Is there truly a person in the world that hasn’t seen, even if only in passing, the cover of King Crimson’s first album from 1969 entitled “In The Court Of The Crimson King”? Shown here as an opened gate-fold for full effect.
I bought this back in my early days based on the track “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which was awesome. Immediately however, I knew I was not ready for the rest of the album. I didn’t care for it. It was quickly traded out for some pop 80’s stuff and I didn’t look back… for many years.
At one point, I undertook the listening to all 1001 albums in the “1001 Albums To Listen To Before You Die” and this album was among them. I hearkened back to the days of listening to this in high school and braced myself to heartily dislike it, but, I had to grudgingly give it a 3 out of 5. I liked it more than I remembered.
Then came the huge resurgence of Yes and Prog Rock into my life in the past few years. I found myself more at peace with orchestrated and soundscaped music. Also, I kept finding YouTube pushing me to King Crimson when I had autoplay on. A few times I listened and found myself liking it.
One night recently at 2 in the morning, sleepless (that’s a King Crimson pun), I found King Crimson in my YouTube play list and selected a 12+ minute live version of Starless.
I found it kind of amazing. 3 Drummers? Robert Fripp serious and stalwart. I know myself pretty well and I am sure that back in the day I would have found this kind of mechanical and soulless, but suddenly I understood it. It was very much like Yes in a way with complex melodies and rhythms and was a challenge, but I found it worth the investment.
The next day I started reading up on King Crimson. Their history and side projects and catalog are as complex as they are. I found a great article on Pitchfork that was geared to the newcomer to King Crimson that was helpful.
I find it helpful NOT to jump into a weird dalliance of the band and pick instead a seminal album to see if I will be able to come to terms with the band as a whole. After reading the Pitchfork article my mind went directly to… the library. I saw that they had quite a few, so, I cleaned them out.
“In The Court Of The Crimson King” is still coming, but this turned out to be a very representative sample, including a couple greatest hits and a 4 CD live box set.
I started with “Discipline” which worked great for me. There was a nice mix of vocals and instrumentals. This is the line up of Fripp, Belew, Bruford and Tony Levin. It’s a solid album that I will likely come back to.
Then I went to “In The Wake Of Poseidon”. It’s a little more chaotic, but I still liked it. Greg Lake is a great vocalist and he is featured on several tracks. The feel here is a bit like a hard bop jazz meets Frank Zappa meets Emerson Lake and Palmer. There are tempo changes all over the place and there are soft introspective songs and longer winding compositions. I would say this goes from “Cat Food” to the other end of the spectrum “The Devil’s Triangle” which is essentially a classical piece.
Then I jumped into the live set “The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-1974)”. Damn if I didn’t like this too. There are a lot of improv tracks here too that remind me of a futuristic Grateful Dead jam at times. It’s interesting to hear them all play off of each other. Of course the hot tracks of the era are represented here. Some are repeated more than once, so this is not where I would suggest you jump in, but it can be said that the live shows are where they experiment and hone their incredible talents.
I am both pleased and intrigued and ready to explore and ingest even more.
King Crimson is still active and have been around for 50 years now. There is a veritable ton of music out there. If you really get into King Crimson, you may find that there is a certain period that attracts you, and if you want to get more material from that era, try this site:
You can download for a reasonable price a staggering amount of music, from King Crimson and their side projects, see their latest tour dates and far more.
I’m glad that I have, though 50 years late, come to know King Crimson.