This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 137 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!
This weeks album goes right back to my “hippy” days in the early 1970’s, and was an album that could have been found not only in any self-respecting “hippies” collection, but most record collections.
This vinyl album has been in my collection since the day I purchased it which was right after it was released in October of 1969.
The album is titled In The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson. It was released on the Atlantic label with the code – SD 8245.
It is is a gatefold style album and featured only five tracks, three on side 1 and two on side 2.
The album was remastered and re-released on vinyl and CD several times during the 1980s and 1990s however the original masters had been thought lost, so each successive generation got progressively worse.
It wasn’t until recent times when those original master tapes were found, that King Crimson member, Robert Fripp, authorised a re- release on both vinyl and CD of this album.
So it means any versions you have been listening to prior to the Fripp authorised re-release, except for the original vinyl recording, has been marred by sound imperfections. If you do not have this original version, then you should aim for the 2010 release or the subsequent 2019 release.
However, the copy I have is not only an original release, somehow it has been saved from the ravages of time and play, and is in primo condition, except the cover has more wear than the album surface.
This is not to say there isn’t a little surface noise which I have left intact on the pieces used during the review, in order to maintaining the audio integrity.
How it survived so well all these years is something that goes into the inexplicable box.
Although only a single LP set, it is in a gatefold cover, which at least has allowed Barry Godber, the cover illustrator, to have a good pallet on which to design one of the memorable album covers of all time.
He was given a freehand to design both inside and outside covers. as an aside, Godber was actually a very early computer programmer and sadly died at the very young age 24.
In fact Godber died in February 1970 of a heart attack, shortly after the album’s release. It was his only album cover, and that art works now owned by Robert Fripp. Fripp had said about Godber:
Sadly there was no booklet or even a sleeve with notes with this original version.
As Fripp indicates above, the inner cover (on the right hand side) is Godber’s interpretation of the “Crimson King” – a happy benign face, although I always did note the rather interesting (vampire type) canines!
The opposite side (the left hand side) consists of the lyrics to each of the five tracks and the list of personnel.
The rear cover is simply an extension of the front cover (the “schizoid man”), an emblematic representation of his ear.
Whether the cover would have reached the acclaim it did IF the music had not ably supported it, is indeed a moot point.
What is certain is that because the music was groundbreaking in many regards, although not universally acclaimed, the cover came to be instantly recognisable not only in its day but across the generations to come.
Technically, the full album title is In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson.
Now the origins of King Crimson can be found nicely laid out in Wikipedia, but by the time the group actually got round to recording this album, and releasing it in October of 1969, the personnel were:
Robert Fripp – guitar
Ian McDonald – reeds, woodwind & vibes, keyboards, mellotron & vocals
Greg lake – bass & lead vocals
Michael Giles – drums, percussion & vocals
Peter Sinfield – words & illumination
The group actually survived in one form or another but by 1972 McDonald, Lake & Giles had all left the band, and the group’s direction and new line-up actually lost it a lot of fans.
Yet somehow even with 14 different members and, as many ‘guest” musicians playing with them, it is generally conceded that the line-up on this album was by far the best in terms of creativity and the overall sound of the group.
This is a conclusion I am comfortable with.
|1||21st Century Schizoid Man||7:24|
|2||I Talk to the Wind||6:03|
|3||Epitaph (Including (A) March for No Reason (B) Tomorrow and Tomorrow)||8:21|
|4||Moonchild (Including (A) The Dream (B) The Illusion)||12:13|
|5||The Court of the Crimson King||9:23|
Before looking at all the tracks on this album it might be pertinent to say something about its overall construction.
It was a ground-breaking album, there is little doubt about it. Certainly Pink Floyd were busy formulating the big electro-sound, the ‘cosmic” semi-electronic, spacey if not serious “head” music.
Hendrix was flying through the stratosphere and the Moody Blues had made use of the early access to the more “obscure” instruments such as the mellotron, and had garnered a solid following in the “cosmic music stakes”.
