Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) were an English progressive rock supergroup formed in London in 1970.[2] The band consisted of keyboardist Keith Emerson; singer, bassist, guitarist and producer Greg Lake; and drummer and percussionist Carl Palmer. With nine RIAA-certified gold record albums in the US,[3] and an estimated 48 million records sold worldwide,[4] they were one of the most popular and commercially successful progressive rock bands in the 1970s,[5][6] with a musical sound including adaptations of classical music with jazz and symphonic rock elements, dominated by Emerson's flamboyant use of the Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, and piano (although Lake wrote several acoustic songs for the group).[7]

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
The band in Toronto, 1978
Background information
OriginCroydon, London
Years active
  • 1970–1979
  • 1991–1998
  • 2010
Associated acts
Past membersKeith Emerson
Greg Lake
Carl Palmer

The band came to prominence following their performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970. In their first year, the group signed with E.G. Records (who distributed the band's records through Island Records in the United Kingdom, and Atlantic Records in North America), and released Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970) and Tarkus (1971), both of which reached the UK top five. The band's success continued with Pictures at an Exhibition (1971), Trilogy (1972), and Brain Salad Surgery (1973, released on ELP's own Manticore Records label). After a three-year break, Emerson, Lake & Palmer released Works Volume 1 (1977) and Works Volume 2 (1977). After Love Beach (1978), the group disbanded in 1979.

The band reformed partially in the 1980s as Emerson, Lake & Powell featuring Cozy Powell in place of Palmer. Robert Berry then replaced Lake while Palmer returned, forming 3. In 1991, the original trio reformed and released two more albums, Black Moon (1992) and In the Hot Seat (1994), and toured at various times between 1992 and 1998. Their final performance took place in 2010 at the High Voltage Festival in London to commemorate the band's 40th anniversary. Both Emerson and Lake died in 2016,[8][9][10] leaving Palmer as the only surviving member of the band.



Keith Emerson and Greg Lake met in December 1969 when Emerson's band, The Nice, and Lake's band, King Crimson, were billed together for a series of concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Emerson was looking to form a new band, and Lake wished to leave King Crimson.[11] During a soundcheck before one of the shows, Emerson described the first time he and Lake played together: "Greg was moving a bass line and I played the piano in back and Zap! It was there."[12] The pair had met twice before in England: in 1969, when the Nice and King Crimson performed at the Jazz and Blues Pop Festival in Plumpton;[13] and at Fairfield Halls in Croydon.[14]

When Emerson and Lake decided to form a new group, they initially approached drummer Mitch Mitchell who was at a loose end following the break-up of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitchell suggested a jam session take place with himself, Lake, Emerson and Hendrix; though the session never took place, it caused the press to report rumours of a planned but abandoned supergroup named HELP, an acronym for "Hendrix Emerson Lake Palmer", which Lake debunked in 2012.[15] The two then hired a studio by Soho Square and began to audition new drummers.[16] After several unsuccessful try-outs, Emerson was close to searching in America before he asked his manager Tony Stratton-Smith for names of good drummers, who suggested Carl Palmer of Atomic Rooster and previously, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.[17] Palmer accepted the invitation and jammed to a blues shuffle and enjoyed the chemistry, but expressed his wish to stay in Atomic Rooster as they were still in their infancy and had attained success in Europe. He soon received a call from Lake's management asking to reconsider; after several weeks of further sessions, Palmer agreed to join.[17] Triton was a group name that Emerson said "was buzzing around" for a little while,[18] and "Triumvirate" and "Seahorse" were also in contention[19] but they settled upon Emerson, Lake & Palmer to remove the focus on Emerson as the most famous of the three, and to ensure that they were not called the "new Nice".[20]

"It was the biggest show any of us had ever done. The next day, we were world-famous."

