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Procol Harum – “A Whiter Shade of Pale” LIVE in Denmark (2006)
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In 2006, Procol Harum took to the stage at Ledreborg Castle in Denmark for a truly special couple of shows, culminating in a performance of their most famous song which has continued to stun fans 15 years later.
The English rock band were joined by the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir for the show, which was later released on DVD.
On top form as ever, the show featured a performance of 1967’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, which has been seen by over 54 million people on YouTube.
Always a fantastic song to hear, this version is particularly special due to the orchestral backing, as well as singer Gary Brooker’s vocals, which if anything sound even better than they did at the height of their fame in the 1960s.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was Procol Harum’s biggest hit, and is one of the few songs to have sold over 10 million records worldwide.
Keith Reid got the song’s title at a party. He overheard someone at the party saying to a woman, “You’ve turned a whiter shade of pale”, and the phrase stuck in his mind.
Reid later told Uncut magazine: “I was trying to conjure a mood as much as tell a straightforward, girl-leaves-boy story. With the ceiling flying away and room humming harder, I wanted to paint an image of a scene. I wasn’t trying to be mysterious with those images, I was trying to be evocative.
“I suppose it seems like a decadent scene I’m describing. But I was too young to have experienced any decadence, then. I might have been smoking when I conceived it, but not when I wrote. It was influenced by books, not drugs.”
Procol Harum are still performing, and released their 12th album Novum in 2017.
The band’s 13th album, Novum, was released on 21 April 2017 and the band played 36 dates in the UK and Europe to promote it. However, the most significant concert of the year came in March when the band played with an orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Whilst leaving the stage at the end of the first half, Gary Brooker fell and was seriously hurt.
He reappeared for the second half with his head bandaged and nursing “a broken hand”. In 2018 the band again toured in Europe, including an orchestral show at the London Palladium on 9 October. They commenced 2019 with a Caribbean cruise hosted by Justin Hayward, with many well-known rock acts. A US tour was due to follow.
In 2018, the band was honoured by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was inducted into the brand-new Singles category.
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale LIVE (2006) at the Ledreborg Castle in Denmark
King Crimson – Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)
Mel Collins: Saxes & Flute Tony Levin: Basses & Stick Jakko Jakszyk: Guitar, Voice & Flute Robert Fripp: Guitar & Keyboards Pat Mastelotto: Drums Bill Rieflin: Drums & Keyboards Gavin Harrison: Drums
Dave Salt: Tour manager Mark Vreeken: FOH sound design Trevor Wilkins: Video/Audio Recording Jason Birnie: Stage Manager/drums Biff Blumfumgagne: Guitars/Sax & Flute Michele Russotto: Bass/drums John Armitage: Guitars/backline Ian Bond: Audio Tech Russ Wilson: Audio Tech Adrian Holmes: Merchandise Katrina Doy: Production Assistant David Bushong: Driver
Audio pre-production – Jakko Jakszyk & Gavin Harrison Digital Assembly – Alex R Mundy Mixing Engineer – Chris Porter Mixed by Chris Porter, Robert Fripp and David Singleton
“Cyclops” Cover Painting – Francesca Sundsten Additional Artwork & Cyclops re-imagining – Ben Singleton DGM logo – Steve Ball Booklet photography by Claudia Hahn www.heliocyan.com (P. 5, 9, 11, 12 left, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19) and Trevor Wilkins (P. 2, 6, 10, 12 centre, 13, 15, 20, 22) Gatefold inner sleeve photos by Scarlet Page Design and layout – Hugh O’Donnell All artists own the copyright in their work. Produced by Robert Fripp and David Singleton on behalf of King Crimson.
The original chords and melody for “Starless” were written by John Wetton, who intended the song to be the title track of the group’s previous album Starless and Bible Black. Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford initially disliked the song and declined to record it for that album. Instead the group chose an instrumental improvisation as the title track.
However, “Starless” was later revived, its lyrics altered and a long instrumental section (based on a bass riff written by Bruford) added to it, and performed live between March and June 1974. For the Red recording sessions, the lyrics were again altered (with contributions by Richard Palmer-James). The introductory theme, originally played by David Cross, was taken over by the guitar, with Fripp making minor alterations to the melody. As the title “Starless and Bible Black” had already been used, the original title was shortened to “Starless”.
The piece is 12 minutes and 18 seconds in length, the longest on the Red album. It starts with mellotron strings, electric guitar and a saxophone. These introduce a vocal segment in conventional verse-chorus structure.
The middle section of the song builds, in 13/4. Starting with John Wetton’s bass, shortly after joined by Bill Bruford on percussion. Robert Fripp’s guitar repeats a single note theme on two adjacent guitar strings. Bruford’s drumming maintains its irregularity.
The song’s final section begins with an abrupt transition to a fast, jazzy saxophone solo with distorted guitars and bass, expressive tribal drumming, and the tempo doubling up to a time signature of 13/8. Variations of the middle section’s bassline are played under Fripp’s layered and overdriven guitar parts. The saxophone returns to play a reprise of the vocal melody, then the final section is repeated with more overdubs from Fripp. Finally, the song ends with a reprise of the opening melody, played on the saxophone instead of the guitar.
Though the phrase “Starless and Bible Black” serves both as the chorus for the song’s vocal segment and as the title of an instrumental track on the album Starless and Bible Black, there is little apparent similarity between the two pieces.
The song has been covered live by Asia, a supergroup of which John Wetton was a founding member; 21st Century Schizoid Band, a group made up of earlier members of King Crimson (save for Jakko Jakszyk, who would later join King Crimson); After Crying, a Hungarian symphonic rock band, with guest vocals by Wetton; U.K., one of whose members was once again Wetton; and District 97, yet again featuring vocals from Wetton.
The Canadian band FM performed a live version of “Starless” in concert in 1977 which was captured on reel-to-reel by band member Nash the Slash, shortly after the recording their classic 1st album Black Noise . It came to light as part of a rarities CD, Lost In Space in 2001. It is a unique cover version as the band consisted of a non-traditional trio; Cameron Hawkins (vocals, bass, keyboards/synthesizers, bass pedals), Martin Deller (Drums & Percussion) and Nash the Slash (electric mandolin, electric violin, synthesizers).
Surfacing in 2000 with the breakthrough single “Yellow,” British group Coldplay quickly became one of the biggest acts of the early 21st century, honing a blend of introspective Brit-pop and anthemic rock that helped push the band to the top of album charts worldwide with multi-platinum albums such as Parachutes (2000), A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002), and Viva La Vida (2008). Coldplay‘s emergence was perfectly timed: with Radiohead embracing cerebral electronic soundscapes and Oasis further exploring psychedelic experimentation, audiences were hungry for a fresh-faced rock group with big aspirations and an even bigger sound. After the band’s first three LPs went multi-platinum in several countries, Coldplay continued to mature, topping their early success with higher record sales, an ever-evolving sound that absorbed multiple genres (as heard on 2011’s Mylo Xyloto and 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams), and record-breaking global stadium tours.