King Crimson did not draw (consciously) upon any of these elements. It was a period of considerable experimentation for them, and whilst Robert Fripp has never been on my “top Ten” guitarists list, he was an incredibly innovative and experimental guitarist.
So while my memory is flying through all his subsequent works, including his rather bizarre Frippertronics stage, let me say his playing on this album really was quite superb.
The construction of the songs, both in lyrics and music, provided the listener with both a forbidding, if not foreboding aural image, somewhat representing the dark times of the age.
But at the same time it had a lightness and emotive power that really touched the listener and at times can rightly be described as mystical and mesmerising.
What about King Crimson?
Who or what is King Crimson?
Some writings simply say that McDonald – the main writer, wanted a catchy name like Pink Floyd, but also wanted nothing that included the name of the band members.
“Robert Fripp has also suggested that the name King Crimson is a synonym for Beelzebub.
A connection may be made with Gurdjieff’s ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’,which examines human life on Earth from the viewpoint of beings belonging to a distant world, led by Beelzebub.
The sub-title of the work, ‘An Observation by KingCrimson’, may be associated with Gurdjieff’s observations, in terms of its (the Gurdjieff) sub-title: ‘An objectively impartial criticism of the life of man‘”. [Andrew Keeling: An Analysis of In The Court of The Crimson King)
That’s always a problem in trying to come up with what a group’s name means?
On one hand there seems to be an obvious word connection with “Pink Floyd“, but at the same time Peter Sinfield really was a man who not only liked to play with words but enjoyed the meanings behind phrases and the use of “spiritual” concepts.
In fact I believe it was Sinfield that actually came up with the name but he has said very little apart from the fact he thought it had an arrogance to it.
IF we accept that King Crimson is a synonym for Beelzebub, as proposed by many writers, you will find scholars will tell you that that word is an anglicized version of the arabic B’il Sabab!
Robert Fripp has been quoted as saying in regard to this that, “The arabic means “the man with an aim. But it literally means ‘with a cause‘”.
Personally, it’s kind of nice IF you can tie the name of a group or even a song to the story within an album, but it is also really easy to get tied down with unnecessary semantics.
It does seem that the surviving members have no desire to provide any further clarification on this matter!
Certainly two of the tracks, “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” remain quite possibly the group’s most famous works. Each member contributed to the songs construction with Sinfield and McDonald being the only two members to contribute to every track and one could safely assume that most of the lyrics came from them.
The track is “power plus” and is possibly one of the most unforgettable openings to any album.
This is not because of its beauty, but almost because of it’s “ugliness”. Now I don’t use that word in a derogative manner.
It’s dirty, its powerful and simply quite a brilliant opening, totally setting us all up for a journey through the mind and ways of the “21st Century Schizoid Man”.
It’s a completely unflattering perspective of the future – not optimistic but pretty brutal.
The line “Cat’s foot iron claw” is completely suggestive that organics (in man) will be replaced by non-organics – metal.
Interestingly now its some 50 years later, we so accept the replacement of body parts, not so much by iron but certainly by non-organics.
Now the song introduces us to Neurosurgeons, who are those people that deal with the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system.
The song strongly suggests that in the future life as we know it will be a mess, psychologically and physiologically and that the neurosurgeons are going to have a “ball”, or at least a lot of work!
There are so many lines that can be deconstructed, but here are two.
“Blood rack, barbed wire politicians funeral pyre” – the lines suggest the future will be wracked with war and conflict, those in power (the politicians) will have much to answer for !
Finally, and very tellingly, “Poet’s starving children bleed“!
Wow, again war and conflict are the mainstay of the future that the 21st century “man” will face.
There will be little to feed the soul of the poets in the world, and the conflict will inevitably hurt the most innocent of all – the children!
It IS a dark message, it sets up the scenario of doom and gloom – but, what lay ahead for the listener, is, the observations if not interventions of King Crimson and his Court.