—Greg Lake about the band's show at the Isle of Wight Festival.[21]

After a series of rehearsals at Island Studios in Notting Hill,[18] the band formed a live set featuring "The Barbarian", an arrangement of the piano suite Allegro barbaro by Béla Bartók, "Rondo", an arrangement of the jazz standard "Blue Rondo à la Turk" by Dave Brubeck that Emerson had recorded with the Nice, an arrangement of "Nut Rocker" as an encore,[22] and a rock adaptation of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky that Emerson wished to do after seeing it performed with an orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London when he was in the Nice. He bought a copy of the score, and Lake and Palmer agreed to adapt it.[23] Their first live gig as Emerson, Lake & Palmer followed at Plymouth Guildhall on 23 August 1970, supported by local band Earth.[24][25][26] They travelled to the venue in a transit van previously owned by fellow progressive rock band Yes, and were paid around £400 for the gig.[27][28] A small venue situated outside London was deliberately chosen in case the concert was a failure, but the concert was well received.[29] Their second gig took place on 29 August with a set at the Isle of Wight Festival which was attended by an estimated 600,000 people and drew considerable attention from the public and music press. At the end of Pictures at an Exhibition, the band fired two cannons that Emerson had tested in a field near Heathrow Airport.[22]

The success of the group's debut, as well as Greg Lake's prior association with them while a member of King Crimson, led to ELP's signing management and recording contracts with E.G. Records, who distributed their records through Island Records in the UK and Atlantic Records' Cotillion Records subsidiary in North America.[17] Emerson believed that Atlantic's chief Ahmet Ertegun agreed to take the band on "because we could sell out 20,000-seaters before we even had a record out. That was enough for him to think that a lot of people would go out and buy the record when it did come out."[12]

1970–1971: Debut album, Tarkus, and Pictures at an Exhibition

In the months surrounding their debut gigs, the band recorded their first album, Emerson Lake & Palmer, at Advision Studios. Lake took on the role as producer, which he had also done in King Crimson, with Eddy Offord as their engineer. The album included studio versions of "The Barbarian" and "Take a Pebble", "Knife-Edge", based on the first movement of Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček and the Allemande of French Suite No. 1 in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, Palmer's drum solo "Tank", the three-part "The Three Fates", and "Lucky Man", an acoustic ballad that Lake wrote when he was twelve.[30] The album was released in the UK in November 1970, and reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 18 in the US. "Lucky Man" was released as a single that peaked at No. 48 in the US.[31]

From September 1970 to March 1971, the band completed their first concert tour with shows across the UK, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Their performance on 9 December 1970 at the Lyceum Theatre in London was filmed and released in UK theatres in 1972 with added psychedelic effects including characters from Marvel Comics.[32]

During a break in their first tour in January 1971, Emerson, Lake & Palmer returned to Advision Studios with Offord to record their second album, Tarkus. Friction between Emerson and Lake during the early recording sessions almost caused the group to disband as Lake disliked the material that Emerson was writing. Following a meeting with the band and management, Lake agreed to write his own songs and continue recording.[33] The album was recorded in six days.[34] The album's first side is occupied by the 20-minute title track, a seven-part song based on reverse evolution that was recorded in four days. Its cover art was designed by painter and graphic designer William Neal. Tarkus was released in June 1971 on Island Records. It was a commercial success after it reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 9 in the US. The band resumed touring with their first North American tour, starting 24 April 1971 at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania[35] and continued until the end of May. Further dates across Europe followed until the end of the year.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer released their third album, Pictures at an Exhibition, in the UK in November 1971. They recorded their performance of it at Newcastle City Hall on 26 March 1971 and decided to release it with the concert's encore, "Nut Rocker".[32] The group wished to release it as their second album, but Atlantic Records declined to as it is a classical-oriented piece and claimed it would not sell or receive any radio airplay, and offered to release it through Nonesuch Records which handled more budget, classical, and avant-garde albums.[17] The band refused, and delayed its release on purpose until after Tarkus; Emerson said the delay was to also show to the press and public that they could write their own songs and were not merely a "band that did classical music".[36] Following Island Records' decision to import 250,000 copies into the US which sold within a short amount of time, helped by radio DJ Scott Muni playing the entire album uninterrupted on WNEW in New York City, Atlantic decided to release it through Cotillion as a budget album in January 1972.[17] The album peaked at No. 3 in the UK and No. 10 in the US.[37]

