Home Music Music Lists

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: 10 Essential Songs

The greatest from the audacious, virtuosic progressive rock icons

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Emerson, Lake and Palmer were virtuosic progressive rock icons.

LFI/Photoshot

"I was scared shitless," the late Keith Emerson told Mojo in 2001, remembering the start of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 1977 tour of America — at the time, the most extravagant rock tour ever assembled. The setup legendarily included drummer Carl Palmer's karate instructor, an army of roadies and, least practical of all, a full orchestra. Despite the cost and difficulty, "we had to be honest with our fans," Emerson said. "My piano concerto on our double album, Works, which accompanied the tour, was augmented by an orchestra, and what you hear on the record is what you expect to hear when you buy the ticket to the show!"

That is the majesty of ELP. Veterans of a variety of Sixties British rock bands — Emerson played in the Nice, Palmer hailed from Atomic Rooster and Greg Lake migrated from King Crimson — ELP became one of rock's first supergroups upon forming in 1970. In fact, ELP practically defined the term. Before punk came along and took progressive rock down a peg, the trio enjoyed the kind of success that could have only happened in the Seventies, when musicians strained at the confines of two-minute singles and dance-ready beats.

The result was a stretch of albums — as well as a smattering of fluke radio hits like 1970's melancholy "Lucky Man" — that turned prog from a black-light-in-the-basement listening experience into a stadium-filling phenomenon. At their heart was Emerson, whose eternal quest for a bigger, grander sound (thanks to a bank of organs and synthesizers that grew to resemble a fortress onstage) helped make ELP one of the most accomplished and absorbing bands rock ever birthed. Here are a few of their shining moments.

LFI/Photoshot

EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER PHOTO BY

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

“Fanfare for the Common Man” (1977)

The first track on the collaborative side of ELP's solo-centric double album Works Volume 1, "Fanfare for the Common Man" was adapted from a 1942 composition by Aaron Copland, whom Keith Emerson regarded as "the soul of American music." Emerson transposed Copland's score to the key of E, and the band recorded the track as an inspired first take that sandwiches a nasty blues shuffle between straight-forward renditions of Copland's theme, which led the composer to observe, "What they do in the middle, I'm not sure exactly how they connect that with my music but [laughs] they do it someway, I suppose." Released with the composer's blessing, the trio's 10-minute adaptation would become a ubiquitous fist pumper during many televised sports events. R.G.

Show Comments