Cat’s foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door.
Twenty first century schizoid man.
Blood rack barbed wire
Politicians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.
Death seed blind man’s greed
Poets’ starving children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.
21st Century Schizoid man (Including Mirrors)
Track 1 is 21st Century Schizoid Man. An almost abrasive piece of music, it reinforces the vision of the schizoid man. The harsh grating music, as powerful as it is, supports both the track title and the Lyrics.
We are on edge – the drama of the piece sets up a concern of, where are we going?
Then we break into Track 2 – I Talk To The Wind.
Relief! This has a start that is the antithesis of track 1. A composition by McDonald and Sinfield, it starts with some very gentle woodwind instruments and a simple cymbal tap.
The vocals are delivered in a gentle reflective manner and it is positioned beautifully as a foil to the almost overwhelming power of track 1.
Lake and McDonald sing the harmonies with Lake taking the lead. ‘I Talk to the Wind‘ is a major third up from the C minor/mode of ‘Schizoid Man‘, and is set in E major.
The result of this is that it provides an “uplifting” feeling. It is certainly a softer track, that settles back almost relaxing after the “hard work” of Schizoid Man.
The song suggests a discourse between two people – the “straight man” and, “the late man”.
The “straight man” can correlate too conformity and a norm to society. “Straight” was certainly a term that was used widely to describe those people who had not made to “jump” to the new paradigm, the life in an alternate society.
As for the “late man”, it has been suggested that he may be traveler, who has no use for time and certainly does not conform.
Many young people of the time saw themselves on a “journey”, a journey of both self-discovery and a journey to find a new and better world!
This would then make sense of the lines about being on the outside looking inside.
For the “traveler” (the late man) doesn’t participate or is not a contributor to society, he’s ‘on the outside looking inside.’
He’s unbiased but see that the world is messed up. As he has separated himself from society he has no one to talk too, except the wind.
We all can appreciate that while the wind is unable to “hear” it is most likely a metaphor for all that, and, all those, that are so busy bustling around us.
They never really pause to listen.
And so the traveller may very well as the result of his observations become the “enlightened” man.
So it is that he is able to see through the illusions of the world – and as such cannot be possessed, will not be impressed, certainly he is at peace within himself and is not going to be upset.
As the Buddha would say, each person is on their own path to enlightenment, and so it is that the “enlightened” traveller is able to declare – “(You) Can’t instruct me or conduct me (you) Just use up my time.”
Said the straight man to the late man
Where have you been
I’ve been here and I’ve been there
And I’ve been in between.
I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear.
I’m on the outside looking inside
What do I see
Much confusion, disillusion
All around me.
You don’t possess me
Don’t impress me
Just upset my mind
Can’t instruct me or conduct me
Just use up my time
I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear.
I Talk To The Wind
The final track on side 1, is Epitaph incorporating March For No Reason and Tomorrow And Tomorrow.
Epitaph is a give-away, as it refers to a short text honouring the deceased.
Despite the wisdom that is gained by the “late man”, there is no stopping the inevitability first prophesied by the “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
Despite the warnings and the words of wisdom, there are far too many of the “straight men”, and their activities will shape this planet and our destiny will bring us to ruin.
The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams?
Being in three parts it is no wonder that all members of the group contributed to it.
It has a very dramatic opening, not unlike some of the Moody Blues opening pieces, but quickly breaks into the lyrics.
The dominating instrument is in fact the mellotron, which today doesn’t sound like anything special, but in these ‘heady” days was distinctly different to the range of organs groups used.
It gives this track, and indeed the album, a most distinct sound.
Interestingly when Greg Lake left to be part of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, he would incorporate part of this track in Tarkus.
The vocals feature Greg Lake.
As I have already discussed, the track certainly follows on from the message of I Talk With the Wind. It’s basically a song about looking with confusion upon a world gone mad.
The singer is facing a struggle and fears that his epitaph will be “confusion”. Today the temptation is to write tracks like this off, as being no more than meaningless belly button starring lyrics.
This was one of the periods when LSD was trendy and many musicians and lyricists and indeed many creative sought the answer through the LSD experience, some more than others.
Sinfield is apocalyptical in his writings, just like many other artists who were also seeing gurus and other “spiritual” people all seeking “the” answer!
People at this time had a deep curiosity and the “mind” had just been discovered and marketed: “The only way out is inside” said Timothy Leary.
The Vietnam war was still happening, there was an inner war in society, and the big generation gap was widening even more.
Fear was in the air.
So some took mind-expanding drugs, to seek the answer to the reasons behind the actions that many felt totally outside their powers to affect.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to keep this at the back of your mind when making a judgment about the track and indeed, the album.
Personally I believe it’s a piece of music that can be seen as timeless, and it was reflective of a generation and a moment in time and space.
It is not going overboard to say, that King Crimson had a strange ability to write about the future in an extremely prophetic way as well. For surely the messages this song contains might even more relative today than they they were originally written.
It is a very good piece of music composition.
‘Epitaph‘ is introduced by a timpani roll, which crescendos over a long Dominant B note. The mellotron, acoustic guitar and bass guitar carry the introduction with the drums being a notable absentee at this point.
Fripp on guitar softly introduces a variant of the thematic material with the lyrics supporting the feeling of death.
This is quite a complex piece that is often overlooked because of the ability of the group to create the story in such a way that we simply get carried along.
This is particularly evident especially at the part where the crescendo builds up and drops away at around the 4:00 minute mark.
As I look back not only over the period since this track was written, but to to try and look ahead to try and see what lays in store for this planet, there are four lines in the second last stanza which were not only incredibly prophetic at the time.
They still put a chill down my spine when I look at the world today and where the power lays – especially when i think of Donald Trump.
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools.
Epitaph (a section)
Turn the LP over, and there are only two tracks.
Now there are not many groups that could have got away with a two track side, but these guys knew what they were doing.
Track number 1 – Moonchild, is in mind, simply brilliant!
It starts with a rather haunting refrain which is fast followed by the introduction of vocals. A simple construction its composition that certainly supports the track title.
The “haunting” feeling is most certainly created by the guitar work of Fripp and when the album was first released the spacial placing of the instruments was considered as quite brilliant at the time.
The words are more like poetry than lyrics and writer Peter Sinfield does them perfect justice in his delivery.
Call her Moonchild
Dancing in the shallows of a river
Dreaming in the shadows of a willow
Talking to the trees of the
Sleeping on the steps of a fountain
Waving silver wands to the
Waiting for the sun on the mountain
She’s a Moonchild
Gathering the flowers in a garden
Drifting in the echoes of the hours
Sailing on the wind
In a milk white gown
Dropping circle stones on a sun dial
Playing hide and seek
With the ghosts of dawn
Waiting for a smile from a sun child
The track is over 12 minutes long and the Moonchild part is only around 2 minutes 30 seconds long, because it mutates into The Dream.
This is a sublime piece of music that is amazingly gentle, especially when you think back to the power and overwhelming intensity of 21st Century Schizoid Man.
This whole piece is some of the best ‘experimental” work by the group – ever!
It is feminine in that it is gentle, silvery, almost ethereal. If there is a piece on this album that can create extremes in peoples perceptions, it is this one.
It is a “meandering, noodling mess”, to some, but not to me. It is not unlike some of the experimental work done by the artists of the music concrete experimental style of the 1940’s, 50’s and even into the 1960’s, yet at the same time so more advanced.
For those of us who can recall some of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, you might pick out snippets of song – “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top”!
Then at around 10 minutes 30 there is a distinct change as we move into The Illusion.
While it is more structured than The Dream, it is nonetheless very gentle, very spacey with the use of the vibraphone and sleigh bells to create quite a surreal feeling.