1971–1974: Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery, and touring

Trilogy, the band's third studio album, was recorded at Advision Studios with Offord between October 1971 and January 1972.[38] Its cover art was designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis.[39] "Hoedown" is an adaptation of Rodeo by Aaron Copland. Released in July 1972, Trilogy reached No. 2 in the UK and No. 5 in the US. "From the Beginning", an acoustic ballad featuring an extended synthesizer solo, was released as a single which reached No. 39 in the US.[40] Lake has picked Trilogy as his favourite studio album by the band.[41] The album was supported with a North American tour in March and April 1972 which included a spot at the Mar y Sol Pop Festival in Manatí, Puerto Rico on 3 April.[42] Following dates across Europe, including their first in Italy, the band performed at the Concert 10 Festival at Pocono International Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania on 9 July 1972. This was followed by their first dates in Japan in July.[42]

In early 1973, the band formed their own record label, Manticore Records, and purchased an abandoned cinema as their own rehearsal hall in Fulham, London.

In June 1973, Emerson, Lake & Palmer began recording Brain Salad Surgery in London at Advision and Olympic Studios which lasted until September that year. Offord was not present for the recording sessions as he was working with Yes, leaving engineering and mixing duties to Chris Kimsey and Geoff Young. Lake wrote the album's lyrics with Peter Sinfield and its sleeve was designed by H. R. Giger and includes the band's new logo. Formed of five tracks, the album includes a rendition of "Jerusalem" which features the debut of the Moog Apollo, a prototype polyphonic synthesizer. "Toccata" is a cover of the fourth movement of Piano Concerto No. 1 by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera and contains synthesised percussion in the form of an acoustic drum kit fitted with pick-ups that triggered electronic sounds. The 29-minute track "Karn Evil 9" is the longest song recorded by the group. Brain Salad Surgery was released in November 1973 and reached No. 2 in the UK and No. 11 in the US.

From November 1973 to September 1974, the band toured North America and Europe which included a headline spot at the inaugural California Jam Festival on 6 April 1974 at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, California, to an attendance of 250,000 people. Their performance was broadcast across the US.[43] The band's live shows exhibited an unorthodox mix of virtuoso musicianship and over-the-top performances which received much criticism. Their theatrics included Emerson playing a piano as it spun, suspended, end-over-end; Palmer playing on a rotating drum platform; and a Hammond organ thrown around the stage to create feedback. Emerson often used a knife, given to him by Lemmy Kilmister who had roadied for the Nice,[44][45] to force the keys on the organ to stay down. Emerson used a large Moog modular synthesizer on stage but it was unreliable as heat affected its sound.[46] The band carried almost 40 tons of equipment for the tour.[47] Performances from the band's 1973–74 tour were documented in the live album, Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen, released in August 1974 as a triple LP. The album peaked at No. 5 in the UK and No. 4 in the US.

1974–1978: Hiatus and Works

Emerson, Lake & Palmer took an extended break in 1974. They regrouped in 1976 to record Works Volume 1 at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and EMI Studios in Paris, France. It is a double album with one side of an LP containing songs by each member and a fourth of group material. Much of the album was recorded with an orchestral accompaniment; Emerson's side consists of his 18-minute, three-movement "Piano Concerto No. 1". Lake contributes five songs he co-wrote with Sinfield, and Palmer's includes two covers of classical pieces by Sergei Prokofiev and Bach. One of the two group tracks, "Fanfare for the Common Man", is a cover of the same-titled orchestral piece by Aaron Copland, who gave permission to have the band release it. Works Volume 1 was released in March 1977 and peaked at No. 9 in the UK and No. 12 in the US. A single of "Fanfare for the Common Man" was released and reached No. 2 in the UK, the band's highest charting UK single.[48]

In November 1977, Works Volume 2 was released as a compilation of shorter tracks recorded from 1973–76 during various album recording sessions. The album was not as commercially successful as the band's previous albums; it reached No. 20 in the UK and No. 37 in the US. Three tracks from the album were released as singles: "Tiger in a Spotlight", "Maple Leaf Rag", and "Watching Over You".