Bandmembers Chris Martin (vocals/piano), Jonny Buckland (guitar), Will Champion (drums), and Guy Berryman (bass) were all born into musical households. Martin, the eldest of five, began playing the piano as a young child and later took solace in the work of Tom Waits. Buckland, on the other hand, grew up with the heavy guitar sounds of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Scotland native Berryman preferred funk to indie rock, thereby leaving him to play bass, while multi-instrumentalist Champion didn’t plan to be a drummer until he joined Coldplay‘s lineup. The bandmates came together in 1996 while attending the University College of London, and the Safety EP was issued shortly after their first gig at a Manchester festival for unsigned bands. The release only saw 500 pressings, as did the subsequent Brothers & Sisters EP. Nevertheless, it was enough to win the band a U.K. deal with Parlophone Records in April 1999, and the five-track Blue Room EP arrived that fall. With nods from the media, Coldplay were hailed as the next Travis, thanks to their simple acoustics and charming personas.
Parlophone ushered Coldplay into Parr St. Studios in Liverpool, where they recorded the bulk of their debut album. Parachutes was released in July 2000 and became a swift hit on the strength of four U.K. singles, several of which enjoyed popularity in America as well. With “Yellow” climbing the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, Parachutes was released in the U.S. in November, where its sales soon rivaled — and eventually surpassed — those in the U.K.
Riding on the strength of their universally popular debut, Coldplay headed back into the studio in fall 2001 to work on a sophomore album. They emerged with the darker and more aggressive A Rush of Blood to the Head, releasing the album worldwide in August 2002 and embarking on a global concert tour soon after. Piano ballad “The Scientist” enjoyed regular radio rotation, while both “Clocks” and “In My Place” won Grammy Awards.
Riding the success of Rush of Blood, Coldplay pushed those ideas even further and began recording material for a third album in early 2004. Previously recorded material with longtime producer Ken Nelson was scrapped early on, while Danton Supple (Morrissey, the Cure) joined Coldplay to complete the recording of what would become their third album, X&Y. “Speed of Sound” marked the band’s first single from the effort in spring 2005; the album followed in June, topping charts around the world and selling more than eight million copies during its first year. They embarked on another global tour, scoring additional hits with the Kraftwerk-inspired “Talk” and the multi-platinum “Fix You.”
Such success put Coldplay on the same commercial level as U2, but with increased popularity and exposure came negative criticism over their earnestness and formulaic sound. Regrouping, the quartet retreated to the studio in late 2006 to work with famed producer Brian Eno (U2, David Bowie). Recording sessions with Eno were completed within one year, followed by several months of mixing and growing anticipation from the band’s audience. Viva la Vida — also known by its extended name, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends — ultimately arrived in June 2008. With its refreshed sound and expanded sound palette, the album became an instant hit, especially upon the strength of the chart-topping “Viva la Vida.” Worldwide sales approached six million by November, when Coldplay released several new recordings (including a collaboration with rapper Jay-Z) as part of the Prospekt’s March EP. A massive global tour was later commemorated on the limited-edition live compilation LeftRightLeftRightLeft, which the band gave away for free during the final stops of their Viva la Vida trek.
Continuing their experimentation with non-rock genres, the group dipped into synth-forward electronic and hip-hop beats for their fifth studio set, 2011’s concept album Mylo Xyloto, which was produced by Markus Dravs, Daniel Green, and Rik Simpson (the official press release added “with enoxification and additional composition by Brian Eno“). Topping charts across the globe, Mylo Xyloto also yielded a handful of hit singles, including “Princess of China” with Rihanna and their second number one, “Paradise.” As with past eras, Mylo was memorialized with Live 2012, which followed a hugely successful world tour that included a special performance at the London Paralympics closing ceremony.
Work began on their sixth album in late 2012 at their Bakery and Beehive studios in North London, where longtime producers Paul Epworth, Daniel Green, and Rik Simpson joined them for sessions. Seeking to scale back from the sensory explosions of Viva and Mylo, the band explored indie electronic and synth-pop textures. While working on the effort, Martin and his wife Gwyneth Paltrow announced their split, which turned the resulting effort into an introspective and cathartic breakup album. The Grammy-nominated Ghost Stories arrived in May 2014 and topped charts once again. Platinum singles “Magic” and the Avicii-assisted electronic anthem “A Sky Full of Stars” became Top Ten hits in the U.K. while climbing into the top 15 on the U.S. charts. Coldplay briefly promoted the effort on a six-date tour that found the band playing intimate shows in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, and London. Recordings from that jaunt landed on Ghost Stories: Live 2014, an audio/video package that contained live versions of every song from the album.
Soon after finishing their promotional duties for Ghost Stories, Coldplay returned to the studio to work on their seventh LP. Recording in Los Angeles and London, the band collaborated with Noel Gallagher, Beyoncé, Tove Lo, and Merry Clayton (best known for her vocals on the Rolling Stones‘ “Gimme Shelter) as well as producers Rik Simpson and Stargate. The joyous, disco-tinged lead single, “Adventure of a Lifetime,” arrived in November 2015, just a few weeks before the full-length A Head Full of Dreams was released. Their seventh straight U.K. number one, the album included multi-platinum, international hits “Hymn for the Weekend” (which peaked at number six in the U.K. and number 25 in the U.S.), “Up & Up,” and “Everglow.” The band embarked on the 144-date A Head Full of Dreams tour in support of the album, selling out stadiums across the globe. While on the road, Coldplay released “Something Just Like This,” a collaboration with the EDM-pop group the Chainsmokers that appeared on the Chainsmokers‘ album Memories: Do Not Open as well as on Coldplay‘s EP Kaleidoscope. On November 15, 2017 in Buenos Aires, the band played the final show of their trek, which became the third all-time highest-grossing concert tour to date. A year later, they capped the Head Full of Dreams era with the release of CD/DVD set Live in Buenos Aires/Live in São Paulo, as well as the career-spanning documentary A Head Full of Dreams, directed by Mat Whitecross (Supersonic).
That same week, Coldplay had one more surprise for fans. After a series of crafty social media announcements hinted at new Parlophone signees Los Unidades, it was revealed that this “new” band was simply Coldplay in disguise. Assuming a new identity to benefit the Global Citizen organization — which aims to end extreme poverty around the world — Coldplay recruited a diverse cast of collaborators for the Global Citizen: EP 1, including Stormzy, David Guetta, and Nigerian artists Wizkid and Tiwa Savage. The effort was promoted with the single “E-Lo” featuring Pharrell Williams and Jozzy.
Coldplay kicked off a new album era at the end of 2019, announcing the impending release with purposefully old-fashioned methods like postcards to fans, subway posters, and even newspaper advertisements. Issued that November, the 16-song Everyday Life was split into two sides, Sunrise and Sunset, and found the band dipping back into the international sounds heard on Global Citizen: EP 1. Featuring guests such as Stromae and Femi Kuti, Everyday Life found Coldplay in a typically plaintive yet hopeful space, but also included their most politically vocal material to date, addressing police brutality (“Trouble in Town”), firearm control (“Guns,” the first Coldplay song to include swearing), and the global refugee crisis (“Orphans”). The album was premiered during a live telecast from Amman, Jordan on its release date. Over a year later, it was nominated for Album of the Year at the 63rd Grammy Awards.
The band launched their ninth album cycle in May 2021 with the release of the single “Higher Power,” which was produced by pop maestro Max Martin.
Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend (born 19 May 1945) is an English guitarist, singer and composer. He is co-founder, leader, guitarist, secondary lead vocalist and principal songwriter of the Who, one of the most influential rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s.
As an instrumentalist, although known primarily as a guitarist, Townshend also plays keyboards, banjo, accordion, harmonica, ukulele, mandolin, violin, synthesiser, bass guitar, and drums. He is self-taught on all of these instruments. He plays on his own solo albums, several Who albums, and as a guest contributor to an array of other artists’ recordings.
Townshend has also contributed to and authored many newspaper and magazine articles, book reviews, essays, books, and scripts, and he has collaborated as a lyricist and composer for many other musical acts. Due to his aggressive playing style and innovative songwriting techniques, Townshend’s works with the Who and in other projects have earned him critical acclaim.
Pete Townshend, The Who’s guitarist and principal songwriter, was born into a musical family in Chiswick, West London, on May 19, 1945. His father Cliff played the alto saxophone with the RAF dance band The Squadronaires, and his mother Betty Dennis sang professionally. An aunt encouraged him to learn piano but after seeing the movie Rock Around The Clock in 1956 he was drawn to rock’n’roll, an interest his parents actively encouraged.
Having dallied briefly with the guitar, Pete’s first real instrument was the banjo which he played in a schoolboy trad jazz outfit called The Confederates. The group featured John Entwistle on trumpet but after John took up the bass guitar the two friends joined another schoolboy band, The Scorpions, with Pete on guitar. Pete and John both attended Acton County Grammar School where another, slightly older, pupil Roger Daltrey had a group called The Detours. Roger invited John to join and about six months later the nucleus of The Who was in place when John persuaded Roger that Pete should join too.
Meanwhile Pete had enrolled at Ealing School of Art to study graphic design, where he broadened his mind on a diet of radical performance art and American blues music, both of which would influence The Detours as they worked their passage through the West London club and pub circuit. With the arrival in 1964 of drummer Keith Moon and managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, The Who were on their way, with Pete increasingly cast in the role of leader and spokesman.
Pete soon found himself at the forefront of the British musical boom of the Sixties. As guitarist and composer of the band, he became the driving force behind one of the most powerful, inventive and articulate bodies of work in rock. From early classic three-minute singles like ‘My Generation’, ‘Substitute’ and ‘I Can See For Miles’, through to complete song cycles in the shape of Tommy, Lifehouse and Quadrophenia, Pete established himself as one of the most gifted and imaginative musicians working in the rock field.
Pete spent all of the Sixties and much of the Seventies concentrating his creative energies on The Who. In concert he became recognised as the most visual guitarist of his and future generations, careering around the stage, leaping into the air and spinning his arm across the strings in his trademark ‘windmill’ fashion. He developed a unique guitar style, a cross between rhythm and lead which veered from furiously strummed chord patterns and crunching power chords to chromatic scales and delicate finger-picking. On top of this, he frequently smashed his guitar into smithereens at the climax of a performance.
Pete also emerged as one of rock’s most eloquent spokesman, a much sought-after interviewee who always had something interesting or controversial to say. In 1970 and ’71 he wrote series of pieces for Melody Maker which challenged the status quo in the music industry, cementing his position as a pioneer and a man who was uncomfortable with the trappings of celebrity.
In 1967 Pete became a follower of the Indian avatar Meher Baba which inspired him to release three privately circulated devotional albums. These led him to compile Who Came First (1972), the first of a series of non-Who albums, followed by Rough Mix (1977), a collaboration with fellow Baba devotee Ronnie Lane, and then the solo albums Empty Glass (1980), All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982), White City: A Novel (1985), The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend, an adaptation of Ted Hughes’ children’s story (1988), and Psychoderelict (1993).
In 1984, with The Who temporarily disbanded, he led an ad-hoc band called Deep End with whom he released a live album in 1986, and he has also issued a series of albums called Scoop which feature Pete’s demos for Who songs, solo material and miscellaneous unreleased projects.
Beginning in the Nineties Pete has toured, mainly in North America, with a solo band, initially performing Psychoderelict but as the decade wore on he presented shows that included his solo material as well as Who classics. Many such shows, including occasional concerts in the UK, have been done in aid of charities.
Having established himself as one of the most intelligent and articulate of rock performers, Pete has run his own book publishing company and worked as an editor at the publishing house Faber & Faber which in 1985 published Horse’s Neck, a collection of his short stories. Ever inquisitive about new ideas and technology, he was amongst the first rock stars to utilise the internet on which his regular and often frank journals and essays have provided essential reading for fans.
In many ways Pete can be regarded as an internet pioneer, insofar as Lifehouse, the project that embraced the songs on the album Who’s Next, included ideas such as the ‘Grid’, a national communications network, and ‘experience suits’ where life programs were fed to individuals via the Grid. At the time most observers were unable to grasp these ‘science fiction’ ideas but with hindsight it’s clear that Pete’s concepts were not too far removed from the world wide web and virtual reality that we know today.
In 1970, the technology wasn’t available for the project to be realised and it took Pete almost 30 years to see it through. It was only fitting that when he did get to perform the Lifehouse music in its entirety it was available to a global audience via a webcast.
A Lifehouse Method website was made available from 2007 to 2008 through which ‘sitters’ were able to create musical portraits on line. Pete has plans to do more with this process in the future. He has plans for future artistic endeavours using the internet and in the meantime contributes posts to his own blog on this website.
Pete continued to write and perform with The Who, and 2006 saw the release of Endless Wire, the band’s first new studio album in 24 years. In 2012 Harper-Collins published Pete’s long awaited autobiography Who I Am, a typically forthright memoir of his life inside and outside of The Who.
In the second decade of the new millennium Pete Townshend has deservedly ascended to a place of honour at rock’s high table, a grandee who commands enormous respect in the world of music. This current decade has seen The Who tour in 2006/7 and again in 2011/12 with Quadrophenia & More. In 2014 The Who celebrated their 50 years together by embarking on a two year tour and a greatest hits album The Who Hits 50!, the album and world tour both being an enormous success which culminated in two spectacular weekend concerts as part of the Desert Trip event at Coachella, California. 2017 saw The Who returning to the Royal Albert Hall, London to perform Tommy for the 100th concert in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust followed by a UK and US tour and, for the first time ever, a tour of South America.
In 2016 Pete signed to Universal Music for his solo work which saw the re-release of the first seven solo albums from his back catalogue including 1972’s Who Came First right through to 1993’s Psychoderelict – plus all three of Pete’s Scoop series of albums.
The spring of 2019 saw the announcement of the publication in autumn of this year of Pete’s new novel The Age of Anxiety which will be followed in 2020 by an album of his music of the same name
2019 also saw what for many was the unbelievable when Pete and Roger announced a new tour for the summer and autumn plus a return to the recording studio to record a brand new Who album called, simply, WHO.
There is still no finer sight nor sound in rock than when Pete straps on an electric guitar, spins his right arm like a Catherine-wheel and slashes down across the strings to create the unmistakable resonance of those opening four chords of ‘I Can’t Explain’ – described by Pete himself as YAGGERDANG!
