December 30 – Apparently The Never-ending Show Did End

They may have been known for saying “welcome back my friends to the show that never ends” and they were the quintessential ’70s Prog Rock group – for good or bad. So maybe it was a bit surprising when they called it quits with the decade itself. Emerson, Lake & Palmer officially broke up on this day in 1979.

The British trio of keyboardist Keith Emerson, drummer Carl Palmer and singer/bassist Greg Lake formed around the beginning of the decade with the concept of creating music that blended the length and depth of classical music with the energy, instruments and lyrics of rock. They were in the words of allmusic, “the original Prog Rock supergroup”. Through the ’70s, they put out seven studio albums, one of which, Tarkus, hit #1 in their home of the UK. All seven went gold in the States, as did a couple of live albums – not a surprise since their reputation was built largely on their complex and extravagant concerts. All that without a real “hit single”… although “Lucky Man” did make the Canadian and German top 30 and got considerable radio on the growing American FM rock market in the ’70s. At the height of their popularity, they were headlining world tours and playing for as many as 78 000 fans on a night (as was the case in Montreal in 1977.)

However, they were becoming a bit bored and their seventh studio album, Love Beach, didn’t do well in comparison to previous works. That, according to Palmer was because it was produced just to fulfill their contractual obligation to Atlantic Records…never a good formula for success. They’d lost money on the previous tour, “Works”, which was supposed to be 120 shows but ended up culled by about 100! They took along a full orchestra for that one, which drove costs up, and tensions as well, as it was apparently Emerson’s desire against the wishes of the other two.

Palmer says “we had been together roughly eight, eight-and-a-half years. We’d made a lot of albums, and we’d toured a lot. We hadn’t really started families, except for Keith… so we wanted some time (apart) – we didn’t fall out, no fights, nothing like that. It just ended.”

End it did, although like lots of other groups of the era, they did reunite in the ’90s after about a dozen years apart. In the decade between, Emerson did some movie soundtrack work and he and Lake briefly formed the similar and similar-sounding Emerson, Lake & Powell with drummer Cozy Powell replacing Palmer. He also toured in 1990 with a short-lived act , not too demurely called The Best, which also included Joe Walsh, Skunk Baxter and John Entwistle. Carl Palmer went on to brief but big stardom with Asia, which Lake also joined very briefly (not being present on their smash debut record.)

Sadly of the three only Carl Palmer is still with us; Emerson and Lake both passed away in 2016.

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December 7 – Prog Rock’s Great Lake

Remembering Greg Lake, six years after he passed away from cancer at age 69. Lake was something close to royalty among Prog Rock fans, being a founding member of both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Although he played bass and sang with the latter, he was a multi-instrumentalist, playing keyboards and guitar as well. He actually met Robert Fripp as a youth when both had the same guitar instructor; years later they created King Crimson. He left that band in 1970 to create EL&P, being a part of nine studio albums (plus some very well received live ones) with them as well as working with the ’80s version of the group, Emerson, Lake & Powell. While they were widely labeled as “progressive rock”, he didn’t like the label and said “we were just trying to be different.” Being different to them, as the New York Times would say in its obituary for him meant “being a seminal figure in the movement to Europeanize rock’n’roll by blending it with classical music.”

Although he’s played in some 46 albums between his bands and solo work, he’s largely remembered in the mainstream for two songs: “Lucky Man”, an Emerson, Lake & Palmer song, and his Christmas classic “(I Believe In)Father Christmas.” The former, from 1970 which was a top 30 hit in Canada and Germany and was one he wrote while just 12 years old and filed it away until he had a chance to record it. The Christmas song was his first solo venture, in 1975 and hit #2 in the UK and has since become standard Christmas fare on North American radio come December. Ironically, the song arguably deploring crass commercialism is his biggest retail hit song, The Guardian said it was a terrific vision of “how Christmas had deteriorated and was in danger of becoming yet another victim of crass corporate exploitation.”

He died in 2016 just shy of his 70th Christmas, leaving his wife Regina and a daughter behind.

