“King Crimson is, as always, more a way of doing things. When there is nothing to be done, nothing is done: Crimson disappears. When there is music to be played, Crimson reappears. If all of life were this simple.” Robert Fripp.
When I scan blogs around the Internet, it seems like somebody somewhere is always writing about this band although not necessarily this album. I was into them initially, eventually drifting away as my interest in progressive rock waned.
I always liked those first few Crimson albums. And how I got to posting about this particular album is due to fiddling with my new car radio. I was trying to optimize the sound – as much as one can in a car – and somewhat randomly grabbed this album on Spotify.
And it sounded great.
A little history mashup from their Facebook page and Wikipedia:
“In August 1967, brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass), who had been professional musicians in various jobbing bands since their mid-teens in Dorset, England, advertised for a singing organist to join their new group. Fellow Dorset musician Robert Fripp – a guitarist who did not sing – responded and the trio formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp.
Based on a format of eccentric pop songs and complex instrumentals, the band recorded several unsuccessful singles and one album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. (Anybody own this? – ME). The band hovered on the edge of success, with several radio sessions and a television appearance, but never scored the hit that would have been crucial for a commercial breakthrough. The album was no more of a success than the singles and was even disparaged by Keith Moon of the Who in a magazine review. (Snotty wanker – ME.)
Attempting to expand their sound, the three recruited Ian McDonald on keyboards, reeds and woodwinds. McDonald brought along his then-girlfriend, former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, whose brief tenure with the group ended when the two split. McDonald brought in lyricist, roadie, and art strategist Peter Sinfield, with whom he had been writing songs.
Fripp, meanwhile, saw Clouds perform at the Marquee Club in London which inspired him to incorporate classical melodies and jazz-like improvisation in his song writing. No longer interested in pursuing Peter Giles’ more whimsical pop style, Fripp recommended his friend, singer and guitarist Greg Lake, join and replace either Peter Giles or Fripp himself. Peter Giles later called it one of Fripp’s “cute political moves”. But he had become disillusioned with the band’s lack of success and departed, leaving Lake to become bassist and singer
King Crimson was conceived in November 1968 and born on January 13th 1969 in the Fulham Palace Cafe, London (Fripp/Ian McDonald/Greg Lake/Michael Giles/Pete Sinfield), coming to prominence after supporting The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park. Their ground-breaking debut In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969) described by Pete Townshend as “an uncanny masterpiece,” began a career that has spanned four decades and influenced many bands and individuals including Yes, Genesis, Tool, and Porcupine Tree.
A “crimson king” was any monarch during whose reign there was civil unrest and copious bloodshed; the album debuted at the height of worldwide opposition to the military involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia. Fripp at one point dedicated this song to Richard Nixon’s VP, both of whom ultimately resigned in disgrace like fools always do:
Of this album, AllMusic said, “The group’s definitive album, and one of the most daring debut albums ever recorded by anybody. At the time, it blew all of the progressive/psychedelic competition (the Moody Blues, the Nice, etc.) out of the running, although it was almost too good for the band’s own good — it took King Crimson nearly four years to come up with a record as strong or concise.”
Given the length of these pieces I’ll just post two songs. Because you either like this shit or you don’t.
But the song I was listening to in the car was one I’ve always dug and I guess somewhat of a signature tune for the band, “21st Century Schizoid Man.” According to Fripp who owns the original cover artwork: “The face on the outside is the Schizoid Man, and on the inside, it’s the Crimson King. If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music.”
Yes, cheery fun for the whole family. (All the YouTube versions were either too short or live so I’m going with Spotify.) This tune goes through some wild changes and kicks along nicely and even has some cool yet weird crazy-ass sax stuff going on. Prog-rock personified.
I note with some amusement here that the self-anointed “Dean of Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau gave this album D+ labeling it as “ersatz shit,” a description that would fit pretty much every review that guy has ever done.
Next up: “In The Court Of The Crimson King.” I have absolutely no idea what exactly is going on in this song. The lyrics are ponderous. But I think any accurate description of prog would admit that about the lyrics. Beats “I love you, you love me.” I think that in general the heaviness of the lyrics and the sometimes bloated nature of the music is what set the punks off. Can’t beat “I Wanna Be Sedated” for a to-the-point lyric.
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament’s begun
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king
This, to my knowledge, was the only Crimson album with this exact lineup. Greg Lake moved on* to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Robert Fripp has over the years remained the connecting tissue (as it were).
As I said to Deadheads in my post about that band, if you’re a Crimson fan do us both a favor and refrain from sending me lists of the 18 other albums I should listen to. Trust me. I’ll never get around to it.
*Lake was convinced to come back for some vocals on the 2nd album.
- Robert Fripp – electric and acoustic guitars, production
- Michael Giles – drums, percussion, backing vocals, production
- Greg Lake – lead vocals, bass guitar, production
- Ian McDonald – woodwinds (saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet), keyboards (Mellotron, harpsichord, piano, organ), vibraphone, backing vocals, production
- Peter Sinfield – lyrics, illumination, production
Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic