My second inductee of 2022, and ninth so far, is the progressive rock supergroup, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP). I wrote about the member’s beginnings, back in the Circle Sky Record store days for our magazine Melody Hill and posted the story, From The Beginning, for you to read.
Three seasoned musicians were brought together in 1969. After rehearsals at Island Studios in Notting Hill, the band formed a live set featuring “The Barbarian”, an arrangement of the piano piece Allegro Barbaro by Béla Bartók,
ELP became one of rock’s first supergroups upon forming in 1970…The result was a stretch of albums…that turned prog from a black-light-in-the-basement listening experience into a stadium-filling phenomenon. At their heart was Emerson, whose eternal quest for a bigger, grander sound (thanks to a bank of organs and synthesizers that grew to resemble a fortress onstage) helped make ELP one of the most accomplished and absorbing bands rock ever birthedRolling Stone Magazine (2016)
“Rondo”, an arrangement of the jazz standard “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by Dave Brubeck that Emerson had recorded with the Nice, an arrangement of “Nut Rocker” as an encore, and a rock adaptation of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky that Emerson wished to do after seeing it performed with an orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London when he was in the Nice.
The group wished to enhance their live act and spent £9,000 on a sound mixer and £4,000 on a Moog Synthesizer imported from America that was adapted for better performance on stage. Starting a band as paid musicians didn’t hurt their start. On August 23, 1970, they performed live at Plymouth Guildhall in southwest England. They used a transit van, previously belonging to the band Yes, and were paid £400 for the gig. The small venue, chosen in case of failure, was a successful show and they were booked to play the Isle of Wight Festival which was attended by an estimated 600,000 people.
“….because we could sell out 20,000-seaters before we even had a record out. That was enough for him to think that a lot of people would go out and buy the record when it did come out.”Keith Emerson on why Atlantic’s chief Ahmet Ertegun agreed to take the band on
They fired two cannons at the completion of “Pictures at an Exhibition”. They signed a management and recording contract with E.G. Records, Island Recorcords in the UK, and Atlantic Records’ Cotillion Records subsidiary in North America. After their debut gigs, they recorded Emerson Lake & Palmer, at Advision Studios in London. Greg Lake was the producer and Eddie Offord was the engineer. The premiere album included “The Barbarian” and “Take a Pebble”, “Knife-Edge”, based on the first movement of Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček and the Allemande of French Suite No. 1 in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach,
The bloody roadie had doubled the charge in each cannon! And the entire stage just shook under the pressure of these cannons because, instead of the little charge just to make a noise, it was a charge sufficient enough to send a cannonball out there. And the cannons went up in the air and just hit the stage, the whole bloody drum kits just shook. The music stopped for a second, BOOM! Everybody sort of …WOW!!! What was that, you know? And of course, we recovered, and we played on and it was, you know, everybody went crazy!Greg Lake on the cannons at The Isle of Wight Festival August 29, 1970
Palmer’s drum solo “Tank”, “The Three Fates”, and Greg Lake’s “Lucky Man”, written when he was only 12 years old. This single would reach number 48 in the US. The LP would reach number 18 on the Billboard Charts.
“genuinely classically aware, and openly demonstrated their respect for classical music” “formed a genuine fusion between rock and jazz” and were noted for their “virtuosity and their uninhibited aggression.”Peter Donohoe – The Guardian March 12, 2016
The concert tour for the album would take them across UK, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Their performance on December 9, 1970, at the Lyceum Theatre in London was filmed and released in UK theatres in 1972 with added psychedelic effects including characters from Marvel Comics.
During a tour break in January 1971, they returned to Advision Studios and recorded the second album “Tarkus” which I have posted about as one of my favorite albums. Their third album was the live album “Pictures at an Exhibition” that was recorded at their performance at Newcastle City Hall on March 26, 1971, and decided to release it with the concert’s encore, “Nut Rocker”.
The band wanted it to be their second album but Atlantic didn’t think a classical-oriented piece would do well. It peaked at number 3 in the UK and number 10 in the US.
ELP’s third studio album, released in July of 1972, was called Trilogy. Greg Lake picked this as his favorite album by the band. It was recorded at Advision Studios with Offord between October 1971 and January 1972. The album reached number 2 in the Uk and number 5 in the US. The album cover was designed by Hipgnosis. They promoted it with a North American tour, Europe and Japan.
The album Trilogy includes “Hoedown” an adaptation of “Rodeo by Aaron Copland” and “From the Beginning” which was released as a single and charted number 39 in the US. Also included is “The Endless Enigma”, “The Sheriff”, “Trilogy”, “Living Sin” and “Abaddon’s Bolero”.
In early 1973, the band formed their own record label, Manticore Records, and purchased an abandoned cinema as their own rehearsal hall in Fulham, London. They started recording their fourth studio album “Brain Salad Surgery” at Advision and Olympic Studios. Offord was not available as he was busy with Yes, leaving engineering and mixing duties to Chris Kimsey and Geoff Young.
Greg Lake, as always, wrote the album’s lyrics, this time with the help of Peter Sinfield. The cover design is by H.R. Giger including the new logo that will stick with them throughout. Giger is a Swiss artist best known for his airbrushed images that blended human physiques with machines, an art style known as “biomechanical”. Giger later abandoned airbrushes for pastels, markers, and ink. He was part of the special effects team that won an Academy Award for the visual design of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien.
The front cover of the novelty triptych sleeve was split in half down the center, except for the circular screen, which was attached to the right flap, and was opened up like a gate. Opening the flaps revealed the second painting, featuring the full face of a human female (modeled after Giger’s partner Li Tobler) with ringlets of wire hair framing the closed eyes and multiple scars, including the infinity symbol and a scar from a frontal lobotomy.
