In terms of prog rock, you don’t really get any more legendary than British heroes, King Crimson. A supergroup in their own right, it was via King Crimson that the world was first exposed to the talents of Greg Lake, Ian McDonald, Robert Fripp, Michael Giles and Peter Sinfield, amongst others. Blending jazz, classical, rock and more, they created a fluid style of prog that has been massively influential.
Everyone from Rush to Mastodon and even Black Flag have cited them as influences at different points. Showing just how far-reaching their reputation goes, Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the soundtracks to the Final Fantasy franchise, has credited King Crimson as a huge inspiration for his own majestic work.
Having many different members and chapters, King Crimson’s long history reads like that of any important dynasty. It all started back in 1969 with the release of their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, which is hailed by many as being the definitive prog-rock album.
It was before prog had flourished into the overblown, cape-wearing nonsense that the likes of Yes and Lake’s following outfit, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, would espouse. Effectively a fusion album, at the time of release, nobody had ever heard anything like it, and the musicianship was dazzling.
Arguably, the highlight of the album is ’21st Century Schizoid Man’. A rumbling piece of rock, containing flecks of jazz and metal, countless contemporary artists would simply not exist without this legendary piece of music. If a Terry Gilliam movie had a sound, it would be this.
Over seven minutes long, the song’s defining features include Lake’s distorted vocals, the instrumental middle section entitled ‘Mirrors’, and the fluctuating time signature that jumps between 4/4 and 6/4. Inspired by the free jazz of pioneer Duke Ellington, it’s an unrelenting number that is as mind-blowing today as it was upon release. Another significant part of the track is Sinfield’s heavily political lyrics, something that sets the band out from their peers, giving the song a weight that many prog numbers do not.
Another highlight of the track is Lake’s bass playing. Busy and erudite, Lake‘s formal training as a musician shines loud and clear on the isolated audio. His use of scales is brilliant, and he covers the whole of the fretboard, holding the whole thing together. Bringing the bass front and centre, you realise just how dextrous of a player he was, and how underrated he was as a bassist. Lake carries ‘Mirrors’, and without his work, it is unlikely that the track would have been the surreal journey that we all love.
An incredible take, showcasing the best side of King Crimson, after hearing Greg Lake’s isolated bass track you’ll be blown away. Pounding and dynamic, this is how a bass should be played.
Listen to the isolated bass of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ below.