November 10 – Moodys Looked To Past To Get To Future

Some might argue that “prog rock” was born this day in 1967 with the Moody Blues release of Days of Future Passed and the magnificent single, “Nights in White Satin.” It certainly expanded the boundaries of rock as we then knew it by incorporating symphonic bits, a full orchestra in parts of the album and spoken bits of poetry between songs. It came about because of a set of fortuitous circumstances.

The band had been losing appeal and probably interested in their modern R&B sound they’d been playing for three years or so and were wanting to do something more adventurous. Keyboardist Mike Pinder wanted to play the mellotron (then new technology but later described as “A primitive tape-loop triggering keyboard”) and they had the idea of a concept album, which it ended up being. Days of Future Passed has songs on it intertwined around the moods and rhythms of a day in the life of an ordinary man. Furthermore, Decca Records wanted to try out their new stereo technology with rock; previously the Moodys and all the label’s other rock or pop acts had been put out in mono, although Decca had put out some stereo symphonic classical work. This was the perfect forum and format for the musical vision of blending modern rock with classical overtures and instruments – something carried on later by E.L.O.

The result was an album in which songs were segued by using spoken word poems and interludes played by the London Festival Orchestra, which was quite different than anything the biggest acts of the day- the Stones, the Doors, even the Beatles- were attempting. At the time, reaction was mixed. Some loved it but most critics panned it. Rolling Stone, for example, in one of its first editions, suggested the “music is constantly marred by one of the most startling saccharine conceptions of ‘beauty’ and ‘mysticism’ that any rock group has ever affected.” The album did OK for them at home, hitting #19 in Britain. North America was a little cooler to it at first. “Tuesday Afternoon” did make its way into the top 30 in the U.S., their first such hit, but the album and its standout track gathered dust more than anything for a few years over here. “Nights in White Satin” , was an immediate hit in Britain, going to #9 that winter. It also charted much lower in Canada but was ignored in the U.S. Their record company brilliantly realized five years later (1972) that musical tastes had expanded in the U.S. David Bowie, Yes and Procol Harum were gaining respect and success with “out there” sounds, so why not the Moody Blues? They started pushing the album again and re-released “Nights in White Satin”, this time to major acclaim and sales, getting to #2 on Billboard and topping Canadian charts. Remarkably, it became a top 20 hit once more in the UK in 1979.

The haunting song was written by the band’s singer, Justin Hayward, when he was only 19 and inspired by his girlfriend and some, yes satin sheets, she gave him as a gift. He says “it was a very personal song, every word of it meant something to me,and I found …other people have felt the same way.”

September 13 – It Would Have Been A ‘Crime’ If This One Didn’t Get Noticed

Third time was the charm for Supertramp. After a couple of difficult-to-digest albums that flopped commercially, they got it right with their third album, Crime of the Century, which came out this day in 1974.

Needless to say, they’d had time to work out the kinks in their musical vision between albums. This came over three years after their almost-forgotten second one, Indelibly Stamped, and in the meantime, they’d added a new bassist (Dougie Thompson), drummer (Bob Seibenberg) and perhaps most importantly a horn player, John Helliwell, who helped shape their sound and add color to their stage show from thereonin. That said, as always, the band was a shared concept of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, who collectively wrote dozens of songs in their downtime. The band ended up recording 42 tracks for the record, only eight of which made the final cut, although a few were later reworked and added to later albums. Although they tended to each write songs by themselves, the credit was shared equally just as the Beatles had done with the Lennon/McCartney partnership. Lead vocals were shared as well, with four songs each on Crime… being done by Hodgson and Davies.

With only eight used out of 42, there’s little wonder it was quite a strong collection. True to their prog rock labeling, the album still ran over 44 minutes, with three of the songs running well past six minutes.

Although they technically only issued one single from it, and it was only a modest seller, many of the tracks found a home on FM rock stations and remain “classic rock” staples to this day, among them “Bloody Well Right”, “School”, “Dreamer” and the “Hide In Your Shell.” They were fan faves too; no coincidence six of the eight songs made their way onto the band’s live album, Paris.

