A Whiter Shade of Aqualung: Classical Style

13 Jun
Jones Beach Theater

Last Friday, my dad, brother and I went to go see Jethro Tull and Procol Harum in a double-bill show at the Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY.  Our annual trip to Jones Beach Theater has become a constant in our summer plans. Sometimes, we even make the pilgrimage twice. Without fail, Jones Beach Theater always holds interesting concerts and this provides us with the opportunity to enjoy great music and discuss rock n’ roll (something I am obviously passionate about doing).

Jethro Tull performing

The opening set by Procol Harum was a fantastic mood setter and it was great to hear Gary Brooker and his sensational croon effortlessly pound out Harum’s hits. Jethro Tull, led by the ultimate eccentric showman Ian Anderson, put on an energetic show of great eclat. Both Harum and Tull combined to form a powerful duo of skilled musicianship and heavy classical music undertones. That’s right, classical music. Actually, if you read on you will find out how both Tull and Harum’s most famous songs were influenced by classical music. By the way, classical music is not the only thing that Tull and Harum have in common.

Oh, yes, it’s time for another installment of music knowledge off the back wall. Harum’s current bassist is Matt Pegg. Pegg’s father, Dave, was invited to play with Tull in 1979 when former bassist, John Glascock, was ailing (he would die not long after, at the age of 28, as a result of a congenital heart defect). Dave Pegg played with Ian Anderson (back when Anderson’s hair was wild and…long) and long-time guitarist Martin Barre, when his son, Matt, was a wee lad. Dave Pegg is also the longest serving member of the electic-folk band, Fairport Convention, which set the stage for the true electic-folk genre with their 1969 release Liege and Lief…and now I am prattling. Let’s close the door leading to the back wall and move on.

As I was saying, classical music is a large part of both Jethro Tull and Procol Harum’s greatest hits. To prove this to you, I will profile both of the band’s most famous pieces in a warped installment of song of the day. So, let’s hop to it.

Procol Harum’s biggest hit is “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” This goes without contention. I can only imagine the many who just went to themselves, “Oh, that’s who Procul Harum is.” “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” recently came under the attention of

Brooker (left), Fisher (right)

the High Court in England. In 2005, former Harum organist Matthew Fisher filed a lawsuit against singer and pianist, Gary Brooker, claiming that he co-wrote the song with Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid. After much deliberation, and multiple appeals, the case finally was closed last summer after a unanimous ruling from the Law Lords of the House of Lords awarded Fisher co-writing credits for the song.

Now that we have thrown around the term “lord” we can get into some classical discussion. “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” written by Brooker, Reid, and Fisher, was released on May 12, 1967. The song was an immediate hit that has had major staying power. According to a chart compiled for BBC Radio 2 by the licensing firm PPL, the song is the most played song in UK public places in the past 75 years. The song is also 57th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. And, whenever anybody thinks of the song, their mind most likely goes to the song’s anagogic organ riff that is both celestial and greatly catchy. The Hammond organ riff was inspired by Johann Sebestian Bach’s, “Sleeper’s Wake!” and “Air on a G String.” A classical reference, indeed.

By the way, did you know that novelist Douglas Adams’s second novel in the “Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” book series, “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” was inspired by the explosion of sound as Mick Grabham’s guitar comes in before the final verse of the song, “Grand Hotel.”

Procol Harum was here

Jethro Tull’s, “Aqualung,” the title track of their first U.S. Top 10 Album, Aqualung (released March 19, 1971), features some of the most famous opening notes in rock history. The riff (phonetically translated as ba ba ba ba ba ba *drum beat*) certainly evinces Ian Anderson’s knowledge and admiration of Ludwig Van Beethoven and his fifth symphony.

Classical music is alive and well folks, and it can be heard in relatively modern music. It are those artists who notice and take advantage of classical music’s appearance in rock music by studying and implementing it into their own music succesfully, that often find a wide world of positive recognition and praise among fellow musicians, and hopefully fans with a keen ear to great music.

“Whiter Shade of Pale”:

“Aqualung”:

And, for good measure:

Sleepers, Wake!”:

and…the incomparable

Beethoven’s Fifth:

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One Response to “A Whiter Shade of Aqualung: Classical Style”

  1. Cross Country Running Shoes November 24, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    classical music is always the best, it is relaxing and very rich in melody -::

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