Brain Salad Surgery

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

album cover

Rampant Three-Way Virtuosity

Show-offs, these guys were. Technically obsessed geeks in artists' clothing. Led by Keith Emerson, demonic overlord of organ and synth, the trio, which included drummer Carl Palmer and bassist Greg Lake, cooked up a heavy music that, even in the prog-happy early '70s, was exotic. First, ELP bludgeoned listeners with dense chords and drums like cannon fire. And then it blew them away with regrooved bits of symphonic music pumped to larger-than-life grandeur.

Formed in 1970 when Lake left the imploding King Crimson, the trio hit paydirt on its first try: Among the songs on the band's debut was the wistful "Lucky Man," which became a staple of album rock radio. That emboldened the three, and over the next few records ELP would create highly dramatic renditions of classical pieces (Aaron Copland's "Hoedown," Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition") and originals built on intricate, if some-times bombastic, syncopations ("Tarkus"). The fourth effort, Brain Salad Surgery, stands as the most fully realized—and still decidedly brazen—ELP statement.

The album opens in a mood of great import, with Lake singing William Blake's poem "Jerusalem." Then comes another appropriation—this time of twentieth-century Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera's Piano Concerto No. 1, which Emerson retooled into the intense and episodic "Toccata." That's followed by a Lake ballad, "Still . . . You Turn Me On," perhaps the most graceful music these three ever made together. The centerpiece is a sprawling four-movement futuristic keyboard fantasia, "Karn-Evil 9," which opens in a blaze of up-tempo rock, then travels through mystical sci-fi settings so that Emerson can show off his electrifying Moog synthesizer creations. Listen as they navigate the fast-moving rapids of the opening section of "Karn-Evil 9" and the knotty polyrhythms of the suite's "Third Impression," and you'll first be stunned by the fitful, thrashing, jaw-dropping technique involved. Hang out a little longer, and you'll pick up the intellect and sensitivity behind the technique. Lots of progressive rock bands played hard and loud. The power audible in ELP at its peak comes from the trio's extraordinary unity and cohesiveness, not volume.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1973, Atlantic
Key Tracks: "Karn-Evil 9," "Still . . . You Turn Me On," "Toccata"
Catalog Choice: Tarkus
Next Stop: Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
After That: PFM: Photos of Ghosts
Book Pages: 256–257

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#1 from Steve "Boe" Thomson, Ayr Ont Canada - 10/28/2008 5:24

Fabulous LP by three very talented musicians.  I think this album temporarily dethroned Dark Side of The Moon from number one.  WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS TO THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS!

#2 from Bill Giamou, Toronto - 06/06/2009 5:17

Played this album over and over and over til’ Mom finally stormed into my bedroom after midnight and screamed…“How can you listen to this devil music?!”

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