Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, also known as ELP, are an English progressive rock supergroup.[1] They found success in the 1970s and sold over forty million albums[2] and headlined large stadium concerts. The band consists of Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Carl Palmer (drums, percussion). They are one of the most commercially successful progressive rock bands and from the outset focused on combining classical pieces with rock music.


Background and formation

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake met at Fillmore West in San Francisco and on working together, found their styles to be compatible and complementary. They had actually played before several times in 1969, in different bands sharing the same venue - Emerson in The Nice and Lake in King Crimson, first at the 9th Jazz and Blues Pop Festival in Plumpton, England, and at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, England.

Emerson and Lake wanted to be a keyboard/bass/drum band, and so sought out a drummer. They approached drummer Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience but they were disenchanted when he showed up for a 'jam' session with an arsenal of guns and unruly bodyguards. They instead got Carl Palmer, who at that time was a member of Atomic Rooster. Their debut was in The Guildhall, Plymouth, on 23 August 1970.

Lake, besides providing vocals, bass guitar, electric guitar and lyrics, also produced five of their first six albums (Brain Salad Surgery being co-produced with Pete Sinfield, who had recently left King Crimson).

Jimi Hendrix, tired of his band and wanting to try something different, expressed an interest in playing with the group. This led the British press to speculate about a supergroup called HELP, or "Hendrix, Emerson, Lake & Palmer".[3] Because of scheduling conflicts, such plans were difficult to realize. EL&P planned a jam session with Hendrix after their second concert at the Isle of Wight Festival. But Hendrix died 26 days later, and the three pressed on as Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Greg Lake made this comment on ELP's discussions with Hendrix:

"Yeah, that story is indeed true, to some degree... Mitch Mitchell had told Jimi about us and he said he wanted to explore the idea. Even after Mitch was long out of the picture and we had already settled on Carl, talk about working with Jimi continued. We were supposed to get together and jam with him around August or September 1970, but he died before we could put it together."

Carl Palmer had previously been the drummer for the highly successful psychedelic band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

ELP were, from the outset, a prototype of the 'rock supergroup'.

Debut album and Pictures at an Exhibition

Their debut album was simply titled Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and was released in late 1970. It was mostly a collection of solo pieces, highlighting the virtuosity of each member of the band. Keith Emerson contributed a series of treatments of classical pieces (such as Bach's BWV 812 and Bartok's 'Allegro Barbaro'), Carl Palmer provides a driving drum solo (called Tank) and Greg Lake provides two ballads, beginning with folky, extended work Take A Pebble. It was the ballad "Lucky Man", which was based on a poem Lake had written at the age of 12, that brought the band to prominence. A soulful acoustic ballad, it received heavy radio play not only in the UK and Europe, but it also became a surprise hit in America. The commercial success of ""Lucky Man"" combined with their strong performance at the Isle of Wight festival to bring ELP rapidly to prominence.

The band's March 1971 live recording, Pictures at an Exhibition, an interpretation of Modest Mussorgsky's work of the same name, was issued as a low-priced record, the success of which contributed to the band's overall popularity. Due to management conflicts, the recording was not released until after Tarkus (their second studio album, which was actually recorded later). The record company was reluctant to release a classical suite as an album, and insisted it be released on their classical music label instead. Fearing (quite justifiably) that this would lead to poor sales, ELP instead decided to shelve the work. After the success of their second album, however, the label agreed to release Pictures as a budget live album.

It was unprecedented for a rock band to devote an entire album to a treatment of a classical work, and to this day, Pictures remains the only complete classical suite that has hit the top 10 in either the US or the UK. The album mixed in a ballad by Greg Lake (The Sage), a Blues Variation section by Emerson and many instances of heavily electronic and synthesised interpretations of Mussorgsky's work (although the opening promenade was played faithfully on a pipe organ).

1971-1972: Tarkus and Trilogy

Tarkus, released in 1971, was their first successful concept album, described as a story about "reverse evolution". Combining a side-long song (an early progressive rock 'epic') with an assortment of hard rock songs, an instrumental and even some comic songs, it was quickly recognised as landmark work in progressive rock. The epic Tarkus, recorded in just 4 days, is a seven-part rock suite which incorporates a number of complex time signatures (such as 10/8) and striking dynamics. The virtuosic, extended keyboard work of Emerson combines with Lake's soloing and Palmer's percussion to tell a story about the futility of war and also religious hypocrisy. The breadth and complexity of the music combined with the series of William Neal paintings incorporated into the album helped to cement ELP's reputation as being on the forefront of creativity and experimentation in rock music.

