By Brian Ives
Yesterday, one of the towering figures of progressive rock, Greg Lake, died after a long battle with cancer. Lake was the original bass player and singer in King Crimson, appearing on their first two albums, 1969’s In the Court of the Crimson King and 1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon, before leaving to form Emerson Lake and Palmer with keyboardist Keith Emerson (formerly of the Nice) and drummer Carl Palmer (formerly of Atomic Rooster and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown).
Here’s some of Lake’s greatest moments.
King Crimson – “21st Century Schizoid Man” from In the Court of the Crimson King(1969) – Progressive rock was so often maligned by punk rock, it’s easy to forget how abrasive and radical it was in its early days. “21st Century Schizoid Man” is pretty badass; watch a live excerpt of Crimson with Lake performing it in the above video. The song got a surprising new life decades later when Kanye West sampled Lake’s vocals from the classic in his hit “Power.”
King Crimson – “Epitaph” from In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) – “Haunted” isn’t an adjective often used to describe Lake’s vocals, but it’s accurate here. “Epitaph” is one of his best vocal performances.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – “The Barbarian” from Emerson Lake & Palmer (1970) The opening track on the first ELP album announced an incredibly ambitious new band for a brand new decade; this instrumental jam is a cover of Béla Bartók’s 1911 piano piece “Allegro Barbaro.” This was a new way to look at rock music.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – “Lucky Man” from Emerson Lake & Palmer (1970) As over-the-top and ambitious as ELP could be, they — and Lake in particular — were great songwriters. The above video shows Lake performing a solo acoustic “Lucky Man,” on guitar.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – “From the Beginning” from Trilogy (1972) Another ELP song based around Lake’s acoustic guitar playing (as opposed to bass), this song fit in more with the west coast’s folk rock scene than British prog rock bands.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – “Jerusalem” from Brain Salad Surgery (1973) Another example of how ELP took rock music in new directions; the song began with lyrics taken from a William Blake poem.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – “Still… You Turn Me On” from Brain Salad Surgery (1973) – If there was easy listening music during the Medieval era, it might sound like this.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – “Karn Evil 9, First Impression (Part 2)” It’s a pretty cumbersome (and very prog-rock) name for a song that would become a rock radio mainstay. The whole “Karn Evil 9” suite took up more than a full side of vinyl when it was first released in 1973, but this well-labeled section is classic rock gold. It’s tight while still showing off the band’s virtuosity.
Greg Lake – “I Believe In Father Christmas” (1975) Lake’s most famous solo effort was this Christmas single, which was really a protest of the commercialization of the season. Still, it’s a holiday favorite, and has even been covered by U2.
Emerson Lake & Powell – “Touch and Go” from Emerson Lake & Powell (1986) In the ’80s, prog-rock bands were getting new audiences by streamlining their sound; Genesis dominated radio and headlined stadiums, Yes had their first #1 hit with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and several prog rock guys found success in Asia. In fact, Carl Palmer was in Asia, so he sat out the ELP reunion, with hard rocker Cozy Powell taking the drum stool (and it was a happy coincidence that they had the same initials, allowing ELP to still call themselves ELP). The new trio recorded just one album together, and scored a radio hit with this song.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – “The Man in the Long Black Coat” from In the Hot Seat Emerson and Lake reunited with Palmer in the ’90s, releasing Black Moon in ’92, and their final album, In the Hot Seat, in 1994. This song, from the latter album, is a cover of a song that Bob Dylan released five years before.