Thursday, August 14, 2008

Confusion will be my epitaph

One would think they know a lot about music. But with so many bands producing music every day, it's next to impossible to ever know everything. It is easier to think you know every groundbreaking record because, well, everyone talks about them. A lot of the albums on this list are pretty mainstream and widely known. Even this one is to an extent. But for some reason, amongst my many years of researching everything classic rock, a stone was unturned. That time period during high school, I was listening to tons of influential classic rock acts and their seminole albums. And then, one day while cleaning out a room in my parents house, I stumbled upon an old WXPN Most Important Albums list. It was easily from 1985 or so as the paper was worn and old. I looked at the list to see what they figured was the most important albums from their DJ's and other Philadelphia music minds and at the top was a strange three way tie. It was Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's and King Crimson's In The Court of the Crimson King. I found this an odd three way. A this point, I knew of Beefheart due to the Lebowski soundtrack and no shit I know the Beatles. But who was this King Crimson? How could this band I never had heard be an influence or of any importance if I hadn't heard them? That was very naive of me to think I had heard everything that there was to hear.

I immediately hopped on my computer, opened up my Soulseek and immediately downloaded King Crimson's mammoth debut. After the download was complete, I immediately started it and fell back in my seat. The album being a bands first and being recorded in 1969 that sounded like this was almost unfathomable to me. Nothing up to that point had the sheer velocity and ferocity of In the Court of the Crimson King. To this day, it still shocks me that a band could release a debut as insane as this. I then made it my goal to spread the King Crimson love to my friends and colleauges who, to my knowledge, did not have any Crimson as I'm sure if they did they would have force shoved it down my gullet immediately. It lead to an all out assault on my circle of friend's senses as they all discovered the greatness at the same time that I did. It was a shared event and car rides to friends houses far away were never quite the same.
If you have never heard "21st Century Schizoid Man", you are in for a musical treat. It's free form jazz meets heavy metal. Howling loud vocals and distorted guitars intertwined with phenomenal jazzy saxaphones and drums that play like a cat and mouse game. It swirls in and out from loud bursts of chaos to very quiet subtle moments. I guess this album could be considered the first acid jazz record that I'm aware of, but even then I can't be sure of that. "I Talk to The Wind" is a borderline Moody Blues track, but sounds a little more improvised and free form than the Moody's ever really seemed. There is something less calculated about most of Crimson's songs and it's that notion of keeping you guessing that makes it so great. "Epitaph" is a fantastic epic with probably King Crimson's finest lyrical and vocal work throughout their career. They don't seem to be the best lyricists, but the existential goodness of this track makes up for goofy lyrics like later songs like "Elephant Talk" or "The Great Deceiver." "Moonchild" is yet more improvisation but on a much subtler and stranger scale. The final booming self titled epic is the perfect closer to a phenomenal album and is a mission statement for a band that would be prolific yet would change and morph line-ups with the only constant being the genius Robert Fripp. It was a debut, yet it was a finale as the band would never be the same from album to album.
It's fun to find new classics that seem liek they should be common knowledge because of just how earth shatteringly good they actually are. King Crimson was one of those WTF's that you just don't see coming sometimes. It was also a soundtrack to a few months of greatness. A friend's band covered "21st Century Schizoid Man" and it was amazing. Trips and car rides were spent blasting tracks and discussion over the bands greatness continued. I just recnelty saw the current line-up live and although no songs from this era were played, it was an aura of awesome that prevailed over the band. If only I could go back and see these guys perform in '69.

1. The Who - Tommy
2. Beck - Odelay
3. Television - Marquee Moon
4. Weezer - Pinkerton
5. Brian Eno - Before & After Science
6. Wilco - A Ghost is Born
7. The Beatles - Rubber Soul
8. Grand Funk Railroad - Closer to Home
9. Foo Fighters - The Colour & The Shape
10. Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
11. Interpol - Turn On the Bright Lights
12. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

Next Up: Jeff Buckley's Grace


Anonymous said...

Good write up man. I listened to the album last night and it still stands up so well. "NYC" is still my favourite track because of that amazing, shimmering guitar sound.

leo said...

Yeah I remember that time I came home and you had just discovered this album, and we listend to 21st Century like 5 times in one night in Bethlehem.

Another useless anecdote: I actually heard of King Crimson a long time ago, because someone wrote an article in Guitar Magazine when Phish was just getting famous comparing Trey and Robert Fripp. Trey loves the Fripp. But I did not research them and forgot about it until you brought them up. Alas.

Unknown said...

While web cruising, I happened to stumble upon this post. I'm old enough to remember King Crimson in the 1970's, and I also remember thinking then, as now: why aren't these guys more well known.

As for your post regarding their debut album: don't forget the pitch-perfect vocals by Greg Lake; and contribution by band-member Ian McDonald!