The 1972 album Trilogy contained ELP's best-selling single, "From the Beginning". The album also featured a cover of Hoedown from Aaron Copland's Rodeo as well as some original multi-part suites (The Endless Enigma and Trilogy). It was their most tightly produced and carefully orchestrated album so far, and is cited by some band members as their favourite ELP album. However, only Hoedown persisted as a live song. It was with the release of Trilogy that ELP were able to focus heavily on international touring.

1973-1974: Brain Salad Surgery and worldwide touring

In 1973, the band had garnered enough recognition to form their own record label, Manticore Records, and purchased an abandoned cinema as their own rehearsal hall. In late 1973, Brain Salad Surgery, with sleeve designed by H. R. Giger, became the band's best-known studio album. The lyrics were co-written by Peter Sinfield, who was the primary lyricist for King Crimson's first four albums. It was their most ambitious album to date, incorporating a multi-part 'super epic' (Karn Evil 9), which was split over both sides of the album. It also contained a cover of Alberto Ginastera's Toccata, in which Carl Palmer was the first musician to employ synthesised percussion, which was actually an acoustic drum kit fitted with pickups that triggered electronic sounds, which were combined with the kit's acoustic sounds. The subsequent world tours were documented with a massive three-LP live recording, Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends.

By April 1974, ELP were on top of the bill during the California Jam Festival, pushing co-stars Deep Purple to second billing. ELP's California Jam performance was broadcast nationwide in the United States, and attended by over 200,000 paying fans. By the end of 1974, ELP were just about tied with Led Zeppelin as the highest grossing live band in the world.

The ELP sound was dominated by the Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer of the flamboyant Emerson. The band's compositions were heavily influenced by classical music in addition to jazz and at least in their early years hard rock. Many of their pieces are arrangements of, or contain quotations from, classical music, and they can be said to fit into the sub-genre of symphonic rock. However, Lake ensured that their albums contained a regular stream of simple, accessible acoustic ballads, many of which received heavy radio airplay.

On stage, the band exhibited an unorthodox mix of virtuoso musicianship and over-the-top theatrical bombast. Their extravagant and often aggressive live shows received much criticism in this regard, although in retrospect it was all rather small change compared to later rock spectacles: the theatrics were limited to a Persian carpet, a grand piano spinning end-over-end, a rotating percussion platform, and a Hammond organ being up-ended and thrown around on stage to create feedback. Emerson often used a knife given to him by Lemmy (who had roadied for Emerson's previous band, The Nice) to force the keys on the organ to stay down. Another unusual factor was that Emerson took a full Moog modular synthesizer (an enormous, complex, and unreliable (tuning-wise) instrument) on the road with him (which Dr Robert Moog thought "insane"), which added greatly to a tour's complexity.

1975-1977: Hiatus, Works Albums

ELP then took a three-year break to re-invent their music, but lost contact with the changing musical scene. They eventually released the double album, Works (later renamed Works, Volume I), in which each member had a 'side' to himself. Side 4 contained 'full band' pieces, including their most enduring legacy: a highly synthesised cover of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. A great deal of the Works album was recorded with an orchestral accompaniment in fact, Keith Emerson's side consisted solely of a 20 minute piano concerto which he had composed himself. This album was soon followed by Works Volume II, which consisted entirely of 34 minute songs including ballads, pop songs, jazzy instrumentals and a Christmas single. It was seen as a collection of leftovers (not helped by the fact that one of the songs was actually called Brain Salad Surgery, and another had previously been released as a solo single by Lake) and was ELP's first commercial failure.

The band toured the US and Canada in 1977 and 1978 with a schedule of night-after-night performances some with a full orchestra, which was a heavy burden on tour revenues. These late-1970s tours found ELP working harder than ever to stay in touch with their audience. But as disco, punk rock, corporate rock and New Wave styles began to alter the musical landscape, ELP could no longer generate the excitement of being forerunners in musical innovation. Eventually, they drifted apart due to personality conflicts and irreconcilable differences concerning musical direction.

Greg Lake commented on the DVD Beyond the Beginning documentary, about the Works tour that they had lost about 3 million dollars from their pockets. On the same documentary, Keith Emerson said, they (Lake and Palmer) still blame him for it, "you and your bloody orchestra".