The Who’s Pete Townshend grapples with rock’s legacy, and his own dark past. (read this article here)
Of all the key figures from rock music’s glory days, the Who’s Pete Townshend is the one to have had most deeply interrogated — on albums like “Quadrophenia” and in his own writing over the years —the relationship between musicians and their audience. That decades-long preoccupation, which has resulted in so much thrilling, questing music, resurfaces on “WHO,” his band’s first studio album in 13 years, as well as Townshend’s first novel, “The Age of Anxiety,” out in November. “Paul McCartney thinks he knows who he is,” Townshend, 74, says. “Mick Jagger thinks he knows who he is. Keith Richards thinks he knows who he is.” A resigned look passes over his face. “I don’t.”
You’ve spent 50 years exploring the archetype of the confused, messianic rock star, including in your new book. For part of that time I’d even say you were living that archetype. What’s left to mine there? You’re looking for clues in the wrong place. I couldn’t write about Wall Street. I couldn’t write about crime. I have spent 55 years working in rock. I remain in familiar territory. I’ve always regarded the rock-star phenomenon with immense disdain. I’ve had my moments, which have been gloriously recorded and exalted — but brief — when I’ve felt: I’m going to try and do this job. I’m going to try to be a proper rock star. Then I would do it, and it wouldn’t work. I was counterfeit. There are very few people truly authentic to the cause: David Byrne. Mick Jagger. Neil Young. Joni Mitchell. Deborah Harry.
Authentic to what cause? Authentic to the perceived, accepted ideal of a rock star. Now, online, you’ll see a throwaway statement — “rock is dead” — which is something that we in our genre have been considering since the ’70s. But what is rock? Rock is hip-hop. Rock is probably Taylor Swift. Rock is, dare I say it, Adele and Ed Sheeran. They’ve dared to take on that mantle, and they have to deliver. They’ve got to do something spectacular as performers. Not just as recording artists. They’ve got to do something amazing, and if it includes dancers, if it includes too much video, then they’re cheating. They know that, we know that and the audiences know that. That’s why audiences will come to something like a Who concert or a Stones concert, where there might be some video, there might be a symphony orchestra, but at the end of the day it’s about: “Can you dance for two and a half hours without dropping dead? Can you sing without lip syncing for two and a half hours?” It’s about sport. It’s about entertainment as a physicality. It’s about an endurance test.
Is that really interesting to you, the idea of a rock concert as an endurance test? It is. It’s a part of what I bring to my table. I want to be fit, I want to be strong and I want to be able to move and sing and play conventionally. I’m talking about a performance standard that has risen out of the ashes of the halcyon years of rock ’n’ roll.
Is that performance standard an anachronism? Let’s just talk about the Who. What people want from the Who is the music to be live, I suppose. And yet, for example, we cheat by having musicians on the stage who can read musical charts as if they’re computers. But I don’t feel that they’re a cheat. I feel that they add to the experience.
I’m wondering what exactly you mean when you say that today’s pop stars have to “deliver.” My impression is that there was a serious belief from, say, 1965 till about 1970, in rock’s potential to be a galvanizing force for social change. I don’t think I’m being cynical in suggesting that no popular music, let alone rock, feels as if it carries that kind of charge anymore. The stakes are lower. But when you say musicians have to deliver, my hunch is that you might be implying something beyond just a good album or tour. Is my rambling here making any sense? I understand exactly what you’re saying. I was just talking about delivering an excellent record and an excellent performance. But take the case of the Who. “I Can’t Explain” was our first single. It was a hit. Kids heard it, and they came and said, “This is helping us.” And I thought: This is my commissioning group. This is the party that’s going to love whatever I do. I served that audience11 The Who’s specific audience, at least in its formative years, was the mod subculture that flourished in the Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of London. very faithfully up until “Quadrophenia.”22 The band’s 1973 concept album, a double-album meditation on where mods came from and where they wound up. That album was an appeal to the Who to address the questions of why is Keith Moon33 The band’s musically and personally audacious drummer. He died in 1978. now driving around in pink Rolls-Royces. Why is Roger Daltrey44 The band’s lead singer, now 75 years old, continues to record and tour with Townshend in the Who. growing his hair like a rock god? Why has John Entwistle55 The virtuosic bassist died in 2002 after nearly 40 years with the Who. got a house full of suits of armor? What is this all about? So to address your question, I think I invented the concept that music was going to have democratic give-and-take between the artists and their audience.
If we take that as a given, which I’m not sure it is, what happened to that invention? Well, I wrote “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which was essentially saying to the audience: “Just [expletive] off. I’m not going to be your tool.” It led to the question, If you’re going to say “[expletive] off” to revolutionary thinking, then what it is that you are going to do? That is a process that I’m still involved in.
Insofar as we’re now able to look back at the rock era as a completed thing, what do you see you and your peers as having achieved? There’s a subset of living musicians who are trying to carry whatever it was they garnered from the era of LSD, the Vietnam War and the decline of the Vietnam War through to the present. Joni Mitchell is still carrying it. Neil Young is carrying it. David Byrne is carrying it. Brian Eno is carrying it. We’re carrying what we each decided to share of the load. And what is the load? The load was this massive question.
Which is what? The massive question was: Who are we? What is our function? What is our worth? Are we disenfranchised, or are we able to take society over and guide it? Are we against the establishment? Are we being used by it? Are we artists, or are we entertainers?
Is there an honest reading other than a pessimist’s for what the answers to most of those questions ended up being? I think so. Rock ’n’ roll was a celebration of congregation. A celebration of irresponsibility. But we don’t have the brains to answer the question of what it was that rock ’n’ roll tried to start and has failed to finish. Neither do our journalistic colleagues, no matter how smart they think they are. Greil Marcus66 This critic is best known for “Mystery Train” (1975), easily one of the best books ever written about rock. is not going to write the book that has the answer. He’s not going to come up with the goods. For God’s sake, neither could the Rolling Stones or the Who. That’s not going to happen. That postwar vacuum that we tried to fill — we did fill it for a while, but then we realized it was fizzling out. The art proposed the questions without offering solutions. So what the Who are doing at the moment — we’ve made a good album. I hope it’ll do O.K. I don’t need it. Nobody needs it. Some of the subjects of the songs are quite deep, but they’re not as brave as “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which is saying: “[Expletive] off. I’m going to solve this problem with my guitar and my singer with long, golden hair and a big [expletive].”
While we’re on that subject: The old mythology of male rock stars as hypersexed icons cutting a swath through their tour dates feels more and more suspect the further we get from the ’70s. But that mythology is still a part of the glamour of that era. How do you look back at the sexual dynamics of rock stardom? That’s not my story. I’m not going to say I wish it were, but there were times when this gawky, big-nosed guy in a band — who always seemed to be having sex with people — would actually be in bed with his overly fingered Playboy magazine. I was performing for the gang. I was performing for the men. You have to talk to the guys who got the girls and ask them how they perceive their past behavior. I don’t have one of those huge sexual-conquest counts. It’s not a conversation I can have. It just wasn’t me.
