Featured Album – In The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson

“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.

Spotify link

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

Spotify link

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

72 thoughts on “Featured Album – In The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson

  1. Would have been interesting if Dyble stayed – in Fairport Convention she was famous for doing knitting on stage. Together with Fripp’s disdain of theatrics and enjoyment of sitting down while performing, it would have made for some interesting stage shows. If Rick Wakeman had joined, he could have ordered curry for the slow moments too.

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    1. You’ve got a lot of hypotheses there. BTW, some friends of mine are doing a cruise or two Down Under next month. Four weeks. I’m sure you won’t mind entertaining them when they show p in NZ. Thanking you in advance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Townshend called the first album “an uncanny masterpiece”. Nobody cares what Moon said, or ever said. Thinking was never his forte anyway. And the last time I ever listened to anyone fashioning themselves as an authority on music (all music critics) was the first of never. It’s a great album for sure, but my ears tell me it’s as outdated as all hell. Depressing too. I won’t tell you which other albums to listen to. All I’ll say is that at least two-thirds of all Crimson fanatics (including me) favor the 1972-1974 period by a long shot. There’s good reason for that. I’ll let you figure out the rest if you wish to 🙂

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      1. Go to YouTube and listen to “Starless”. Then, TRY to learn to play “Fracture” 🙂 It’s cool that you dig the debut. I do too, but I have to limit my exposure. Apocalyptic gloom and doom is never good for the soul. LOL. If you really want to explore the debut further, Fripp’s record company (DGM – Discipline Global Mobile) has a 50th anniversary deluxe boxed set planned for release in October or November. Live is where that band really shined (as is the case with all incarnations of KC). The ’72-’74 band is what pushed me into jazz. No other band in rock history could improvise like them (not even the Dead or the Allmans). So, I guess you could say that Fripp indirectly introduced me to Tony Williams, et. al. 🙂

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        1. John I hooked into the Spectrum Road album. Yes I liked it and it’s in the spin cycle. I told Doc I stayed in that groove for a couple weeks and he told me I had some kind of obsession thing. Yes I guess I do, I like music (so does Doc)

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  3. LOL. You want good music, don’t you? Despite all the Yes threads the know-nothings at Progressive Ears start (they give internet dwellers a bad name, which is kinda tough to do in this day and age), King Crimson is the most important AND influential of all the progressive rock bands.

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  4. I think I’ve bored the hell out of anyone who has ever paid any attention to me. I really dig this band in all forms. I still get a charge out of this record. We all have our personal connection. Yes Doc I have a vinyl copy of the ‘Cheerful Insanity’ (you probably new I’d pipe up). I think you commented on my takes of the McDonald/Giles record and ‘Larks Tongue’.
    I’m sure Bruce and Pete will kick in and a few others. I always liked Lakes Voice. And you know I don’t pay any attention to those critic guys. Keith Moon rating records. That’s funny. I know he liked the Beach Boys. Who have a lot in common with KC. Good piece. I’d like to hear that new sound system in the vehicle.

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    1. Let’s get one thing straight. I am the KC expert here. LOL. If Bruce and Pete know half of what I know combined, I’d be shocked. If Doc wanted more suggestions, I wouldn’t shut up. You both clearly don’t want that 😉 Coupla little know facts – Fripp was asked to join Yes before Howe was. He was also asked to join Genesis when Hackett left. That should tell you who’s who in the prog guitar world.

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        1. I have no page. My comments, like live music, float into the air then disappear 🙂

          Btw, for some primo Gabriel/Fripp, check out Here Comes the Flood from Fripp’s Exposure album:

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        2. That’s to bad on “no page”. Sounds like you would have some good takes. Think about it. It’s fun. Lots of good folks. No one takes themselves to serious except Doc and me.
          I have that record. Is it the same take? It’s a good one. When those two hooked up it was a pretty cool day in my music world.

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        3. I don’t believe that’s the same take that was on the original LP. But, for us music enthusiasts, Fripp put out a double CD with all sorts of additional takes and bonus tracks in 2006 🙂

          I have commented at places like Progressive Ears and Hoffman’s site. However, it’s all filled with “ignorant/childish hyperbole” from people who wouldn’t know progressive or good music if it came up and slapped them on the ass. I got tired of it after a while. Never even bothered to think that my opinions would gain any more interest on my own page than they garnered there.

