Mention Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and some people will think of their Classic Rock radio staples Lucky Man and Still…You Turn Me On. For many, though, it will bring back memories of hooting and stomping in a stadium seat, with a lighter blazing in an outstretched hand.
Formed in 1970, ELP was the first of the progressive rock supergroups, and the progenitors of the phenomenon known as Arena Rock. It gave The Nice’s Keith Emerson a star platform upon which to stage his keyboard circus, offered ex-King Crimson vocalist Greg Lake the opportunity to co-write the songs he would be singing, and cast a spotlight on former
Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer’s furious theatrics. Emerson continued the synthesis of rock and classical music he had begun with his previous band, with the appealing addition of Lake’s sweet but muscular voice, and the cheerful bombast of Mr. Palmer’s sticks and mallets. The result was explosive, and the reverberations rang like a Chinese gong throughout the stadiums of the world over the next twenty years.
This was music written expressly for live performance, not in intimate clubs, but before large arenas surging with enthusiasts. It was dense and intricate enough to please the art rock crowd, yet loud and ballsy enough to appeal to the hard rocking jocks who kept it loaded in the 8-Track players of their vans and pickups. This musical alchemy was not lost on bands like Styx, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Rush, and even Van Halen, who used the recipe to their own various laser-studded ends.
In the long run, however, ELP began to sag under the weight of its collective pomp, and circumstance seemed to make it ever harder for them to stay together. At one point in the 1980’s, ELP came to mean Emerson, Lake and (Cozy) Powell, and then a couple of years later Emerson and Palmer billed themselves as 3, with vocalist/guitarist Robert Berry, when Lake balked.
A reformation was finally effected in the early nineties, yielding three more albums and one last world tour, before Emerson’s struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome brought the final curtain down on the band.
A happy footnote: Emerson conquered his carpal tunnel problem, but, unfortunately for ELP fans, he went back to his original bandmates, reforming The Nice for a concert tour in 2002.