Saturday, September 18, 2010

King Crimson -- "The Court of the Crimson King" (1969)

On soft grey mornings widows cry,
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

That's the last verse of the last track of King Crimson's 1969 album, In the Court of the Crimson King -- an album that I heard countless times as a college student.

Here's the album cover, one of the most distinctive and unforgettable album covers you've ever seen:

In the Court of the Crimson King
I spent much of the past summer remembering high school and writing about some of the songs that conjure up memories of those days.  But summer's over.  It's late September and I really should be back in school.  

This post kicks off a series of posts about the albums that I will always associate with my college years -- my college madeleines, if you will.  Over the next few months, I expect to do at least a couple of dozen posts featuring songs from the signature albums of my college years (1970-74).  

Don't expect more than a few of those to feature the most popular songs from those albums.  I'm not going to focus on the tracks that got a lot of radio play, but rather on some of the longer and less famous cuts.   You see, we didn't have iPods with "shuffle" options in those days (or satellite radios, or Pandora).  You usually started at the beginning of a record and listened to at least a whole side.  What a concept!

I've started the process of selecting the individual songs, and I must say the experience has been much more intense than I expected.  I don't have many of these albums on CD or my iPod, and because I'm picking mostly the songs that aren't played on the "classic rock"-type stations, I'm hearing music that I haven't heard in 20 or 30 years.  It's a lot like what I felt when I went to my 25th college reunion and saw my college campus and the surrounding neighborhood for the first time in a couple of decades.  I'm having what I can only describe as hot flashes.  

She's a BIG King Crimson fan
Everyone seemed to have a copy of this album, which was King Crimson's first.  I firmly believe that In the Court of the Crimson King was always playing on at least one dorm-room stereo every single moment of every single day I was in college.  I'd hear snippets of it as I walked to our dining hall, and it was usually one of the albums that accompanied our late-night spades games.  No album was more ubiquitous on my campus in the early 1970's than this one.

It is arguably the quintessential progressive rock album.  (That's a musical genre that has a lot to answer for, but there are some great progressive rock albums, and nearly all of them were released during my college years.)  Pete Townshend of The Who called it "an uncanny masterpiece."

King Crimson has had 19 principal members over the years -- there were seven different basic lineups for the band.  (Check out the color-coded personnel chart at the end of the Wikipedia entry for King Crimson -- it's mind-bogglingly complicated.)  

Guitarist Robert Fripp is the only current band member who was around for In the Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson's first album.  In fact, a couple of the original members left only two months after that record was released.  

Vocalist and bass guitarist Greg Lake departed for Emerson, Lake & Palmer (more about them later) a couple of months after that, although he did agree to sing on the group's second album.

I was startled a few weeks ago to hear Kanye West sample the first track of the album, "21st Century Schizoid Man," in his new song, "Power:"

Given how hot this song is now, I probably would have gotten more hits if I had blogged about "21st Century Schizoid Man," probably the most well-known song on this album.  Live and learn.

Here's "The Court of the Crimson King":

It appears that the songs from this album are not available for purchase as individual MP3 files from iTunes or Amazon.  Here's a fairly close substitute -- a version of the song recorded by the "21st Century Schizoid Band," a group that feature several of King Crimson's original members (but not Fripp or Lake).

Click here to order the CD from Amazon:

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