Although it wasn’t a concept album, it did look a lot at the loneliness of growing up and school life frequently. For instance, both “Bloody Well Right” (a Davies song) and “School” (by Hodgson) were rebukes of what they felt was a failing British educational system. It was probably still fresh in their memories; Roger’s at least. Hodgson was 24 at the time; Davies was already just turned 30. Hodgson said about “Hide in Your Shell”, “I wrote that when I was 23, confused about life…I’ve always been able to express my innermost feelings more openly in song.”

Rolling Stone graded it 3-stars while the Village Voice gave it a middling review, calling them “Queen without (the) preening, Yes without pianistics and meter shifts.” Later on, allmusic gave it 4-stars, calling it when they “came into their own” despite calling them “snarky collegiate elitists, an art rock variation of Steely Dan”.

They issued a two-sided single, so to speak, off it, “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right.” In the U.S., the latter was the A-side and gave them their first top 40 hit, in Europe, “Dreamer” got the radio love and made it to #13 at home and #6 in Germany. Overall, the album made it into the top 5 in Britain, Canada and Germany, going gold in the UK and U.S., platinum in New Zealand …but diamond status in Canada! They always had a curious special appeal in Canada, and although it took til after Breakfast In America also went diamond in 1979, it was one of the first records ever to hit that plateau in the Great White North. It also was a rarity in being an album, by a foreign act, that sold far more physical copies in Canada than the much larger U.S.

The album was of high sound quality too, needless to say, being co-produced by Ken Scott, an engineer for several Beatles albums under George Martin. Fittingly, A&M issued it as an enhanced “Audio Master Plus” version of CD in 1984.

August 27 – Alan & Eric Tipped Their Caps To The Fairer Sex

A couple of guys coming up with a feminist statement record? Well, close to it seems. The Alan Parsons Project put out their fourth album, Eve, on this day in 1979 and like many of their works, it was something of a concept album, even if a little loosely aligned. Alan had begun the work with an idea of writing songs about the greatest women through history, but eventually he and writing partner Eric Woolfson created a nine-song set designed to honor women and acknowledge some of the troubles they face in society.

As was typical of Parsons’ work, there was no one lead singer. In fact, he utilized six different ones for the eight songs with vocals. Included were regulars David Paton (ex of Pilot) and Lenny Zakatek – who took the mic for the album’s main hit, “Damned if I Do” – but there was also Lesley Duncan, and on “Don’t Hold Back”, Clare Torry, whom Parsons knew from her striking shriek-singing on Dark Side of the Moon, which he engineered for Pink Floyd. Paton, Ian Bairnson, Duncan MacKay and Woolfson comprised the main core of the band, and this time, Alan himself didn’t play on the record, only producing and mixing it. Many people are surprised to find that no matter which APP song they listen to, they’re not hearing Parsons sing. Also typical of Parsons work, it fell somewhere between prog rock and straight-ahead pop in sound (Prog Archives compare him to the Moody Blues), fitting for a man who was instrumental in getting greats from both Pink Floyd and the Beatles completed.

The record won mixed reviews overall, although it didn’t seem to get terribly much attention at all. Allmusic is correct when they describe it as “somewhat overlooked.”

Rolling Stone (2-stars) and the Village Voice (“D”) both panned it, but in Britain, Smash Hits gave it 8 out of 10… a curious reversal of its commercial fate. Later on, both allmusic and Album of the Year graded it as 4-stars. The former liked how it “involves some of the group’s most intricate songs” and state “gems include…the bitter but forceful ‘Damned if I Do’, the gorgeous ‘You Won’t Be There’ and the dominating fury of ‘Lucifer’”.

Two of those would go on to become hits, albeit on different sides of the ocean. The strident instrumental ‘Lucifer’ was a Euro-hit, notably in Germany, where it got to #8. Over here, “Damned if I Do” got to #16 in Canada and #27 in the U.S. Overall, the album did OK, being their first top 10 hit in Canada and New Zealand and reaching #13 in the States. It was actually a #1 hit in Germany, where they’d eventually score four. As usual though, the Brits didn’t warm to it and it stalled at #74 there.

