Thursday, December 21, 2006

Preacher's True Confession

I hate organ music. Yes, I am a preacher. Nonetheless, I really do hate organ music. Always have.

But occasionally, an organ adds something special to a a piece of music.

Take the classic, Woolly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. What would that song be without the prominent role played by the organ?

Or would anything by Booker T and MGs be as good?

And without the musical backdrop provided by the organ on Gary Lewis and the Playboys' otherwise mediocre 'This Diamond Ring' (along with that low-register Chris Isaak-y guitar solo and tinkly xylophone), the song would have been completely forgettable.

But who could ever forget the Beatles' Shea Stadium version of 'I'm Down,' on which John Lennon's maniacal solo on the Wurlitzer, a response to a screaming crowd paying no attention to music that was piped through the PA system, had Paul McCartney laughing hysterically?

Or Ringo Starr's staccato organ punctuating the end of the chorus on 'I'm Looking Through You'?

Or Al Kooper's slightly-behind the beat, squeaky organ on 'Highway 61 Revisited'? Or the organ solo on 'Light My Fire' by the Doors?

An organ can enhance a song. But does Matthew Fisher, organist on the Procol Harum song, A Whiter Shade of Pale, deserve 40% of the song-writing royalties for that tune, as he claims? I don't think so.

For one thing, Fisher's contribution was more in the way of being an arranger than a composer.

For another, as musician and producer David Was points out in this November report on NPR's 'Day to Day,' the melody of A Whiter Shade of Pale was taken from a composition by Bach. (Was also says some claim to see a decided similarity to Percy Sledge's When a Man Loves a Woman. They have a point.)

As I see it, all Fisher really did was riff off that second-hand tune given to him by the band members who were always credited with composing A Whiter Shade of Pale.

But a judge has ruled in Fisher's favor and soon he'll be sharing the cash brought in by the Procol Harum classic.

One footnote: A Whiter Shade of Pale was apparently the song playing at the very moment when Paul McCartney met his first wife, Linda, at a party they were attending. Years later, in a song called Young Boy (on which Steve Miller has a great guitar solo, by the way), McCartney invoked that memory with an organ part inspired by Fisher's Procol Harum organ on Pale. Watch out...encouraged by this ruling, Fisher may now want to sue McCartney. But if he does, he'll have to get in line behind the former Beatle's second wife at the Old Bailey.

While there are some exceptions, I still hate organ music. I really can't Handel it.

[Ann Althouse sees the Fisher case differently.]


Anonymous said...

Mark, that's quite a confession for a pastor. Shocking in some church corners. :)

I thought the organ was cleverly used in "The Big Chill" when the Rolling Stones tune, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was played at the funeral.

I grew up with solemn organ music each week in church, so it brings back fond, deeply held memories for me. "O Holy Night" on the organ for instance... guaranteed for a few of my tears.

But at the ELCA service we reguarly attend, the music consists of wonderful praise songs and updated hymns by top-quality musicians on guitars, drums and keyboard. Most people now seem to eschew organ music.

On occasion, I think there's nothing like one of the old hymns sung to organ music. Maybe that's because my beloved grandmother was a church organist for years...

Mark Daniels said...

Another confession: I sometimes weave mainstream song lyrics into the liturgies I compose for worship each week. It's been awhile since I've done it, but one time is especially memorable. In 1993, I took some lines from rather spiritual McCartney song and we all said in unison, "We wait in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us." That's sort of my spoken version of playing, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" on the organ in church.


Anonymous said...

That's cool! And creative, too.