Emerson Lake & Palmer: Works Vol. 1 (1977)

I’ve written about Emerson Lake and Palmer a couple of times.  Below is what I said about Works, Volume 1:

Works Volume 1 (1977), Each member took an album side with the fourth side being a group effort.  Keith Emerson wrote a piano concerto, Greg Lake composed a series of ballads, and Carl Palmer created some jazz selection with a little help from his friends.  The results were mixed, interesting but the strength of the album was in the two selections occupying side four of the double album.  “Fanfare for the Common Man”, adapted from Aaron Copland original music, is the key song from the album. ELP turned the three minute composition into nine minutes adding their own variations.  Because Copland owned the copyright, ELP needed to gain his permission, which they did.  Asked about it later he said, “But the fact that at the beginning and the end it really is the Fanfare for the Common Man gave me the feeling I ought to allow them to do it as they pleased.”  The second group song is “Pirates”, another big orchestrated piece that shows both the group’s strength and what their punk critics were saying.

I took a fresh listen to the album, as this was the last great work by the band.  What followed by way of new material spread over the next 20 years, and a spate of live recordings, nothing captured the expanse and creative originality that really ended with Works, Volume 1.

This album closed an almost four year gap between releases (Brain Salad Surgery) of new material, an eternity in those days.  Side four, which contains the two group efforts, is an strong as anything they recorded.  “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Pirates” are worth the purchase of the album.  The solo material on the other three sides is a bonus.  This album is not their greatest, but the best work they would do going forward.  The album reflect their most creative and their Achilles heel.  Where they fell short was not from lack of effort or passion, it was giving in to their excess and failing to rein themselves in.  With some editing and more group participation in the solo materials, this could have been a remarkable single disc.  That’s what George Martin said about the Beatles White Album, and yet that album is revered for pushing the bounds of the Beatles creativity.  C’est la vie.

The album followed a long period of inactivity where the band worked on side projects. Keith Emerson was quoted as having said the band had used up their ideas, and Greg Lake felt a split in the band.

Lake was again listed as producer, but Emerson’s finger prints are felt all over three of the four sides.  Mostly, the album was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland, as the band began life as tax exiles.

Keith Emerson 

“Piano Concerto No. 1”  I must admit, I am not a classical fan, so I am woefully weak at reviewing this song.  Listening the full 18 minutes, I find it quite impressive, especially Emerson’s playing.  He was not just a thunderous organ and synthesizer player.  His strength was in his piano technique. His piano notes came at your like machine gun fire, or as gentle as a summer rain.  He was a remarkable player, such passion.

The world lost a unique talent when he died.  His bravado and outlandish live performances are the lasting images of Emerson, the layers of keyboard sounds were like swirling and cutting waves of thunder in the ELP storm of sound.  On this album, the sound could be big, but it had purpose and was directed with great accuracy.

His concerto was divided into three distinct sections, which gave Emerson an opportunity to play a variety of styles.  While I could not distinguish classical influences, I can relate parts of his concerto to film scores.  As I listened, I heard touches of film composers like Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, David Amram and Jerry Fielding, specifically pieces of their work from the 1960s.  I mention these composers because I hear threads similar to specific films like North By Northwest, Patton and The Manchurian Candidate. Emerson no doubt drew from a wealth of influences in creating a piece of music he hoped would live long after him.

The backing orchestra is the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Greg Lake  

Mr. Lake was a romantic at heart.  He seemed more comfortable with ballads where he could provide a warm, rich vocal.  He had a very expressive voice with good range.  These five songs sound remarkably similar in style and arrangement.  Greg Lake was not a rock and roller.  He was an excellent bass player and seemed to prefer the acoustic guitar over the electric.  I never understood the reluctance to emphasis the electric guitar, even on albums, or hire a guitarist to supplement their live performances.   I know, that wouldn’t have been the genuine ELP sound, but so what?

“Lend Your Love to Me Tonight”  I believe this to be the best of the five Lake songs.  While similar to the other songs, it has his most passionate vocal performance.