Curiously, Eve was the only one of their records to be put out on 8-track tape, as well as LP and cassette. And although it took over 30 years, it finally came out on CD in 2011, with five added tracks, although they were all demos or alternate versions of songs on the original release.

August 20 – An ‘Empire’ Built On Prog Foundations And Metal

An album that made a band an overnight sensation… after a decade and three previous albums. People learned how to pronounce Queensryche this day in 1990, or soon after, as that’s when they put out their biggest album, Empire.

Queensryche were an unusual sort of band that had begun in Washington state a full decade earlier. As allmusic note, they work “drawing equally from guitar pyrotechnics and art rock.” Basically, it you like the big, artsy sounds of ’70s Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes as well as the in yer’ face rock of the ’80s Scorpions and Quiet Riot, Queensryche could be the band for you! They’d signed to EMI Records early in the ’80s, after changing their name. They’d originally gone by The Mob, but management wanted that changed, so they opted to co-opt one of their early songs for a name – “Queen of the Reich” became Queensryche. They changed the spelling of the second part to reduce the chance of being considered Nazi sympathists and added an accent – the dotted “umlaut” – over the “Y”, which they say “has haunted us for years. We spent 11 years trying to explain how to pronounce it.”

They didn’t have to try that often perhaps during the ’80s, since although they had a loyal fanbase, they never really connected on a big scale or had a legitimate hit record. This album would change that.

Like many Seattle acts, they headed across the border to Vancouver to record, and they got producer Peter Collins back to work with them. He’d worked on their previous release, Operation Mindcrime, and made a name for himself working on several records for another prog rock/hard rock crossover act, Rush.

Guitarist Chris Degarmo was the main writer for the 11 song, 63-minute effort, but singer Geoff Tate and guitarist Michael Wilton also took part. When it came out, it didn’t really jump out at most people as being a surefire hit or radio fodder…except for one song that almost didn’t make it on – “Silent Lucidity”.

The song many people figured sounded more like Pink Floyd than recent Pink Floyd had, was an elegant, orchestral piece about lucid dreaming (where one is aware of being in a dream while having it.) Degarmo wrote it but Tate says “I love that song. I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.” However, producer Collins didn’t like it initially and lobbied to have it cut. That was in its original, acoustic guitar and vocals version. But the band liked it, and decided to bring in Michael Kamen and an orchestra to fatten up the sound for it, even drawing on a piece of Brahms classical music for it. Apparently it was worth the effort. The song alone got nominated for two Grammy Awards, and put the band on the musical map.

Other than that, the album was rather uneven in sound, but rooted in longer songs. Two topped seven minutes and only two clocked in just under five. Reaction was mixed. Rolling Stone gave it 3.5-stars but Entertainment Weekly reluctantly graded it “D”, calling it “tuneless bombast” by “relentless killjoys.” Later on, Record Collector gave it a middling 3-stars, and allmusic 4.5. The former praised it for being “intelligent, subtle and immaculately played” and for singer Geoff Tate “at his best throughout.” but they did suggest the album was “more progressive” than its predecessors making it “pleasant…also a little boring.” Allmusic liked that they seemed a little less “involved with the darker side of love,” and thought the love songs like “Another Rainy Night” and “Hand on Heart” were noteworthy, as was “Silent Lucidity.”

The album took awhile to take off, but eventually did thanks to the popularity of “Silent Lucidity” on FM rock stations. That one ended up being a #1 rock hit and top 10 single overall in the States and Canada (just missing it at #11 In New Zealand but failing to crack to top 40 in Australia). That was followed up by two more rock radio successes, “Jet City Woman” and “Another Rainy Night.” The album slowly lifted itself to #7 at home, and the top 20 in the UK, Canada, Norway and several other countries. At triple-platinum, it’s by far their biggest seller to date…but not for lack of trying. Since Empire, they’ve put out 11 more studio albums with another scheduled to drop this fall, featuring the new single “In Extremis”.