The two Works albums were supported by North American tours which lasted from May 1977 to February 1978, spanning over 120 dates.[49] Some early concerts in 1977 were performed with a hand-picked orchestra and choir, but the idea was shelved after 18 shows with the band due to budget constraints.[50] The final concert with the orchestra and choir took place on 26 August 1977 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal that was attended by an estimated 78,000 people, the highest attended Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert as a solo act.[51] It was released in 1979 as Emerson, Lake & Palmer in Concert and reached No. 73 in the US. Emerson wished for a double album release, but Atlantic Records decided against it due to the band's pending dissolution at its time of release. In 1993, the album was repackaged with additional tracks as Works Live, and put out on video in 1998.[51] According to Lake on the Beyond the Beginning DVD documentary, the band lost around $3 million on the tour. Lake and Palmer blame Emerson for the loss as the use of an orchestra on tour was his idea.

1978–1979: Love Beach and break-up

After their 1977–78 tour, the band discussed their next move. Emerson recalled that in order for the group to continue, "we would have to do a lot of cutting down" and considered the possibility of producing music with just a piano, bass guitar, and drums.[52] As the group were contractually obliged to record one more studio album, the band relocated to Emerson's home near Nassau in the Bahamas and recorded Love Beach at the nearby Compass Point Studios in 1978.[42] Lake did not carry out the production duties, leaving Emerson to complete the record on his own after his bandmates returned home when recording was complete.[53] The album has been dismissed by the band, who explained it was produced to fulfil a contractual obligation.[54] Sinfield is credited on the majority of the tracks as a lyricist except "Canario", an instrumental based on Fantasía para un gentilhombre by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. The second side is taken up with "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman", a four-part 20-minute track that tells a coming of age story of a soldier during the World War II-era.[53] Its cover is a photograph of the group at a beach off an island from Salt Cay, Turks Islands, "decked out as bare-chested late-seventies disco stars".[53] Despite Emerson expressing his disapproval on the album's title and cover to Ertegun, neither was changed.[53] Love Beach was released in November 1978 and was poorly received by the music press. "All I Want Is You" was released as a single in the UK, but failed to chart. It did sell enough to be certified gold in the US for 500,000 copies sold, in January 1979.[3]

In early 1979, Palmer attempted to organise a farewell summer tour and have the group disband at its conclusion. Due to internal problems, such as "what we should play and how we should play it", the tour never materialised.[55] As the band's demise became clear, Palmer formed a band called PM, which released an album called 1PM.[56]

In 1985, Emerson and Lake formed Emerson, Lake & Powell with former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell. Palmer declined to participate in a reunion as he was busy with commitments with Asia. Rumours also linked Bill Bruford to their new line-up, but he was committed to King Crimson and Earthworks. The group's only album, Emerson Lake & Powell, was released in June 1986 and charted at No. 35 in the UK and No. 23 in the US. The single "Touch and Go" went to No. 60 in the US and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The trio toured the album in 1986, playing material by the Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

In 1988, Emerson and Palmer joined with Robert Berry to form the band 3. They released an album, To the Power of Three, in 1988.

1991–2010: Reformation and 40th anniversary concert

In 1991, Emerson, Lake & Palmer reformed and issued a 1992 comeback album, Black Moon, on Victory Records. Their 1992–93 world tours were successful, culminating in a performance at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in early 1993 that has been heavily bootlegged, but reportedly, Palmer suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand and Emerson had been treated for a repetitive stress disorder. In 1994, the band released a follow-up album, In the Hot Seat.

Emerson and Palmer eventually recovered enough to start touring again, beginning in 1996. Their tour schedules brought them to Japan, South America, Europe, the United States and Canada, playing new versions of older work. They played in significantly smaller venues compared to their heyday (sometimes fewer than 500 people, as in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil). Their last show was in San Diego, California, in August 1998. Conflicts over a new album led to another break-up.

In April 2010, Emerson and Lake embarked on a North American tour, presenting an acoustic repertoire of their work. On 14 May 2010, Shout! Factory released A Time and a Place, a 4-CD collection of Emerson, Lake & Palmer live tracks.