You alluded earlier to rock’s failure to finish what it set out to do, whatever that was. How much was your audience — baby boomers — complicit in that failure? It was a parallel experience for the musicians and their audience. What we were hoping to do was to create a system by which we gathered in order to hear music that in some way served the spiritual needs of the audience. It didn’t work out that way. We abandoned our parents’ church, and we haven’t replaced it with anything solid and substantial. But I do still believe in it. I do believe, for example, that if I were to go to an Ariana Grande concert — this iconic girl who has achieved so much, and rose up after the massacre at her concert in Manchester with dignity and beauty — that I would feel something of that earlier positivity and sense of community.
How does nostalgia — your own and your fans’ — affect the criteria for what makes a good Who concert in 2019? That criteria must be different than it was in 1969. Now I perform the wonderful music that I wrote when I was young, that was so successful that people still want to hear it, and I perform it to the best of my abilities. Blah, blah, blah. What I really want now is a couple of moments on the stage in which I have the potential to wreck the whole thing. If I can do that, then I’m happy. Just for a moment.
In your novel,77 Townshend previously wrote a short-fiction collection, “Horse’s Neck” (1985). there’s this purist musician character, Crow, who has a line — which I assume you wrote tongue-in-cheek — in which he’s talking about his band and says something like, “We’re not going to be the Who and sell out.”88 Selling out was a concern for the Who as early as 1967, when the band released the irreverently titled album “The Who Sell Out.” The concept has arisen in less playful fashion for Townshend in the context of the band’s various reformations after its initial 1982 split. Maybe it’s just because the bottom dropped out of the music business, but why isn’t selling out a source of hand-wringing the way it once was for the Who? The concept almost feels quaint now. Selling out has lost the stain, because musicians can’t hold a purist’s stance anymore. They have to accept the dollar and also the fact that the dollar is helping deliver the message. But the concept Crow was addressing in the book was about selling out what the music meant to somebody. In other words, if you add a chewing-gum commercial to “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” then you forget what it meant to you when you listened to it while you were having a rage at your sports teacher or whatever.
It’s noticeable that even now, when you’re at an age at which your sense of self might be more likely to be relatively settled, you’re still willing to entertain skepticism about your identity and the roles you’ve inhabited. I don’t want to go into this too deeply. I’ve been thinking about it. Last year I took a sabbatical, and during that time I did some quite special therapy. One of the things that I’ve realized looking back — I have photographs of myself as a child. I was so beautiful. I know all children are beautiful, but I was uniquely beautiful. My mother at some point made this huge mistake, which was to dump me into darkness.99 Townshend addresses his childhood abuse in his 2012 memoir, “Who I Am.” I came out of it — and I’m sorry to say this, but I came out ugly. So with the question of identity, my work has been about trying to recover innocence and real beauty too. And if I can’t be beautiful, then I’ll create beauty, and if I can’t create it, I’ll get your attention by being angry, by being violent, by apparently not giving a [expletive]. But getting back to an earlier question, I think a lot of people went through the ’60s not trying to find themselves. I think a lot of us thought we already knew. I remember having a conversation with George Harrison about how he could reconcile following Krishna with his having to lay out lines of coke in order to talk about Krishna with me.
What did he say? I can’t remember, but I do remember being convinced by his incredibly elegant answer! Anyway, I’d love to have a long conversation with Irvin D. Yalom1010 This venerated American psychiatrist and psychotherapist is known for his work developing ‘‘existential psychiatry.’’ about who I might be, because I am a man without a psychological backbone. That affects my work. If “Tommy,”1111 The band’s landmark 1969 “rock opera” about a youth struck “deaf, dumb and blind” as a result of trauma who then becomes a pinball-playing quasi savior. It was adapted into both a feature film and a Tony Award-winning musical. for example, is a reflection of that plunging into childhood darkness that I mentioned, then one question that I ask is, Jesus, why did people like it so much?
“Tommy” is coming back to Broadway in 2021. You’ve come back to that music so many times and in so many forms. Is it painful to keep revisiting work that was, like you just said, a reflection of the abuse you suffered? Yes, it is. I shouldn’t do it. The thing for me about “Tommy” is that the writing was all unconscious.
But it’s not unconscious anymore. You’re aware of where “Tommy” came from, and yet you still keep coming back to it. Is that about catharsis? I’m working something out. The Who perform a piece of “Tommy” onstage, but we don’t do the violent stuff. And, remember, “Tommy” ends with a prayer. A secular prayer to the universe celebrating the spirit of life, the value of suffering, the transformation of suffering into joy. And it’s a death, a hopeful transformation. I wish I were in Tommy’s shoes, in a joyful moment of waking up one day and disappearing into dust. I’m not quite there, and I don’t know whether I will get there. I’ve been waiting, and I’m pushing 75.
Are you saying that you’re wishing for a graceful death? Or that your death might have some larger meaning? A hopeful transformation is what I wish for at the end of my life. I would be comfortable with wherever it was. Whether it would be turning to dust or falling into the hands of astral angels or finding myself at the gates of heaven and being turned away.
Do you think about the intended audience of your work as much as you used to? I’m particularly interested in that as it relates to your novel, because I found it just about impossible to separate reading the book from what I know about you and your music. The question of readership was not uppermost in my mind when I started the book. One thing that I did have in my mind was that I had abandoned my art-school thesis,1212 Townshend was a student at London’s Ealing Art College in the early ’60s. which was to be a deconstructionist, and I did that because I had a hit song. When that happened, I was in the middle of this fantastically stimulating course at art school with a whole bunch of radical thinkers, and that intense period of finding myself creatively collapsed because I was out there with this band. And I never liked it. I still don’t like it.
Don’t like what? What I do with the band. People always say, “You seem like you’re having a good time.” Last year I said to my wife,13 The musician Rachel Fuller. They wed in 2016. “I must be such a good [expletive] actor.”
So then why stick with the Who? You can’t need the money. I think it’s probably for the greater good. I may not like it, but I can’t say it’s hard. It comes incredibly easily to me. That’s probably the reason I would so carelessly let it go in 1982. I’d done my best to try to serve this revised group after Keith Moon’s death, and it wasn’t going to work. I thought: I’ll just do a solo career. I’ll do what I want. And I did. I did a couple of solo projects. I worked as an editor at Faber & Faber. I had a lovely life. Money did bring me back in the end: That was the Who’s 25th-anniversary tour. After that it was nearly 11 years before we got back together properly. So I did try stopping. But then I suppose I thought, [Expletive] it. I’m now 60-something. If I go deaf, I don’t care.1414 Townshend formerly suffered from serious and at times debilitating tinnitus. It seems to make a lot of people happy. People believe I’m happy doing it. This was something that I could give to myself to do, which I’m good at. As long as it’s my decision to do it, that’s O.K. I’m not on a great mission anymore to get anything from it.
This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.
The track “Providence” was a free improvisation recorded at their 30 June 1974 concert at the Palace Theater in the city of the same name. Parts of some of the pieces were conceived during previous improvisations performed by the band live. “Starless” was originally considered for their previous album, Starless and Bible Black (1974), but was considered incomplete at the time. The lengthy version included on this album was refined and performed during concerts throughout 1974.
Red is a progressive rock album with a noticeably heavier sound than their previous albums; it was later called one of the 50 “heaviest albums of all time” by Q. This was achieved with the performances of just three band members: guitarist Robert Fripp, bassist and vocalist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford. The dense sound of the album was achieved by significant layering, multiple guitar overdubs, and key guest appearances by musicians including founding King Crimson member Ian McDonald, classical oboist Robin Miller and English jazz trumpeter Marc Charig.
