite what to make of the montage accompanying the audio - it was the only version I could find. Anyone recognize the films?)

The sad footnote to this is that King Curtis was murdered later that year, cutting short a brilliant career. Aretha Franklin sang at his funeral.



irrespective of the ho-hum video montage (although, i will admit that i find blindfolds and their use with food and other pleasurables VERY sexy), this was an amazing rendition that sent chills UP and DOWN my spine.

the SONG is amazing. and, in the end, i will always defer to its originators, Procol Harum.

But I just got this little thing for joe cocker as a "rock vocalist interpreter stylist." they have those things in jazz, yet there seems not to be the trend in rock. but remember, joe cocker, i believe (but i could be wrong) actually made his name with a beatles cover. that didn't happen very often, if at all.

anyway, o'tim. thanks for the thoughtful response to my hippie conundrum.

you will always be, to me at least, the 'Man With Aplomb."

The song is amazing because it's based on a melody by JS Bach. Procol Harum weren't the originators.

The song is a minor classic, because of its audacity, but it's not a very good song. The original is notable for historical reasons (it combines a sublime Baroque tune and nitwit lyrics for the first time) so it's hard to see what anyone else could bring.

Especially not Joe Cocker. He holds rock music's all-time record for having been a complete wreck from day one, before he was even famous.
And it also inspired one of the great satirical TV series of all-time "A Paler Shade Of White:The History Of White People In America" with your host and narrator, Martin Mull.
grapes, you're correct about the audacity of combining the classical and "nit wit" ... that was intentional on the part of the group i believe.

most (or rather many) of the greatest rock and roll artists have either been classically trained musicians or they have/had a deep understanding and respect for classical music (as well as jazz and, more importantly, the blues). and it very often shows up in their work (unbeknownst to the less sophisticated members of their fan bases).

i'll repeat myself here (as i'm wont to do), but i think if joe cocker hadn't gone in the direction of rock and roll, he could have been a quite good jazz vocalist. the fact that he's a wreck is what makes the couple of really good things he's done actually really good.

i personally would MUCH rather listen to cocker do 'with a little help from my friends' than the beatles version. maybe because ringo was on vocals for that one. but nonetheless.

oh well.
I particularly like the version by Annie Lennox. Have you heard her sing it? It's beautiful. :)
I do like the Annie Lennox version, Rachel!

Cocker's "Little Help" is one of those rare outputs that surpasses the original (Ringo's Liverpudlian monotone ain't hard to beat).

Pay no mind to Grapes, Anita. He is a curmudgeon who knows absolutely nothing about music of any kind ;)
I never liked the song. It makes me feel like I'm in church. I heard a band called Stone Soup do a very nice version in concert once, though.
I think Annie Lennox did a great job also ... hmmm ... i should have added that one to my conundrum, too.

I'll tell you who would have made a great jazz musician: Beethoven.

This rendition was beautiful.

In my youth I was a big fan of the Contrapunctus series. Always wanted to do a jazz combo flavoring. Damn.
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