Lee Speaks About Music… #26

In The Court Of The Crimson King (40th Anniversary CD/DVD Edition) – King CrimsonKC - ITCOKC

Introduction…

Back in October 1969 the band King Crimson unleashed an album that was perhaps the biggest ever influence in the world of Progressive Rock music. The album In The Court Of The Crimson King certainly made its mark and changed the style and direction many bands were soon to follow suit, more so than before when it was released. Even the band Genesis were that impressed that they even brought one of the 3 Mellotron’s they owned a couple of years later. Progressive Rock was to become for many the new in thing back in its day and the blues went out of the window.

The band was originally conceived in November 1968 and was born on January 13th 1969 in the Fulham Palace Cafe in London. From then on everything came together very quickly but not without the many problems that was to confront them along the way.

They first set out playing a few gigs around Newcastle under the name of Giles, Giles & Fripp and made their first debut gig under the name of King Crimson at the Speakeasy in April 1969 and from then on word soon spread it’s way around about the band.

Within no time at all they was invited by radio DJ John Peel to record a live session at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio’s. A few days later Jimi Hendrix seen the band play at the Revolution Club and declared they was the best band in the world. But Island Records A&R boss Muff Windwood was totally unimpressed by the band and said they reminded him of The Tremeloes.

Between April and June of 1969 the band set out to make their debut album and were given one of the top renowned producers to help them make it. None other than The Moody Blues producer Tony Clark. During the days spent in the studio and playing live gigs the band decided they was not happy with how the album was going and decided they wanted to produce the album themselves.

In the following month on July 5th 1969 King Crimson supported the Rolling Stones at London’s Hyde Park. Where they opened up their set with “21st Century Schizoid Man“. They also played another couple of the songs that was eventually going to be featured on their debut album “The Court of the Crimson King” and “Epitaph“.

On the 21st July 1969 the band decided it was time to have another go at recording their debut album after 2 failed attempts with Clark and walked into Wessex Sound Studios in London to start work on it for the 3rd time and go it alone. On the 10th October their debut album was released and King Crimson had stamped their mark on the world of progressive rock.

Despite mixed reviews of the album it reached number 5 in the UK Album Charts and 28 in America and was certified Gold in both countries. Though the album was only ever a second generation corrected copy due to a misalignment of the tape heads during the mixdown process. Resulting in the loss of high frequencies which had thrown some distortion into the mix.

Things did not help when they had lost the original 1″ 8 Channel Master Reel at the same time which meant that all releases afterwards on vinyl, cassette and CD were only ever 2nd and 3rd generation copies and throughout the 80’s and 90’s most reissues of the album was very poor quality copies that were several generations removed from the stereo sub-master tape.

However the original master tape was found in 2003 and in the following year 2004 Fripp released it on his own record label Discipline Global Mobile on CD stating the recording was from the original master which had a way better recording of the album and was also done with a 24 bit recording too.

The 40th Anniversary Edition Release…

In October 2009 Robert Fripp collaborated with Steven Wilson to work on what was going to be the 40th Anniversary release of the album. For the first time they was now able to make a 5.1 release from the original master tape that was rediscovered back in 2003. The 40th Anniversary Editions were released in 3 different editions on the 23rd November 2009.

The releases consisted of a 2 CD edition that featured a new stereo remaster and Wilson mix of the album. A CD/DVD edition featuring the new remastered CD and a DVD that contained the 5.1 mix and a lot more bonus material. And they even released a 6 disc box set containing 5 CD’s and 1 DVD.

I myself have only this year finally decided to update my King Crimson collection and I have to confess the £393 price tag for the 6 disc box set was way out of my reach :)))))) So I settled for the CD/DVD Edition to which I got from Amazon at a more respectable price of £14.94p.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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All of these new CD/DVD Anniversary releases very much are constructed in the same way and come in a box to store the slipcase that holds the discs. The box to be honest is better constructed with the cardboard they used to make it with and they only used one thicker layer of cardboard to make it with.

The slipcase on the other is constructed out of 2 thin pieces of cardboard glued together to make it look a bit thicker. It’s very light and not as sturdily made. So it has been made on the cheap, but never the less does a reasonable job.

