King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)
Welcome back to YDCS! We’ve got a big one this week to close out 2019! Today we’re taking a listen to one of the most influential albums to the development of progressive rock, King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King. King Crimson was one of the first bands to take what rock was in the 1960s, mostly simple popular music that hadn’t quite begun to splinter off into sub-genres, and transformed it into art. King Crimson added instruments that weren’t typically associated with rock music, like flutes and horns, fantastical lyrics, and unusual musical structures to create the first true prog rock album. Their work would be followed up by some of their English contemporaries like Yes and Jethro Tull on albums like Close To The Edge, Aqualung, and Thick as a Brick before gaining mainstream popularity with bands like Rush and Pink Floyd.
I’ll preface by saying that as big of a fan of prog rock as I am, I’ve never gotten around to listening to this album in particular, but when I did, I was blown away. This album has everything that I love about a good rock album. It’s consistently engaging and interesting to listen to and the musicianship and creativity are second to none. I particularly enjoy the creativity piece as this album pulls influences from jazz rock, the popular-at-the-time psychedelic rock, and more traditional blues rock to create a larger-than-life sound. The more that I listened to this album this week, the more that I wanted to listen back to it and discover something else about it. In The Court Of The Crimson King is one of those albums that you’ll find something new to like about it every time you listen, whether it’s a new horn section, symphonic piece, or shredding guitar solo. This is a quilted mélange of styles that was put together so perfectly that it inspired generations of musicians to think outside the box and push the boundaries of rock. I hope that you find as much to like about this record as I did. Enjoy the album, and welcome to the Court of The Crimson King.
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
21st Century Schizoid Man: Wow. That was my first thought listening to this song. Just wow. I have never heard such a cacophonous and messy but intricately perfect piece of music outside of a Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart album. King Crimson was able to do something that Beefheart and Zappa either couldn’t do or didn’t want to do in the name of art; they brought order to chaos. Once you settle down from the introduction and get into the song you realize that every instrument fits together with the others perfectly behind a unified theme of a jazz-fusion-blues-rock song. Sure, you might have never heard something like those distorted lyrics, yelps from the guitar, or such furious drumming, but you can follow it. This is where prog started in earnest. Listening to this then going back and listening to other classics in the genre like Yes’ Close To The Edge or Genesis’ Nursery Cryme, you start to understand where all of this started; the manic panic of “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Dad’s Rating 10/10
I Talk To The Wind: After the manic energy of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I Talk To The Wind” is a great change of pace. I’ve said before that downtempo songs often have trouble holding my attention if they’re not musically interesting, but the moments of jazz fusion and flute overlay break the song up nicely and kept me tuned in. The flute solos are actually really stellar and remind me of a more peaceful version of a Jethro Tull flute solo. I’d also highlight the drumming on this track. It’s really quite complex and you could easily miss it because it’s so well incorporated. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Epitaph: This is a ‘proggy’ kind of sound! “Epitaph” is just a weird song and I love it! It’s almost more of an art piece than it is rock, and it goes to show the lengths that King Crimson were willing to go to push the boundaries of rock. The low horn (maybe bassoon??) portion towards the end is really unique and not something that you’ll find anywhere. “Epitaph” is a beautiful song that makes the most of unique instrumentation, powerful vocals, and pushes what we can call rock music. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Moonchild: “Moonchild” was an underwhelming one for me. I expected a lot more out of a 10-minute long song and I felt the band could have used the song for more. Maybe that’s the point of it, filling 6 minutes of a side of a record with near-silence is certainly ‘progressive,’ but it forgets the music part. Where there is music on the front half of the song it’s good! It’s everything you would expect from a King Crimson record. It’s different and makes you think about the music. “Moonchild” loses major marks for me though because only half of it showed up to the court. Dad’s Rating 4/10
The Court Of The Crimson King: “In The Court Of The Crimson King” is legendary in prog rock, specifically lyrically-focused prog. Prog is usually split into three factions: musically progressive (incorporating unusual instruments, time signatures, structures, etc.), lyrically progressive (incorporating fantastical or science fiction lyrics), or a combination of both. We definitely see elements of both on this track with a rocking flute solo and melloton section and a fantastical story about witches and kings. Musically this is a very complex song that you’ll find yourself listening to multiple times and finding something new each time; whether it’s a new drum flourish, instrument that you didn’t hear the first three times, or interesting combination of instruments. This is a great track that deserves it’s place among the prog rock greats. Dad’s Rating 9/10
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