Procol Harum's famous song "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" (YouTube link) starts with

We skipped the light fandango

Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor

I'm wondering what it literally means. I think fandango is a Spanish dance, right? But I don't know what the light fandango means. What does "skipped" mean? And what does "Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor" mean? Thanks.

  • 3
    Compare Trip the light fantastic.
    – user230
    Sep 15, 2014 at 3:21
  • 3
    I would in general be very careful when trying to find literal meaning in song texts that are likely describing drug-induced hallucinations ;)
    – oerkelens
    Sep 15, 2014 at 7:15
  • 1
  • @DamkerngT. So it's from Milton's poem. The phrase "As the miller told his tale" is probably from the Canterbury Tales. The author of the lyrics seems to have been a fan of classic English literature. Sep 16, 2014 at 10:21
  • I've deleted nine comments about the correct usage of "famous". Unfortunately, for technical reasons, it was not possible to move this conversation to chat
    – gotube
    Mar 17, 2022 at 19:55

6 Answers 6


A straightforward, literal interpretation of these lyrics:

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor

Skipping is a way of hopping and running at the same time. It's the sort of thing a happy child would do. If you say that an adult was skipping, they either were actually doing this motion or they were so happy that they were childlike with glee. The link is to a video of some girls skipping across a field.

The word "light" has connotations of being without any cares here.

A fandango is a Spanish dance.

The first line means,

We danced around without a care.

"Turning cartwheels" means to start on your feet and flip, hand-hand-foot-foot around in a circle, like the wheel of a cart. For adults, again, they were so happy and childlike that they starting doing flips. This may or may not have been literal gymnastic flipping. Again, the link is to a video of a woman turning a cartwheel.

"'cross the floor" simply means "across the floor." I imagine you knew that already...

We flipped across the floor.


It's all allusion and metaphor, and very, very well done. The fandango is a couples dance. There is a competitive element to some versions. Or, in other words, they were figuratively speaking, dancing round each other with a bit of drunken flirting. It's about the journey to having sex.

Turning cartwheels across the floor is a figurative way of saying that you're having a hell of a happy time. Or in this case, they both are - laughing, smiling, dancing round each other.

It's a loud party. At least one of them is drunk. After some dancing around each other they wind up in the sack, maybe as a one night stand, maybe as a drunken fuck upstairs at the party. It may be her first time, hence the reference to vestal virgins. He may have wondered if her reluctance was prick teasing, hence the bit in the third verse:

"and forced her to agree saying, 'You must be the mermaid, who took Neptune for a ride.' She smiled at me so sadly That my anger straightaway died."

There are however regrets in the fourth verse:

"If music be the food of love, Then laughter is its queen. And likewise if behind is front, Then dirt in truth is clean."

In short, though there was loud music and laughter, this was not the way to go about it. He thinks they went about it the wrong way round.

And did he later, drunkenly, brag about it?

"And so it was that later As the miller told his tale That her face, at first just ghostly, Turned a whiter shade of pale."

Faces go white with fear or anger. Chaucer's Miller is drunk, and his tale concerns a poor student relentlessly pursuing and finally cuckolding his landlord, a carpenter. The story winds up with it becoming becoming common knowledge that the carpenter's wife has slept with the student, and the townsfolk mock the carpenter. So was the woman in the song already attached to someone? And is the cat now out of the bag?


Bearing in mind the entire song is about one drunken/drug-laden night, leading to a perhaps less-than-romantic, yet physically, though possibly briefly, satisfying encounter with someone unspecified, the opening lines indicate something simply close to the 'facts' near the beginning of the encounter - if some time after the bar opened...
imo, the only difficulty is knowing whether they were in a loud night-club or at someone's house party.

They were dancing... in a somewhat disorderly & joyful manner, uninhibited & free to express how they were feeling.
The cartwheels, in the true gymnastic sense, may not be literal - the light fandango they were skipping may have just been some serious arm-waving & swaying whilst barely managing to remain upright, to the strains of The Doors, Stones or Beatles - but they most definitely did not 'skip' it as in 'not participate' - they were obviously both participating heavily.

You could go down the rest of the first verse, assigning each line an explanation you would be familiar with had you ever been in a night-club or noisy house-party, with far too much alcohol inside you, let alone drugs...

  • 'I was feeling kinda seasick' - the 8th pint will do that; the additional 6 large whiskies even more so.
  • 'but the crowd called out for more' - at least they were being entertaining, & others noticed. [This is my evidence for house-party; in a club you would have to be very noticeable to draw that kind of attention. Conversely, the band was already famous, so people may have known who they were]
  • 'The room was humming harder' - clubs do that to your ears, subjectively, once the music gets loud enough & you really don't need another drink - or, alternatively, was simply filling up with more people, all talking loudly.
  • 'As the ceiling flew away' - never had that happen, never having done LSD, but I've had the ground suddenly rush up to meet me.
  • 'when we called out for another drink' - as you do, after a few too many
  • 'the waiter brought a tray' - he had the measure of you, & was presumably hoping for a very large tip

The second verse, on the other hand, is far harder to explain [though the unpublished 3rd verse is easy enough].
Someone ask a question ;-)


Sounds like "trip the light fantastic" which is a flowery way to say dance. Refers to Terpsichore, Greek muse. Skipping here refers to a kind of step stop, step stop gait. Turning a cartwheel refers to tilting sideways into a handstand and then returning to upright as if on a wheel.


Here the "light fandango" refers to the normal dance moves. The speaker in the lyrics skipped the normal moves with his partner.

3a: to pass over or omit an interval, item, or step

I'm not entirely sure if the second line is an idiom or not. Clearly the speaker and his/her dance partner are spinning around the dance floor in a different manner than other pairs. I don't care to research further because it deals with knowledge of dance moves rather than English.

  • A cartwheel is a gymnastics movement where one puts his hands on the ground and turns a full circle, sideways. It is, to the best of my knowledge, not a standard move in any classic dances, so that fact that the singer and his partner were performing these movements could very well be explained by the fact they skipped the standard moves. :)
    – oerkelens
    Sep 15, 2014 at 7:14
  • Having known this song since it was new - this is such a bizarre explanation of the motives/actions behind the lyric, I feel compelled to add another answer Nov 9, 2014 at 19:11

"We skipped the light" means they didn't bother turning off the light. "fandango turned cartwheels on the floor" is surely some physical activity - dancing or sex on the floor.

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