Roughly two weeks prior to the release of Red, King Crimson disbanded. The album turned out to be their lowest-charting album at that time, spending only one week in the UK Album Chart at No. 45 and the US Billboard 200 at No. 66. However, it was well received among fans and critics. It has received further praise retrospectively, being recognized as one of the band’s best works, and has been re-issued many times.
Near the conclusion of King Crimson’s 1974 US and Canada tour, the decision was made to ask David Cross to leave the band. EG, the band’s management, urged Fripp not to tell Cross until after the final date of the tour, but he would not be able to do this anyway; Fripp would not return from the United States until after Cross would return to Europe. Fripp reached an agreement with EG management that they would tell Cross, “on proviso that [Cross] is told that I objected to not telling him personally.”
Despite reaching this agreement, Cross would not be told by EG until the day before the recording of Red began. In his stead, the band brought back several contributors to past albums: Robin Miller on oboe, Marc Charig on cornet, former King Crimson members Ian McDonald and Mel Collins on saxophones, as well as an uncredited cellist and acoustic bassist.
Red sees King Crimson follow in the direction established by their previous two albums, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black, but in contrast to those albums, Red features more layered production with multiple overdubs, as well as the return of the earlier instrumentation of the guest players. Red’s heavier tone was largely due to the influence of the rhythm section, Wetton and Bruford, whom Fripp has referred to as “a flying brick wall”.
During the recording of the album, Fripp took a “backseat” when making large decisions. He had decided to take “a year’s sabbatical … at Bennett’s Institute,” and offered the idea of McDonald rejoining the band in his absence to EG. When this idea was met with disinterest, Fripp abruptly disbanded King Crimson on 24 September 1974, and Red was released two weeks later.
Writing and recording
Much of the material on Red has origins in improvisation. Motifs that would eventually be used for “Fallen Angel” were first played by Robert Fripp in 1972, as part of improvs performed with the quintet lineup that would record Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. These improvisations are documented as “Fallen Angel” and “Fallen Angel Hullabaloo” in the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: The Complete Recordings box set, as well as standalone releases of their respective concerts.
The distinctive introduction to “One More Red Nightmare” was also deployed by John Wetton and Robert Fripp in various improvs throughout 1974, which can be heard in the Starless (box set) and The Road to Red box sets. One notable performance is titled “The Golden Walnut”. Lastly, “Providence” itself was an improv, taken from the group’s show on 30th June in Providence, Rhode Island. It was included in its uncut form as part of various live sets, such as The Great Deceiver, as well as the 40th Anniversary Edition of Red itself.
“Red” was composed solely by Robert Fripp. In an analysis of the piece by Andrew Keeling, he describes “Red” as “an instrumental piece scored for electric guitar (multi-tracked in three layers), bass guitar and drums,” as well as “one of the more muscular pieces of Robert Fripp’s, in particular the deployment of open strings and heavily attacked and syncopated bass and drums.” In an online diary from 2012, Robert Fripp speaks about the development of “Red”: “A motif; moved from [the missing piece] “Blue” to “Red”: the opening and closing theme of “Red” itself.
The driving, relentless figure that follows it, and the middle figure played by the basses, weren’t enough for a complete piece.” Speaking about it in the book accompanying the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: The Complete Recordings box set, he says, “After we had just recorded the track “Red” in [Olympic Studios] … we played it back and Bill said, ‘I don’t get it, but if you tell me it’s good, I trust you.’ … I said, ‘We don’t have to use it.’ John was in no doubt: ‘We’ll use it.'”
An unused variation of the song’s middle section would later emerge in 1983, during the writing rehearsals for Three of a Perfect Pair. Though it went unused, it finally saw light in 1995, more than two decades later, as the middle section of the instrumental “VROOOM VROOOM” on THRAK.
“Starless” was originally written by Wetton, with the intent of it being the title track for Starless and Bible Black. At the time, the piece consisted only of the vocal section of the song, and Wetton claims that it got a “cold reception” from both Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford. Later, an introductory theme was written by Robert Fripp and performed on violin by David Cross, and two additional sections were added after the vocal, one being contributed by Bruford. The final section reprises various themes from earlier in the song, and it also re-uses a bass part which was originally written for the song “Fracture”.
This early arrangement of “Fracture” can be heard on discs 1 and 25 of the Starless box set, as well as the standalone releases of their respective concerts. The lyrics went through several iterations, with one early verse later included by Wetton in “Caesar’s Palace Blues,” a song he would perform with U.K. Since the title “Starless and Bible Black” was already used for an improvisation on the group’s previous album, the song’s title was shortened to “Starless”. On Red, “Starless” is credited to the quartet, as well as lyricist Richard Palmer-James.
The lyrics to the three songs on the album were not originally included as part of the packaging for the album, unlike all previous Crimson studio albums, which always had lyrics printed either on the inside of the gatefold covers, or on the custom innersleeves. This led to some occasional confusion amongst listeners about precisely what was being sung, particularly on the song “One More Red Nightmare.” The first printing of the lyrics would occur 26 years after the album’s initial release, on the 2000 ’30th Anniversary Edition’ release.
Release and reception
Released in October 1974, Red spent only one week on the British charts, at No. 45, whereas all the band’s previous studio albums had reached the Top 30. In the United States, it reached No. 66 on the Billboard 200. However, it remained a popular album with fans and critics.
Retrospective reviews were resoundingly positive. In theirs, AllMusic declared Red to be weaker than its two predecessors, but nonetheless a superlative work: “few intact groups could have gotten an album as good as Red together.
The fact that it was put together by a band in its death throes makes it all the more impressive an achievement.” Robert Christgau also applauded the album, having been generally critical of the group’s past work, calling it “Grand, powerful, grating, and surprisingly lyrical” and commenting that “this does for classical-rock fusion what John McLaughlin‘s Devotion did for jazz-rock fusion.” Classic Rock reviewer considered Red “a walk down a lightless corridor and an unhappy and ferocious counterbalance to the frolics of King Crimson’s beginnings”, and described it as “dark, brooding and laden with heavily distorted sections and a decidedly melancholic vibe”.
Like most of King Crimson’s catalogue, Red has been re-released numerous times since 1974. First issued on Compact Disc in 1986, it has also been released as part of the “Definitive Edition” series in 1989, and the “30th Anniversary Edition” series in 1999. In 2009, Red was chosen, alongside In the Court of the Crimson King and Lizard, to launch the “40th Anniversary Edition” series.
As part of this series, each album is presented in a CD/DVD-A package, with new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes crafted by Steven Wilson. Unlike the other editions in the series, however, Red launched with no new stereo mix. In 2013, Wilson and Fripp created a new stereo mix for The Road To Red boxed set, and this mix was also issued separately as part of a 2CD package.
In 2001, Q magazine named Red as one of the “50 Heaviest Albums of All Time” and Pitchfork ranked Red number 72 in its “Top 100 Albums of the 1970s” list, stating that “For a band that was very obviously about to splinter, King Crimson’s music sounds remarkably of a single mind. On Red, they achieved a remarkable balance between bone-crushing brutality and cerebral complexity.” Rolling Stone ranked the album at number 15 on their list of the 50 best progressive rock albums of all time. Kurt Cobain had reportedly cited the album as a major influence.
