Emerson, Lake and Powell

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Emerson, Lake and PowellEmerson, Lake & Powell was a quasi-supergroup which existed in the mid-1980s and released a singular, self-titled studio album. The trio was two-thirds of the 1970s group Emerson, Lake & Palmer with drummer Cozy Powell replacing Carl Palmer, who was contractually obligated to his own 80s supergroup, Asia. While this 1986 album contained some elements of the prog-rock compositions of years past, there is no doubt that this is a product of its time with heavy use of digital synths and a slick production style.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer was very successful in the early 1970s but as the decade wore on, the group began to burn out. With the group committed to record one more studio album, they released the forgettable Love Beach in late 1978 and ultimately disbanded by early 1979. Both keyboardist Keith Emerson and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Greg Lake started solo careers, with Emerson also becoming involved with several film soundtracks in the early 1980s. Palmer went on to form a band called PM, before ultimately joining Asia, which reached incredible mainstream fame with their 1982 debut album. Powell was a strong veteran on the music scene, playing with acts like Jeff Beck and Rainbow as well as a longtime friend of Emerson’s. Despite the coincidence, the group insists that they weren’t looking for a drummer whose surname start with a ‘P’, in order to retain the initials ‘ELP’.

Recorded in England in 1985 and early 1986, Emerson, Lake and Powell was produced by Lake and engineer Tony Taverner. Beyond the eight tracks of the original 1986 album, these sessions produced two further tracks that would be featured on later album issues. A unique instrumental jam rendition of the Goffin/King pop hit “The Loco-Motion” was an obvious attempt at some radio notoriety, while “Vacant Possession” is a decent, melancholy pop ballad surprisingly left off the album proper.

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Emerson, Lake & Powell by Emerson, Lake & Powell
Released: May 26, 1986 (Polydor)
Produced by: Tony Taverner & Greg Lake
Recorded: Maison Rouge, London & Fleetwood Mobile, Sussex, 1985-1986
Side One Side Two
The Score
Learning to Fly
The Miracle
Touch and Go
Love Blind
Step Aside
Lay Down Your Guns
Mars, the Bringer of War
Group Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Keith Emerson – Keyboards
Cozy Powell – Drums & Percussion

The album begins with its longest track, “The Score”, featuring Emerson’s fanfare boards and animated rudiments by Powell during extended, nearly four-minute-long intro. When Lake’s vocals finally enter mid-song, it is clear that this track is a sequel to earlier work with the refrain “Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends”, famously lifted from the opening line of “Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Part 2” from their 1973 Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery, as well as the title to the subsequent 1974 live album from that album’s tour.

“Learning to Fly” is more in line with a mid-eighties pop song, driven by synth motifs, steady bass and simple drum rhythms with little to no guitar. Still, this is not an unpleasant listen with good melodies by Lake as he delivers a slightly profound lyric. “The Miracle” is a long, narrative-fueld song with a dramatic, doomy entrance which lifts a bit during the refrain sections. Later, the song settles into a steady rhythm for the middle bridge section of this seven-minute tune.

Emerson, Lake and Powell

The album’s second side features more standard length, pop-oriented tracks, starting with the album’s only single, “Touch and Go”. Here we have catchy intro and interlude synths broken by verses driven by Lake’s melodic vocals. “Love Blind” sounds more like a soundtrack montage than a standard song, albeit Powell’s drumming is fine throughout, while “Step Aside” offers a cool break and true highlight of this second side, as a unique jazzy piano tune where all three members work the vibe well with Emerson leading the way. After the forgettable “Lay Down Your Guns”, the trio cleanse their palate of sappiness with a jam of the dramatic classical movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War”, a song Lake performed with King Crimson a decade and a half earlier.

After a short tour to support the album, Emerson, Lake & Powell disbanded as quickly as they formed. In 1992 the original ELP lineup reformed with Palmer for the album Black Moon, an album with a similar style to this Emerson, Lake & Powell album. Powell tragically lost his life in a 1998 car accident, forever sealing this mid-eighties confluence as a one time occurrence.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.

