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Music

Ozzy Osbourne describes how Procol Harum’s ‘A White Shade of Pale’ changed his life

@TomTaylorFO

Ozzy Osbourne’s bombastic bat-endangering onstage ways might seem world’s apart from Procol Harum’s poignant proclamation on ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ but that doesn’t stop him from loving the song wholeheartedly. In fact, the anthemic 1960s epic is even more revealing about him than his own material in an odd way. 

When speaking with Vic Garbarini about his music of choice, Ozzy asserted when assessing the metal scene that Black Sabbath helped to pioneer: “A lot of these new bands have the aggression – but where’s the melody? I don’t fucking run out and buy the latest records by Snot or Sepultura or Megadeth. That music is not new for me – and what I do for a profession and what I like are two different things.”

That melodious quality was central to Black Sabbath’s inherent aggression, their tracks were more like a blitzkrieg of Bach than bashing about like speed freaks. And you’d struggle to get more Bach-like than the lilting beauty of ‘A White Shade of Pale’. As Ozzy continued: “My dad always said, If you have a great melody you have a great song’, and this one has a terrific hook as well. I still get the same thrill listening to this today as I did the first time I heard it.”

The song went on to inspire The Beatles classic ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, but even that interpretation did not surpass the bottomless beauty of the original in Ozzy’s eyes. He told The Times in 2009, “This may surprise most people who are well aware of my complete and utter obsession with the Beatles, but when I sat down and really thought about my favourite song of all time, I think I even shocked myself by choosing the Procol Harum classic, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. To this day I do not know what the lyrics are about, but when I hear that haunting melody on the Hammond organ I immediately become transfixed.”

He continued to eulogise the anthem, adding: “I remember about four or five years ago I was in my home studio with my producer, working up a list of songs that I wanted to record for an album of rock covers which we later titled Uncovered. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was at the very top of my list when I was made aware of the fact that a close musical associate of mine had just recorded the song for his new album.”

Before concluding of the beauteous gem: “It would have been odd for me to record it then so I took my pen and put a big fat line through the title. Oh well . . . I’m hoping to get around to recording the song one day for a movie soundtrack or maybe just for my own pleasure!”

However, he has never attempted to emulate the majesty of the track. Telling the Independent: “It taught me when a song is perfect, not to attempt a poor copy.  It’s been covered by so many people and I was tempted – but it’s been over-covered, so I decided not to. And I’ve learnt I was so right. It’s difficult with covers, even doing one of your own material.”