December 30 – EL&P Truly A Product Of The ’70s

They were the quintessential ’70s prog rock group – for good or bad – so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise when they called it quits with the decade itself. Emerson, Lake & Palmer officially broke up on this day in 1979.

The British trio of keyboardist Keith Emerson, drummer Carl Palmer and singer/bassist Greg Lake formed around the beginning of the decade with the concept of creating music that blended the length and depth of classical music with the energy, instruments and lyrics of rock. They were in the words of allmusic, “the original prog rock supergroup”. Through the ’70s, they put out seven studio albums, one of which, Tarkus, hit #1 in their home of the UK. All seven went gold in the States, as did a couple of live albums – not a surprise since their reputation was built largely on their complex and extravagant concerts. All that without a real “hit single”… although “Lucky Man” did make the Canadian and German top 30 and got considerable radio on the growing American FM rock market in the ’70s. At the height of their popularity, they were headlining world tours and playing for as many as 78 000 fans on a night (as was the case in Montreal in 1977.)

However, they were becoming a bit bored and their seventh studio album, Love Beach, didn’t do well in comparison to previous works. That, according to Palmer was because it was produced just to fulfill their contractual obligation to Atlantic Records…never a good formula for success. They’d lost money on the previous tour, “Works”, which was supposed to be 120 shows but ended up culled by about 100! They took along a full orchestra for that one, which drove costs up, and tensions as well, as it was apparently Emerson’s desire against the wishes of the other two.

Palmer says “we had been together roughly eight, eight-and-a-half years. We’d made a lot of albums, and we’d toured a lot. We hadn’t really started families, except for Keith… so we wanted some time (apart) – we didn’t fall out, no fights, nothing like that. It just ended.”

End it did, although like lots of other groups of the era, they did reunite in the ’90s after about a dozen years apart. In the decade between, Emerson did some movie soundtrack work and he and Lake briefly formed the similar and similar-sounding Emerson, Lake & Powell with drummer Cozy Powell replacing Palmer. He also toured in 1990 with a short-lived act called The Best, which also included Joe Walsh, Skunk Baxter and John Entwistle. Carl Palmer went on to brief but big stardom with Asia, which Lake also joined very briefly (not being present on their smash debut record.)

Sadly of the three only Carl Palmer is still with us; Emerson and Lake both passed away in 2016.

October 21 – Kansas Carried On Towards The Top

It seemed like a fluke. It was the right song at the right time.” That applies to many hit records that made a career, but in this case it was guitarist Rich Williams of Kansas talking about the surprise success of “Carry on Wayward Son,” the single that vaulted them into the national spotlight in 1976. It was on Leftoverture, their fourth album, which came out this day 45 years ago.

Kansas, as allmusic put it, started out “fusing the complexity of British prog-rock with an American heartland sound.” Through their first three albums – and about three years of non-stop touring – they’d built up a decent following and sold tickets well but had lacked any real presence on radio or in the mainstream pop market. Leftoverture would change that, and quickly.

They recorded it in Louisiana, “in the middle of a swamp.” Singer Steve Walsh had done a fair bit of their writing in the past, but had writer’s block, leaving the task almost entirely to multi-instrumentalist Kerry Livgren to pen the new record. That he did, being the main writer on all eight of the songs and doing five of them all by himself. They didn’t arrive with much of it ready, recalls producer Jeff Glixman, who’s worked on seven of their studio albums to this point (plus live ones and remastered re-releases.) “Kerry was writing like a madman during the time we were in rehearsals,” he says.

Among the most notable of songs is the album’s finisher, “Magnum Opus” which runs over eight minutes and is actually a bit of a medley of six brief songs, rather like the Beatles “Abbey Road Medley” had been. Among the improbable titles of the parts of “Magnum Opus” are “Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat” and “Release the beavers.” Apparently it consisted of bits and pieces of songs they’d not quite finished or fleshed out, put together. They were originally going to title the song “Leftoverture”, due to its nature of being “leftovers” making one “overture” but they changed their mind but salvaged that name for the entire album. Then as oft seems the case in music, they had seven songs done but needed just a bit more to complete the album…thankfully. Enter Livgren again, who brought in “Carry on Wayward Son” at the last moment.

