Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


At home he still plays with his organ from time to time
December 20, 2006 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Procol Harum organist wins battle over joint authorship of A Whiter Shade of Pale. Gary Brooker is not amused, but then again it was a Bach ripoff anyway.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (31 comments total)

 
It will mean that, unless all musicians' parts are written for them, no publisher or songwriter will be able to risk making a recording for fear of a possible claim of song writing credit.

Brooker thinks it's a bad thing that if someone writes part of a song, he or she is entitled to a share of the credit? 40% seems too high, but I'm not feeling much sympathy for him right now.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 8:09 AM on December 20, 2006


DESH, dude.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:13 AM on December 20, 2006


Sorry, next time I'll remember to include the actual link before hitting post. Caffeine me.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:14 AM on December 20, 2006


Daaaaaaa... da da duh da ba da ba daaaaa, da da dadadaaaa! Da daaaaaa, da da dadadaaaa, da duh da da ba da ba da ba da ba da ba da ba da ba da ba...
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2006


he said he doubted whether he would ever play the song in public again

Yeah, because if there's anything musicians I know like doing it's playing their old songs that people never stop requesting over and over and over again. If I can be sick to death of this track I can't imagine what people who feel they have to play it every gig think of it.

That said, I agree that the organist should be compensated for his contribution, without which, this song would have quickly been forgotten, imo.
posted by dobbs at 8:25 AM on December 20, 2006


but then again it was a Bach ripoff anyway.
More to the point, the notion of using Air on a G-string was (arguably) ripped off from Reflections of Charles Brown by Rupert's People.

I remember reading an interview with Gary Brooker when Whiter Shade was released. The interviewer criticised him for pinching from Bach, and he blamed Fisher. His memory of events has obviously changed since then.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


DESH, dude.

Huh? I get the point that that page makes, but I don't see why it's called "DESH". Can someone more familiar with Gibson's work enlighten me?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:43 AM on December 20, 2006


Hard to say from a legal stance
who is right and who is wrong.
First I'll d/l a free copy (I found on the internet)
to refresh my memory of the song.
posted by hal9k at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2006


"diatonic elaboration of static harmony" = DESH.

In other words, you hold one chord for a LONG TIME while arppegiating underneath it. The held chord is your static harmony.
posted by spicynuts at 8:52 AM on December 20, 2006


Always hated the song. May I never hear it again.

As an aside, a music prof I had in university can be heard playing the cello with the Edmonton Symphony on Procol Harum's recording of Conquistador.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2006


Brooker thinks it's a bad thing that if someone writes part of a song, he or she is entitled to a share of the credit?

he didn't write the song, he wrote the arrangement ... and unless that arrangement was actually included in the copywrited song, i don't think he's got a good case ... (and i don't think the judge understands music very well)

if i do a country and western version of the song without the organ part, where's matthew fisher's contribution? ... it's STILL "whiter shade of pale"

if it had been written by two outside songwriters and matthew fisher had come up with the arrangement for a cover version, would he get a share of the songwriting royalties?

when the kingsmen immortalized louie louie with that three chord riff did they get a share of the songwriting royalties?

this probably will be overturned on appeal ... and i'm pretty sure an american court wouldn't have ruled this way

(this is why a lot of today's bands share the royalties and credits, even if there's only a couple of songwriters in the band ... saves trouble, misunderstanding and builds loyalty)
posted by pyramid termite at 8:56 AM on December 20, 2006


Many crucial witnesses for our defence have passed away or cannot remember 1967.

Wow, man that's like one number short of a zip code. Even I could remember that.
posted by hal9k at 8:58 AM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Writing a song is more than just writing the lyrics. It's the whole shebang (and I'd say adding the organ section is more than just making an arrangement.)
posted by MythMaker at 9:03 AM on December 20, 2006


if i do a country and western version of the song without the organ part, where's matthew fisher's contribution? ... it's STILL "whiter shade of pale"

I'd argue that if the song were played sans lyrics it would also STILL be "whiter shade of pale" due, in large part, to the organ.
posted by dobbs at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2006


"diatonic elaboration of static harmony" = DESH.

In other words, you hold one chord for a LONG TIME while arppegiating underneath it. The held chord is your static harmony.


Thanks spicynuts!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2006


this is the same guy who sang con-KWIS-tah-door, no?
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2006


If Gary Brooker could tell me what the hell the lyrics are supposed to mean, I'd be more impressed than I would by the Bach organ rip-off that opens the tune.
posted by kozad at 9:28 AM on December 20, 2006


kozad, man, you don't get it? It's all so clear! I mean, it's totally obvious to... uh... wait, what?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:39 AM on December 20, 2006


Writing a song is more than just writing the lyrics. It's the whole shebang (and I'd say adding the organ section is more than just making an arrangement.)

It's tough, though. Consider Prince's extended guitar solo at the end of "Still My Guitar Gently Weeps" at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame (see here, YouTube link) -- he starts with a melody reminiscent of George Harrison's original, then goes places completely different; by the end, the thing that keeps it from being another song entirely is the rhythm section, who are remaining faithful to the song.

So, in that case, Prince is doing a new arrangement of the solo, but the song remains fundamentally unchanged and in fact must stay that way so that the song is identifiable -- if they changed a chord, you'd go "huh? what was that?", whereas Prince can go wherever he wants.

Similarly, from one of the links in the FPP, the author makes the case that many differences between the organ solo and Bach's piece is a result of Fisher needing to stay in key with the song; the solo, then, was informed by Bach's work AND Gary's work. The song's performance may have been much less memorable without the organ solo, or with a different one, but it would still have been A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Just play the solo free of the song's context, however (and on a different instrument, say) and you'd be hard-pressed to tell if it was a rendition of Gary's or Bach's song; it would likely depend on which one you were more familiar with.

