Emerson, Lake and Palmer are a progressive rock supergroup whose core lineup consisted of keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer. They have been known for their traditional rock music fused with classical sensibilities, dominated by Emerson’s Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer.
This English band’s origins were found in San Francisco, USA, where Emerson and Lake first met and found that they share the same musical preferences in common. Drummer Carl Palmer later joined them. Their first self-titled album in 1970 yielded a US Hot 100 hit “Lucky Man” which also received heavy airplay in the UK and much of Europe. When their second album Tarkus was released the following year, it made Emerson, Lake and Palmer more popular, with their fanbase growing more solid. Their fame were further cemented with their third LP Trilogy, and their Brain Salad Surgery LP were seen by some critics as their finest album ever produced. But after their 1978 album Love Beach flopped, the band split the following year.
In 1985, Emerson and Lake formed a band with new drummer Cozy Powell that led them to be called as Emerson, Lake and Powell, but this proved to be short-lived partly due to old issues re-appearing between Emerson and Lake. Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunited in the early 1990s, and since then the trio have been touring intermittently, and 2010 saw their one-off concert celebrating the band’s 40 years together.
The band’s origins and formation
The members of the British progressive rock super group Emerson, Lake & Palmer had been with other bands at the time their own group was formed. Keyboardist Keith Emerson was with his own band named Nice, Greg Lake was a vocalist and bassist of King Crimson, while drummer Carl Palmer had been a member of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster.
Emerson and Lake first met while their respective bands shared a bill at Filmore West in San Francisco, California, USA. They were both exploring possible ventures outside their own bands. Emerson and Lake would later talk about the possibility of collaborating together.
Finally, Emerson and Lake started officially working together, and they were looking for several possible drummers until they found a suitable candidate in Palmer. The band was complete and was simply called Emerson, Lake & Palmer in an endeavor to take away the focus on Emerson, who was the most well-known among the three. This gave them equal billing.
The first official gig of the group was at Guildhall, Plymouth in August 1970. But it was their gig at Isle of Wight festival that they actually received more exposure. Audiences began to see them as a proficient and dynamic live band. This led to their first contract with the US label Atlantic Records in that year.
Rise to reputation as premiere art/progressive rockers
Emerson, Lake & Palmer released their self-titled debut album also that same year. The album was intended not as a unified effort from the group but rather as a showcase of every band member’s solo numbers. It was a big success on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, it went to #18 on the Billboard Pop Album chart and earned a gold certification. The album’s single “Lucky Man” peaked at #48 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
The following year the band recorded their first live album Pictures at an Exhibition which the band did a rock adaptation of Modest Mussorgsky’s famed classical piano suite of the same name. It was also a success, furthering Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s reputation as premiere art/album rockers.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer released their second studio album Tarkus, which was a concept album. It became the band’s only #1 album (on the UK album chart), and went to #9 on the US Billboard 200 album chart. It earned another gold disc. The following year the band released their third LP Trilogy, whose sleeve art was made by the famed art design team Hipgnosis. This album was also a hit. It featured the Lake-penned US Top 40 hit “From The Beginning.” But it was another track on the album — the Aaron Copeland composition “Hoedown” — that became one of the band’s live concert staples.
Being the most ambitious effort the band had ever put out, Brain Salad Surgeryfeatured a seemingly eternal track called “Karn Evil 9.” It was a nearly 30-minute composition which consisted of three “impressions,” with the first impression split into two parts. The second impression was the most preferred, and as a result it became a popular radio staple. Brain Salad Surgery went to #11 on the US pop album chart, and #2 on the UK album chart, making it another “gold” album. It still remains the band’s best-known work.
In the wake of Brain Salad Surgery‘s success, the band released another live album Welcome Back, My Friends, To the Show That Never Ends…Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1974.
The band’s performances were mostly extravagant, bold, indulgent and dynamic, full of awe-inspiring sets (such as rotating platforms), histrionics and excess. As a result the band’s concerts, like their ambitious music, garnered much bad press from the critics who attacked their style as “pretentious.”
After much intense activity, Emerson, Lake & Palmer decided to go into a prolonged hiatus. In 1977, the band released the highly-anticipated double album Works Volume I which featured every member on the first three sides of the record, and the last side (Side 4) being the entire band together. The Side 4 contained their synth-driven cover of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
Works, Volume I was a success, peaking at #12 and #9 on the US and UK album charts, respectively. “Fanfare for the Common Man,” meanwhile, reached #2 on the UK singles chart making it the band’s only Top 10 hit on any singles rankings.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer followed Works Volume I with Works Volume 2 in 1978. The album was relatively short compared to the band’s previous efforts. The album was a potpourri of different styles — pop, ballads, jazz, and even Christmas music.Works Volume 2 was seen by many as a compilation of left over tracks (possibly from their Brain Salad Surgery-era recordings). Although Works Volume 2 did well enough, it was otherwise a relative failure although it received some benign critical reviews.
In 1978, the band released Love Beach as their fulfillment to complete their contractual obligations to Atlantic Records. The album was a critical and commercial failure; the band themselves didn’t take it too kindly either. They split in 1979, with each member going to pursue their own musical aspirations.
Emerson and Lake, together with drummer Cozy Powell (formerly of Rainbow) formed Emerson, Lake & Powell in 1985. Palmer was too occupied playing for another band Asia, so he wasn’t able to join his old band mates for a reunion. After their only album together Emerson Lake & Powell (1986), Emerson and Carl Palmer joined American musician Robert Berry to form 3 (yes, that’s the name of the band) in 1988.
In 1991 Emerson, Lake & Palmer reunited to record a new album. The result was 1992’s Black Moon, their first studio album in fourteen years. A subsequent world tour proved to be very successful, with highlights in Los Angeles and in London (the live album Live at the Royal Albert Hall chronicled that part of the tour, and was released in 1993). In 1994 the band released their studio album to date In the Hot Seat. The band continued to tour around the globe, until conflicts of the intended new album led to a breakup anew.
In 2003 UK indie label Invisible Hands Music released the triple-disc set calledReworks: Brain Salad Perjury. It contained new material by Emerson who collaborated with Mike Bennett.
In July 2010, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reunited for their 40th anniversary concert, as part of High Voltage Festival (sponsored by Classic Rock magazine) held in London. It was recorded and released as a live album titled High Voltage in 2011. A DVD and Blu-ray of the anniversary concert was also released that same year.