“Red” was covered by Canadian rock band Glueleg in their 1994 debut Heroic Doses, with this version featuring saxophone and trumpet. “Red” was also ranked as the twentieth best progressive rock song of all time by PopMatters, as well as number 87 in Rolling Stone‘s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs”. Additionally, “Red” has been considered an influence on avant-garde metal.
Musicologists Eric Tamm and Edward Macan both consider Red, particularly the track “Starless“, to be the highlight of King Crimson’s recorded output. “Starless” is played over the opening titles of the 2018 horror film Mandy.
“Bach’s music,” says the pianist Jacques Loussier, “is ideal for jazz improvisation. So many of the structures are similar, with patterns of 16 or 32 bars, and the left hand parts are very similar to jazz basslines.” Jacques Loussier – a career built on jazz Bach
More than any other individual musician, Loussier has managed to explore the connections between jazz and Bach in a career that stretches back to the 1950s, but his comments get to the heart of why J. S. Bach has always held such fascination for jazz players: namely form, structure and harmony.
Way back in the 1920s, the Harlem “stride” piano pioneers honed their skills on the classical repertoire and men like Fats Waller and James P. Johnson knew their Bach along with their Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Waller even recorded a classical pastiche of his song “Honeysuckle Rose” which he subtitled ”à la Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Waller”.
As the modern jazz era came in, the most technically accomplished pianists also played Bach, and used his music as the basis for their improvisations, such as Bud Powell in “Bud On Bach” or, a little later, Bill Evans with “Valse” which is based on a Bach Siciliana for flute.
And thinking of woodwind, several jazz reed players, like the saxophonist Lee Konitz, used Bach’s Two-part inventions as practice material, the basis for classical duets, and a jumping-off point for improvisation.
And it’s that idea of Bach as a springboard, a jumping-off point that has most fascinated the current generation of jazz improvisers, such as US pianist Uri Caine.
He says, “Bach’s theme and variations ideas have a direct corollary with what we do as jazz musicians. The harmony that underpins the recurring structure is what all the variations are built on and that is how we improvise over standards.”
Starting immediately after the cacophony that ends “21st Century Schizoid Man“, the mood of this song is a stark contrast; it is serene, simple and peaceful. Ian McDonald‘s flute begins the song, and is one of the lead instruments throughout. He also plays a classical-inspired solo in the middle of the song as a “C” section and a longer one at the end as a coda.
These themes would be revisited by the band, notably on their second album, In the Wake of Poseidon. “Pictures of a City”, with a similar mood as “21st Century Schizoid Man”, would be followed by “Cadence and Cascade”, another calm song, and the second album’s title track also mirrors “Epitaph” in some aspects as well, both of which end side one.
This song is the only song on In the Court of the Crimson King that does not have at least one separately titled section.
This version was more up-tempo and lighter in instrumentation. The Young Person’s Guide recording and another demo of the same song were recorded in 1968 by Giles, Giles and Fripp. However, the song did not actually appear on a Giles, Giles and Fripp record until The Brondesbury Tapes (1968) was released on CD in 2002. There are actually two recordings of “I Talk to the Wind” on this CD; one features vocals by Judy Dyble.
In 1992, the song was covered by English electronic music group Opus III, whose lead vocalist was Kirsty Hawkshaw. It was released as the follow-up to their successful “It’s a Fine Day” and the second single from the album, Mind Fruit. The single reached number 6 in Finland, number 52 in the United Kingdom and number 162 in Australia. The music video for “I Talk to the Wind” is similar to the video for “It’s a Fine Day”. It features Kirsty Hawkshaw with her head shaved and dressed in a silvery bodysuit with silver boots and silver make-up.
Said the straight man to the late man Where have you been I’ve been here and I’ve been there And I’ve been in between
I talk to the wind My words are all carried away I talk to the wind The wind does not hear The wind cannot hear
I’m on the outside looking inside What do I see Much confusion, disillusion All around me
I talk to the wind My words are all carried away I talk to the wind The wind does not hear The wind cannot hear
You don’t possess me Don’t impress me Just upset my mind Can’t instruct me or conduct me Just use up my time
I talk to the wind My words are all carried away I talk to the wind The wind does not hear The wind cannot hear
I talk to the wind My words are all carried away I talk to the wind The wind does not hear The wind cannot hear
Said the straight man to the late man Where have you been I’ve been here and I’ve been there and I’ve been in between
AllMusic editor MacKenzie Wilson said that their “crafty version” of King Crimson‘s “I Talk to the Wind” “composes a dreamy synthetic wave.” He also noted Hawkshaw‘s “dove-like vocals transcended into freewheeling soundscapes”. Randy Clark from Cashbox wrote that her “childlike and breathy voice blows through this dance track like a gentle breeze.”Music Week stated that the song “is similar in style” to “It’s a Fine Day”. Sian Pattenden from Smash Hits commented that “the flutes whisper along merrily with the bubbly syntheramic background”.
King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968. They have exerted a strong influence both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and on more recent rock and experimental artists. Although the band has consistently undergone changes in personnel throughout its history, guitarist and primary composer Robert Fripp, the only remaining founding member, has acted as a driving creative force. Though he is often seen as the band’s leader, Fripp himself tends to shun this label. King Crimson has earned a large cult following.
They were ranked No. 87 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Although initially considered a seminal force in progressive rock (a genre originally characterised by lengthy compositions featuring extended instrumental sections), Fripp in particular has often distanced himself from the genre: King Crimson has drawn influence from a wide variety of genres and approaches. Classical music, jazz, folk, heavy metal, gamelan and experimental music have all been reinterpreted and explored by the band, and they have exerted influence on several generations of progressive, psychedelic, alternative metal, hardcore and noise bands and composers.
In 1981, King Crimson reformed with another change in musical direction and instrumentation (incorporating, for the first time, a mixture of British and American personnel plus doubled guitar and influences taken from gamelan, post-punk and New York minimalism). This lasted for three years, resulting in the trio of albums Discipline (1981), Beat (1982) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984). Following a decade-long hiatus, Fripp revived the group as an expanded “Double Trio” sextet in 1994, mingling its mid-‘70s and 1980s approaches with new creative options available via MIDI technology.
This resulted in another three-year cycle of activity including the release of Thrak (1995). King Crimson reunited again in 2000 as a more industrial-oriented quartet (or “Double Duo”), releasing The Construkction of Light in 2000 and The Power to Believe in 2003: after further personnel shuffles, the band expanded to a double-drummer quintet for a 2008 tour celebrating their 40th anniversary.
Following another hiatus between 2009 and 2012, King Crimson reformed once again in 2013; this time as a septet (and, later, octet) with an unusual three-drumkit frontline and the return of saxophone/flute to the lineup for the first time since 1972. This current version of King Crimson has continued to tour and to release live albums, significantly rearranging and reinterpreting music from across the band’s career.
Since 1997, several musicians have pursued aspects of the band’s work and approaches through a series of related bands collectively referred to as ProjeKcts.
