If you’ve been finding yourself spending Sunday evenings trawling through YouTube videos, then chances are you have come across Robert Fripp and his wife Toyah Wilcox providing a cover of a classic rock song. Exuberant, exaggerated and a touch embarrassing on the odd occasion, the two stars — Wilcox as a pop fiend in her own right and Fripp as one of the premier guitarists in the 20th century alongside King Crimson, David Bowie and more — have brought a sense of joy to an evening usually filled with pre-work dread. It’s an image that feels all the more irreverent when compared with Fripp’s work with the aforementioned prog-rock giant, King Crimson.
King Crimson was formed in 1968 in London from the ashes of a short-lived Dorset group; with a series of experimental rock records, the band helped pioneer progressive rock as an art form and can be considered foundational stones in a whole new realm of genres and sub-genres. Bands like Yes and Genesis can be traced directly back to the group but even the sounds of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s new tunes have their DNA rooted in the cosmic swell of blasting riffs the group delivered.
The band were founded by Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, Ian McDonald and lyricist Peter Sinfield and produced a dense and dramatic sound that few in the late 1960s could see coming. A powerful group, the band, exuded a sense of musical command that would become the theme of the following years’ rock acts. After the earthy simplicity of folk and the three-part harmony of classic pop, it was now the turn of jazz enthusiasts to pick up the rock and roll mantle. They would take the genre into weird and wonderful places of technical experimentation.
When the group landed in 1969 with their seminal album In the Court of the Crimson King, they were already buoyed by their landmark appearance on the bill for the Rolling Stones’ 500,000-strong free concert in London’s Hyde Park. However, any thought of the group being a flash in the pan was chucked out when the first notes of their seismic debut album were played through the speakers.
Perhaps the most fondly remembered song on the record was the bullish ’21st Century Schizoid Man’. A powerful statement of intent that went way over seven minutes long, the track remains one of the greatest guitar songs of the 1960s. Considering the company of such a category, that’s quite the statement. But as much as it revelled in rock and roll’s intoxicating power, the song also showed how jazz and its impulsive nature could be weaved into the monster mix.
It makes it all the more interesting to witness that song being deconstructed into its isolated tracks, as you can find below. Posted by YouTube user DLD2 Music! we get to feast on the individual parts of one of prog rock’s greatest pieces. Robert Fripp’s guitar is mesmeric, and the distorted cries of Greg Lake are simply gorgeous if not gruelling.
While it might be fundamentally against the wishes of any band, there’s something enriching about hearing the technical prowess of King Crimson’s gifted members doing what they do best given the room it deserves.