It’s really quite delightful.
Moonchild (Reduced collage)
The change in mood is seriously distinct when the final track – The Court Of The Crimson King including The Return Of The Fire Witch and The Dance Of The Puppets, breaks through.
What a fantastic conclusion!
Once again both the music and the lyrics provide the listener with the scope to create their own Theatre of the Imagination!
It is a powerful and highly charged opening, with a kettle drum roll preceding an explosion of sound all underpinned by a soulful guitar line.
We are being taken into King Crimsons Court.
The track itself is actually split into four parts.,
It consists of two and two with a mighty fine instrumental break that is the The Return Of the Fire Witch.
This provides us, the listener, with a nice double tempo piece that is driven by the mellotron before breaking back into the main theme and toward the end.
Around 5 minutes from the conclusion there is a really nice piece of acoustic guitar, and then it builds and builds into a single note climax gently fading out with just the “patter” of the high hat cymbal.
There is some fantastic playing by Michael Giles, who I have failed to mention up until now, but whose solid and creative drumming and percussion work provides a great foundation for all the groups tracks.
But wait – There’s more!!!
Suddenly and unexpectedly in comes what for all the world sounds like an old calliope, before building and reintroducing the power and majesty of the Court Of The Crimson King.
These boys have in fact, gently pulled the strings and are smiling knowing, that we the audience are indeed dancing as puppets in the Kings Court.
Finally what they have done is to have taken us from the fear and confusion of the 21st Century right through to a medieval castle resplendent in imagery of royalty.
We have been exposed to real power, of witches and of ancient wisdoms lost, lost but found in the Court Of The Crimson King!
On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The Court Of The Crimson King (part of)
It is a shame but the truth of the matter is that King Crimson really was the the domain of the “hard-core” progressive rock fans, and a few others who happened to stumble onto the album.
Even then many of those that did so stumble, failed to listen right through, and certainly failed to realise that this was indeed a brilliant fantasy album that these musicians had created.
As I alluded to earlier, it’s an album of introspection and seeking of answers.
Certainly the creation of a group of quite talented musicians/composers – who brought forward in their first album, something remarkably unique.
From this album onward, different listeners will have varying opinions of King Crimson – but in my mind there was only one group called King Crimson, and that was the musicians in this group that constructed this album.
Should you race out and buy it if it’s not already in your collection?
Tough one to answer.
I think if you have already dismissed this album you won’t even be reading this. If you have enjoyed it, you probably have it.
That leaves two possible groups of people left over. Those who had it once but no longer do. Well I hope this short sojourn through “King Crimsons Court” has reminded you of its quality.
The final group are probably those who had never heard it and now want it. Go get it!
However maybe look out for the original vinyl copy, but really I suspect almost all those original copies are pretty battered and beaten up, and where they are in good condition you can expect to pay over $200.00 (not including postage).
Maybe best to look for the recent Fripp authorised re-release which by all counts is a very “sonically beautiful” version and has returned the sounds that the group created back in the original way it was meant to be heard.
Just be aware, the 2010 release IS the one of two subsequent re-releases taken from those recently found Master Tapes. You will pay up to $100.00 for the boxed set, and around the same for the vinyl LP.
In 2019, the album was remixed in 5.1 and stereo by Steven Wilson once again for a 50th anniversary box set of the album.
Wilson commented that he thinks that his 2009 mixes are pretty good but that his 50th anniversary mixes are a significant improvement, more faithful to the original 1969 stereo mix and benefit of his 10 years of experience.
Just remember – ANY version post the original vinyl and before the 2010 re-release is from non- masters and will suffer from sound degradation – regardless of what the seller might tell you.
Whilst there are several clips of the more recent line-ups of King Crimson, clips of the group in its original form are hard to find. here is what i could locate.
21st Century Schizoid man – Live at Hyde Park 1969
Easy Money – 1973
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:
#108: Paul Simon – Graceland