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        4. Just listened to the original, pretty close.
          I stay away from all that stuff you mentioned. I don’t engage in too much serious bullshit. I like to talk music with people that dig it as much as i do. Just your input on Doc’s page says you’re on the same track as we are. We will design a page for you and call it …. ‘John T’s Page”. Hows that?

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    2. I knew I commented on KC somewhere at some point. You lose track. But I realized I’d never seen a review of the first album. It’s probably not their best one but it still sounds good to me and I realized I’d never seen a review of it, or not that I could recall.
      How is the ‘Cheerful Insanity aka perfect description of CB’ album?
      Pete isn’t a subscriber anymore so unless he happens to visit for old time’s sake…….
      The radio sounds great. I told a buddy of mine I’d take him for a cruise so we could listen. He said, “What? Are we 19?” I wish .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I listen to ‘Court’ last night. It does sound good. Hey it’s an album that catches a certain creative vibe. Lots to like. Plus a fantastic album cover. Back when albums were put together for the whole not just a single and filler.

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  5. CBH,

    Glad you dig that album. Have you checked out Medeski Martin and Wood yet?

    I get the obsession thing. It’s what all us music lovers suffer from. Get heavily into jazz and it becomes exponentially worse.

    J

    Liked by 1 person

        1. So much other music John. Still will give it a go.
          Doc is going to wake up in the morning and see all these comments. He likes to start dialogue and he’s done it with this record.
          Vinyl Connection (Bruce) and myself have done a few KC posts. He’s a good guy and has lots of good things to add.

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        2. I haven’t even had my coffee yet and I’m seeing all this. Totally digging it. I told John that no matter what I said I knew you motherfuckers would recommend stuff. If I listened to half that shit you guys recommended, I’d have to quit my job, move to a mountaintop in Tibet and spend about a year listening.

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        3. Just Fripp solo. He came through my parts a couple years ago with KC. Missed it and by all accounts i missed a real good show. He had two drummers in the band. I’ve listened to some of it and yeah kicking myself in the ass.

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        1. Oh yeah, my younger sis was into all of that stuff, Osmond Bros. You could imagine what a nasty young CB thought of that. Here’s the kicker, she is now probably just as big a blues fan as you are.

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        2. See? Proves that you can get past the shit to good stuff. I remember being at a New Year’s Eve party a few years back. Some woman randomly said how much she loved Hendrix’ “Red House.” Love at first sight for me!

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        3. She laughs her head off when she thinks back to her bopper days. Falda was in Vegas and got her picture taken with Donny Osmond and sent it to her aunt. They had a good laugh.
          From King Crimson to the Partridge family. Only on your page.

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        4. Musical mood swing. It’s only the “How dare you abandon me” purist types who care about whether I stay true to any one genre. I’m not cool enough to care. Well, I was cool once but that was for one week back in 1978.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Objectively speaking, to the extent this is even possible when it comes to music, the musicianship on this album is remarkable. But as somebody who digs The Beatles and harmony vocals (and, yes, let’s call it what it is: pop influence!), a band like King Crimson will always be an acquired taste.

    I realize digging bands that incorporate pop elements and great vocals in their songs and liking acts like KC are not mutually exclusive. But even bands like Pink Floyd amid all their psychedelia and progressive rock managed to combine all of that with decent vocals, at least in my humble opinion. Which is why I find them generally more accessible.

    Again, don’t get me wrong here, I don’t hate KC. And I actually find it interesting to listen to this album. In fact, this isn’t the first I’m listening to that record. I just don’t believe I’m going to rush to explore any of their other albums.

