King Crimson released their first album, In The Court of the Crimson King, on this day in 1969.
The lineup behind this album consisted of Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake providing vocals and on bass, Michael Giles on drums, Ian McDonald on woodwinds, and Peter Sinfield as lyricist. At this time, the lineup had been formally working together since January of that year. They had performed together starting in April, reportedly dazzling fellow musicians on the scene.
The cover, contributed by Barry Godber soon before his untimely death, may suggest that the album is a work of terror from beginning to end. While it’s true that there are a great disturbing moments within the music (See: “Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man”), there are also moments of great peace and beauty as well (See: “I Talk to the Wind” or “Moonchild”).
Beware the forthcoming hype–this is ersatz shit.Robert Christgau regarding this album. Retrieved from here.
The album received notable detractors upon its release. Robert Christgau, in one of the most noted instances of his being on the wrong side of history, gave it a D+ rating. Rolling Stone Magazine, surprisingly, was not; its writer John Morthland declared the album improved on each subsequent listen.
The album was certified Gold by the RIAA (signifying at least 500,000 units sold in the US) almost eight years after its release; to this day it is King Crimson’s only RIAA-certified album. In Canada, it was certified platinum (signifying at least 100,000 units sold), a feat copied in Britain where its 100,000 units sold signified a gold certification.
This album’s release helped launch the subgenre of progressive rock, a mainstay of the early 70s and a still-thriving musical tradition today, into greater prominence. While it was not the first of the genre (an honor which likely belongs to Days of Future Passed, had been released about two years earlier), it was certainly one of the most noteworthy early on. King Crimson itself has gone on to be one of rock ‘n roll’s strangest and most eclectic long-running bands, something even the wildly varying tone of this album couldn’t predict.
The band performed throughout England before and just after the release of the album. They then went across the pond to tour in support of the album. By the end of of the North American tour, King Crimson’s first lineup split up, just about two months after taking the world by storm with this album. Two members of the inaugural lineup, Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield, remained with King Crimson.
The other three members continued on other musical project. Michael Giles guested as a session player on the next album and largely worked as a session musician for the rest of the decade. Ian McDonald also worked as a session player after leaving, later becoming a member of the highly successful Foreigner. Greg Lake, who also guested on the next album, would go on to start working with a keyboardist he first met while on tour with King Crimson in December of 1969…
Songs from the album still feature on King Crimson live setlists as of 2019, according to setlist.fm. Album alumnus Greg Lake carried some songs to Emerson, Lake & Palmer onstage; a snippet of “Epitaph” was a standard addition to live performances of “Tarkus” in 1973 and 1974. Full songs, such as “21st Century Schizoid Man”, made ELP’s setlist in the 90s. Lake also took them on to his solo career, performing them both in the 80s with Gary Moore and on his later tours.
What’s your favorite song from this album? If you don’t have one, check the album out here on Spotify and get back to me on it!
- Note: this was originally published on my personal music blog. It appears here heavily modified from the original version.
- Edit on 2020-05-15: Fixed formatting. Added some information.