 

“C’est La Vie” Maybe the best known of his five songs, it is quite powerful, mostly in the orchestral and choir arrangements, which compliments Lake’s multi-tracked voice.

“Hallowed Be My Name”  An upbeat, prancing song, fitting of maybe a dance hall or cabaret. A grand orchestra accompanies Lake, a highly creative arrangement.  The song’s key is Lake’s vocal performance.

“Nobody Loves You Like I Do” A folksy arrangement does little to subtract from the sophistication of this song.  Even the acoustic guitar solo is classy.  I’m surprised that adult contemporary singers like Tom Jones did not pick up on this song for a cover.

“Closer to Believing” With his acoustic guitar and orchestra.  What is more soothing, the strings or his voice?

Carl Palmer 

I never would have thought that more than 40 years later, the ELP legacy would be on Palmer’s shoulders.  He not only embraces it, he is quite good.  Palmer, the only surviving member, performs the work of ELP all over the world.  When this album was released, I did not pay much attention to Palmer’s side, but all these years later, there is much to like.  Palmer climbs the furthest outside his comfort zone with his selection.  I am not saying his material is better than his band mates, it just exceeded what many of us thought he would bring to the table.

“The Enemy God”  Adapted from a work by Sergei Prokofiev.  A fine percussive song.

“L.A. Nights” Featuring Joe Walsh on guitar.  Acoustic and electric drums, plus Keith Emerson on keyboards.  The label for this would be fusion.  Co-written by Palmer and Emerson.  The most rocking song on the entire album.

“New Orleans”  Written by Palmer.  A jazz-funk song, with talk-box vocals.

“Two Part Invention in D Minor”  A composition by Bach.  Palmer plays the vibraphone.

“Food For Your Soul” A bit like Chicago or Blood Sweat & Tears with the horns and jazzy/funk inspired guitar work on this high energy song.  Very energetic solo by Palmer.

“Tank”  A re-working of the ELP song from their debut album.  The liner notes says that this version contains the orchestra that ELP would like to have had on their version, had they the money to do so.  Emerson helps out with his synthesizer.

The Group Side 

“Fanfare for the Common Man”  Aaron Copeland was very particular about his work.  ELP always treated their cover versions with dignity, at least that is my opinion.  This is an epic song, grand vision and thunder.  ELP brought out the best in the song.  They could have used some cheesy synthesizers and outlandish theatrics, but they did not.  There is enough here for rock audiences, and respect for Mr. Copeland’s originality.  And the popularity of the album, and airplay, earned Mr. Copeland a sizable amount of money.

“Pirates”  The song has a long wind-up with a fanfare that starts it.  Vocals enter at about 3 minutes, 40 seconds.  Emerson worked up an instrumental that he had hoped would be part of the score to the film, Dogs of War, but it was rejected.  Lyricist Pete Sinfield, who co-wrote much of Greg Lake’s work, added the words.  This song is over 13 minutes in length, but it never feels forced or too long.  I am glad it did not become part of film score that would have been forgotten.  Dogs of War was a good film, based on a novel by Fredrick Forsyth, but here, the music found the life it deserved.

 

The album sold well and reviews were generally positive, liking the group side the best.  A second volume or material from sessions was released, but not as well received as volume one. ELP mounted a massive tour, taking an orchestra with them, at least until they ran out of money and had to continue as a trio.  A live album was released from these recorded shows.

As I listen to the album, I am reminded of the Led Zeppelin concert/fantasy film The Song Remains the Same. It was part concert and combined live-action fantasy sequences that focused on each member of the band.  It was quite a head experience then, total excess of a band that could touch the top of the world at that point in time.  They were bigger than anything and no one would dare reel them in when they totally went on a tangent. In 1977, ELP was at their highest elevation.  It happens in life, we shoot beyond our grasp. While the world may not have been anxiously awaiting an Emerson concerto or “Two Part Invention in D Minor” or “Closer to Believing”, we were excited to get “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Pirates.”


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