It’s an autobiographical song…I’ve always been on a spiritual sojourn, looking for truth and meaning,” he reflected later, “it was a song of self-encouragement.” And it was done on the fly, since time was running out to finish. “The version you hear is probably the first time we played it correctly,” he told Ultimate Classic Rock.

When it arrived, late in the Bicentennial year, critics were of differing opinions. Rolling Stone called it their “best album to date,” a record that “warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh, new American bands which combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines and pleasant singing.” Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, however, graded it just “D+” comparing it too European prog rock without as much intelligence. Years later, allmusic would grade it decently – 3.5-stars – although considering it an “impenetrable conundrum” saved only by “Wayward Son”, “the greatest song Kansas ever cut” but “never manage to rival it anywhere.”

The masses agreed. Although the second single, “What’s on My Mind” flopped (not even charting in fact), “Carry on Wayward Son” was a huge FM hit and did respectably well on AM hit radio. It got to #11 at home, #5 in Canada and by now is 4X platinum as a single in the U.S. That pushed the album to #5 (#2 in Canada) and at 5X platinum, it’s not only Kansas’ most successful, it’s the biggest-selling album ever on Don Kirshner’s private Kirshner Records label.

Wayward or not, Kansas have carried on to this day, putting out 13 more new albums since Leftoverture

October 14 – Germany Signaled Heroic Change For Bowie

With his ever-changing looks and eclectic artistic leanings, David Bowie became a hero to many. And on this day in 1977, he introduced us to his “Heroes” – that is to say, his album, entitled that. It was his 12th studio album, and the middle one of his so-called “Berlin Trilogy.”

That set of albums of course, came out of the time in the late-’70s Bowie had moved to Germany for a couple of years, escaping his previous home, L.A. “Life in L.A. had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. I had approached the brink of drug-induced calamity one too many times and it was essential to take some sort of positive action,” he said later. That positive action turned out to be moving to the West Germany. “The city was cheap and it guaranteed anonymity,” journalist Sophie Harris explained as to his reasoning.

Going with him was equally eclectic musician Eno. The first record they did together there was Low with the British hit “Sound and Vision.” For this one they brought in guitarist Robert Fripp, of King Crimson to add a bit of edge but continued on with their mixing of styles and influences, recording in an old studio located only yards away from the Berlin Wall (which of course still divided the city and land – this was still at the height of the Cold War.)

The wall was partly the inspiration for the title track, loosely about a couple of lovers separated by it but meeting there. “A perfect expression of romantic defiance,” in the words of Harris. The rest of the album merged Eno’s tendencies towards atmospheric, ambient electronic music and Bowie’s glam rock with several dark instrumentals like “Neukolln” and “Sense of Doubt.” It was all interesting, ground-breaking and perhaps a bit ironic long before Generation Irony took over. Bowie explained that he used quotation marks on the title because he thought it ironic how the word “heroes” was bandied about in society.

RCA realized it could be a bit difficult to market properly. They ran ads saying “There’s old wave, there’s new wave. And there’s David Bowie.” Basically, critics noticed and loved the record. The public ignored it, or yawned if they did come across it. The title track was the first single, and despite how much a staple of “classic rock” radio it has become, at the time wasn’t a major hit. It rose to #24 in the UK and didn’t even chart in North America. Eventually it was certified gold in Britain, but not until his death had spurred on renewed interest in his career this decade. The album itself got to #3 in the UK but only #35 in the U.S., the lowest peak for any of his albums since 1971. Even in Germany, where it was birthed, it attracted little attention, going to #44, even with Bowie issuing a version that included some songs in German.

