I was listening to the Genesis epic classic “Supper’s Ready” at the gym this morning and I starting thinking about posting something from my Prog collection. I decided today was ELP day. Hope you don’t mind. My first exposure to Emerson, Lake & Palmer was probably somewhere around 1971 when I heard “Lucky Man” on the radio. Today, ”Lucky Man” sounds a bit quaint and outdated, but it remains a beautiful song as far as I’m concerned. I remember my friend Jim’s brother used it at his wedding. This was not uncommon in the 70′s. I’m not sure if “Lucky Man” actually hurt the careers of ELP, but it did pigeonhole them a bit. That first record, 1970′s Emerson, Lake & Palmer, had some stellar tracks on it. “Take a Pebble” was absolutely one. “Knife Edge” was probably my personal favorite, but it was “Lucky Man” that carried the day for that first voyage. The rumor mill suggests that “Lucky Man,” allegedly written by Greg Lake at ripe old age of 12, was a throwaway track considered filler at the time. Apparently the record company requested they add it. Neither Emerson nor Palmer thought very much of it the story goes. Wonder what they think of it today all those dollars later? Just curious…
I remember being in the sixth grade, somewhere around 1973, when my music teacher (do they still have those?) brought in a copy of ELP’s 1971 LP Pictures of An Exhibition. Teachers, like Mrs Pritchard (I don’t even recall her first name because we always called her “Mrs” and it was 37 years ago), could get behind ELP because they were classically trained musicians. Pictures at An Exhibition was an interpretation of work originally done by Modest Mussorgsky, a Russian composer in the 1800′s. As a 13 year old kid I didn’t know squat about ELP or Mussorgsky, but if my teacher liked it there’s a pretty good chance it wasn’t very cool. It didn’t seem half bad to me really, but I wasn’t rushing out to find my own copy that’s for sure. It was about that time that Emerson, Lake & Palmer released Brain Salad Surgery complete with it’s interesting cover and design. It was the first time I actually made the connection between Classical Music (not one of my favorite genres) and ELP’s work. When I see the words “Movement, Arrangement, Suite and Impression” I usually start sprinting in the other direction. Now I was interested.
ELP, according to our friends at Wikipedia, sold over 40 Million records worldwide. That’s a lot of records. They were considered something of a Supergroup back in the day because Keith Emerson was playing keyboards in a band called The Nice, Greg Lake was the bassist in the legendary King Crimson and Carl Palmer was drumming for a band called Atomic Rooster. I know I have mentioned that I bought more than the occasional album over the years strictly because the artwork intrigued me. Well, Atomic Rooster became one of those bands in 80′s. A CD called Home To Roost, which apparently was first released in 1977, was one of those records. I had no idea, none, that Carl Palmer was involved with this band when I grabbed the CD out of our used CD bin back when I managed a compact disc store in 1987. I just liked the artwork on the cover. I only found out about it today when I started looking into ELP’s background for this post! Now I have to listen to the CD again to see if I can actually make out Palmer’s drumming. Know what? When I went to look into Atomic Rooster’s background I found out they were predominantly made up of ex-Crazy World of Arthur Brown members. I could not get enough of TCWAB’s 1968 hit single “Fire” when I was a kid. I think I still have that 45 RPM around here somewhere. Small world huh? I know It’s Only Rock & Roll, but I Like It as someone once said.
Brain Salad Surgery was released in November of 1973 and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were instantly international superstars. The album only contained five tracks, but the last one, Karn Evil 9, had several impressions. Radio stations knew it was good, but they had to locate the shortest numbers to fit their formats. “Still…You Turn Me On” was perfect. Two minutes and forty three seconds of I love my girlfriend. Sold. ELP’s other relatively famous track from Brain Salad Surgery would be Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part II. It contained the “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends” phrase and it was short enough to play on the radio at 4:46. “Jerusalem” also got some light airplay, but the record sold like hotcakes. The curious thing about Brain Salad Surgery, as good as it was, is that 1972′s Trilogy might well have been Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s finest moment. Trilogy had “From The Beginning” and several other classic ELP tracks. I’m guessing it didn’t sell nearly as well as Brain Salad Surgery though. Including their second record, 1971′s Tarkus, ELP had released their core studio records by the end of 1973. They went on an ostentatious world tour and released and unheard of triple album in 1974 called Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends…Ladies and Gentlemen to commemorate the event, but ELP as we knew them were officially running on fumes. The Moog Synthesizer and the Hammond Organ seemed to be running out of ideas by 1975. Works Volumes I & II, released in 1977, had their moments, but by and large the changing landscape of Rock had passed them by. It was Clash, not Classical any longer.
I have one or two friends that still swear by classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer and for that I am grateful because I find myself still attached to the bands of my youth on more than one occasion. I look around and most folks my age have long since stopped rocking and I feel like the only idiot alive that loves the history of Rock & Roll as much as I do in my age group. Bleep ‘em. I got to shake Warren Haynes’ hand on Thursday, took in Interpol that night and saw Gov’t Mule at point blank range last night. I don’t care if I’m The Last Man Standing, as Jerry Lee Lewis might say, I’ll be rocking myself to the grave. OK, enough babbling. I’m leaving you with three of my favorite ELP tracks, but I wish it could be more.
Buy or Download Come & See The Show: The Best of ELP from Amazon here.