(Quick note about this song: one of the lyrics after the guitar solo is “soon the Gypsy queen in a glaze of vaseline…”. “Gypsy” is, of course, a racial slur. And that’s not up for debate in this post, either, so don’t bother. Just do some research [like reading the link I just posted, and maybe also this one and this one] to understand the history and context for why, and leave it at that. Thanks!)
So this is actually part of a full 30 minute suite by ELP called “Karn Evil 9“, released on their album “Brain Salad Surgery”. This part is the most famous because they often played just this cut live, and it was played on the radio all the time. The opening line (“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.”) is somewhat known, as well, often separate from the song (I actually know people who have no clue who ELP are but recognize that line instantly when I say it).
Honestly, if I were to do a “Great Keyboard Solos” series, this would be the first song highlighted, because Keith Emerson was a god of the keys, in my humble opinion. But the guitar solo is amazing, too, which is why I’m highlighting it here. It’s such an amazing solo, another one that’s simple yet powerful. Greg Lake was an underrated guitarist, partly because of how rarely he played it (sticking more to the bass guitar).
This is the studio recording, so no need to actually watch anything… just listen… the guitar solo, BTW, starts at 2:01 and ends at 2:57:
Now, for a lot of people who have heard the name Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it’s probably in the context of Punk… the band (along with Pink Floyd, Yes, and other progressive rock bands of the 70’s) was the poster child of the excess and self-indulgence that the Punk movement was, in part, a reaction to… the phrase I hear a lot is “they forgot that they were playing to an audience”.
I don’t argue against this, because it’s absolutely, 100% true. ELP were a perfect example of self-indulgence in music. All three musicians were top-notch. Greg Lake and his writing partner Peter Sinfield are impeccable lyricists and song-writers, and Greg himself is a master of both the Bass and the Guitar. Keith Emerson (2 November 1944 – 11 March 2016; RIP) was a monster on the keys, extracting amazing music from pianos, keyboards, synthesizers, and so on; plus he was a phenomenal composer. Carl Palmer is an amazing drummer, as well, whose mastery is only matched by very few.
And they absolutely showcased all three talents multiple, multiple times live, with all three taking various solos at various times throughout a concert, sometimes as a stand-alone solo. On top of that, their music could get pretty complicated, what with full suites with movements, multiple time signatures, and so on. So I understand why some do not like ELP for this. Rock music was becoming more and more inaccessible, with admittedly talented musicians playing concerts for no one but themselves, despite having a massive audience watching them. And so while I’m not a fan of a lot of Punk music, I fully believe that Punk was desperately needed to remind rock musicians that they still had an audience, and force them to reign their self-indulgent excesses in at least a bit.
But for me, ELP is also the quintessential musician’s band. I love ELP in large part because I love following what they’re doing. When I put on my all-time favorite band, Led Zeppelin, it’s mainly to rock out (though the music is amazing, and each member is a monster talent in their own right, there isn’t much to analyze in the average Led Zeppelin song; Led Zeppelin songs are largely simple, though not because Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham couldn’t do complex music… they just chose not to). When I put on ELP, however, it’s not to rock out at all, but to sit back and let amazing music immerse me while I listen for the complexities and analyze what they’re doing. I love the very rare occasions I can listen to ELP with a group of fellow musicians, because we start dissecting and analyzing each piece of music. I have so much fun doing stuff like that. I actually learned more music theory listening to ELP and having those discussions than I ever did in my few music theory classes.
ELP is an incredible band. I have everything that spans their career from their first album, called ELP, to Works Volume 2 (I’m not as much a fan of their 80’s stuff). Another one of my favorite ELP songs is Pirates, but that doesn’t have a guitar solo to feature in this series.
To close this out, here’s ELP performing Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 2 in 1974 at California Jam. The guitar solo here starts at 2:00 and ends at 2:50. The guitar solo is immediately followed by a long, though pretty amazing, drum solo by Carl Palmer.