On 25 July 2010, Emerson, Lake & Palmer played a one-off 40th anniversary concert, headlining the High Voltage Festival event in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album High Voltage. On 22 February 2011, Shout! released Live at Nassau Coliseum '78, a 2-CD set live recording of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert on 9 February 1978 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

On 29 August 2011, Emerson, Lake & Palmer released on DVD and Blu-ray ... Welcome Back My Friends. 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert. High Voltage Festival – 25 July 2010, the film of the 40th anniversary concert in Victoria Park, London.[57] A Blu-ray and SD DVD of the concert was produced by Concert One Ltd, together with a definitive documentary of the band's 40-year history.

On 6 December 2011, Shout! Factory released Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival '72, a single-CD set live recording of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert on 2 April 1972 at the Mar Y Sol Festival, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.[58]

ELP signed a worldwide licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment.[59] In North America, the band moved to Razor & Tie.[60] In 2015, Emerson, Lake & Palmer changed their worldwide distributor to BMG Rights Management.[61]

Keith Emerson died on 11 March 2016, of a gunshot wound to the head ruled as suicide.[8] Greg Lake died on 7 December 2016 from cancer.[10]

Influence and appraisal

A 2016 retrospective review in Rolling Stone listed "10 Essential Songs by EL&P" and noted, "ELP became one of rock's first supergroups upon forming in 1970…The result was a stretch of albums…that turned prog from a black-light-in-the-basement listening experience into a stadium-filling phenomenon. At their heart was Emerson, whose eternal quest for a bigger, grander sound (thanks to a bank of organs and synthesizers that grew to resemble a fortress onstage) helped make ELP one of the most accomplished and absorbing bands rock ever birthed."[62] Koji Kondo, Nintendo's first video game composer, cited ELP as a major influence on his work. Nobuo Uematsu, best known for scoring the majority of titles in the Final Fantasy series, cites ELP as one of his influences.[63]

Despite their success and influence, ELP received heavy criticism by music critics, one citing a popular joke from the 1970s: "How do you spell pretentious? E-L-P."[64] Robert Christgau said of the band in Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), "these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans", also calling them the "world's most overweening 'progressive' group".[65] John Kelman of All About Jazz noted that an "overbearing sense of self-importance turned ELP from one of the 1970s' most exciting new groups into the definition of masturbatory excess and self-aggrandizement in only a few short years."[66] Kelman also stated that "in their fall from grace, [ELP] represented everything wrong with progressive rock."[67] DJ John Peel went so far as to describe the band as "a tragic waste of talent and electricity".[68] In an appraisal of the band's legacy, PopMatters journalist Sean Murphy said ELP "wore immoderation like a badge of courage", regardless of whether they were loved or loathed:

Here are three words that strike fear in the hearts of all those allergic to prog rock: Emerson. Lake. Palmer. Popular enough to have several songs still in the regular FM rotation, obscure enough to be forever relegated as one of “those” bands from a certain time and place (the ‘70s), ambitious enough to attempt things few if any other bands did, for better or worse, pretentious enough to earn the full-throated derision of holier-than-thou tastemakers. And album art awful enough to ensure they will never be forgotten, for better or worse.[69]


Studio albums

Band members


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  46. "On'Board with Keith Emerson". popeye-x.com. Retrieved 15 February 2012."Bob Moog told Keith that it would never work live and that he was out of his mind for trying to take it out on the road."
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  • Macan, Edward (2006). Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Open Court Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8126-9596-8.
  • Van der Kiste, John (2012). The Plymouth Book of Days. The History Press. ISBN 9780752485973.

Further reading

  • Forrester, George; Hanson, Martyn; Askew, Frank (2001). Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Show That Never Ends, A Musical Biography. Helter Skelter Publishing. ISBN 1-900924-17-X.
  • Freeman, Garry (2012). Do You Wanna Play Some Magic?: Emerson, Lake & Palmer in Concert 1970–1979 – A Live History. Soundcheck Books. ISBN 978-0956642080.

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