R.I.P., Keith Reid

Keith Reid, the lyricist behind Procol Harum’s legendary “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” has gone west. He was 76.

I would’ve written “has left the stage,” but Reid was apparently never on it. He was “a full-time non-performing member” of the band, according to The Guardian.

That doesn’t mean Reid wasn’t carrying his share of the load. He wrote almost all of Procol Harum’s lyrics throughout nine albums, from 1967 through ’77, and then a couple more albums’ worth for good measure in 1991 and 2003.

In an interview with Uncut magazine cited in American Songwriter, Reid addressed the song’s origin and meaning.

“I had the phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale,’ that was the start, and I knew it was a song,” he said. “It’s like a jigsaw where you’ve got one piece, then you make up all the others to fit in. I was trying to conjure a mood as much as tell a straightforward, girl-leaves-boy story. With the ceiling flying away and room humming harder, I wanted to paint an image of a scene.”

In the 1991 film “The Commitments,” Jimmy Rabbitte derides Reid’s work on “Whiter Shade” as the “poxiest bleedin’ lyrics ever written.” But I notice he knew them so well he could correct Steven Clifford when the pianist misquotes the first line.

Me, I loved those lyrics, and the organ riffs nicked from Bach, too. So I tip me cap to Reid, who joins his old bandmate, lead singer Gary Brooker — who wrote the music for “Whiter Shade” — in that ever-growing jam band in the sky.

Extra credit listening

• “A Salty Dog.”

• “Conquistador.”

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6 Responses to “R.I.P., Keith Reid”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Getting to be more of us in The Beyond than down here. Hmmm.

    And The Commitments was an awesome movie. Gotta watch it again.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It was a great book, too (author Roddy Doyle also did the screenplay, with an assist from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais). It’s the first in his “Barrytown Trilogy,” which includes “The Van” and “The Snapper,” both of which were also turned into films.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Are you folks getting blown from the Duke City into Kansas yet? Winds picked up here in the last hour. I was running errands on the Salsa LaCruz. On my way home I just put my head down and pushed–then looked up to see the big piece of plastic bouncing down the road towards me. Nyuk, Nyuk, missed this time.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        O, indeed. Our wind is blasting from the SSE, so we’re likely to wind up in the Four Corners some’eres.

        I went out for a run early, before it really got going, and even so I had one helluva tailwind for the homebound leg.

  2. Pat O’Brien Says:

    One goes, but one stays. George Benson was 80 years old on the 22nd of March.
    PS: We have gusts to 45 mph right now.

  3. Ira Says:

    The memories, fire up a doobie and crack a cold beer with Procol Harum in the background. I don’t do either anymore. The weed is too damn strong and beer makes me pee. Sometimes I miss the 70’s. But as Steve Tyler says, if you remember the 70’s, you weren’t there.

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