A Whiter Shade of Pale

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

A Whiter Shade of Pale, one of the great oldie of 1967, has fascinating, enduring lyrics. Read it, and see if you decipher.

Annie Lennox, A Whiter Shade of Pale
We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray

  And so it was that later
  As the miller told his tale
  That her face, at first just ghostly,
  Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, “There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see.”
But I wandered through my playing cards
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well've been closed

She said, “I'm home on shore leave,”
though in truth we were at sea
so I took her by the looking glass
and forced her to agree
saying, “You must be the mermaid
who took Neptune for a ride.”
But she smiled at me so sadly
that my anger straightway died

If music be the food of love
then laughter is its queen
and likewise if behind is in front
then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
and attacked the ocean bed
fandango «Fandango is a lively folk and Andalusian (flamenco) couple-dance usually in triple metre, traditionally accompanied by guitars and castanets or hand-clapping (Palmas in Spanish and Portuguese). Fandango can both be sung and danced.» Fandango.
miller told his tale Miller's Tale of The Canterbury Tales. A lewd story of extra-marital affair.
vestal virgins «In ancient Roman religion, the Vestals or Vestal Virgins (Vestales, singular Vestalis), were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome, as embodied by their cultivation of the sacred fire that could not be allowed to go out. The Vestals were freed of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children, and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off-limits to the male colleges of priests.» Vestal Virgin
shore leave Shore Leave is the leave that sailors get to spend on dry land.

The lyrics originally has 4 verses plus a refrain (all shown here). However, usually only the first 2 verse is sung.

The song has been covered by many singers.

Here's a great rock rendition by Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve (aka HSAS). Possibly the best here.

A Whiter Shade of Pale by HSAS

Miller's Tale

What is with the “Miller's tale”? It probably refers to The Miller's Tale of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (1380 to 1390).

Here's synopsis from Wikipedia:

“The Miller's Tale” is the story of a carpenter, his lovely wife, and the two clerks (students) who are eager to get her into bed. The carpenter, John, lives in Oxford with his much younger wife, Alisoun, who is something of a local beauty. To make a bit of extra money, John rents out a room in his house to a poor but clever scholar named Nicholas, who has taken a liking to Alisoun. Another scholar in the town, Absolon the parish clerk, also has his eye on Alisoun.

The action begins when John makes a day trip to a nearby town. While he is gone, Nicholas convinces Alisoun to have sex with him, and hence begins their affair. Shortly afterward, Alisoun goes to church, where Absolon sees her and immediately falls in love. He tries to win Alisoun's sexual favors by singing love songs under her window during the full moon and taking a part in the local play to try to get her attention. Alisoun rebuffs all his efforts, however, for she is already involved with Nicholas.

Nicholas, meanwhile, longs to spend a whole night in Alisoun's arms rather than just the few moments they have managed to steal when John is not at home. With Alisoun, he hatches a scheme that will enable him to do this. He convinces John that God is about to send a great flood like the one he sent in Noah's time. He says that God told him they could save themselves by hanging three large tubs from the ceiling to sleep in. Once the waters rise, they would cut the ropes and float away. John believes him and duly climbs into his tub. Nicholas and Alisoun do the same, but then sneak back down and spend the night together in John's bed.

While Nicholas and Alisoun lie together, the foppish and fastidious parish clerk, Absolon, who is also deeply attracted to Alison and believes her husband to be away, appears kneeling at the bedchamber's low “shot-wyndowe” (privy vent) and asks Alison for a kiss. In the darkness, she presents her “hole” (bottom) at the window and he “kissed her naked arse full savorly”. He realizes the prank and goes away enraged. He borrows a red hot coulter (a blade-like plough part) from the early-rising blacksmith. Returning, he asks for another kiss, intending to burn Alison. This time Nicholas, who had risen from bed to go to the privy, sticks his own backside out the window and breaks wind in Absolon's face. The furious suitor thrusts the coulter “amidde the ers” (between the cheeks) burning Nicholas' “toute” (anus) and the skin “a hands-breadth round about”. In agony, Nicholas cries for water, awakening John. Hearing someone screaming about water, he thinks that the Second Flood has come, panics, and cuts his tub loose, falling to the floor and breaking his arm. Responding to the commotion, the neighbours arrive to find him lying in the tub and in accordance with Nicholas' prophecy, he is considered a madman, and a cuckold too.

“Miller's Tale” reminds me a passage from Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus: Act 2. Quote:

wots the miller of More water glides by the water mill than the mill owner sees. (alluding to having sex with a married woman and her husband shouldn't know or loose anything.)
steal a shive it is easy to steal a slice of a loaf that has already been sliced. (compare to virgins and married women)
Vulcan Hephaestus, a god of technology. Hephaestus is married with Aphrodite (Venus), and Aphrodite fornicates with Ares (Mars), among others. See Hephaestus. This passage refers to how problem-free it is to fuck Lavinia despite her marital status with Bassianus.
DEMETRIUS. Why mak'st thou it so strange?
  She is a woman, therefore may be woo'd;
  She is a woman, therefore may be won;
  She is Lavinia, therefore must be lov'd.
  What, man! more water glideth by the mill
  Than wots the miller of; and easy it is
  Of a cut loaf to steal a shive, we know.
  Though Bassianus be the Emperor's brother,
  Better than he have worn Vulcan's badge.

Eurythmics Songs

A Tale to Tell