 

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Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

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Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and PalmerEmerson, Lake, & Palmer reached their progressive climax with their fourth studio album Brain Salad Surgery. It was the group’s most ambitious and commercially successful album, with a mixture of rock and classical along with some cutting edge electronic sounds, used for the first time on any of the group’s records. The album was the first on the trio’s new Manticore label and was produced by the group’s guitarist, bassist, and lead vocalist Greg Lake. Lake co-wrote the album’s lyrics with former King Crimson bandmate Pete Sinfield, who was also signed to the group’s new label. This was the first time any outside musician appeared on an album by the trio.

Brain Salad Surgery was a concerted effort by the group to produce an album which could be performed in its entirety live, unlike the highly overdubbed material of their previous album Trilogy. Employing some of the tactics used by Pink Floyd, the band wrote some of the music in a cinema, “live” on stage, reworking arrangements to capture the emotion of the film. Most of the material was composed as instrumental pieces with lyrics added to some later on. Three instrumentals remained on the final album, while three more (“When the Apple Blossoms Bloom in the Windmills of Your Mind I’ll Be Your Valentine”, “Tiger In a Spotlight”, and the title song “Brain Salad Surgery”) were omitted because of time constraints.

The album’s unique title came from a lyric in Dr. John’s song “Right Place, Wrong Time”, released earlier in 1973 which stated; “just need a little brain salad surgery, got to cure this insecurity.” The album cover artwork was done by the artist Giger, integrating an industrial mechanism with a human skull along with the latest ELP logo (which Giger also created).

 


Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer
Released: November 19, 1973 (Manticore)
Produced by: Greg Lake
Recorded: Advision Studios and Olympic Studios, London, June–September 1973
Side One Side Two
Jerusalem
Toccata
Still, You Turn Me On
Benny the Bouncer
Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 1
Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 2
Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression
Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression
Band Musicians
Greg Lake – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Keith Emerson – Piano, Organ, Keyboards, Accordion
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

This album packed with dynamic flourishes of musical virtuosity begins in a rather subdued, if not standard way. “Jerusalem” is an adaptation of Hubert Parry’s hymn with lyrics Taken from the preface to William Blake’s “Milton” poem. This only managed to get it banned by the BBC for potential “blasphemy”. Musically, the organ is a little overwhelming in the mix with not much bass presence at all, but it is also notable as the first known track to use the Moog Apollo, the first polyphonic synthesizer still in prototype at the time. The album quickly picks up with the instrumental “Toccata”, sounding more like the top-end prog rock of the era, which the group was known for. Keith Emerson‘s deeper rudiments are of the type that would be replicated by the band Rush on guitar and bass years later, and the mid-section contains a long percussive solo by Carl Palmer with more synth effects mixed in. “Toccata” draws from the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concerto, whom Emerson flew to Geneva to discuss his arrangement with in order obtain permission.

Lake’s acoustic ballad “Still, You Turn Me On” is poetic and beautiful with layered riffs and a nice counter-balance of melody and song craft to the furious instrumental which precedes it. This short but poignant song contains profound yet romantic lyrics which earned it a fair share of radio play;

Do you wanna be an angel, do you wanna be a star, do you wanna play some magic on my guitar / Do you wanna be a poet, do you wanna be my string, you could be anything…

Sinfield’s first lyrical contribution comes with “Benny the Bouncer”, an electronic honky-tonk of sort with comical lyrics which are oddly vocalized, giving a bit of light fare before the album moves into its side-plus extended piece.

“Karn Evil 9” is a suite whose three movements comprise roughly a side and a quarter of the album where the band pulls out all the sonic stops. The most well-known section is “1st Impression, Part 2” with the famous “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” lyric, which was later used as a title for a live album. The story of “Karn Evil 9” tells of a futuristic world from which “all manner of evil and decadence had been banished.” The decadence of the old world is preserved through exhibits that are part of a futuristic carnival show, which exhibits depravities. This story is told lyrically through the first and third impressions, with the second impression being a three piece jazz improv with Emerson on piano, Lake on Bass, and Palmer on drums. The piece also includes its share of synthesizers with a steel drum part and Emerson’s voice fed through a modulator to sound like a child’s voice, Emerson’s only official vocal credit on an ELP record.

