On this Day (November 19)…ELP Unleash a Legend

Emerson, Lake & Palmer released Brain Salad Surgery on this day in 1973.

Album cover, featuring art by H.R. Giger. Retrieved from here.

Background

ELP’s immediate predecessor to this album, Trilogy, was notoriously hard to perform live. Many of the songs on the album, including the title track, relied on in-studio manipulations to work. Technology which would have allowed for more seamless live performance didn’t quite exist yet, however. As a result, the band collectively decided to create an album which could be performed live with ease for their next go-around. This album was the result, and is generally considered one of their strongest.

The album’s live history actually predates its studio history! Songs from the album began surfacing on the road in the spring of 1973 while the group were on their Get Me A Ladder Tour, notably early drafts of “Still…You Turn Me On” and of “Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression”. I talk more about its later live history here.

Recording

This album was recorded at Advision Studios and Olympic Studios, both in London. Greg Lake served as producer. Brain Salad Surgery was notable in ELP history for several reasons. It was the first album the group released on their own label, Manticore. It was also the first album featuring lyrical contributions from Peter Sinfield, Greg Lake’s former King Crimson colleague. Sinfield collaborated with the band for the rest of the 70s, parting ways with the group after Love Beach.

Unique to ELP’s studio work, footage rehearsal process is extant. I am unsure if this is prior to recording or not.

The pertinent section they are rehearsing is from “Karn Evil 9: Second Impression”

This album’s most famous song is, without a doubt, Karn Evil 9. The 30-odd minute song is so long it was not able to be contained on a single album side! The opening lines from First Impression, Part 2, “welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends…” have become emblematic of ELP’s work. Greg Lake even included them on the opening song to Emerson, Lake & Powell’s sole album, “The Score”. The band was introduced throughout this tour with the line, and it even provided the title to their next album, a live album from the Brain Salad Surgery Tour’s stop in Anaheim.

From California Jam

Response

Upon its release, Brain Salad Surgery was savaged by the usual suspects, with Robert Christgau’s reviewin of the work reaching a newly unprofessional low. However, other critics were far more positive, and now it is considered one of the finest progressive rock albums of the 70s. In some places, album sales were also slightly lower than some of their previous efforts; the album was the first of ELP’s releases not to peak in the top 10 in Germany. Instead, it peaked at #18 and spent six weeks on the charts. This is mostly an anomaly, though; it repeated Trilogy’s excellent performance in the UK, where it peaked at #2 and spent 18 weeks on the chart in total. In the US, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on December 12, 1973.

The band undertook a massive, two-continent tour to support this album, performing some of their most noted concerts and setting a standard for showmanship from the fall of 1973 to the summer of 1974. One of their most famous live albums, Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show that Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen, was recorded on this tour.

If you haven’t yet listened to this masterpiece, I’ve included the Spotify links below.

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Post Sources

  • Edit on 2020-11-18: Optimized for new site.
  • Edit on 2021-01-23: Added UK charting information. Added German charting information. Clarified “gold certification” meaning. Added touring information.

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