The legacy of Emerson, Lake & Palmer is a vast one. Sprung up from various progressive powerhouses, most notably, Greg Lake’s involvement with King Crimson, ELP produced a string of successes built on not only the combined progressive backgrounds of the 3 principles, but also their love of music on the outer fringes of conventional rock. With a blend of classical elements, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer changed and popularized a style of music that, until them, was clearly music that was “out there.” ELP not only changed the face of rock music, a change that is still felt today with the easy acceptance of more styles of music than would have been possible before them, but they also left behind a legacy of great music.
Shout Factory began an ambitious update of the relatively small ELP catalogue with the 2CD career collection of 28 classic, newly remastered ELP tracks from 10 albums, several of which were large in scope (the Works efforts), called The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Chronologically reissued, Shout Factory now begins their ELP catalogue updates with the 1971 self-titled debut, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, which was quickly followed with the ambitious Tarkus (1971), built around a 20-minute, 7-part suite composition called “Tarkus.”
The debut album, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, was an instant hit world wide, charting Top 20 in the US, a usually tough market to crack, especially with something as diverse as this album is. Buoyed by the album’s classic song, “Lucky Man,” a last minute inclusion due to the band not having enough minutes of songs to fill an LP (imagine that), ELP began a course that would carry them to ELP mania. They would become a band well respected by their peers, and greatly loved and revered by their growing masses of fans. Several songs on this album even has their basis in established classical pieces – “The Barbarian” has its roots in “Allegro Barbaro,” from Bela Bartok, and “Knife-Edge” was fashioned from “Sinfonietta” by Janacek. Both of these adaptations are boldly noted in the song credits.
All of the songs on Emerson, Lake & Palmer showcase the individual talents of the three performers that make up the band’s name. And while Keith Emerson is all over this album, Carl Palmer makes his drum prowess especially known in songs like “Tank,” with his extended drum solo. Greg Lake provides the vocals, guitar, and bass work that further make this album a complete effort by the three. On “Take a Pebble,” a 12-minute Lake composition, the band truly cements a decidedly progressive work that, along with “Lucky Man,” delineates the band’s intended progressive roots.
Realizing that they had a captive audience, the band decided to expand on their sound even more dramatically with deeper, more classically and progressively influenced, works that included the immense “Tarkus” composition on their second release, Tarkus. Tarkus didn’t do as well on the charts as had the debut, largely because it had no hit, per se. But the new devoted ELP fans fell in love with the “Tarkus” suite, seeing it as a defining of the band’s potential. Never mind that the LP had “bonus” cuts on the other side - 6 songs that did not carry as well as the first side classic. But they were not bad songs either.
“Jeremy Bender,” is a honky-tonk styled song too short to be a single, but good enough to be one. “The Only Way (Hymn)” is a hint at their musical future, with its darker, funereal-like sound and is a song that I particularly enjoyed off of this album. The closer song, “Are You Ready, Eddy” is an unlikely ELP song, crafted, likely on the fly, as a nod to their engineer (who has also worked with Yes), Eddy Offord. The engineer is listed in the album credits as Eddy “Are You Ready” Offord, a clue that brings both together.
Tarkus, the album, greatly expanded the band’s abilities, pushing them inexorably into a more mature unit, an easily recognizable detail by the ELP faithful. ELP would again change their musical style somewhat with the upcoming moody, and more accessible Trilogy (1972), continuing with their fourth, and most popular, studio work, Brain Salad Surgery (with featured HR Giger artwork on the fold-open cover – a feature that would work well if this album were released on quality digipak housing.
These albums were remastered from original master tapes by Andy Pearce at Masterpiece London. I haven’t compared these to more recent remasters that are available from other markets however; I can tell you that they are much better than the aging original CD releases, which sadly, were all that were in my possession. If there are better remasters out there, I’ll leave those to the more astute audiophiles to bring to attention. But for those that want a reasonably priced, easy to acquire, update of their older ELP catalogue discs, these do the job quite nicely. They are not expanded with bonus track inclusions but do have 8-page updated booklets with a few photos and artwork added along with a short set of notes from Steve Hochman. The series (Emerson, Lake & Palmer Remasters) sets are housed in jewel cases (I think I might have rather enjoyed the quality digipak packaging like those used for the Herb Alpert Signature Series collection). These reissues will nicely replace the aging originals in your collection until someone undertakes a Definitive Edition project for each of these albums, filled with bonus tracks and memorabilia. Watch for the next batch of ELP remasters – Trilogy and Pictures at an Exhibition – to arrive shortly.