Album Art – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery

There must be someone who can set them free: To take their sorrow from this odyssey – To help the helpless and the refugee: To protect what’s left of humanity.

This is where I’ll be talking about the Album Art that I like. That is one of the benefits of 12″ vinyl albums, the cool packaging that surrounded the record. Here I’ll research the creations that we all loved as children, teenagers, and adults. I’ll try to find as much information on the artists as I can.

Brain Salad Surgery, released November 19, 1973, was the 4th studio album for the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP). With a cover needed for this upcoming album Manticore[1] manager Peter Zumsteg introduced Emerson to a popular artist, Hans Ruedi Giger[2], who was living in Zurich.

After a show, Emerson visited Giger at his home. The working title for ELP’s new album was the expression “Whip Some Skull on Ya”, which is translated as fellatio. Giger had just created a human skull-based triptych entitled Work 216: Landscape XIX. When he revealed the triptych to his guest, Emerson immediately felt that it was completely appropriate for the album cover art.

The name of the album was then changed to “Brain Salad Surgery” which has the same meaning as “Whip Some Skull on Ya”. The name was from Dr. John’s April 1973 song “Right Place, Wrong Time” which contains the lyrics “I been running trying to get hung up in my mind, got to give myself a little talking to this time, just need a little brain salad surgery, got to cure this insecurity”. Giger then painted two album-sized works, Work 217: ELP I and Work 218: ELP II.

My promoter friend insisted on driving me to Giger’s house. I remember it was a fairly modest bungalow from the outside – until you went in. The interior décor was overpowering, gothic to the extreme. From floor to ceiling his unique airbrush technique had transformed a simple room into a cathedral. Giger had gone three-dimensional – his toilet had arms coming out, almost engulfing the sitter. I noted the arms had drip-feeds going into them. Other décor consisted of gas masks!

Keith Emerson

Work 217: ELP I, chosen by the band as the cover, contains the artist’s distinctive monochromatic biomechanical artwork, integrating an industrial mechanism with a human skull and the new ‘ELP’ logotype, which was also designed by Giger and has been the standard for Emerson, Lake & Palmer ever since.

The lower part of the skull is covered by a circular screen, which displays the mouth and chin in its flesh-covered state, as well as what appears to be the top of a phallus below the chin, arising from the ‘ELP’ tube. Art director Fabio Nicoli was responsible for the non-standard sleeve that 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[3]) with ringlets of wire hair framing the closed eyes and multiple scars, including the infinity symbol and a scar from a frontal lobotomy.

The illustration originally had the complete phallus but Emerson was able to get Giger to tone it down. The two original 34×34 cm acrylic-on-paper paintings Work 217: ELP I and Work 218: ELP II were lost or stolen.

After much deliberation we reluctantly had to appeal to HR Giger to tone down the phallic object in front of the subject’s mouth until it looked like a shaft of light.

Keith Emerson

  1. Manticore Records is a record label launched by the Manticore production company in 1973. These companies were owned by the members of the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and their manager, Stewart Young. The manticore was first featured in the artwork for the second ELP album Tarkus, as one of the eponymous creature’s adversaries (the only one able to inflict damage on the Tarkus creature, according to the sleeve illustrations). Manticore was initially the name given to ELP’s music publishers, credits first appearing in the credits on Trilogy, released on Island in 1972.
  2. Hans Ruedi Giger (February 5, 1940 – May 12, 2014) was a Swiss artist best known for his airbrushed images that blended human physiques with machines, an art style known as “biomechanical”. Giger later abandoned airbrush 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”. His work is on permanent display at the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyères, Switzerland. His style has been adapted to many forms of media, including album covers, furniture, and tattoos.
  3. Li Tobler (30 November 1947 – 19 May 1975) was a Swiss stage actress and model for the artist H. R. Giger. Two of his major paintings were portraits of Tobler, and her face can also be recognized in some of his semi-abstract subjects where man and machine are fused into one. Tobler lived with Giger in squalor, often inside condemned buildings, eventually becoming romantically involved. Although their relationship was open, it remained deeply intense and creatively inspiring to Giger. But Tobler suffered from emotional insecurity, heavy drug dependence, and physical exhaustion from theatrical tours. She committed suicide at age 27 as a result of constant depression. According to Giger, she had wished her life to be “short and intense”.



Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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