I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of subgenres. Why, you ask? To begin with, there are so many of them. Once you think you know all the subgenres of a certain musical genre, another one pops up right in front of you. The list goes on from there, but this isn’t supposed to be a list of grievances against subgenres. Why are they made? To classify certain styles and kinds of music. While there are many out there in the music industry, there are only a few “memorable” ones. Out of every single subgenre there is, only 2 or 3 get etched into your memory bank. Usually, the one(s) that gets branded into a persons mind will be the subgenre the person favors the most. Progressive Rock falls into this category for me, for it is my personal favorite subgenre. I’ve always been a fan of Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, ELP, Rush, etc, etc, for the style of music they play and how well they execute their playing.
But where did the Progressive Rock scene begin? While one could argue Pink Floyd brought progressive rock into the world of music, an underrated, overlooked band brought the prog rock style of music into the world today as we know it, King Crimson. Though the band has gone through countless changes of lineups, King Crimson is still one of the most recognizable prog rock bands of today. Many people may not know about or remember King Crimson, but there is one thing most people who have any connection with music itself will know about King Crimson.
King Crimson is-
Greg Lake-Bass, Lead Vocals
Except some isolated teenagers these days that don’t know anything about prog rock, most people have come across or at least heard about a screaming face on the cover of an album. This seeming terrified face belongs to King Crimson’s debut album, “In The Court Of The Crimson King”. Crimson started to work on this masterpiece in early 1969. When the time came for the album’s release, Crimson had no idea that they had just started a major musical movement that was going to last for a long, long time.
When King Crimson hit the studio in early 1969, they had comprised a killer formula of musicians that did not have to be fiddled with at all. Lead by the intense vocals, as well as the cool yet intricate bass playing of Greg Lake, and the unpredictable guitar sound coming from Robert Fripp’s guitar, King Crimson wasn’t a band to be messed with. These two were backed by the fiery percussion fills and grooves set up by Michael Giles, and the perfect yet simplistic sound coming out of Ian McDonald’s keyboard. This chemistry can be seen in many of the songs, most notably on the most famous tracks from the album, 21st Century Schizoid Man, and In The Court Of The Crimson King. In short, the musicianship on “In The Court Of The Crimson King” is second to none.
Because the musician formula is set up so perfectly, the instrumentation on “In The Court Of The Crimson King” is top notch. While the playing of Fripp, Lake, McDonald, and Giles is present on all the songs on the album, the main focus of the instrumentation on “In The Court Of The Crimson King” has got to center around the various different instruments that are used. Ear piercing saxophones are present on the albums opener 21st Century Schizoid Man. While they may be annoying to some, they give 21st Century Schizoid Man a good balance. On the second track, I Talk To The Wind, a flute gives the song its clam, lied back feel. Though In The Court Of The Crimson King is the album’s grand finale, it has a memorable orchestration part that gives the song its mojo. In many spots and places on “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the instrumentation makes for the highlight of a transition, bridge, even a song.
Who would think that a band’s most famous song would be their first song off of their first album? Some could argue that Crimson has had more famous songs, but it seems as if their most famous song is indeed the first track off of their first album, 21st Century Schizoid Man. 21st Century Schizoid Man hits you right form the start with a blaring saxophone part and a weighty guitar line. Lake’s distorted yet electrified vocals join in, singing a haunting ballad about the future through the eyes of a paranoid schizoid. The vocals continue on for a little while, soon giving way to a fast paced, exotic middle section called Mirrors. Lake contributes with a ferocious bass line to boot. While the bass leads the song forward, the guitar and saxophones duel back and forth for the good part of three minutes. During this segment, Fripp shows off his guitar playing skills as he dishes out many a fine guitar solo, keeping the saxophones on their feet. A whole other aspect of Mirrors is the percussion. Giles adds speedy, staccato drum fills that keeps the rest of the fighting pack together. After the fast paced middle section, the group rounds back up to go into one more verse. Lake comes in one more time to remind us of his almost intimidating vocals, while the saxophones fade the song out. 21st Century Schizoid Man will leave you dead in your tracks, but a wind of change will soon blow, as the second track, I Talk To The Wind invites us to take a seat and chill out to the cool chops of McDonalds’s, followed by an almost cliché flute part that drags on for a bit to long. Lake is the big contributor yet again, as he pulls of some neat bass grooves as well as adding some mellow, almost tarnished vocals to the cohesive mix of flutes. Add a few stray flute solos, and some lost sounds in the background, you’ve got the rest of I Talk To The Wind. Though it may not be the best song on “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, it will put you in a nice, relaxed mood for the rest of the album.
The first two tracks both have their fare shares of emotion, but Epitaph, the third track, makes for the most emotional song off of “In the Court Of The Crimson King”. The regal ballad is full of stiff integrity, but has a straight forward, flowing rhythmical section. Fripp graces us with rich guitar riffs, while Giles, with his jazz style and approach of playing the drums, paves down another essential percussion part that the rest of the band uses as a backing post to build on. As a bonus, Epitaph throws us the first of two coherent orchestration parts. It adds depth and substance to one of the strongest songs on the album, not like it really needs it though. The most mystifying but beautiful aspect of Epitaph, has got to be Lake’s vocals. Over powered with emotion and brooding force, Lake’s vocals on Epitaph will surely put Goosebumps down any music lover’s back. While Epitaph may be one of the strongest songs on “In The Court Of the Crimson King”, its follower, Moonchild, is one of the weakest songs off of the album. Technically speaking, Moonchild is only two and a half minutes, though the song carries on for ten more minutes. Lake’s vocals are fitting for such a soothing song, and the instrumentation at the beginning of the song is excellent, but the 10 minutes of miscellaneous noises is what really kills Moonchild. If there was about eight minutes of fat trimmed of the body of Moonchild, it would make for another strong tune. Thus speaking, Moonchild is the only big letdown from “In The Court Of The Crimson King”.
King Crimson sure does save one hell of a song for the closing of “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the track name, accordingly so, is The Court Of The Crimson King. From the beginning of the song, you can tell that you’re going to be in for a majestic finish to a classic album. This may be the last track of the album, but the instrumentation does not give way at all during the finale. A whole slew of instruments, from a flute, to an organ, to a full fledged orchestra is used to bring “In The Court Of The Crimson King” to a magnificent end. The orchestration may endeavor to be the driving force of The Court Of The Crimson King, but the real driving force relies on the music making of Fripp, Lake, McDonald, and Giles. For the first time on the entire album, the four collaborate together to make a powerful instrumentation mesh that creates a backing post for the other instruments. In the meantime, a wispy flute solo carries the listener away on a journey through the mind, as the orchestration part adds the vertebrae to the song. Lake’s vocals add another meandering aspect to the song. They may chill the mind and soul, for Lake does have an eerie voice, but he adds a light to The Court Of The Crimson King that would not be there unless he sung the song. Towards the end of the song, an almost childish organ part reflects the song in a couple short phrases, reminding us of the journey King Crimson just took us through. The orchestra enters for a few more verses, eventually ending the song and album in an abrupt manor.
“In The Court Of The Crimson King” enters a fascinating realm, one filled with almost tantalizing instrumentation parts, as well as menacing songs. Though “In The Court Of The Crimson King” may require a somewhat developed taste for prog rock, one and all will come to enjoy this seeming timeless album. Fripp, Lake, McDonald, and Giles open up a musical ice cream shop that will remedy any and all music lover, past, present, and future. For that reason, we can call King Crimson’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King” a classic album.