“A tragic waste of time, talent and electricity.” John Peel
Lucky Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Cotillion 44106 (USA)
Recorded at Advision Studios, London, September 1970
Released March 1971
Writer Greg Lake
Producer Greg Lake
USA #48 4/71 (Not released as a single in UK)
Emerson, Lake and Palmer were one of the new breed of rock bands that arose in England at the end of the 1960s, among them Led Zeppelin, Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. These groups concentrated on recording albums, often containing lengthy pieces, and for the most part were not interested in recording commercial hit singles. With members who were often classically trained musicians, their work tended to combine many different musical traditions including jazz, folk, blues and classical. Often derided as ‘pretentious’, the lyrical content of their songs tended to centre on mythology, former milkman Jon Anderson of Yes basing the best part of his lyrical career on re-writing Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings!
Keyboardist Keith Emerson, formerly of classical-rock quartet the Nice (and also P.P.Arnold’s backing band) had gained a certain degree of notoriety, not least for his theatrical showmanship, which included attacking and dismantling his electric organ on-stage while it was still plugged in! He’d caused London’s Royal Albert Hall to ban performances by pop groups after he’d set fire to the American flag during a performance of the band’s hit ‘America’. A reworking of Leonard Bernstein’s song from West Side Story, Bernstein was so incensed by the Nice’s ‘adaptation’ that he took out an injunction in the States, preventing the record’s release in that country. Bassist/vocalist Greg Lake had formerly been with King Crimson, departing after recording his vocals for their second album In The Wake Of Poseidon, while Carl Palmer had drummed for The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. There were rumours that Jimi Hendrix was going to join the band, and indeed rehearsals were scheduled, but Hendrix died before they could take place. It is however of note that had he joined, the band’s acronym would have been HELP!
Recording their debut album for London’s Island Records in 1970, on the final day of recording the trio found they were a little short of material. Greg Lake volunteered a folk song he’d written at age twelve. “It came to the end of the record, and we were one song short. There were vacant looks across the studio – ‘Does anybody have any more ideas?’ I said, ‘I’ve got this folk tune that I wrote on acoustic guitar when I was a kid’. I strummed it out, and the reaction was – total disinterest! But we had to have something, so we decided to try and record it.” Lake and Palmer recorded a basic track, with Lake singing and playing acoustic guitar, and later adding bass guitar. Then Keith Emerson overdubbed some doodling on his Moog synthesizer. Emerson recalls: “I didn’t think much of the solo, but it was just what he (Lake) wanted. I just did a rough setting on the synthesizer, went in, and played something off the top of my head!” Though thrown together in this somewhat haphazard fashion, and not much liked by the band themselves, ‘Lucky Man’ became one of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s better known songs after their American record company decided to release it as a single in 1971- probably because it was the only track on the album that was short enough!
The band eventually had a UK hit single in 1977 with their adaptation of American classical composer Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’. (Copland’s piece is featured at the inauguration ceremony of US Presidents, though presumably not the ELP version!) Greg Lake enjoyed a solo hit in December 1975 with ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’, written with Pete Sinfield with whom he’d previously worked in King Crimson. Throughout their career Emerson, Lake & Palmer received equal amounts of acclaim and disdain from critics and the public alike. Following their debut appearance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970, British radio personality John Peel remarked with his usual dry humour that ELP were, “A tragic waste of time, talent and electricity.” Fond of excess, a 1977 tour saw the three-man band expanded to a 125-man entourage including a 70-piece orchestra and chorus. Reviewing the group’s recording of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition in 1972, Rolling Stone critic Lester Bangs wrote: “I can say that I listened to it twice tonight, beating my fists on the floor and laughing!” Criticism aside, Emerson, Lake & Palmer sold several million records during the 1970s with their bombastic combination of classical music and rock, their first six albums all making the British Top Ten, so somebody must have liked them.
Copyright © 2016 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.