Following the success of Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson Lake, and Palmer went on some very successful (albeit extravagant) tours through 1974, including one performance broadcast nationwide in the United States. Then then went on an untimely three-year break to re-invent their music, but never again were able to capture their momentum, leading to the group’s break by the end of the decade.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

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Classic Rock Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas Rock SongsNearly from its inception, rock and roll and Christmas songs have made for a potent mixture of holiday-flavored punch. This marriage dates back to 1957 with the first Elvis Presley Christmas Album and Bobby Helms’s timeless “Jingle Bell Rock”, a rockabilly Christmas classic which was actually written by an advertising executive and a publicist, joining together the overt commercialism with these early anthems. However, it wasn’t all about dollars and cents, as demonstrated in 1963 when major Christmas initiatives by producer Phil Spector and The Beach Boys were pulled off the shelf after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Below we review our favorite songs during the classic rock era. Please be sure to let us know which ones you like best, including those that we omit.

Christmas by The Who, 1969“Christmas” by The Who, 1969

This is a truly fantastic song from the rock opera Tommy but, as such, this song is only about Christmas for a short period of the song, the rest of the song is spent pondering whether the aforementioned Tommy’s soul can be saved as he is deaf, dumb and blind – lacking the capacity to accept Jesus Christ. This aspect of the song works exceptionally well in the scheme of the album, but not so much in the scheme of it being a Christmas song. That said, no song captures the majesty of children on Christmas day as well as this one.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon, 1971“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, 1971

John Lennon’s voice is fantastic and the song itself evokes the kind of melancholy Christmas spirit I find in great Christmas songs. The backing vocals work very well and the bass guitar, sleigh bells, chimes, glockenspiel all play their part as well, a testament to the excellent production by Phil Spector. It does sound a little dated with the overt political correctness and, of course ant-war sentiment. Then there is a bit of irony, foe, although the song advocates “War is Over”, the personal war between Lennon and Paul McCartney was at a fevered pitch with Lennon poaching McCartney’s lead guitarist for this very song just to stick him in the eye a bit. So, in that sense, I guess war was not quite over.

I Believe In Father Christmas, 1975“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake, 1975

You really do learn something new every day. In fact while doing research into this song’s origin I discovered that this is actually a Greg Lake solo song and not an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song which I had always believed because of its inclusion on their 1977 Works compilation album. This new revelation does not diminish my love of the song one iota. The song was written by Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Lake says the song was written in protest at the commercialization of Christmas, while Sinfield says it is more about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. I tend to believe them both, as I’ve always found the melancholy song to be much too complex to be written about any single subject or incident. Musically and melodically, the song is a masterpiece, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements. Each verse is more intense than the last and the arrangement elicits all kinds of emotions, far deeper than the typical “feel good” Christmas song.

Father Christmas by The Kinks, 1977“Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977

Just listen to the first fifteen seconds of this song and you will see, it’s amazing! Starting with a Christmas-y happy piano melody and sleigh bells before punk-influenced guitar and drums crash in with the impact of a meteor. Lead singer Ray Davies sings as two characters in the song; the first is a department store Santa (“Father Christmas”), the second is a gang of poor kids. Davies makes his vocals more forceful for their demands, “Father Christmas give us some money!” I have long thought Davies is probably the most underrated singer in Rock, and the Kinks may be the most underrated band in rock history. What other band appeared in the British invasion did a few concept albums and then practically invented punk rock!? Dave Davies lead guitar is fantastic, definitely the most entertaining work in any of the Christmas songs on this list. The drums are also a huge high point as they roll franticly between verses. If you needed a definition of it, this IS Christmas Rock!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy, 1977“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
by David Bowie & Bing Crosby, 1977

This partial cover (Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” part was original, while Crosby sang the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”) was actually as about as original a compositions as any Christmas song with a rock theme to it. So why does this song make the cut? Well it is fantastic! It’s DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY! It’s a great little song that feels like Christmas. Two totally different artists from different genres and eras coming together to sing a song for a television special, only around Christmas could this happen. Well, in fact it was recorded in London in August of 1977 for an upcoming Christmas special and Crosby passed away in October, before it aired, making it even more special.

