Tuesday, February 21, 2012

King Crimson -- "21st Century Schizoid Man" (1969)

Blood rack, barbed wire 
Politician's funeral pyre 
Innocents raped with napalm fire 
21st century schizoid man 

Sounds like someone took too many hallucinogens last night and had a bad dream.

"21st Century Schizoid Man" is the first track on King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, an album that everyone -- by which I mean everyone who was male -- owned when I was in college.  

You must remember what was perhaps the most distinctive and eye-catching album cover of all time:

Although Roxy Music's Country Life cover wasn't bad:

I know, I know -- that was totally gratuitous.

And so is this!

If I had a nickel for every time during those four years that I heard In the Court of the Crimson King blasting from a dorm room, I'd be a rich man today -- assuming I had invested all those nickels in Berkshire Hathaway stock, of course.  Unfortunately, I don't and I didn't.  So my long-term financial well-being depends on your clicking on my ads.  Tres ironique!

King Crimson's music was half progressive rock, half jazz fusion, and half heavy metal.  (Yes, I know that a whole consists of two halves, not three.  That is the point, don't you see?)

King Crimson
"21st Century Schizoid Man" is over seven minutes long, but doesn't have much in the way of lyrics.  The second of the song's three short verses is quoted above.  Each verse takes lead singer Greg Lake (who later moved on to Emerson, Lake & Palmer) only about 12 seconds to sing.

Spiro Agnew
There are some Vietnam references here -- "Innocents raped with napalm fire" in particular.  (Maybe 1% of the songs from this era were about Vietnam.  The other 99% were about drugs.)  King Crimson's guitarist, the prolific Robert Fripp, later said that the song was inspired by "an American political personality whom we all know and love dearly. His name is Spiro Agnew."

There are some very interesting (by which I mean weird) cover versions of this song.  For example, Ozzy Osbourne covered it in 2005 -- no great surprise there.  

Other bands who have covered the song include Flower Travellin' Band (they were Japanese), Premiata Forneria Marconi (Italian), Entombed (Swedish), Edge of Spirit (Japanese),  Von Hertzen Brothers (Finnish), Let 3 (Croatia), and Noir Désir (French).  I got all that from Wikipedia, and for all I know all these bands don't exist, but are part of an elaborate hoax perpetrated by some computer geek with way too much time on his hands.

But let's assume all these groups are real, and that all of them did record cover versions of this King Crimson classic.  It's tempting to devote next February's "29 Songs in 28 Days" to cover versions of "21st Century Schizoid Man" and see how many readers (by which I mean how few readers) I would have by March 1.

Here's the most unusual cover version of the song I've found:

South Africa's Suck recorded a cover of this song on their 1971 album, Time to Suck.  That album includes covers of "War Pigs," "Season of the Witch," and a couple of songs from Grand Funk Railroad's Closer to Home album.  The originals of all those songs have been featured on 2 or 3 lines -- we may need to take a closer look at Suck.

On second thought . . . maybe we don't.

Kanye West's 2010 hit single "Power" samples "21st Century Schizoid Man."  I would never second-guess Kanye's decisions, but it seems like a very odd choice.

Here's the original "21st Century Schizoid Man":

I don't think you can buy an mp3 of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man."  Click below if you'd like to order the In the Court of the Crimson King album from Amazon:

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