Percy Sledge: when a man cuts a record

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Sad to hear of the passing of another great voice of the 60s.

Hearing the name Percy Sledge almost immediately calls to mind his huge 1966 hit When a Man Loves a Woman.  In fact, the song begins playing in my head even before his name has rolled off my tongue.

That Pavlovian connectivity put me in mind of artists who are inextricably linked with just one song despite having produced a wealth of material over many years.  The obvious candidate is Procol Harum’s millstone/milestone A Whiter Shade of Pale.

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There was a neat synergy in discovering that Percy Sledge recorded his own Whiter Shade of Pale though I’ve been unable to find out when.  The arrangement is sparse and unimaginative, as if it stands back a little nervously from the baroque splendour of the original.  The song is carried alone by Percy’s voice.

In covering A Whiter Shade of Pale, Percy was perhaps acknowledging its sympathetic relation to When a Man Loves a Woman.  The similarities are clear – an organ introduction, descending basslines and a combination of soulfulness with an overall hymnal quality.  But as it’s usually the Bach influence which is cited, I had never considered the Percy Sledge inspiration to be a direct one.  It’s only recently I discovered that Gary Brooker himself acknowledges the debt.

Somehow that completes the circle.  It’s good to know that Percy Sledge – as well as J.S. – had a hand in crafting one of the timeless classics of psychedelic pop.

Percy Sledge 25th Nov 1941 – 14th April 2015.