The few reviews at the time seemed positive, but the album’s stature has grown significantly through the years. Of late, Pitchfork gave it a perfect 10, declaring it “showed all the signs of an artist growing up. Part Little Richard boogie, part Krautrock… the unlikely stylistic combination (of Bowie and Eno) hints at man’s evolution with technology, while throwing off sparks of sweat.” Entertainment Weekly, looking back at his career upon his death in 2016 rated the record “A”, calling it “art rock… thickly layered songs that subtly reflect the rise of punk’s existential angst.” Allmusic grade it a perfect 5-stars, particularly liking Fripp’s added guitars and describing the results as “challenging and ground-breaking.” Which, we might add, could be a description of the man himself.

October 10 – Rock Progressed Into New Territory

If you like your rock “dramatic and doom-laden”, to quote Wikipedia, it was your day in 1969. That was when perhaps the ultimate Prog Rock band made their entrance – King Crimson with their debut record, In the Court of the Crimson King.

King Crimson was a group which had only formed within the year, but had built up a huge following almost overnight… something aided by opening for the Rolling Stones at a huge London concert that summer. The quintet were more or less led by guitarist Robert Fripp, who wanted to big classical music sounds with rock instruments and experimental sounds and songs. Michael Giles played drums, there was Pete Sinfield whose only roles were writing lyrics and helping produce the album, but the real standouts that “made” the King Crimson sound were bassist and lead singer Greg Lake (soon to be part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and Ian MacDonald, who was a played flutes, sax, and was a master of pretty much anything with keys, including piano, organ, and most notably, the mellotron. The complex keyboard with the distinctive sound had been used by the Beatles in songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and readily by the Moody blues, but King Crimson took it to another level, building much of their sound around it. Getting the record made for Island Records was a complicated procedure. They used a state-of-the-art studio, with 8-track recording, but so complicated was the music that many of the songs had five layers of tape, or about 40 separate tracks mixed in. Despite that, there were problems with the equipment, and originally some of the high end treble didn’t come through. The band has remixed it several times since to correct that to their satisfaction.

In the Court of The Crimson King had pretty much all the characteristics that would soon define “prog rock” – complex, lengthy songs (the album had just five songs, all running over six minutes) with confusing lyrics, mighty arrangements, plenty of over-dubbing and, also importantly, an odd artsy cover. In this case, it was a painting called “Schizoid Man”, which inspired the song “21st Century Schizoid Man” on it. Fripp would end up buying the original art. “What can one add? It reflects the music!” he says.

Side 2 of the LP was devoted to just two songs – “Moon Child” and the title track. A couple of years later Sinfield said “kids write and say ‘I don’t understand your lyrics. Who is the Crimson King?’”. He didn’t answer but we do know the song was musically based loosely on a Barber classical piece entitled “Essay for Orchestra”, and lyrically it poetically rails against the Vietnam War, with references to things like napalm. Some of the band did suggest it was a dig at American Vice President Spiro Agnew, but as with most art, the meanings probably best lie in the minds of those appreciating it.

In the Court of the Crimson king” was actually released as a single, but didn’t fare well sales-wise. It hit #80 in the States, and that was its best showing. Perhaps that was partly because you had to flip the single over in the middle of the song. It was so long they split it and had it start on the a-side and end on the b-side. Besides, the loyal fans were buying the entire LP. It hit #5 in their British homeland and #7 in Australia. It barely cracked the top 30 in North America, but it stayed popular long enough to hit gold in the U.S. and UK and platinum in Canada. While they have neared that level of success at times with their subsequent dozen albums, they never topped this entry for critical praise.

At the time, not many reviews seemed to be written, or at least archived. Rolling Stone did though, noting it “combines aspects of many musical forms to create a surreal work of force and originality.” Through the years though, the record’s stature has grown. Pitchfork, Mojo and allmusic all have given it perfect scores. The former called it a “monument” and referenced the Moody Blues, Brian Wilson and Pink Floyd by way of comparison. Allmusic consider it “one of the most daring debut albums ever recorded” and Greg Lake’s vocals to be the best of his career. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked it as the second-greatest Progressive Rock album ever, behind only Dark Side of the Moon. Among its many fans was Peter Gabriel. He told reporters in the ’70s that Genesis “thought they were just magnificent! (They were) doing the same kind of things we were doing, but so much bigger, better.”