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    Emerson, Lake and Palmer: 10 Essential Songs


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    “I was scared shitless,” the late Keith Emerson told Mojo in 2001, remembering the start of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1977 tour of America — at the time, the most extravagant rock tour ever assembled. The setup legendarily included drummer Carl Palmer’s karate instructor, an army of roadies and, least practical of all, a full orchestra. Despite the cost and difficulty, “we had to be honest with our fans,” Emerson said. “My piano concerto on our double album, Works, which accompanied the tour, was augmented by an orchestra, and what you hear on the record is what you expect to hear when you buy the ticket to the show!”


    That is the majesty of ELP. Veterans of a variety of Sixties British rock bands — Emerson played in the Nice, Palmer hailed from Atomic Rooster and Greg Lake migrated from King Crimson — ELP became one of rock’s first supergroups upon forming in 1970. In fact, ELP practically defined the term. Before punk came along and took progressive rock down a peg, the trio enjoyed the kind of success that could have only happened in the Seventies, when musicians strained at the confines of two-minute singles and dance-ready beats.

    The result was a stretch of albums — as well as a smattering of fluke radio hits like 1970’s melancholy “Lucky Man” — that turned prog from a black-light-in-the-basement listening experience into a stadium-filling phenomenon. At their heart was Emerson, whose eternal quest for a bigger, grander sound (thanks to a bank of organs and synthesizers that grew to resemble a fortress onstage) helped make ELP one of the most accomplished and absorbing bands rock ever birthed. Here are a few of their shining moments.

    “Lucky Man” (1970)


    Dredged up from memory by Greg Lake, who wrote it at age 12 upon receiving his first guitar, “Lucky Man” is a “simplistic little medieval fantasy” (according to its composer) intended to fill out the trio’s first album. It turned out to be the Moog synthesizer’s pop breakthrough thanks to Keith Emerson’s memorable first-take solo – on a newly delivered instrument – as it ended. Emerson would have preferred a second pass, but no tracks were left to record on, so “that’s the solo I’ve had to live with!” The tune accrued its own mythology when listeners began associating its lyrics with public figures like President John F. Kennedy. R.G.

    “The Barbarian” (1970)

    Like most prog ensembles of the era, ELP was never much of a singles band. Apart from early hit “Lucky Man,” “The Barbarian,” was the true introduction to the public at large of ELP’s staggering scope. In a mere four and a half minutes, the song segues from proto-metal heaviness to jaunty jazziness to a frenetic, piano-driven passage by Emerson that feels like an homage to Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” Speaking to Sounds in 1970, Emerson remarked, “On the new album, the first side is Emerson, Lake and Palmer as a group – three ideas which have grown from three separate backgrounds to produce a sound … The nice thing about ELP is that we all bend to each other.” J.H.

    “Tarkus” (1971)


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