I suspect that everyone my age may have had a progressive (“prog”) rock phase. The radio, New York City’s WNEW-FM in my case, had a big role in that. In the pre-punk and new wave days of the early 70s, DJs like Alison Steele, had no shame in playing the big prog-rockers of the day: Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and of course, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Known and loved by all of us as ELP, their sound was driven by the keyboard wizardry of Keith Emerson. Besides his foremost flair for electronics, he was also one of the first to cross-pollinate classical music into the rock mainstream. In fact, at the time of this 1974 New York show, two of ELP’s most popular radio cuts were Emerson’s arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” and a live recording of “Nut Rocker,” a 1960s Kim Fowley arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “March of the Toy Solders” from The Nutcracker.
But there was also another wonderful side to ELP’s music: Greg Lake’s prowess as a singer-songwriter. Rock classics such as “Lucky Man” and “From the Beginning” added a refreshing change-of-pace to the band’s repertoire.
The ELP live show was one not short of theatrics. Emerson’s mastery of the keyboards was augmented with his now-legendary stabbing keys with daggers to hold notes and playing a high-wire elevated twirling piano. But the other two were also spotlighted in their own right. Drummer Carl Palmer played a ginormous kit complete with the requisite gongs and bassist-vocalist Greg Lake stood elegantly in the center of a large elaborate Persian rug.
This show was a part of the 1973-4 Someone Get Me a Ladder world tour that served as the basis for ELP’s next release: the live Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends, a three-LP set that remarkably made it to #4 on the Billboard charts.
Another thing music fans my age may have experienced was a time in their life when then turned their back on those prog rock days. It may have seemed hip during the punk and new wave days to shun these bands we once loved. But I suspect like me, most of us have come to appreciate the great music made by bands like ELP once again.
R.I.P. Keith Emerson