1978: First break-up

Their last studio album of the 1970s, Love Beach (1978), was dismissed even by the trio itself, who admitted it was delivered to fulfil a contractual obligation.[4] The Love Beach album has been ill-received not only by the music press but also by the fans, who easily understood that the group was tired, something Greg Lake admitted in various interviews. Side One features Lake and consists of several shorter songs in a late 70's attempt to put something in the pop charts. Side Two's composition, "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman", is a four-part narration of the tale of a soldier in the Second World War, and his ordeal of love and death as well as tragedy and triumph. The album's cover photograph which showed the three band members posing with their shirts unbuttoned, on a tropical beach engendered no small amount of ridicule, with Palmer complaining the group looked like disco stars the Bee Gees. Love Beach, along with Yes's Tormato, Genesis' ...And Then There Were Three..., and The Moody Blues' Octave, are considered by critics to be an example of the shift of progressive rock to a lighter, more commercial pop sound. Emerson, Lake and Palmer disbanded later in 1979. The live LP In Concert was released after they had broken up, also to fulfil contractual obligations. It was cobbled together from the ill-fated orchestral tour, and was later rebranded Works Live.

Later incarnations: Emerson, Lake & Powell and 3

In 1985, Emerson and Lake formed Emerson, Lake & Powell with ex-Rainbow and session drummer Cozy Powell. Palmer declined to participate in a reunion, as he was too busy with commitments to Asia. Rumours also linked Bill Bruford to their new line-up, but the former Yes drummer remained committed to King Crimson and his own group, Earthworks. The album Emerson Lake & Powell charted reasonably well, with a major single, "Touch and Go" generating some radio and MTV exposure for the trio. However, the old interpersonal tensions between Lake and Emerson resurfaced during the 1986 tour. Emerson and Palmer subsequently joined with Robert Berry to form the band 3.

1990s: Reformation and second break-up

In 1991, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reformed and issued a 1992 comeback album, Black Moon, on JVC. Their 199293 world tours were successful, culminating in a performance at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in early 1993 that has been heavily bootlegged. But, reportedly, Palmer suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand and Emerson had been treated for a repetitive stress disorder. In 1994, the band released a follow-up album, In the Hot Seat. Overall, this album was viewed as a failure to live up to the 'comeback' expectations that Black Moon had created.

Emerson and Palmer eventually recovered to start touring again, beginning in 1996. Their tour schedules brought them to Japan, South America, Europe, the United States and Canada and ELP played fresh new versions of older work. They played in significantly smaller venues compared to their heyday (sometimes fewer than 500 people, as in Belo Horizonte, Brazil). Their last show was in San Diego, California, in August 1998. Conflicts over a new album led to another break-up: Greg Lake insisted on producing the next album, having produced all of the successful ELP albums in the 1970s. Keith Emerson complained in public (on the Internet) that although he and Carl Palmer worked out on a daily basis to maintain their musical skills, Greg Lake did not make the effort to do the same. Lake admitted that he did not train his voice: a few live shows were generally enough to get it in shape, he claimed.

2000s: re-releases, 2010 tour and one-off 40th anniversary concert

In 2003, UK independent label Invisible Hands Music released the 3CD box set Reworks: Brain Salad Perjury, a new work created by Keith Emerson in collaboration with Mike Bennett, using sampling technology with an eye on club and ambient music styles. Emerson and Bennett sampled musical elements from the entire ELP oeuvre, creating new electronica music opening with a reinterpretation of Fanfare For The Common Man. The musical complexity of the source material provided rich pickings for sampling: the album found favour with critics and the dance music community. Cuts from the album were widely played in clubs and, fleetingly at least, the band's music found a new audience who had never heard (or heard of) ELP.

In March 2009, Palmer said on his website that there is "talk of an ELP reunion in the fall". Emerson, Lake, and Palmer made plans to tour at the end of that year; however, due to Keith Emerson's hand injury, further tour plans were cancelled.

In November 2009, Greg Lake confirmed on a live chat via his website that he and Keith Emerson had been writing new songs for a new album.

In order to satisfy American fans, Emerson and Lake embarked in April 2010 on a North American tour, presenting an acoustic repertoire of their work.

On 14 May 2010, Shout! Factory released a 4-CD collection of Emerson, Lake and Palmer live tracks called A Time And A Place.

On 25 July 2010, Emerson, Lake and Palmer played a one-off 40th anniversary concert, headlining the High Voltage Festival event in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album High Voltage.

On 22 February 2011, Shout! Factory released a 2-CD set of Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded live in 9 February 1978 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York called Live at Nassau Coliseum 78.

On 29 August 2011, Emerson, Lake and Palmer released a DVD and Blu-ray called Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Welcome Back My Friends. 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert recorded and filmed High Voltage Festival event in Victoria Park, London.[5]

On 6 December 2011, Shout! Factory released a single-CD set of Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded live in 2 April 1972 at the Mar Y Sol Festival, Veja Boja, San Juan, Puerto Rico called Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival '72.[6]

ELP have signed a worldwide licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment.[7]

A Blu-ray and SD DVD of the concert was produced by Concert One Ltd, together with a definitive documentary of the band's 40 year history.


