Tag Archives: Carl Palmer

Pirates

“Who’ll make his mark,” the captain cried
“To the devil drink a toast
We’ll glut the hold with cups of gold
We’ll feed the sea with ghosts
I see your hunger for a fortune
Could be better served beneath my flag
If you’ve the stomach for a broadside
Come aboard my pretty boys
I will take you and make you
Everything you’ve ever dreamed”

“Make fast the guns! Tonight we sail
When the high tide floods the bay
Cut free the lines and square the yards
Get the black flag stowed away
The Turk, the Arab, and the Spaniard
Will soon have pennies on their eyes
And any other laden fancy
We will take her by surprise
I will take you and make you
Everything you’ve ever dreamed”

Some posts back, I referenced Billy Smiley (Whiteheart, The Union Of Sinners and Saints) lamenting storytelling’s increasing exclusion from current Christian music. It is curious how so much of Scripture involves both storytelling and telling of stories, yet both are routinely avoided by today’s songwriters. Parables, allegories, and even the rich poetic language of traditional hymns are rare commodities indeed.

It is not solely Christian music where this dearth of depth can be found. Today’s pop music is conveyor belt fan fodder, autotuned vocals layered atop virtual instruments without soul or satisfaction for anyone wanting more than disposable, valueless mass tuneage. There has always been an element of purposeless fluff in commercial music, but today it is a flood drowning any and all efforts to keep creativity alive. Bands like The Hyperdrive Kittens face a fierce struggle to find an audience.

Six days off the Cuban coast when a sail ahead they spied
“A galleon of the treasure fleet,” the mizzen lookout cried
“Closer to the wind my boys,” the mad-eyed captain roared
“For every man that’s alive tonight will be hauling gold aboard”

“Spare us,” the galleon begged but mercy’s face had fled
Blood ran from the screaming souls the cutlass harvested
Driven to the quarterdeck the last survivor fell
“She’s ours my boys,” the captain grinned “and no one left to tell”

In the face of this dreary plastic onslaught, it should be no surprise that catalog releases now outsell new music. Latter day fans are accustomed to streaming everything and buying nothing. One time, a number one album could be expected to sell 300,000 or more copies in a week riding atop the charts. Now it is 30,000 or less. Older fans value music as art; something to cherish and collect so it can be savored time and again.

Which brings us to Emerson Lake and Palmer’s The Anthology.

The captain rose from a silk divan
With a pistol in his fist
And shot the lock from an iron box
And a blood red ruby kissed
“I give you jewellery of turquoise
A crucifix of solid gold
One hundred thousand silver pieces
It is just as I foretold
You … you see there before you
Everything you’ve ever dreamed”

Anchored in an indigo moonlit bay
Gold-eyed ‘round fires the sea thieves lay
Morning … white shells and a pipe of clay
As the wind filled their footsteps
They were far far away

Some information for the uninitiated. Emerson Lake and Palmer was one of the leading purveyors of a genre known as progressive rock. First heard in the latter part of the 1960s, as created by bands such as Procol Harum and King Crimson progressive rock was an effort to stretch rock‘n’roll past its blues roots by incorporating more adventuresome, experimental elements. This ofttimes meant bringing both jazz-flavored improvisational and classical music notions into the mix. In lesser hands this quickly devolved into unlistenable, self-indulgent drek. But when the artists knew what they were doing … well, you had the likes of Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Keith Emerson was that rarity among childhood prodigies, namely one whose artistic development did not end once they had reached adulthood. Equally well versed in classic R&B, multiple flavors of jazz, and classical with a bent toward contemporary composers, while not the first rock‘n’roller to have keyboards rather than guitar as a band’s focus Emerson took it to a level both musically and visually far beyond Jerry Lee Lewis’ kicking over the piano stool. His ritualistic Hammond organ abuse, including shoving daggers into the keyboard, was as much Emerson’s known quality as his ferocious playing, compositions and improvisational stretches alike overflowing with creative fire channeled through breathtaking virtuoso skill. He was the Jimi Hendrix of the keys, never so far removed from the known as to be unapproachable yet inventing something altogether new. After first coming to public attention with The Nice, Emerson decided to take it to the next level by working with artists at or near his own level. Bassist/vocalist/occasional guitarist Greg Lake, fresh from King Crimson’s first incarnation, and drummer/percussionist Carl Palmer from experimental band Atomic Rooster were just the ticket, and thus Emerson Lake and Palmer was born.