A Wonderful Christmas Time, 1979“A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, 1979

Not to be out done by his former Beatle mate turned musical rival (see above), Paul McCartney launched the post-Wings phase of his solo career with “Wonderful Christmas Time”. A song with an uncanny ability to instantly put one into the Christmas spirit, this synth-driven, new-wave ballad showcased McCartney’s mastery at writing pleasant pop songs in just about any sub-genre. Unfortunately, his “wonderful Christmas” was interrupted soon after the new year of 1980, when he got busted In Japan for marijuana possession and spent ten days in prison before he was released.

Christmas Wrapping, 1981“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981

“Christmas Wrapping” is a really fun new-wave style song that jives musically by an otherwise obscure group. The song goes through quite a few little progressions – a little guitar rift and some jolly percussion instruments introduce the listener to the song’s primary beat of guitar and drums. Lead singer Patty Donahue flirts with actually rapping through the song which comes out really cool despite my less than enthused relationship to that genre. The interlude of horns really makes this song fun as they bridge the gap between verses.

2000 Miles, 1983“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders, 1983

Not really intended to be so much a Christmas song as a lament about missing someone with the hope they return at Christmas. It was nevertheless released in 1983 in advance of the band’s 1984 album Learning To Crawl because of its holiday season potential. The vivid lyrics which paint the Christmas landscape and activity, along with the masterful delivery by lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde above the simple folk-guitar riff, makes this one for the ages.

Thank God Its Christmas, 1984“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, 1984

This is a Christmas rock song that often gets overlooked but is virtually impossible to ignore due to Freddie Mercury’s singing. Co-written by drummer Roger Taylor, the drums have a smooth grooving feeling, albeit very processed. Mercury’s backing keyboards and occasional Christmas bells give the song that holiday feeling it needs. The addition of the guitar later in the song by the other co-writer, Brian May adds some earthiness, but the song would benefit from more of it. The piece never quite transcends the mellowness or the karaoke-like quality of the song, but is still a Christmas classic.

Do They Know Its Christmas, 1984Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, 1984

Sure, it is outrageously corny, especially when you are watching Boy George and other eighties has-beens singing next to the likes of Bono and Sting. But underneath all the silliness lies a pretty good song, written in a decent style of British pop. This song is the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who co-wrote this song along with Midge Ure, and then they brought together these top-notch English musicians to perform under the name Band Aid as all proceeds went to relief for the Ethiopian famine of 1984-1985. The success of this single eventually lead to the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, the following summer.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, 1985“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1985

The only true cover of a “traditional” Christmas song on this list, this song was actually recorded in December 1975, but was not released for a solid decade when Bruce Springsteen began putting together his triple live album 1975-1985. It was put out as the B-Side to his single “My Hometown” in 1985 and has since become a holiday staple and rock and pop stations worldwide.

Another Christmas Song, 1989“Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull, 1989

We conclude with a beautiful and elegant song put out by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull during their leaner years, this May be one that many do not know. From the 1989 album Rock Island, this is actually a sequel to “A Christmas Song” put out by Jethro Tull on their 1968 debut album two decades earlier, but is far superior in beauty elegance than the original. With some light flute, drums, and the occasional wood block sound and other percussive effects, the song features Tull’s traditional guitarist Martin Barre who nicely accents the flute line from Anderson in the interweaving musical passages. Lyrically, it describes an old man who is calling his children home to him for Christmas and subtly drawing their attention to other parts of the world and other people;

Everyone is from somewhere, even if you’ve never been there
So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me…”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Christmas rock tradition continued with fine originals such as “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a rendition of “Heat Miser” by The Badlees, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Clause” by The Killers, and Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”. It is likely this tradition will continue for years to come.

~
J.D. Cook and Ric Albano

                

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