That's not to say solos don't make a contribution to the success of the performance, as other parts of the arrangement do, and it's likely that an otherwise mediocre song can become popular because of the solo -- but without the song around it, nobody would want to hear the solo. The song can live without the solo, but the solo cannot live without the song, just like the drums alone cannot, and the lyrics alone cannot (Manhattan Transfer et al notwithstanding.)

I just recorded a song last night, and for the solo I considered quoting from "That Thing You Do", that song-for-the-movie from back in the day. It fit well, and the idea made me laugh. Ultimately, I elected to go a different route. With either solo in place, it's still the same song.
posted by davejay at 9:40 AM on December 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe

That's how you do it.

If not, be solo and use backing musicians, or find better, more creative people to be in your band.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:19 AM on December 20, 2006


Scopitone video of Whiter Shade of Pale.
posted by flug at 10:33 AM on December 20, 2006


davejay: If you dig "That Thing You Do," you're okay with me!

On "Whiter Shade of Pale" I say the organist has a moral right to what the court awarded him. The organ part is the hook. And in pop music, the hook is everything.

Yes, young 'uns, the first time I heard this song was way back in the sixties, on one of its first radio plays. We wuz a carful of hippies, stoned to the gills, laughing and jabbering as drove through the night. Suddenly, those organ notes came over the speakers. The whole car went silent. "We tripped the light fandango..." The car left the ground. We were sailing through a starry empyrean. Dancing over the treetops. Two and a half minutes later, it was over. Some idiot said: "Wow." That idiot was me. And I still love that song.
posted by Faze at 10:51 AM on December 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


The organ part is the hook. And in pop music, the hook is everything.

i think there's a basic misunderstanding here about what a song is - it's lyrics and a melody ... that is the part that is in fact copyrighted ... anything and everything else can be changed - that's arranging

can george martin claim that he co-wrote yesterday because of his string arrangement?

can steve cropper claim he co-wrote sam and dave's "soul man" because of the distinctive guitar part he came up with?

this ruling opens up a real can of worms ... it means that anyone who played a well known instrumental part on an old record can sue the songwriters for a share of the royalties ... unless, of course, the main artist didn't write the song and it was a cover version

(this is where it really falls apart - does king curtis get co-writer's credit for his sax on yakity yak? ... after all, it helped define the song ... but then how could we give him royalties for that and not the sax solo on aretha franklin's respect, which was equally defining - but wait, that song had already been written and recorded by otis redding ...)

this ruling is a musical and legal mess ... it's changed the legal definition of what a song is and hopelessly mixed up songwriting and arranging ... and it's doing it nearly 40 years after the fact, which is unreal
posted by pyramid termite at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2006


ps - actually, it only opens up a can of worms in the uk - us courts haven't yet ruled like this
posted by pyramid termite at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2006


Similar (in some ways, not in others) case from last year: Claire Torry's suit over Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2006


can george martin claim that he co-wrote yesterday because of his string arrangement?

can steve cropper claim he co-wrote sam and dave's "soul man" because of the distinctive guitar part he came up with?


I'd say the organ part in "Whiter Shade of Pale" is unique because unlike the above examples, which support the melody, the Bach-ripoff organ part in "Whiter Shade of Pale" is a fully developed melody in itself -- it makes its full statement before the vocalist has even sung a note.
posted by Faze at 12:53 PM on December 20, 2006


More to the point, the notion of using Air on a G-string was (arguably) ripped off from Reflections of Charles Brown by Rupert's People.

Oh wow, I totally forgot about that song. I remember when I got the Nuggets box set it's included with thinking "Wow, they totally ripped off 'Whiter Shade of Pale'". Poor Charlie Brown.
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:36 PM on December 20, 2006


Yes, young 'uns, the first time I heard this song was way back in the sixties, on one of its first radio plays. We wuz a carful of hippies, stoned to the gills, laughing and jabbering as drove through the night. Suddenly, those organ notes came over the speakers. The whole car went silent. "We tripped the light fandango..." The car left the ground. We were sailing through a starry empyrean. Dancing over the treetops. Two and a half minutes later, it was over.
You ran into a tree?
posted by Flunkie at 4:40 PM on December 20, 2006


i think there's a basic misunderstanding here about what a song is - it's lyrics and a melody ... that is the part that is in fact copyrighted ... anything and everything else can be changed - that's arranging
So I can use the exact same organ, drum and bass lines from AWSOP, sing new lyrics in a new melody on top of it -- or even no lyrics or melody at all -- and in your opinion no one has any legal recourse against me publishing, distributing, and selling it as entirely my own work?

Why is the vocal line copyrightable, but not, for example, the drum line?
posted by Flunkie at 4:45 PM on December 20, 2006


So I can use the exact same organ, drum and bass lines from AWSOP

arrangements can be copyrighted as arrangements, but not songs ... just as hoagy carmichael has the copyright for stardust as a song, but tommy dorsey's chartwriter has the copyright for the particular arrangement on tommy dorsey's version

so they might argue that you ripped off the arrangement ... (and as a paid member of the band, matthew fisher was being compensated for arrangements)

Why is the vocal line copyrightable, but not, for example, the drum line?

i can point to why the vocal line's unique in that song ... what's unique about the drum line?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:32 PM on December 20, 2006


If Gary Brooker could tell me what the hell the lyrics are supposed to mean, I'd be more impressed than I would by the Bach organ rip-off that opens the tune.
He couldn't tell you; Keith Reid wrote the lyrics and even he doesn't know what they mean.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 12:06 AM on December 21, 2006


« Older Tired of putting your bike away for the winter? Tr...  |  Drop Dead Gorgeous... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments