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Emerson Lake and Palmer E.L.P

Floyd

Administrator
Staff member
Emerson, Lake and Palmer are quite possibly the world's most reviled band. Now, they were extremely popular in the early 70's among those who 'took themselves seriously' (especially college students), and even today they maintain a sizable cult following, so it would be unfair to say that absolutely nobody likes them. Regardless, however, this is a perfectly legitimate statement on the general level. Fans of punk have always detested them as they would any prog band, but this extended far beyond normal levels of loathing; as an example, one of the staples of late 70's Sex Pistols shows was to burn life-size statues of Keith Emerson in effigy (or so the legend goes, and I really hope it's true because it's a hilarious legend).

Now, this normally wouldn't be such a bad thing, since after all hatred of art-rock and prog-rock was one of the most important principles upon which the punk movement was founded. No, what distinguished ELP was the amount of venom spewed upon them by other "high-brow" artists and their various followers. Fans of classical music absolutely despised them (sometimes) for "butchering" various well-known pieces in their attempts to interpret these standards in a rock idiom. There is a nugget of truth to this, of course (Pictures at an Exhibition is often quite a stretch from the original Mussorgsky piece, to put it mildly), but ... I dunno. I'm sure that a good number of the band's fans became fans of classical music due to their efforts, so that should be worth something. Or maybe the older generation was just mad about all these young whippersnappers infiltrating their societal niche ....
(AUTHOR'S NOTE): There used to be a paragraph here where I made some asinine statements about the borders of what exactly constitutes prog rock. Some comments below reference that paragraph, but I'm so tired of looking at it that I don't even care about making them anachronistic at this point.
The greatest insult of all, of course, is that even among some prog lovers, they're hated like crazy! Among the list of widely acknowledged "classic" prog rock groups (note that "widely acknowledged" ends up excluding a lot of the major players in prog rock, such as Gentle Giant and Van Der Graaf Generator; by widely acknowledged I basically mean bands that somebody who knows older music solely through classic rock radio or games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero might be familiar with) they often tend to be rated near the bottom, even below some bands that I despise (like Styx or Kansas). Now, for many, a sufficient explanation of this is simply, "ELP sucks!". Needless to say, I think that is a grave mistake, but I think I can make a good estimation on the real reasons people despise this band. The first, and the most obvious, was the group's relatively heavy emphasis on classical music in their sound. Yes, progressive rock almost always has at least a tinge of some classical elements, but ELP's music had the greatest concentration of it in their music, BY FAR. Now, it's not as if that was the only type of music they did, not at all, but among their discography you can find covers of Copland, Holst, Bartok, and they even did a full album rendition of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Their self-penned material would also sometimes have a pure 'orchestral' feel as well, and they even managed to help create a new and totally bizarre genre, the 'rock-symphony.'

The band's classical leanings, however, are not the only significant difference between ELP and the others on the list. A key thing to note about ELP is that, besides King Crimson, most other widely known prog rock groups weren't prog-groups from the get-go. Yes started as a jazzy, psychedelic rock band, and it wasn't until their third LP that they really became Yes as we know them. Rush began as a hard-rock garage band, modeling themselves after Led Zeppelin and Cream. And Genesis, well, Genesis started as a bunch of teenagers trying to sell pop songs to the public and not succeeding one iota (which is a shame, seeing as there are tons of great melodies on their debut). ELP, however, was "pretentious" and progressive from the very beginning, which makes sense. Both Keith Emerson (The Nice) and Greg Lake (King Crimson) were former key members of groups that had pretty much created the genre, and as such one could only expect them to continue what they seemed to have a knack for. Add in Carl Palmer's technically perfect drumming, and you have a group created for pretentiousness and lots of it.
There is one more aspect that sets ELP apart from the other groups, and that deals with the center of the band's sound. Rush focused on the blistering chops of their guitar and bass players. Yes, regardless of Wakeman's presence, rotated around their amazing bassist, Chris Squire. Genesis tried to emphasize Peter Gabriel's vocals and his bizarre fantasies over the chops of the group, which were definitely fine overall but hardly in the super-elite level of the rock world. In the Court of the Crimson King, regardless of all of the mellotrons, was extremely guitar heavy, not to mention the saxophones and other reed instruments. ELP, however, did not revolve around a guitar or bass player like the others. ELP was always centered on the keyboards of Keith Emerson (the songwriting and guitar work of Lake was an essential counterweight to Keith's keyboards, but it was still secondary). Now, it's not that he was a bad player, FAR from it. It's just that, well, he could be a bit too showoffy. Plus the fact that he often employed some extremely bizarre and occasionally annoying synth tones that few others would even touch. And since most people would rather hear guitar wanking than synth wanking, it's only natural that there would be a huge turn-away from this group.

I think I have made it sufficiently clear that ELP is not for everyone. The thing is, for the longest time I refused to give them even the slightest chance, and that's a shame, because they're really quite good! For starters, each of them was a highly talented and extremely professional musician, and even haters of the band have to give them that. Keith Emerson, let's face it, was almost indisputably the greatest keyboardist on earth, hands down (I think he was officially given the title by some renowned magazine twenty five times in a period of thirty years). Hence, he was often able to make large parts of the group's compositions come alive by the sheer force of his talent alone, whereas in the hands of any lesser

player it might have been deadly boring. Meanwhile, just as important for the group was vocalist/guitarist/bassist Greg Lake. With the exception of Justin Hayward and a few others, almost nobody was a better rock singer than him in the 70's. He was always able to add incredible power and powerful emotional content to the highly abstract and bizarre lyrics that always accompanied the group's music. And one should certainly not minimize his guitar and bass playing, not at all. And finally, there was drummer Carl Palmer, as fine a prog drummer as one could find in the world; with an impeccably fluid and solid playing technique, his playing abilities in the prog universe were surpassed only by Bill Bruford himself.

The fact remains, however, that impeccable instrumental technique is not the only requirement for being a good and distinctive progressive rock band. After all, if all I cared about was great playing abilities, I would be sitting here reviewing various jazz recordings rather than talking about rock and its various forms. You see, it's a common misconception that the band was primarily a medium for the grandiose ambitions of Emerson. Now, don't get me wrong, the man could write an excellent and supremely catchy synth passage (Karn Evil 9.1 in particular), but in no way was Keith the sole creative epicenter of the band's music (at least, most of the time, when the band was at its best). No, that honor fell just as much to Lake, who was an extremely talented pop song and ballad writer. I mean, grandiose and overblown as Tarkus is, it's really just three short, very catchy Lake numbers whose various musical themes are expanded upon with the help of Keith's synths and are reprised in just the right amounts. And that's hardly the only example, as great songs like Lucky Man or Still, You Turn Me On will show.

In any case, the point I'm trying to make is that the music of ELP, in general, is nowhere near as intimidating as it is often made out to be. If you're looking for solid pop and rock embellished with a bit of jazz and a healthy amount of classical and symphonic aspirations, you shouldn't be afraid to give them a try. I used to rate them as a two-star band, but surprisingly found that my enjoyment of the band has only increased over time (in particular, the debut REALLY grew on me, as you'll see in a bit), so a three-star rating (out of five) seems appropriate enough. Now go ahead and flame me for liking them as much as, say, Led Zeppelin.

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Dave

New member
One of the better-informed pieces i've read on ELP, some of it I agree and some I disagree, but the overall thrust of the post seems pretty balanced. As a fan of ELP from the outset (and the Nice) I was hooked from the start and having been born in the mid-fifties in London I was in on the music seen post the summer of love of '67. As I hit my teenage years and my journey through music exploration (that still continues through my Prog Rock subscription) I managed to see all the big hitters of the day as they were just all rock bands, in fact if memory serves me well, the bands then were labelled as, Heavy Rock, Acid Rock, Psychedelic Rock and then Glam Rock came along. Regardless of the label of Rock it was cool to buy and discuss the latest vinyl release of the day by whichever band and just go and see whoever was playing at the time; The Rainbow, the Odeon, Crystal Palace Garden Parties, Roundhouse, Wembley, The Oval (my first ELP gig) and many other venues. I had a good job at the time so was able to afford it. In that period ELP did stand alone for a while but carried the real first Supergroup Tag that was not well received in some quarters.


I am not sure when the UK vilification started, whether it was John Peel with the famous quote or it was distaste creep by the media just not liking (or getting) the music. Strange thing now is that people of around my generation who I talk to about music have not even heard of ELP or if they have they don't like the music, yet if I play certain pieces unbeknown to guests they often say "that's good, who is it" even my wife is occasionally impressed and she hates them, but does not know why? I like a lot of other old and new bands as I discover them and like others I have my staple albums by many bands /artists across the genres of music and whilst I am not keen of the "Prog Rock" label as it seems to divide option as what constitutes Prog. I seem to remember Noel Gallagher being surprised that Pink Floyd were considered Prog Rock on one of the music shows and I quote "Are they Prog rock"?. My last gig was Steve Hackett at the Anvil and my next booked is Nick Mason at GLive next year, but I am pretty sure I will be seeing some in-between: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/uk-gig-guide-new/

Anyway, enough of my musings just thought I share a view or two, especially as I received my ELP classic addition book today https://rocket88books.com/collections/elp/products/emerson-lake-palmer-classic-edition
 

Floyd

Administrator
Staff member
I have never really been able to get into ELP apart from their hit fanfare. More of a yes fan as far as prog goes as well as focus and of course Hawkwind who in my opinion are the best live band on the planet. Seen them more than 30 times and they are still performing today, not bad considering they formed in 1968.

