"Lucky Man" single with Cotillion paper sleeve.
In 1969, Keith Emerson the keyboardist for The Nice and Greg Lake was the bassist for King Crimson. On two separate occasions in 1969, the two bands shared the same venue (the 9th Jazz and Blues Festival on August 10, and Fairfield Halls in Croydon on October 17). After playing a few of the same concerts, Emerson and Lake tried working together and found their styles to be not only compatible, but complementary. They decided to form a band, and sought a drummer. Before eventually settling on Carl Palmer, the two approached Mitch Mitchell, who was uninterested but who passed the idea to Jimi Hendrix. For a time, rumors swirled of a supergroup featuring Hendrix, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and such plans apparently stood a chance of being realized, but Hendrix died before they could join forces. Instead, the band would record their debut album as a trio, with Greg Lake doubling as lead guitarist and bassist. “Emerson, Lake and Palmer”, released in November 1970 on Island Records (King Crimson’s record label), was essentially a collection of solo tracks. Nevertheless, their debut album incorporated many elements that would become part of their signature sound, such as the inclusion of extracts from classical music artists like Bach, Janáček, and Bartók. It also included “Lucky Man”, a song which was released as a single with “Knife Edge” on the B-side. This is today’s featured single.
“Lucky Man” was originally recorded to fill time on side two of the album, at the request of their record company. It was written by Greg Lake for the acoustic guitar when he was twelve years old, and was not well-received by either Emerson or Palmer. However, the two agreed to cooperate on the recording of the track, and it ultimately proved to be one of their most commercial and accessible songs. It employs a relatively simple guitar melody (G-D on the verses, and A-Em-D-Dsus4-D-Dsus2-D on the chorus). The lyrics, not really achieving a Dylanesque level of sublimity, refer to a man who had it all, but gets killed in a war: “He had white Horses/And ladies by the score/All dressed in satin/And waiting by the door/Ooooh, what a lucky man he was”. The result is a rather folksy-sounding ballad that is unlike the other tracks on the album. But the very popularity of this song ensured that ELP would record similar ballads on future albums. The song begins with Lake playing acoustic guitar, but about one and a half minutes in, an electric guitar joins the musical accompaniment. But the pièce de résistance is reserved for the song’s coda, in which Emerson unleashes his Moog synthesizer, and delivers a superb keyboard solo, the third layer of the musical wall of sound created by ELP here. “Lucky Man” would become one of ELP’s signature tunes, one of their most popular songs, and reached #48 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
One of the picture sleeves issued with the "Lucky Man" single.
The B-side of this single, “Knife Edge”, is probably the second best-known song from ELP’s debut album. It opens with three chords, then leaves Lake on bass (with a standard G-D-A-E tuning) unaccompanied on the verses, with the dam bursting on the chorus (with Emerson’s keyboard playing a prominent role). The song’s lyrics depict a man on the verge of a mental breakdown: “Just a step cried the sad man/Take a look down at the madman/Theatre kings on silver wings/Fly beyond reason”. The song’s melody complements these lyrics well, conveying a dark atmosphere, and shifting expertly between the quiet parts and the louder parts, mirroring a shift in the main protagonist’s mind between calm and disquietude. There is a bridge section in this song that begins about two and a half minutes into the track which incorporates themes from classical music, before the final verse and the coda (which incorporates a turntable-coming-unplugged finale). On this track more than on any track on the first album, ELP comes closest to realizing the potential of the heady art rock they were forging, and thus “Knife Edge” stands out as the outstanding achievement of the band’s first long player.
The single (U.S. catalog #: 45-44106) was issued on Island Records in the U.K. and Cotillion Records in the U.S. (as shown in the accompanying photo). In some countries, the single was issued with a picture sleeve (one such picture sleeve is also shown in an accompanying photo). The success of “Lucky Man” was only the beginning of a fertile period for Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a period which saw the release of four studio albums (“Tarkus”, “Trilogy”, and “Brain Salad Surgery”, in addition to the debut album) and two live albums (1971’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and 1974’s “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends”). Emerson, Lake and Palmer became practitioners of the sub-genre of symphonic rock. After the release of “Welcome Back My Friends”, ELP took a 3-year hiatus to reinvent its music, but in the meantime they lost touch with the changing music scene. Their last studio album of the 1970s, “Love Beach” (1978) was a commercial and critical disappointment (even the band admitted it was only released to fulfill a contractual obligation), although it did eventually go gold. In the early 1980s, Carl Palmer joined the supergroup Asia (“Heat of the Moment”, “Only Time Will Tell”). When Emerson and Lake decided to reform ELP, Palmer declined, and they recruited ex-Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell. This lineup released one moderately successful album, “Emerson, Lake and Powell” (1986). Keith Emerson and Greg Lake ended their short-lived reunion after the supporting tour. Emerson next formed the band 3 with Robert Berry taking Lake’s place on bass, this time bringing Palmer back into the fold. The resulting album, “To the Power of Three”, was largely unsuccessful, and 3 soon folded. In 1992, Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunited and issued and album, “Black Moon” (1992). Their 1992/1993 world tours were successful, and the band issued a follow-up album, “In the Hot Seat” (1994). The band toured worldwide in 1996, 1997 and 1998, but in significantly smaller venues than the ones in which they had previously played. The band has not toured since 1998, nor have they released any new material since 1994, but rumors of an upcoming tour have surfaced. The band will play a one-off fortieth anniversary reunion concert at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park on July 25, 2010.