On this Day (November 20)…Ladies and Gentlemen, ELP

Emerson, Lake & Palmer released their self-titled debut album on this day in 1970.

Painting by Nic Dartnell. Retrieved from here.

This album was released during the band’s first-ever tour. While they had had a handful of performances prior to the album’s release, most notably a performance at the Isle of Wight in August, this was the first chance they could introduce their music to a wider audience.

This album was a bit too early to take on the standard formula of their later albums, notably lacking any synthesizer-driven, 10+ minute epics (perhaps because Keith Emerson only got a Moog synthesizer late in the recording process!). Instead, it presents the group as a single unit on Side A before spinning off to prove what each individual could do on Side B.

A few of ELP’s signature style components still made it through on this album, albeit in diluted form. The work begins with a rock adaptation of Béla Bartok’s “Allegro Barbaro”, appropriately named “The Barbarian”. Unfortunately, the group failed to give credit to Bartók, resulting in a copyright lawsuit. They dutifully gave credit and even asked permission from the original composers from then on, with Keith Emerson famously even going in person to Alberto Ginastera before adapting one of his piano works for “Toccata”, which featured on Brain Salad Surgery.

Also present is a Greg Lake acoustic ballad, in this case “Lucky Man”. Lake originally wrote the song as a twelve-year-old boy soon after beginning guitar lessons with the first chords he used. This song ended up becoming one of their most famous despite its departure from their usual style. It had a major cultural footprint, showing up in a great many media productions from The Simpsons to BlacKkKlansman.

Lake also produced this album, starting a trend which would continue for the remainder of the 70s; he finally abandoned the producer’s chair for Love Beach. It was recorded at Advision Studios in London with Eddy Offord serving as sound engineer.

Though Emerson is “featured” on piano and organ, he has some extremely strong support from Greg Lake (formerly with King Crimson) on vocals, bass, and guitar; and from Carl Palmer (formerly with Atomic Rooster a group formed by Arthur Brown’s ex-organist Vincent Crane) on drums. There are also some very good new compositions by all involved.

Loyd Grossmas regarding this album in Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved from here.

Reviews of the album varied at the beginning, with Robert Christgau giving his usual negative impressions. Ironically, the ‘C’ rating he gave the album was the second-highest he ever gave the group, surpassed only by the ‘C+’ he awarded Works: Volume II. Rolling Stone Magazine’s review was far more positive, however, reserving most praise for Emerson but lauding his bandmates as well.

The record-buying public seemed to agree with the Rolling Stone evaluation more than Christgau’s; the album reached #4 on the UK albums chart at its peak position and #18 on the Billboard 200 charts. In Germany, it reached #7 on the charts, spending eight weeks total charting. The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on August 4, 1971.

This album may not be the quintessential ELP album, but its status as the first make it possibly the most critical to the band’s history. If you’re not familiar with this album, I’d recommend checking it out today; it’s available in full on YouTube. I give my own thoughts on it here, and in longer form here.

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Post Sources

  • Edit on 2020-09-03: Updated formatting. Optimized for new site.
  • Edit on 2020-11-20: Added information.
  • Edit on 2021-01-22: Added information on the German chart performance.

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