Emerson, Lake and Palmer were never a take it or leave it band. You were either on their bus or off it, at least when I was a boy and they were just beginning. It's funny, all these years later, wondering quite what the fuss was all about, their star having faded both so far and so fast. Even their erstwhile fans seem content to dismiss them as the stuff of youthful inexperience, with very rare ever a kind word said in retrospect. And I'm not even sure if this is it, but, hell, yes, I was on the bus.
So, in the beginning was (were?) the Nice, I guess Keith Emerson's prototype for the later band, a trio of keyboards, bass and drums. We'll ignore their starting block for transplanted-to-the-UK ex Ikette, P.P.Arnold's backing band, as they were, or the short-lived 4 piece with eternal nearly man Dave O'List, later to be nearly man again, for Roxy Music, ahead of Phil Manzanera's joining. I confess I struggled with the Nice, as the bassist, Lee Jackson, couldn't sing. And I mean, really couldn't sing. But, between the songs came the most remarkable of hammond organ histrionics, an instrument that was mainly for adding background in pop and rock until then. Combining a driving rhythm section with half-remembered classical themes was pure catnip to my teenage tastebuds. Try some:
Come 1970 and the band broke up. Emerson clearly was the one to watch, lifting doleful bassist and singer Greg Lake from King Crimson, and drumming wunderkind Carl Palmer from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, forming what the rock press greeted as one of the first supergroups. The brief was much the same, driving classically influenced instrumental rock music, up a few gears from the Nice, but with, this time, a singer who could sing. The instrumental palette was likewise wider, with a lot more piano and shedloads of the brand new Moog synthesiser to complement the organ, Lake competent also on guitars electric and acoustic, six string and four. His powerful songs would give respite to the sheer freneticism of Emerson's set piece juggernauts, a break in the records and on stage. I think it fair to say that their first 3 LPs were amongst my most treasured possessions back then, 'Pictures at an Exhibition', their live interpretation of Mussorgsky, being my 2nd album purchase ever and certainly my favourite of theirs. Here's my favourite moments:
At my school it was all very simple. You either liked Yes or you liked ELP, strangely never being allowed to like both, which led me to missing out on a lot of music I only came to later. But the honeymoon had to end. The sheer exuberance of 'Pictures', the majesty of the first eponymous record and the inventiveness of 'Tarkus' were followed by the is-that-all of 'Trilogy'. Sure, I lauded it at the time I bought it, on the day of release, as bravado demanded, but the rot had set in. Not even the thrill of my first big arena show, at London's Earls Court, could hide the fact that 'Brain Salad Surgery' was an empty vessel. The dream was over and I bought the 'Yes Album'.
So that's it, from the beginning, my all too brief infatuation with my first musical love. 3 or 4 years. Their legacy lives on with me, however. Unlike rather more fickle folk, I still have a yen for an occasional blast of 'Tarkus', side 1, or the whole of 'Pictures'. Or 'Lucky Man', killer end piece from the first record. I'm transported back to a mixture of acne and innocence. Let me finish with the title song for this scribble, ironically from 'Trilogy', perhaps the epitome of a Lake interlude, all vocal and multi dubbed guitars, before Emerson weaves in at the end, to remind that it's his group really.
Of course the band played on. And on, becoming eventually what legendary DJ John Peel called, famously, a waste of electricity. Pity, that.
From the beginning, the song, is here, (but I'd get this or this if I were you.)