In the Court of the Crimson King
A Progressive Rock Manifesto
This record effectively decimates the argument that progressive rock of the late '60s and early '70s was little more than the babbling technical feats of overamped nerds. Guitarist Robert Fripp and his band certainly had chops to burn when they recorded this—the opening track, "Twenty-first-Century Schizoid Man," contains a long-distance lunge of an improvisation that makes most rock guitar solos sound like nursery rhymes. But from there, Fripp and his crew, which includes future Emerson, Lake, and Palmer bassist/vocalist Greg Lake, seek meaningful music in more placid atmospheres. Their conversations wander far from any expected "rock" context, into extended suites. "Moonchild" opens as a tender love song, with Fripp's long-tones hovering in the background. That evolves into an ambient rubato ("The Dream" segment), which is eventually eclipsed by a guitar-and-percussion exchange ("The Illusion") that uses the spirit of free jazz to explore spacy open vistas.
This album resonated with those predisposed to progressive rock of the Pink Floyd variety. But King Crimson never developed a fan base commensurate with its talent. Personnel changed regularly around Fripp over the years, and though these subsequent ensembles made great records—check out the dense thrill ride called Lark's Tongues in Aspic from 1973, or the decidedly funkier Discipline from 1981—there remains something special about this first crusading journey, an example of greatly nuanced music in a genre where nuance is often in short supply.
Released: 1969, Atlantic (Reissued 2004, Caroline)
Key Tracks: "Twenty-first-Century Schizoid Man," "I Talk to the Wind," "Moonchild."
Catalog Choice: Lark's Tongues in Aspic; Discipline
Next Stop: Pink Floyd: Piper at the Gates of Dawn
After That: Yes: The Yes Album
Book Pages: 424–425