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Britain's Favorite Song: 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale'

Procol Harum lyricist and manager Keith Reid (left) with the group's former manager, Tony Secunda, in 1967. (Express/Getty Images)

Procol Harum's psychedelic classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale" has just been named Britain's most-played song in public places in the past 75 years, beating out Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "All I Have to Do Is Dream" by The Everly Brothers. The song spent six weeks at the top of the charts when it was released in 1967. Last year, it caused an angry lawsuit over royalties involving its haunting and memorable organ solo.

There's even a new incarnation of the song by British singer Paul Potts, who won 2007's reality talent show Britain's Got Talent. Potts' new CD is full of covers of famous pop tunes, translated into Italian. He sings an adaptation called "Senza Luce," or "Without Light." It's a song that raises the question: Do the lyrics possibly make any less sense in Italian than they do in English?

To read why All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen listens to "A Whiter Shade of Pale" on a rainy day, click here.

To watch the video for "A Whiter Shade of Pale," click here.

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(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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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