Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Honky Tonk Train BluesWorks Volume 2
Abaddon's BoleroTrilogy
The BarbarianEmerson, Lake & Palmer
CanarioLove Beach
NutrockerPictures At An Exhibition
Farewell To ArmsBlack Moon
The SheriffTrilogy
Karn Evil 9Brain Salad Surgery


ELP playlist



Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

Were Emerson, Lake & Palmer prog rock’s first supergroup? The trio had come together from The Nice (Keith Emerson), King Crimson (Greg Lake) and Atomic Rooster (Carl Palmer) which gave it some serious pedigree. The band took its name from its members to prevent them being known as the ‘New Nice’, give the members equal billing and to take the spotlight away from Emerson. This did not stop Emerson, Lake & Palmer as individuals being arrogant, self-assured and ultimately an overblown parody of themselves that nearly bankrupted the band and its members.

Their debut was in Plymouth in August 1970. Six days later they played at the Isle of Wight festival, a performance that was to propel the band to a record contract and worldwide stardom.

The topper ten is in the order of a playlist and pretty much covers the breadth of the band’s output. And there are surprises as well as the predictable – I don’t think many people would have expected anything post the Works albums.

The band’s sound centred heavily around Keith Emerson’s keyboards, notably the Hammond Organ and Moog synthesiser. Lake provided vocals, some stunning bass lines and also some quality ballads that feature his acoustic guitar. Contrary to all of this, my selection opens with Keith Emerson on piano and a driving version of the Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis tune Honky Tonk Train Blues from Works Volume 2. The brass arrangement is by my first cousin Alan Cohen (who has led his own jazz bands, worked with Bing Crosby, the Charlie Watts Big Band and now enjoys his retirement). Emerson’s piano is the train powering along the rails, the brass is the train going through tunnels, stations and across bridges as it relentlessly rolls towards its destination.

Next we go to one of three selections from the band’s third album, Trilogy. I think Abaddon’s Bolero may have been a favourite of Nicky Horne because he seemed to play it a lot on his Capital Radio rock show “Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It” back in the day. It featured in the first laser light show I can remember, Laserium, which was staged at The London Planetarium in the mid-1970s having been imported from Los Angeles. Like the Bolero composed by Maurice Ravel, the Emerson composed bolero builds from a quiet beginning to a crescendo overlaying a tattoo beaten out on Carl Palmer’s drum kit.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer have a catalogue of interpretations of classical pieces for the rock format and none are much better than Aaron Copland’s Hoedown also from the Trilogy album. A track that features Emerson’s Hammond organ and one of Lake’s classic bass lines.

The Barbarian from the band’s first album, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, borrows heavily from a piano piece written by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók called Allegro Barbaro. This first album set the blueprint of much of what was to follow; solo pieces constructed for the band during a collaborative recording session.

Following the release of Love Beach in 1978, Emerson, Lake & Palmer went their separate ways. The album was released to fulfil a contractual obligation – in places it sounds like it – and some tracks were recorded to try and have a hit single. Again, the band mines the works of classical composers and Canario, adapted from a piece by Joaquín Rodrigo, is the best track on the album and illustrates Greg Lake’s prowess on electric guitar.

In March 1971, Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded a live version of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition at Newcastle City Hall. The album was released by Island Records on their new budget series, Help. The main album weaves the band’s own compositions into Mussorgsky’s original work, with Nutrocker as the encore. From the opening strains of Promenade which Emerson played on the venue’s own Harrison & Harrison pipe organ to the closing Hammond organ, vocal and cymbal crash of The Great Gates of Kiev the album deserves a revisit some 43 years after it was recorded.

There was a full dozen years between the poor Love Beach and its follow-up Black Moon. I like this album although time had not been kind to Greg Lake’s voice and it lacks the musical layers and flavours of the earlier albums. Farewell To Arms written by Emerson and Lake has some anti-war overtones.

Tarkus was their second album released in mid-1971. Side one of the original vinyl release is a prog rock epic in seven parts; Eruption, Stones Of Years, Iconoclast, Mass, Manticore, Battlefield, Aquatarkus. Manticore was the name the band gave to their own record label. A manticore is a Persian mythical beast akin to the Egyptian Sphinx. ELP gave the beast a scorpion’s tail.

We return to Trilogy for our penultimate selection and The Sheriff – a Hammond organ led romp through a very fictitious American Wild West but good fun to listen to.

The follow-up to Trilogy was Brain Salad Surgery released in 1973. The band then embarked on a world tour to promote it. This tour was captured on the live album that quotes from the album’s centrepiece. Karn Evil 9 takes up a quarter of side one of the original album and the whole of side two. On my copy of the CD it is a single piece of music. Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends … Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer includes both Tarkus and Karn Evil 9 on what was a triple live album. A documentary team followed the band for part of the British leg of the tour and I remember an aeriel shot of three articulated lorries on a British motorway in convoy, the roofs reading in order Emerson, Lake, Palmer. The implication being that each member of the band had so much kit that they required a truck each in which to transport it. Carl Palmer had a bespoke drum kit constructed to enable him to play the electronic drum solo in the band’s interpretation of Alberto Ginastera’s Toccata. It was said that the kit weighed two tonnes and the stages at some venues had to be reinforced to take the weight.

On a future tour in 1977/1978 to promote the Works albums, Keith Emerson insisted on taking a full orchestra; a feature that lost the band in the region of three million dollars. Some of that tour is available on the Works Live CD set.

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake subsequently worked with Cozy Powell on drums as Emerson, Lake and Powell. The original trio have periodically worked together since the release of the last studio album. But here you have it, a leviathan on three legs with egos to match and a sample of the career of one of the best bands that prog rock produced.


Keith Emerson (1944–2016)

Greg Lake (1947-2016)


Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Wikipedia)

Carl Palmer official website

ELP Digest – Archives and Back Issues

Emerson, Lake & Palmer biography (Apple Music)

TopperPost #316


  1. Calvin Rydbom
    Jul 15, 2014

    On some level I think the ridiculous antics of this band (in the way of gear and ego) caused the US backlash against Prog Rock. They are still held up as an example of when RocknRoll Runs Amok over here.

  2. Peter Viney
    Jul 15, 2014

    I’ll have to add a “What? No …” for Fanfare for The Common Man. Carl Palmer has carried this one through into both Asia and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. It’s always thrilling.

    • Ian Ashleigh
      Jul 15, 2014

      Big smile here, that’s exactly the ‘what no’ I predicted when I submitted the post, both track and contributor. Thank you so much Peter.

  3. Jerry Tenenbaum
    Jul 15, 2014

    I’ll add ‘From The Beginning’ from Trilogy as an essential for me. That song resonated and I loved every aspect of it.

  4. Rob Millis
    Jul 30, 2014

    My “what no” would be Knife Edge from the first LP. Being a Hammond player, I’d also add some comment towards the quality of recorded Hammond that Eddie Offord got on Tarkus. Great sound. Other than that, wouldn’t describe myself as a fan. Some great moments on the debut and Tarkus but very soon after that – for me – we are into the kind of turf that has you begging for Lee Brilleaux to come along.

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