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Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Kings of Prog Rock

Music in general is an acquired taste. Progressive rock, perhaps, is more so. Among prog rock bands, none are higher profile or more challenging on the ears than Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the kings of prog rock.

The band’s talent was manifest in many ways, especially in their ability to bring jazz and classical music into the rock context. ELP didn’t just tip its hat to classical music. Much of its music was interpretations of the classics. Some of the best known of the ELP’s works were “covers” – it’s an accurate though strange sounding term in this context – included “Hoedown” by Aaron Copland and “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Paul Mussorgsky.

The Wikipedia profile offers a fascinating story about the band, though one that was said to not be true a few years ago by Greg Lake. Legend has it that Jimi Hendrix had almost joined the band, which then would have been called HELP.

ELP was loud and, to some ears, pretentious. The distinctive sound was driven by the organ and Moog synthesizer of Keith Emerson (formerly of the Nice). AllMusic’s Bruce Eder calls ELP “progressive rock’s first supergroup” and notes that it paved the way for others, including Yes – which was its main competition in the 1970s.

Greg Lake had been in King Crimson. He and Emerson joined forces and Carl Palmer – not yet 20 years old — was added on drums by way of audition. The band played its first concert just before of The Isle of Wight festival. There, according to Eder, ELP “astonished more than half a million onlookers with their sound and instrumental prowess.”

The profiles describes several landmarks band, including the concept album Takrus, which was released in 1971. The title is a seven-part rock suite, recorded in four days, that features a number of complex time signatures, according to Wikipedia.

“Karn Evil 9” is above and “Hoedown” is below.

Wikipedia and AllMusic were used to write this post.

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--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.