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.