A Whiter Shade Of Grey

Procol Harum‘s “Whiter Shade Of Pale” is at the center of a £1 million royalty dispute between three of the band members.

One of the most enduring hits of the ’60s flower-power era, the song has always been credited to Procol Harum frontman Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid.

Now, almost 40 years on, the song’s authorship has become something of a grey area. Matthew Fisher, the band’s classically trained organist, says the song’s opening signature melody line is his work.

Now 60, and working as a computer programmer in England, he’s claiming a share of the song’s copyright and past sales, which could earn him up to £1 million.

The case opened in London’s High Court November 13th.

Released in 1967, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” became a global smash, selling 10 million copies. It’s still used in advertisements and regularly shows up in “Greatest Song Of All Time” polls.

The dispute is complicated because all sides agree that Johann Sebastian Bach originally inspired the song’s mournful melody.

Brooker is said to have first written the song as a straight R&B tune, based on Bach’s “Air” from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D (or “Air On A G String”), which he heard on a Hamlet cigar advertisement, and the composer’s Cantata No. 140, known as “Sleepers Awake.”

Fisher embellished on the keyboard part to such an extent that he believes his contribution entitles him to a share of the royalties.

He’s called upon some music experts to tell the court that he transformed the organ melody into something far superior to the chord structure Brooker borrowed from Bach.

Although he concedes that Fisher – who left the band in ’69 – refined the song’s use of Bach, Brooker still claims he created the original melody.

A keyboard will be installed in the High Court for Fisher to demonstrate his contribution.

– John Gammon