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Made in Shoreditch

I also contribute a weekly column to Made in Shoreditch magazine called 'Old East End/New East End', where I look at the relationship between the East End of old and new, looking at the changes and the stalwarts in landscape, residents and culture, focussing on one street or district each week. You can find it here.

Great Songs: Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade of Pale

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Right, I'm going to write a weekly post on great songs from today onwards, starting with Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale and carrying on with great tracks from way back to modern day stuff, in no particular order or chronology. This post will be updated every Tuesday and will feature among other blog posts. So here goes nothing...

A Whiter Shade of Pale was released in 1967 and stayed at number one in the UK charts for six weeks! Not bad for a debut single.

I've always felt that this is the greatest song to ever be written about nothing in particular. I mean, the words mean nothing do they? "You skip a line fandango/turn cartwheels across the floor". What? But its not the songs lyrical content that makes it great. All that talk of waiters, sea-sickness and playing cards is rather psychedelic, yes, but life-affirming, no. What makes this song great is purely sonic...

That organ melody, those chord changes, why, it's actually Bach is it not? Doesn't matter, it's pure ecstasy, whatever it is. Timbrally, I've always thought of this song as being evangelical, it feels as if one day a rock band went to a church and recorded a track, but not just any old church, this one would have to be The Sistine Chapel or Westminster Cathedral or somewhere equally grand. The song's production gives it that. That slight echo, the feeling of all the instruments being crucial, the emotional vocal. It really has a feeling of togetherness.

Procol Harum knew what they were doing though, each member was a fine musician in his own right and thus, the song feels assured, like this was constructed out of nothing and was recorded in one take. Great pop music does that. All great pop has that effortless feel, it creates an illusion, a myth. It leaves the listener in a transcendental place from which they may never come back.

A Whiter Shade of Pale is a journey. It's a bloody beautiful melody with a whole feeling, like completeness, yet still leaves the listener wanting a bit more.

I understand that there's a bit of nostalgia working it's magic on me here. 1967, summer of love, Sgt. Peppers and all that holds a resonance with me. I wish I'd been alive back then to experience it all first hand, alas I wasn't. The second hand experience I have with it all will do me just fine, however. Again, I must stress, great pop music can create its own nostalgia.

In all, this song is, in my view, a great song because it conjures up emotions of melancholy, joy, fear and love purely through its sonic attributes. Any song that can do that to so many people is great!

Procol Harum

Five of the Best - War & Peace

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Today marks the release of Tony Blair's memoirs. Yesterday, the US hand-over in Iraq got going. There's a lot on the news about war at the moment and so I've taken some inspiration. Here's Five of the Best songs ever made to do with war and peace...

Eminem - Square Dance: A weird country/hip-hop beat sits behind lyrics such as "to join that army and what you do for that navy/you just a baby/getting recruited at 18/you on that plane now eatin' that food, yeah them baked beans/I'm 28 they gonna take you 'fore they take me". Stunning.

John Lennon - Give Peace a Chance: "Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout revolution, evolution, masturbation, flagellation, regulation, integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations/All we are saying, is give peace a chance". Call it wishy-washy, call it what you want, you can't deny that Lennon is right in highlighting we've never given peace a chance. Imagine, hey...

Elvis Costello - What's so Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding?: The title says it all.

Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA: Probably The Boss' most famous hit (though there is a fair few to choose from), this is also probably his most misunderstood. A complete protest over US foreign policy (or just policy in general) which Reagan missed the point of, but he wasn't and unfortunately isn't alone.

The Jam - Little Boy Soldiers: Weller's most amazing lyric? Possibly. "I'm up by the hills playing little boy soldiers/reconnaissance duty, up at 5:30/shoot, shoot, shoot and kill the natives/you're one of us and we love you for it". Wonderful, character led sarcasm and scathe on the British Army.