Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rock of Ages: King Crimson - "21st Century Schizoid Man" (1969)

King Crimson came onto the music world like a swift roundhouse kick to the face. Their first album, In The Court of the Crimson King, is an ambitious album to say the least. It has jazzy jams, mellotron epics and a kick off track that will leave listeners floored. I first decided to dive into the world of King Crimson through an old WXPN article of most influential albums. It was in the top 5 and I only had vaguely heard of King Crimson. I immediately got the record and when "21st Century Schizoid Man" starts, I was floored. It's one of the most intense songs I've ever heard and it's one of the most fitfully brilliant songs at the same time. The verse riff is so intoxicatingly hard, listening to band slike Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin seem soft. It's heavy, feedback laden and excentuated by saxaphones. When the chorus kicks in, the prociscion of Robert Fripp and Co. is even more apparent. The mid section, titled "Mirrors" is exactly that. Each instrument mirrors the other in a cat-and-mouse chase of fast rock passages. It's truly fantastic.

What is most notable about King Crimson is how they were at least 10 years ahead of their time. Prog rock was yet to really get recognized. The only other prog band around was the hippie prog of The Moody Blues, and although the Moodys are great, they are nowhere near the transcendental rocking of King Crimson. has stated that Crimson is the thinking man's Pink Floyd and in a way it is. It's less hazy pop psychedelia and more post-psych brutality mixed with some baroque touches (not really present on this track.) "21st Century Schizoid Man" is such an epic track of mammoth proportions that it demands your attention. It needs you to not be doing anything else but listen to it. The various live recordings of the track sprawl upwards of 15 minutes, but the song never feels long. In fact, the recording, which is almost 8 minutes, has a hard time finding a coherent end and when the barrage of guitars and drums lulls, it quickly fades back in for another surge and then finally ends abruptly. It's a rock song that defies convention and for 1969, it was ages ahead of its time. It also happens to rock so hard that there is no way you can't enjoy it, unless you prefer The Carpenters to King Crimson. It's unlike anything you've heard on this list so far and you will notice that the sound of this song will soon be found in many of other songs on the list.

Up Next: Cream teams up with George Harrison for their great send off

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