Our sails swell full as we brave all seas
On a westward wind to live as we please
With the wicked wild-eyed woman of Portobello town
Where we’ve been told that a purse of gold
Buys many man a crown
They will serve you and clothe you
Exchange your rags for the velvet coats of kings

“Who’ll drink a toast with me
“I give you liberty
“This town is ours tonight”

Emerson Lake and Palmer found near-instantaneous success worldwide. In the United States, all of its studio albums save its last went gold (more than 500,000 copies sold), as did two live albums. The band routinely packed arenas and stadiums. Its music filled the FM airwaves. The early and mid 1970s were the band’s glory years, and even after fervor cooled as times and tastes changed, Emerson Lake and Palmer retained a large core of devoted fans.

“Landlord, wine! Make it the finest
“Make it a cup for a seadog’s thirst
“Two long years of bones and beaches
“Fever and leeches did their worst
“So fill the night with paradise
“Bring me peach and peacock till I burst
“But first
“I want a soft touch in the right place
“I want to feel like a king tonight”

“Ten on the black to beat the Frenchman
“Back you dogs give ‘em room to turn
“Now open wide sweet Heaven’s gates
“Tonight we’re gonna see if Heaven burns
“See how she burns
“Oh she burns
“I want an angel on a gold chain
“And I’ll ride her to the stars
“It’s the last time for a long long time
“Come the daybreak we embark
“On the flood of the morning tide”
Once more the ocean cried

As is far more often than not the case with bands from its era, Emerson Lake and Palmer has seen its music repackaged and resold at a ridiculous pace over the years. Late last year, the announcement came of yet another series of reissued albums, this time with the band’s official blessing and participation. Individual albums would be remastered and also remixed, the latter effort being resumed after an abortive effort a few years back by Steven Wilson was dropped when, after having done the first two albums in the catalog, he admitted he simply was not sufficiently into the band’s music to continue. Tragically, Emerson would not see these loving preservations come to fruition; depressed over his deteriorating playing skills and the venom spat in his direction by alleged fans unwilling to forgive Emerson’s growing old, he took his life in March of this year.

As part of the project, a three CD compilation was assembled and released a few weeks ago. Given the plethora of Emerson Lake and Palmer compilations already out there – at least ten – whether anyone needs yet another one is highly debatable. However, given how this one draws all materials from the newly remastered series, not all of which have yet to be released, it warrants attention for this alone.

So how does it serve as an overview of the band’s recorded output? Sonically it is breathtaking. The subtleties, the dynamics, of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s music have never sounded better. It is easy to forget these recording are for the most part more than forty years old. The music breathes and lives, not as a simple nostalgia trip but a brilliant example of musicians turning their full force toward creating something both new and noteworthy. On this level The Anthology admirably succeeds.

Alas, the musical selections themselves in terms of best representing the band are decidedly hit and miss. It is admittedly impossible to assemble any kind of musical anthology by any name (collection, sampler, greatest hits, etc) and please everyone. There will always be cries of “how could you have left out” and “how could you have included this instead of that” and “why did you use that version of,” and so on. This duly noted, there are some puzzlers in this collection. Including both a live version and the studio version of ‘Toccata,’ originally from Brain Salad Surgery, when the two are nearly identical makes little sense. There are too many tracks from side two of Tarkus, which was not the band’s greatest moment, and omitting ‘Black Moon’ from the album of the same name is just plain odd given how it was a not unsubstantial radio hit.

“This company will return one day
“Though we feel your tears it’s the price we pay
“For there’s prizes to be taken and glory to be found
“Cut free the chains make fast your souls
“We are Eldorado bound
“I will take you for always forever together
“Until Hell call our names”

“Who’ll drink a toast with me
“To the devil and the deep blue sea”
Gold drives a man to dream

It is no more logical to expect the average Rhianna or Ed Sheeran fan to understand, let alone appreciate, Emerson Lake and Palmer than it was to have expected the average Carpenters or John Denver fan to have understood and/or appreciated Emerson Lake and Palmer back in its heyday. This is as it should be. There was a time when artists made music for music’s sake. If an audience chose to follow all the merrier; this was a byproduct rather than the sole objective. There will never be another Emerson Lake and Palmer. But, once there was, and we are all the better for it.

(Song lyrics from ‘Pirates’ by Emerson Lake and Palmer from the album Works Volume One)