King Crimson have been described musically as progressive rock, art rock, and post-progressive, with their earlier works being described as proto-prog. Their music was initially grounded in the rock of the 1960s, especially the acid rock and psychedelic rock movements. The band played Donovan‘s “Get Thy Bearings” in concert, and were known to play the Beatles‘ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in their rehearsals. However, for their own compositions, King Crimson (unlike the rock bands that had come before them) largely stripped away the blues-based foundations of rock music and replaced them with influences derived from classical composers.
The first incarnation of King Crimson played the Mars section of Gustav Holst‘s suite The Planets as a regular part of their live set and Fripp has frequently cited the influence of Béla Bartók. As a result of this influence, In the Court of the Crimson King is frequently viewed as the nominal starting point of the progressive rock movements King Crimson also initially displayed strong jazz influences, most obviously on its signature track “21st Century Schizoid Man“. The band also drew on English folk music for compositions such as “Moonchild” and “I Talk to the Wind.”
The 1981 reunion of the band brought in even more elements, displaying the influence of gamelan music and of late 20th century classical composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley. For its 1994 reunion, King Crimson reassessed both the mid-1970s and 1980s approaches in the light of new technology, intervening music forms such as grunge, and further developments in industrial music, as well as expanding the band’s ambient textural content via Fripp’s Soundscapes looping approach.
Several King Crimson compositional approaches have remained constant from the earliest versions of the band to the present. These include:
The use of a gradually building rhythmic motif. These include “The Devil’s Triangle” (an adaptation and variation on the Gustav Holst piece Mars played by the original King Crimson, based on a complex pulse in 5 4 time over which a skirling melody is played on a Mellotron), 1973’s “The Talking Drum” (from Larks’ Tongues in Aspic), 1984’s “Industry” (from Three of a Perfect Pair) and 2003’s “Dangerous Curves” (from The Power to Believe).
An instrumental piece (often embedded as a break in a song) in which the band plays an ensemble passage of considerable rhythmic and polyrhythmic complexity. An early example is the band’s initial signature tune “21st Century Schizoid Man“, but the “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” series of compositions (as well as pieces of similar intent such as “THRAK” and “Level Five”) go deeper into polyrhythmic complexity, delving into rhythms that wander into and out of general synchronisation with each other, but that all ‘finish’ together through polyrhythmic synchronisation. These polyrhythms were particularly abundant in the band’s 1980s work, which contained gamelan-like rhythmic layers and continual overlaid staccato patterns in counterpoint.
The composition of difficult solo passages for individual instruments, such as the guitar break on “Fracture” on Starless and Bible Black.
The juxtaposition of ornate tunes and ballads with unusual, often dissonant noises (such as “Cirkus” from Lizard, “Ladies of the Road” from Islands and “Eyes Wide Open” from The Power to Believe).
The use of improvisation.
Ascending note structure (e.g. “Facts of Life” and “THRAK”).
“We’re so different from each other that one night someone in the band will play something that the rest of us have never heard before and you just have to listen for a second. Then you react to his statement, usually in a different way than they would expect. It’s the improvisation that makes the group amazing for me. You know, taking chances. There is no format really in which we fall into. We discover things while improvising and if they’re really basically good ideas we try and work them in as new numbers, all the while keeping the improvisation thing alive and continually expanding.”
—King Crimson violinist David Cross on the mid-1970s band’s approach to improvisation.
King Crimson have incorporated improvisation into their performances and studio recordings from the beginning, some of which has been embedded into loosely composed pieces such as “Moonchild” or “THRAK”. Most of the band’s performances over the years have included at least one stand-alone improvisation where the band simply started playing and took the music wherever it went, sometimes including passages of restrained silence, as with Bill Bruford’s contribution to the improvised “Trio”. The earliest example of King Crimson unambiguously improvising is the spacious, oft-criticised extended coda of “Moonchild” from In the Court of the Crimson King.
Rather than using the standard jazz or blues “jamming” format for improvisation (in which one soloist at a time takes centre stage while the rest of the band lies back and plays along with established rhythm and chord changes), King Crimson improvisation is a group affair in which each member of the band is able to make creative decisions and contributions as the music is being played. Individual soloing is largely eschewed; each musician is to listen to each other and to the group sound, to be able to react creatively within the group dynamic. A slightly similar method of continuous improvisation (“everybody solos and nobody solos”) was initially used by King Crimson’s jazz-fusion contemporaries Weather Report. Fripp has used the metaphor of “white magic” to describe this process, in particular when the method works particularly well.
Similarly, King Crimson’s improvised music is rarely jazz or blues-based, and varies so much in sound that the band has been able to release several albums consisting entirely of improvised music, such as the THRaKaTTaK album. Occasionally, particular improvised pieces will be recalled and reworked in different forms at different shows, becoming more and more refined and eventually appearing on official studio releases (the most recent example being “Power to Believe III”, which originally existed as the stage improvisation “Deception of the Thrush”, a piece played on stage for a long time before appearing on record).
King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists. Genesis and Yes were directly influenced by the band’s initial style of symphonic Mellotron rock, and many King Crimson band members were involved in other notable bands: Lake in Emerson, Lake & Palmer (some of whose songs can be regarded stylistically as Lake’s attempt to continue the early work of King Crimson); McDonald in Foreigner; Burrell in Bad Company, and Wetton in U.K. and Asia. Canadian rock band Rush cites King Crimson as a strong early influence on their sound; drummer Neil Peart credited the adventurous and innovative style of Michael Giles on his own approach to percussion.
King Crimson’s influence extends to many bands from diverse genres, especially of the 1990s and 2000s.
Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful? Isn’t she precious? Less than one minute old I never thought through love we’d be Making one as lovely as she But isn’t she lovely made from love?Isn’t she pretty? Truly the angel’s best Boy, I’m so happy We have been Heaven blessed I can’t believe what God has done Through us He’s given life to one But isn’t she lovely made from love?Isn’t she lovely? Life and love are the same Life is Aisha The meaning of her name Londie, it could have not been done Without you who conceived the one That’s so very lovely, made from love, hey!
“Isn’t She Lovely” is a song by Stevie Wonder from his 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life. The lyrics celebrate the birth of his daughter, Aisha Morris. Wonder collaborated on the song with Harlem songwriter and studio owner Burnetta “Bunny” Jones.
The song opens side 3 of Songs in the Key of Life, and starts with a baby’s first cry recorded during an actual childbirth. A recording of Wonder bathing Aisha as an older toddler is brought into the final section of the song, mixed with Wonder’s extended chromatic harmonica solo. All of the instruments heard in the song are played by Wonder, except for Greg Phillinganes on some of the keyboard parts. During the recording process, bassist Nathan Watts laid down a bass guitar line to serve as a guide track for Wonder, but Wonder eventually replaced this with his own keyboard bass performance.
The more-than-six-minute song was not released as a single, as Wonder was unwilling to shorten the song to fit the 7″, 45 rpm format. With consumers demanding a single, Tamla compromised in late 1976, and a promotional version was given to radio stations. This edited version, 3:12 in length, received so much airplay that it reached number 23 on the Adult Contemporary chart in January 1977. Since then, the song has become a jazz and pop standard, covered by many artists.
Wonder performed the song live for Queen Elizabeth II at her Diamond Jubilee Concert on June 4, 2012, with lyrics modified to refer to the Queen.