Two former ’60s rock stars appeared before a music-loving judge today (Nov. 13) in London for a showdown over authorship of one of the decade’s most iconic songs.
The organ strains of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” sounded through Court 56 of Britain’s High Court as the band’s former organ player, Matthew Fisher, sued an ex-bandmate for a share of copyright in the multimillion-selling song.
Fisher’s lawyer, Iain Purvis, said the song “defined what is sometimes called the Summer of Love in 1967” and had achieved cult status. He said Fisher had composed the organ melody, and particularly the eight-bar Hammond organ solo, which gives the song its distinctive baroque flavor.
Purvis said the solo “is a brilliant piece of work and it is crucial to the success of the song. Our case, in essence, is that Mr. Fisher wrote the entirety of the organ tune,” he said.
Fisher is suing Procol Harum singer Gary Brooker and publisher Onward Music Ltd. for a co-author credit and a share of the song’s copyright and royalties.
Brooker, who is credited as the song’s author with lyricist Keith Reid, says the pair wrote the song before Fisher joined the band in March 1967. Brooker has said the melody was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G-string” and “Sleepers Awake.”
Defense lawyers said the fact Fisher had waited almost four decades to bring his claim was “bizarre and obviously prejudicial.”
“Mr. Fisher’s claim should fail on that ground alone,” they said in court papers.
The song, renowned for its mystifying lyrics — beginning “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor” — topped the British singles chart for five weeks and was a top 10 hit in the United States.
Fisher, now a computer programmer, left the band in 1969. Brooker, 61, still tours with Procol Harum. The two sat facing the judge and did not look at one another on the first day of the five-day hearing. A Yamaha electric keyboard sat near the witness box, where Fisher is due to appear later in the case.
The case is being heard by judge William Blackburne, who studied both music and law at Cambridge University. The judge requested access to the keyboard and sheet music of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” so he could run through the song after court hours.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.