As far as Pink Floyd are concerned, I would say yes definitely prog rock. ie there music has no roots in American blues or Country and Western·
 
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Dave

New member
I also think Floyd are prog, they are my next favourite band, Pulse being one of my go to albums. ELP are (were) certainly more popular in Europe/Asia and the USA from the mid to late 70's onwards, saying that, CP's last couple of gigs I went to were more or less sold out, but of course smaller venues.

Only seen Hawkwind twice, once when they toured In Search of Space (god bless Stacia) and laterley a few years ago at the Wayfest, Rural Life Center. As for best live band on the planet, hmm could probably put up a few contenders for that crown, but respect your view, that's the beauty of the effect of music and the emotions it can stir.

Funny enough Yes were the fourth band I saw after ELP, the Moody Blues and the Who, the Yes concert was at the Rainbow 1971 can still hear "Your's is no Disgrace" booming around in my head as it was played three times for encores, saw a version of them (ARB) at the O2 Stone Free, the venue was not full and lacking atmosphere and to be honest it was not the best Yes concert. However, the Yes Symphonica DVD (2002) from Amsterdam is just fantastic, I often watch it.
 

Floyd

Administrator
Staff member
I am a bit jealous that you saw hawkwind in their hayday, I was only 11 in 1972 when search space was out.

My first gig was in 1976, rainbow at Ingleston near Edinburgh, it was their down to earth tour. Then Motorhead Caird hall Dundee the following year and Status Quo at the Apollo Glasgow the year after that. My first Hawkwind gig (Brixton Acadamy) was not until 1991.

I saw yes twice at the armadillo Glasgow in the early 2000's. Steve Howe is one of my top ten guitarists and the now late Chris Sqiure is one of my top ten bass guitarists. It just comes down to whether you can handle classically trained vocalist (Jon and Vangeliss) Jon Anderson's voice. I think it works well.

Did you ever see Led Zeppelin in the 70's? I saw page and Plant at the SECC Glasow in the late 90's and the Page Plant live album no quarter is one of my favourites.
 
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Dave

New member
Funny enough I personally think Led Zep are way overrated, yes they are great musicians and Plant's a great singer, but somehow it never really appealed to me, I mean some of the classic tracks I can live with as they were played often in the rock pubs around London were I lived, I clearly remember going to the release of "The Song Remain The Same" film at the cinema and was distinctly underwhelmed, until the red leb helped, then everything sounded good. I have listened to all their albums and I am sure I still own a few in my loft box of old vinyl. Never felt the need to see them live and to honest I have tried to watch some of their concerts on the tube lately and as good as they are, it just doesn’t sound right to me, always a bit off. But hey what do I know, they are always in people's top ten bands and the music press adore them so maybe it is just me?

I think I was more drawn towards Deep Purple, Stray, Uriah Heap, Definitely the Doors and the Allman Brothers. Mind you never really got Sabbath either, even though my long time mate at the time constantly played the them and still does.
 

Floyd

Administrator
Staff member
Like you said about hawkwind, it's all down to personal taste with music, I think Zep are great for blues type rock and despite never releasing any singles into the charts, all their albums went to number 1. As for Sabbath, it's just a case of can you handle Ozzy? Toni Iommi Is a guitar genius despite missing the tips of a couple of fingers at his previous job as a metal worker in Birmingham.

All the bands you mentioned above are excellent but you forgot about Santana? While talking about guitar playing genius's

 

Dave

New member
Never forget about Santana, when the Woodstck film came out in 1970 it was a must see for all wannabe hips, it just blew us all away, the performances of Santana " Soul Sacrifice" and Ten Yersr After (Alvin Lee up and down the frets) "I'm coming home". The orginal vinyl (still have it) was a tripple gatefold and we would often get a group of us in someones pad and play it and act like we were at the festival, would love to do it again one day, but doubt that the wife would be impressed. Abraxas is still one of my sunny day, beer in hand Albums to play.

Tell you what, check out a three piece band called Niacin, bass, drum and keys, a driving Jazz Funk fusion thing going on, might not be what you're used to, but go for it.

 
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