Greg Lake, guitarist, vocalist, and frontman of the pioneering 1970s prog rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer (also known as ELP), passed away this week at the age of 69. His bold voice, often touched with a hint of reverb and echo on ELP’s many successful recordings, will not soon be forgotten.
His death on Wednesday was reported Thursday morning by BBC News, along with a remembrance posted by his manager, Stewart Young, on Lake’s official website. Young says Lake succumbed after “a long and stubborn battle with cancer.” Tragically, this comes less than a year since fellow bandmate Keith Emerson died in an apparent suicide.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer – In Rock History
BBC music writer Mark Savage details the big highlights of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s career.
“Unusually, the band combined heavy rock riffs with a classical influence. They scored hit albums with Pictures at an Exhibition, Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery – many of them produced by Lake himself…
“ELP’s ambitious light shows and on-stage theatrics were the epitome of ’70s rock excess, and several punk acts cited ELP as one of the bands they were reacting against.
“But the band sold more than 48 million records, and Lake continued to be an influential and popular touring musician even after the band wound down in the late 1970s.”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer was one of the first rock supergroups, with each member having come from a previously successful rock group. Carl Palmer, the drummer, had played for Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. Keith Emerson came from The Nice. Greg Lake had briefly been in King Crimson, where he helped create their early hit “21st Century Schizoid Man.” All of their previous bands had tended to perform in a “hard rock” and somewhat “progressive rock” vein, but ELP upped the ante with a large number of classical music covers (performed in dramatically over-the-top style) becoming a key part of their identity.
Record collector and author Bradley Smith notes in his book Guide To Progressive Music how unique the band was for that time period.
“ELP jettisoned the more fey, restrained elements of their former groups, concentrating on creating the biggest sound possible (oddly enough, without using much electric guitar) with army of keyboards and the latest developments in synthesizers…
“To some, the phrases ‘classical rock’ and ‘symphonic rock’ are synonymous with ELP… by adeptly covering and incorporating so many classical styles, [the band] received a great deal of attention for its ‘serious rock music’ from the (normally silent on these matters) classical circles…”
Smith notes that some purists felt the group moved in a more commercial direction over time.
“While the band never totally lost its classical overtones, succeeding albums moved closer and closer to mainstream arena/FM rock and further and further away from truly progressive hybrids, such as the classical rock they pioneered.”
Music critic and writer Lester Bangs, an early champion of punk rock, took an opportunity to tease ELP in a 1974 band profile for their pomposity and reliance on electronics instead of more traditional instruments.
“With ELP we’re swatted into the new age of totally Technologized Rock. This is robot music mixmastered by human modules…”
In an interview with Palmer and Lake, Bangs pushed them on the issue of art versus entertainment, and Lake admitted it as “principally entertainment, I think.”
Years later, in a statement on his website, Lake made a comment arguably rendering the discussion irrelevant. Whether for art or entertainment, ELP’s music came from a place of passion.
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money.”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer – The Hits, And More
Here is a look back at some of the great hits and unique progressive rock that Greg Lake contributed as part of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. These are just some of the many one-of-a-kind tracks they produced as a group.
The clips below are among the highest-quality audio-only YouTube copies of these tracks. Plug in a nice set of speakers or put on some headphones, close your eyes, and enjoy.
“Lucky Man” (originally released 1970)
“Knife Edge” (originally released 1970)
“The Great Gates Of Kiev” (originally released 1971)
“Karn Evil 9” (originally released 1973)
Do you have a favorite recording, song, or moment from Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer? Feel free to leave a comment below with your memories.
[Featured Image by Getty Images]