    But I could recommend a bunch of records from other artists you should really listen to, Jim, regardless whether you’ve already had your morning coffee!😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prog, like jazz, is I think very much an acquired taste. I had a friend back in the day who introduced me to the Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer and then it was off to the races. But let us not overlook the fact that Greg Lake was a terrific singer. “Schizoid Man” is intentionally over-recorded but listen to the rest of his vocals.
      I’ve already had two cups of coffee, thanks. As to recommendations, those all to through my staff for consideration. 🙂
      And you say you want vocals and great pop harmonies? Wait till my next post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can tell you now that I ate a tasty dish of “Lark’s Tongue” in the car today. If had listened to the debut album, then gone into a coma, woke up 4 years later and you said, “It’s still King Crimson” I would not have believed you. Much more instrumentally-based – violin! Wholly different sound. I dug it.

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        1. It’s a killer Doc. Two takes from CB. One on the album and one on the ‘Easy Money’ cut. David Cross on the violin. Our buddy Bruford on skins. Loved this KC line up. I was eating this up along with the stuff like Mahavishnu etc.

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        2. Spotify has one of those ‘Expanded Editions’ so it was confusing. I like to hear the original. That said, you might want to check it out as it has a couple of recording session extracts. I don’t know why bands don’t just bury outtakes.

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        3. Im not as curious about that extra stuff as i once was. But of course I listen to it. It’s a little dessert. My original album listening experiences have stayed with me.
          I met a guy on the weekend who was talking about John Mayall’s Turning Point album or should i say he was talking about one song. That’s all he got from it. That album is one big listening experience to me.

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  7. Enjoyed the post and found the comments entertaining. King Crimson tie for third as the artist of whom I have the most albums (52, since you ask). Massively important historically, but hugely enjoyable through their entire career, of course they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love ’em and have posted five times at Vinyl Connection (including on this debut).

    My tuppence worth is that it’s OK to enjoy “I wanna be sedated” as well as “Epitaph”.

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    1. Yex Bruce, but remember – you are not the KC expert. You’ve been dethroned by John, so, nice knowing ya. 🙂 52 albums? Holy shit. I don’t own 52 of anything.
      And yes, one can happily veer between those songs. We went out of town for the weekend and my iPod had 40’s wartime songs, 50’s doo-wop songs, prog, jazz and Dylan. A nice mix as it happens.

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        1. Funny. I don’t usually get that eclectic in any one playlist. I think the ’40’s stuff came from my daughter who, oddly, is a bigger fan of that stuff than I am. So I started thinking, “Hmm, don’t judge, just grab tunes.” So that’s what I did. Wound up with some interesting stuff and one tune will lead to a post. So sometimes you gotta just follow the yellow brick road.

          BTW, I was telling Aphoristical that some friends are taking a couple of cruises (amounting to 4 weeks) around Australia next month. They look forward to meeting you.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I never quite got into this. I keep seeing it mentioned and, like you sad, someone always seems to be talking about the band. I’ve liked the bits I’ve heard, I’ll have to dedicated some time to it while, oddly, I’m in Dorset next week

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    1. Point taken. Absolutely. I wonder if my son would like them, especially the “Lark’s Tongue” album. Very instrumental and not really post-rock. But I kinda sense he would dig it.

      BTW, I’ve mentioned to Bruce (Aussie) and Aphoristical (NZ) that I have some friends cruising Down Under next month. Feel free to send me names and addresses of people whom they can visit, perhaps stay with for a few days. Thanking you in advance.

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        1. Great Ocean Road, the city centre small ally culture, Melbourne Museum, Eureka tower, St Kilda, Brunswick Street. Too much to mention really. Oh, and the coffee culture is really something.

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        2. Thanks. I will send these to my friend (in Philly). We met he and his wife in NYC this weekend. I’m sending to him and not her because if you send to her, she then feels obligated to do every “best thing” in town. She drove us crazy looking for a place that supposedly had the best ice cream in Brooklyn. Once she found it- or close enough -she was bound and determined to have one. It was 9:30 in the morning.

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        3. It’s very strange behavior. My friend just shuts it out but it drives everybody else crazy. It’s like she’s always looking for the “perfect,” never finds it.

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        4. Very insecure person. She’s ok when she’s not on fire. I pulled my friend aside and said You need to deal with this ‘coz it’s not my place to reel her in. Hey, I see her once a year, he’s gotta live with her.

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