[Review] Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970)

A new supergroup emerges on progressive rock’s horizon as three champions appear on stately chargers.

Kronomyth 1.0: King crimson and the nice to meet you.

They were not the first rock supergroup, a distinction I would accord to Blind Faith. And their first album was not the first progressive rock album by any means. But Emerson, Lake & Palmer was the first progressive rock album recorded by a supergroup, which makes it an important work in the annals of rock and roll. It also happens to be an awesomely cool album that merges the better parts of The Nice and King Crimson into arguably the truest vision yet of a classical/rock hybrid.

Keith Emerson is the band’s grand sonic architect. He creates complex classical arrangements and adaptations of classical composers (Béla Bartók, Leoš Janáĉek, J.S. Bach) on organ, piano and synthesizer. For the opening of Take a Pebble, he even strums the strings of a grand piano like a harp. He’s not quite a one-man band, but he does carry the lion’s share of the music on his shoulders. Emerson was the main attraction in The Nice too, but with ELP he was given even more space to shine.

Greg Lake was previously the bass player and singer in King Crimson, a group whose first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is universally recognized as one of the earliest and best examples of progressive rock. Lake played a smaller role in Crimson, which was Robert Fripp’s band from the beginning. In ELP, more emphasis was placed on his wonderful voice and soulful balladry. As a bass player, he’s no Jack Bruce, as a guitarist, no Robert Fripp, but as a singer you couldn’t do much better.

Carl Palmer was arguably the least known of the three, having appeared briefly with Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. He and Emerson are the band’s two strongest musical contributors. Just as Emerson’s playing had a decidedly English feel to it that leaned heavily on pomp and circumstance, Palmer’s drumming often felt like a marching boy gone mad, his disciplined rhythms played with mathematical precision on snare, cymbals and assorted drums.

The opening instrumental, The Barbarian, explodes out of the speakers and immediately recalls the furnace-blast halls of the crimson king. Lake’s dulcet voice provides a soothing balm on the next track, “Take a Pebble,” which is embellished by Emerson’s arrangement of Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro (according to Wikipedia, since I’ve never heard the piece). The classic Knife-Edge closes out the first side of music, this time with music from Bach and Janáĉek woven into the arrangement. Again, its heavy style recalls King Crimson but with different dynamics.

Emerson’s The Three Fates is the keyboardist’s classical showcase, with three separates pieces arranged for organ, piano and rock trio. It’s one of the best things Emerson has ever done, and Palmer rises to the occasion as well. The pair continue their adventures on the instrumental Tank, which features a terrific drum solo from Palmer. Lake returns to the spotlight for Lucky Man, simply one of the finest songs in the progressive rock canon. Yet it’s only fitting that Emerson and Palmer steal the fading spotlight with a coda for the ages.

Much has been written about ELP’s first album, and this review is nothing more than the mere jotting of notes. It doesn’t, for example, impart the joy of hearing Emerson’s ivory towers of sound held at the sky’s throat like a knife, the yearned-for Galahad purity of Lake’s voice or the clockwork genius of Carl Palmer. There is, of course, a grandiloquence in the music of Emerson, Lake & Palmer that some may find off-putting, but for progressive rock fans this is about as good as it gets.

Original elpee version

A1. The Barbarian (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Carl Palmer*) (4:27)
A2. Take a Pebble (Greg Lake) (12:32)
A3. Knife-Edge (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Richard Fraser*) (5:04)
B1. The Three Fates (Keith Emerson) (7:46)
a. Clotho – Royal Festival Hall organ
b. Lachesis – piano solo
c. Atropos – piano trio
B2. Tank (Keith Emerson/Carl Palmer) (6:49)
B3. Lucky Man (Greg Lake) (4:36)

Arranged & directed by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

*Subsequent pressings correctly credited the music of Béla Bartók on “The Barbarian” and Leoš Janáĉek and J.S. Bach on “Knife-Edge.”

Original 8-track version
A1. The Barbarian
A2. Take a Pebble (Part I)
B1. Take a Pebble (Part II)
B2. Knife-Edge (Part I)
C1. Knife-Edge (Part II)
C2. The Three Fates: Clotho / Lachesis / Atropos
C3. Tank (Part I)
D1. Tank (Part II)
D2. Lucky Man

3CD remixed version bonus tracks
The Alternative ELP New 2012 Stereo Remixes
B1. The Barbarian
B2. Take a Pebble
B3. Knife Edge (with extended outro)
B4. Promenade
B5. The Three Fates: Atropos
B6. Rave Up
B7. Drum Solo
B8. Lucky Man
B9. Take a Pebble (alternate take)
B10. Knife Edge (alternate take)
B11. Lucky Man (first Greg Lake solo version)
B12. Lucky Man (alternate version)
New 2012 – 5.1 Mix
C1. The Barbarian
C2. Take a Pebble
C3. Knife Edge
C4. The Three Fates: Atropos
C5. Rave Up
C6. Lucky Man
New 2012 High-Res Stereo Remixes
C7. The Barbarian
C8. Take a Pebble
C9. Knife Edge (with extended outro)
C10. Promenade
C11. The Three Fates: Atropos
C12. Rave Up
C13. Drum Solo
C14. Lucky Man
C15. Take a Pebble (alternate take)
C16. Knife Edge (alternate take)
C17. Lucky Man (first Greg Lake solo version)
C18. Lucky Man (alternate version)

The Players

Keith Emerson (Hammond organ, piano, clavinet, pipe organ, Moog modular synthesizer), Greg Lake (vocals, bass, acoustic and electric guitars), Carl Palmer (drums, percussion). Produced by Greg Lake; engineered by Eddie Offord.

The Pictures

Cover painting by Nick Dartnell.

The Product

Released on elpee and cassette on November 20, 1970 in the UK (Island, ILPS/ZCI-9132) [pink “white i” and, later, palm tree label] and Germany (Island, 6339 026) and on January 1, 1971 in the US and Canada (Cotillion, SD 9040) [marble and, later, purple labels]; reached #4 on the UK charts and #18 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record). Also released on 8-track in 1971 in the US (Ampex, M 89040).

  1. Re-issued on 8-track in 1972 in the US (Cotillion, 9040-8) for Record Club of America.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Canada (Cotillion, KSD 19120).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1974 in the UK (Manticore, K 43503) and the Netherlands (Manticore, 88 180 XAT).
  4. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1977 in the US (Atlantic, SD/CS 19120).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in Germany (Manticore, 87 224 ET).
  6. Re-packaged with Brain Salad Surgery on 2-for-1 cassette in 1982 in the US (Atlantic, 80003-4).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Atlantic, 19120-2).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in Germany (Atlantic, 781 519-2).
  9. Re-issued on cassette in the US (Victory, 383 480 016-4).
  10. Re-released on expanded, remixed 3CD in 2012 in Europe (Sony Legacy, 88691937972) with 16 bonus tracks.

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