King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King
King Crimson’s debut album was released in October 1969. The band were formed less than a year before the release and played their first gig in April of that year. On this album the King Crimson line-up is Greg Lake plays bass and sings (who would become a member of ELP), Robert Fripp on guitarist (who would go on to become the only King Crimson member to appear throughout the entire band’s history), woodwinds and keyboard player Ian McDonald and Michael Giles on drums (who would both leave shortly after the album’s release). The album features lyrics by non-musician Peter Sinfield and an overdubbed Mellotron played by McDonald provides lush orchestral string sounds that give the album its character.
"21st Century Schizoid Man” is probably the most famous song on the album. It is driven by a saxophone riff played by McDonald. It also features heavily distorted vocals with dystopian lyrics by Sinfield. The middle third of the song is instrumental with a couple of guitar solos, some superb drumming from Michael Giles and some short saxophone riffs here and there before it goes back to the main saxophone riff and the briefly vocals come back in. The song then builds and builds to a dramatic coda.
The six minute "I Talk to the Wind" is a more mellow, serene and relatively simple but beautiful song. Flute and clarinet are used throughout and the guitar and drums are a lot more subtle compared to the other songs on the album. There are even two flute solos with a longer solo towards the end of the song.
“Epitaph” is driven by a beautifully haunting mellotron string sound and acoustic guitar. It is probably the most epic (at nearly nine minutes long) and personal song on the album. Since the death of Greg Lake in 2016, the song has sadly taken on a much greater meaning despite him not writing the lyrics.
“Moonchild” is the longest song on the album. It is built of three sections, the first of which is built on mellotron, an alternation between the ride cymbals and some delicate lead guitar playing. After about four minutes, the song goes into a freeform instrumental with vibraphone, electric guitar and lots of percussion sounds. It is one of the best examples of what King Crimson would do in the future and that is a lot of jazz influenced improvisation. It may not be the best song on the album but is a very interesting listening experience.
Title track "The Court of the Crimson King” is dominated by a distinctive riff played on the mellotron which plays throughout much of its runtime. The verses are backed by acoustic guitar, but they alternate with the instrumental chorus and there is also another very sweet flute solo. The song itself ends after seven minutes but there is a little reprise to close the album where the main theme is played on a calliope.
The album is probably the first example of a progressive album and where the story of progressive rock starts in my opinion. It is one of the most influential and popular albums of the genre over the last fifty years and where the band took their own influences from classical and jazz rather than the blues of albums that came before. It is remarkable how strong the musicianship is when the band were all in their early twenties and had only formed at the beginning of 1969