The vinyl had a custom label and included a 12-panel fold-out poster with photographs of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, which were taken by Rosemary Adams. The album included “Jerusalem” which features the debut of the Moog Apollo, a prototype polyphonic synthesizer.
“Toccata” is a cover of the fourth movement of Piano Concerto No. 1 by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera and contains synthesized percussion in the form of an acoustic drum kit fitted with pick-ups that triggered electronic sounds (possibly the first electronic drums). The 29-minute track “Karn Evil 9” is the longest song recorded by the group. Brain Salad Surgery was released in November 1973 and reached number 2 in the UK and number 11 in the US.
From 1973 to 1974 they toured North America and Europe which included headlining the inaugural California Jam Festival on April 6. 1974, attended by over 250,000. Their theatrics included Emerson playing the piano as it spun, suspended, end-over-end;
Palmer playing on a rotating drum platform; and a Hammond organ being thrown around the stage to create feedback. Emerson often used a knife to force the keys on the organ to stay down. Emerson used a large Moog modular synthesizer on stage. The band carried almost 40 tons of equipment for the tour. ELP was one of the top world concert draws during 1973-74.
Performances from the band’s 1973–74 tour were documented in the live album, Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen, released in August 1974 as a triple LP. The album peaked at No. 5 in the UK and No. 4 in the US. They would take an extended break and rejoin in 1976 to record “Works Volume 1” at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, and EMI Studios in Paris, France.
“Works Volume 1” is a double LP with side one being Emerson solo, side 2 is Lake solo, side 3 is Palmer solo and side 4 is ELP. Emerson’s side consists of his 18-minute, three-movement “Piano Concerto No. 1”. Lake contributes five songs he co-wrote with Sinfield including the beautiful “C’est la Vie” and “Closer to Believing”, and Palmer’s includes two covers of classical pieces by Sergei Prokofiev and Bach.
I think for me, any great art is art which communicates human emotion.Greg Lake
One of the two group tracks, “Fanfare for the Common Man”, is a cover of the same-titled orchestral piece by Aaron Copland, who gave permission to have the band release it and was used as the opening for The Wide World of Sports, and the other is “Pirates”, one of my favorites, a 13:18 masterpiece of piracy on the high seas.
Works Volume 1 was released in March 1977 and peaked at number 9 in the UK and number 12 in the US. A single of “Fanfare for the Common Man” was released and reached number 2 in the UK. In November 1977, Works Volume 2 was released as a compilation of shorter tracks recorded from 1973 to 1976 during various album recording sessions.
The album was not as commercially successful as the band’s previous albums; it reached number 20 in the UK and number 37 in the US. Three tracks from the album were released as singles: “Tiger in a Spotlight”, “Maple Leaf Rag”, and “Watching Over You”.
The album also included the Christmas song by Lake, Sinfield, and Sergei Prokofiev, “I Believe in Father Christmas” which was a 1975 single and played widely during the holidays. A song that was cut from the Brain Salad Surgery album in 1973 “Brain Salad Surgery” is also included.
Great tune, but I prefer the later-released “Works Vol 2” version over this “choir/orchestra adorned” one presented here. Also wish they hadn’t delayed/double-tracked his vocals, but those are only minor quibbles…it’s still one of my faves for Christmas. Also worth looking up is a live version he did with Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) playing flute. His voice is a little older and a little rougher, but it’s still quite nice.Andrew – A fan commenting on “I Believe in Father Christmas”
There was a North American tour of 120 dates from 1977-78 supporting Works. The first 18 shows had an orchestra and choir which was shelved due to monetary restraints. The final concert with the orchestra and choir took place on 26 August 1977 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal
that was attended by an estimated 78,000 people, the highest attended Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert as a solo act. This recording was released as “Emerson, Lake & Palmer in Concert”. I got to see them twice on this tour, once with the orchestra and once without (both incredible).
We were the guys who went across the grain. We didn’t have lead guitar as the main instrument. We were keyboard driven. We wrote classical adaptations on modern-day instruments. We didn’t play blues; we didn’t play out-and-out rock. We managed to pick up that tag ‘pretentious’ and it stayed with us, and it did more harm than good. People forgot about the music and started talking about how big and overindulgent the shows were. Such a load of rubbish when you consider the shows today. What we did back then was just laying down the blueprint for the future.Carl Palmer
As the group was contractually obliged to record one more studio album, the band relocated to Emerson’s home near Nassau in the Bahamas and recorded Love Beach at the nearby Compass Point Studios in 1978. Sinfield is credited on the majority of the tracks as a lyricist except “Canario”, an instrumental based on Fantasía para un gentilhombre by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.
The second side is taken up with “Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman”, a four-part 20-minute track that tells a coming of age story of a soldier during the World War II era. I personally like this album but the critics did not but nevertheless “Love Beach” went Gold.
We manage to bounce ideas off one another. Every band fights, but at the end of the day, we’re very positive about the way we fight. At least we come out with a result.Keith Emerson
The photo on the cover was taken at a beach off an island from Salt Cay, Turks Islands. They would return in 1992 with a comeback album, Black Moon, on Victory Music. This is a very good album followed in 1994 by the album Hot Seat. On July 25, 2010, Emerson, Lake & Palmer played a one-off 40th-anniversary concert, headlining the High Voltage Festival event in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album High Voltage.
Sadly Keith Emerson died on March 11, 2016, of a gunshot wound to the head ruled as suicide, and Greg Lake died on December 7, 2016, from cancer. Carl Palmer was still touring with his ELP Legacy band at the time of this induction.