Like most progressive rock bands, ELP were heavily and mercilessly criticised by some music critics. Critics frequently lambasted the band as pretentious. One critic went as far as asking "how do you spell pretentious? E-L-P.".[8][9][10][11][12][13]

With an even more cruel take on ELP, even going on to insult the group's fan base, Robert Christgau said of the band "these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans".[13] Christgau also called ELP the "world's most overweening 'progressive' group".[13]

ELP could also be their own worst enemy. Double albums featuring each member separately on an album side stretched inspiration to the breaking point. In 1978, a completely exhausted and uninspired ELP would make the album Love Beach mainly to fulfill their contractual obligations. Unsurprisingly, Michael Bloom of Rolling Stone encapsulated the result fairly well, stating in his review that the album "isn't simply bad, it's downright pathetic.[14] Stale and full of ennui, this album makes washing the dishes seem a more creative act by comparison."[14]

In a more even-handed approach to analysing ELP, John Kelman of All About Jazz noted that an "overbearing sense of self-importance turned ELP from one of the 1970's most exciting new groups into the definition of masturbatory excess and self-aggrandizement in only a few short years."[15] Kelman also stated that "in their fall from grace, (ELP) represented everything wrong with progressive rock."[16] Still, Kelman also stated that ELP, in its heyday, was a positive force, describing the 2010 Deluxe DVD Edition of Pictures at an Exhibition as "raw energy and flat-out hunger with enough self-deprecation to not take themselves too seriously."


Main article: Emerson, Lake & Palmer discography
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970)
  • Tarkus (1971)
  • Trilogy (1972)
  • Brain Salad Surgery (1973)
  • Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends... Ladies and Gentlemen (1974)
  • Works Volume 1 (1977)
  • Works Volume 2 (1977)
  • Love Beach (1978)
  • Black Moon (1992)
  • In the Hot Seat (1994)

See also

  • Emerson, Lake & Powell
  • 3 (Emerson, Berry & Palmer)
  • Alliance (band)
  • List of rock instrumentals


  1. Eder, Bruce. Emerson, Lake & Palmer. AllMusic. Retrieved on 9 July 2011.
  2. Forrester, George; Askew, Frank; Hanson, Martyn (2005). Emerson, Lake and Palmer: The Show That Never Ends, Helter Skelter Publishing.
  3. ELP Biography
  4. Emerson Lake & Palmer. (2008), Beyond The Beginning
  5. http://audaud.com/2011/11/emerson-lake-and-palmer%E2%80%A6welcome-back-my-friends-40th-anniversary-reunion-concert/
  6. http://www.allmusic.com/album/live-at-the-mar-y-sol-festival-72-r2322205
  7. Classic Rock » Blog Archive » ELP Sign Major New Deal. Classicrockmagazine.com. Retrieved on 9 July 2011.
  8. Hochman, Steve, That 'Pretentious' Trio ELP Is Back on the Rock Scene: Pop music: After splitting up in 1978, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are together again for 'Black Moon,' their first album ..., Los Angeles Times, 26 August 1992.
  9. A-J Charron. Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Guitar Noise. Retrieved on 15 July 2011.
  10. Layman, Will. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery < PopMatters. Popmatters.com. Retrieved on 15 July 2011.
  11. The Harbinger. Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) Interview. Theharbinger.org (27 May 1997). Retrieved on 15 July 2011.
  12. Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Love Beach - On Second Thought. Stylus Magazine. Retrieved on 15 July 2011.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 CG: emerson lake and palmer. Robert Christgau. Retrieved on 15 July 2011.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Rolling Stone review, March 1979
  15. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Pictures At An Exhibition - Special Edition. Allaboutjazz.com (14 August 2010). Retrieved on 15 July 2011.
  16. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: A Time and a Place.

Further reading

  • Edward Macan. Endless Enigma, A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. 2006, Open Court Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8126-9596-8.
  • Forrester, George, Martyn Hanson and Frank Askew. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Show That Never Ends, A Musical Biography. (2001) Helter Skelter Publishing ISBN 1-900924-17-X.
  • The New Musical Express Book of Rock, 1975, Star Books, ISBN 0 352 300744

External links

  • Official website
  • Keith Emerson official
  • Greg Lake official
  • Carl Palmer official
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer at All Music Guide
  • ELP Digest
  • Lake & Palmer Emerson, Lake & Palmer at Discogs.com
  • ELP at the Open Directory Project
  • ELP through the eyes of Tony Ortiz, band archivist

This page was last modified 17.01.2012 14:03:22

This article uses material from the article Emerson, Lake & Palmer from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.