On October 10, 1969 "King Crimson" made history with their masterful debut album "In The Court Of The Crimson King".
This album is nothing less than a Masterpiece. A simply perfect album in every way, which even after more than 50 sounds different, innovative, bold, and special as it sounds when it came out. It is one of the first albums in progressive rock and certainly one of the most important and influential in the genre. An album that no matter what style of music you like, you must have in your music library, period!
It's hard to pinpoint one reason that makes this album so magical and special, because there is no such one. It was simply a cosmic, meteoric, and one-time encounter between several factors, which spawned this amazing and historic work. The combination of Robert Fripp's insane genius, Greg Lake's heavenly and caressing voice, Ian McDonald's velvety mellotron sounds, and Michael Giles' mesmerizing drumming, is a musical miracle narrated through Peter Sinfield's dystopian and imaginative lyrics about a chaotic, cold, and alienated world. A meteoric fusion, between classical music, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, that created the "big bang" that gave birth to the progressive rock genre. This album is so important and influential that even the members of "Genesis" hung it on the rehearsal room wall to constantly remind them where they should aim.
(Photo: Michael Ochs)
The album opens powerfully with "21st Century Schizoid Man" and the crazy riff that combines Fripp's guitar and McDonald's brass instruments. The Riff was written by Lake and McDonald's even though all four members received credit for it. This riff accompanies us to Greg Lake's powerful entrance with his monotonous singing that sounds as if it has gone through a distortion effect, but has actually been achieved by maximizing the gain on the console. Peter Sinfield's words are a combination of unrelated sentences that put us in the mind of a troubled person with dark images and references to the Vietnam War as follows: "Politicians' funeral pyre / Innocence raped with napalm fire". This song features an improvised and special passage called "Mirrors" and features one of Robert Fripp's interesting solos on this album, which even former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said is his all-time favorite solo. Hard to believe but this song was recorded in one take after a strenuous rehearsal performed by the band. It is interesting to note that rapper Kanye West sampled this song as part of the song "Power" on his fifth album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy", which was released in 2010.
The album cover painted by a good friend of Sinfield - Barry Godber probably shows the same Schizoid Man. Barry first listened to the recordings from the album and only then turned to paint the cover, having been inspired by his own reflection in front of his bathroom mirror. This is one of the most impressive and famous covers in the world of music which has really become a cultural icon and is synonymous with the album. "The Screaming Face", "The Album with the Face" or "The Screaming Red Face", that's what we used to call this masterful album thanks to that shaky cover.
The second track "I Talk to the Wind" is the perfect negative for the opening song. A quiet, calm, pastoral, and mesmerizing song, which Ian McDonald composed to the words of Peter Sinfield. The song introduces us for the first time to the soft and caressing voice of Greg Lake and it opens with the flutes of McDonald's, who also plays the clarinet and piano as singing background vocals. Robert Fripp's guitar touches with the palm-muted strings, provide minimalist and ingenious accompaniment to the bass and flute, and Michael Giles' drums seem to hover over them all. At the center of the song is an amazing flute solo by Ian McDonald, who also accompanies us with another solo until the end of the song. It is interesting to note that two different and early versions of the song exist in the demo called "The Brondesbury Tapes (1968)" recorded by Fripp's previous project "Giles, Giles and Fripp", in one of them Judy Dyble from the band "Fairport Convention" is the singer. Watch McDonald perform the magical song and solo with John Wetton who will become a member of the band in 1972, drummer Chester Thompson (Genesis), and guitarist Steve Hackett:
The first side of the album ends with "Epitaph", an immortal, magical and mesmerizing piece, which is without a doubt one of the most unique and stunning pieces in the progressive rock genre. The song, which opens with the timpani drums, rolling and erupting like thunder on a rainy day, also introduces us for the first time to the heavy use of the Mellotron, a special instrument that will become one of the hallmarks that will define the band's sound and the progressive rock genre. The dystopian lyrics refer to the writer's fears about the content of the inscription on his tombstone. Greg Lake noted that this song is just a confused look at a world that has gone crazy.
The other side of the album opens with "Moonchild", a 12-minute piece consisting of two parts: "The Dream" and "The Illusion". The first piece is a sort of short ballad that lasts about two and a half minutes and is led by the mellotron and vibraphone sounds of Ian McDonald, combined with Robert Fripp's howling guitar. Michael Giles' drumming and his cymbals work here are simply noteworthy. The song's second part is a long instrumental improvisation that lasts until the end. It is interesting to note that the "Doves" used a composition from the first part of the song as part of the song "M62 Song", which was included on their second album "The Last Broadcast".
The album is sealed with a powerful climax with the theme song and masterpiece "The Court of the Crimson King". The song, written by Peter Sinfield and composed by Ian McDonald, is a sweeping musical celebration. Rivers of mellotron, with flute currents, string falls, and dripping drums and cymbals that carry the listener along with the current, into a world full of magic. The main part of the song consists of four verses and an instrumental section called "The Return of the Fire Witch", which is cut with the famous drum dribble (eighth minute) and leads us to the ending climax which ends abruptly followed by a short reprise called "The Dance of the Puppets". Watch this amazing song performed by McDonald, John Wetton, Chester Thompson, and Steve Hackett:
We assume you've heard it before in the context of quite a few albums, but in this case, it's not a cliché. This phenomenal album has of course shaped the prog genre for generations, but it has also changed the whole world of music. It was a meteoric and one-time encounter between mighty musicians who created this wondrous and eternal magic. Robert Fripp's innovative and crazy music, Greg Lake's divine vocals, Ian McDonald's genius that was hidden in Fripp's shadow but his contribution to this album was tremendous and of course, Michael Giles whose drumming style on this album is still an influence to young drummers.