The printed artwork is also very light in texture and on the picture I have on display here of the package I have toned it down to look better and it does in fact look better here than it is on the package I have to say. The actual artwork on the CD labels are that light it looks as if it’s been printed on very thin paper and not the best at all.

It also comes with a very informative booklet that details very well the time the album was made and all the problems that they was confronted with regarding the original recording and how the master tape got lost. It also contains a lot of info about the band and how quickly everything was coming together for the band in 1969 as well as the collaboration with Fripp and Wilson working on the new 40th Anniversary releases.

The Artwork.

It was the bands lyric writer Peter Sinfield’s mate Barry Godber who painted the original artwork. Barry had hung around with band ever since the beginning in 1968 and watched them rehearse many times and was a fan. Robert Fripp was well impressed by his artwork and decided to use it for the album cover. Sadly not long after the album was released in October 1969. Barry died of an heart attack in February 1970 at the young age of 24.

Early Thoughts…

I have to confess that I was never into King Crimson back in the 70’s and I felt that they just made a noise more than anything else with what little I got to hear of them back then. It took another good couple of decades for me to appreciate them, and it was not until the very late 90’s that I first got into them.

My first encounter with them was through a mate of mine I had known for years. We both shared the same interest in music and he too like me was never into King Crimson either. It was in mid 90’s that we both had changed our stereo set ups and got into the world of 5.1 surround sound. Back in them days there was not a lot you could really buy in 5.1 especially for the likes of us who both were into more of your rock and prog rock music which was not the most popular music to get released in 5.1.

So the both of us would quite often end up buying some band or artist we had never been into before, just to see how good the 5.1 mix sounded.

I myself remember buying the band Metallica who I was never into but they had released a live concert on DVD in 5.1 which also had multiple angles on it as well, so you could use your remote to view the concert in different angles. The DVD was called Cunning Stunts. It actually came with 2 DVD’s for about £24 at the time I brought it, and I have to confess the material they played on the 1st DVD never impressed me one bit and I hated it.

Though it did sound very good in 5.1 and the multiple angles were a nice touch and novelty at the time. So was the explosions (LOL) I liked the 2nd DVD better which had “Enter Sandman” on and a few of other songs on there. But there was nothing on it that enticed me to actually go out and buy an album of theirs though, and I never have either.

It was actually at my mates Steve’s house I got to see a new DVD he had brought at the time by King Crimson called Deja Vroom. They released in 1999. I watched the whole live show at his house and boy was I blown away. The 5.1 was mind blowing on it and to see both Tony Levin and Trey Gunn play “Elephant Talk” on Chapman Sticks blew me away. The very next day I went into town and brought the DVD myself from HMV for about £18. Still to this day I love it.

In the following year I brought a couple of their albums starting with Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Discipline. Then in 2003 they released another live DVD Eyes Wide Open which contained 2 DVD’s. I got it at a cheap price too of £12 and the 1st DVD was of them playing live in Japan and was in 5.1. The 2nd DVD was in Dolby Prologic only which means the rear speaker was in mono only. That concert was of them playing live at Shepherds Bush in London. I was blown away once again by both the mixes and concerts that after that I went out and brought their 2002 album The Power to Believe and eventually brought their entire back catalogue of albums.

I do have to confess though that I was never impressed by both the albums Lizard and Islands and they said very little too me. To be honest I have not played them that much at all and shall have to have another listen to them again now, to see if they speak more to me these days. If they do not those albums I will not be buying again even if they do come now with 5.1 mixes.

In The Court Of The Crimson King (40th Anniversary CD/DVD) Review…

I have to say that I am most impressed with everything that comes in this 40th Anniversary Edition of the bands 1969 debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King. You certainly get your money’s worth with the quality that has been put on the both discs. But even though the packaging may be on the cheap side, the contents are certainly not.

The CD.

The CD contains a new stereo remaster of the original 1969 master tape and I have to say it sounds excellent and leaves my old CD in the dust I am afraid regarding the sound quality. Though there is in fact a change to the track “Moonchild” which was originally 12 minutes 15 seconds long to which after a lengthy discussion between Fripp and Wilson it was decided that it should be edited down to the 9 minute mark. But no fear because the original full version is included as one of the bonus tracks on the CD.

CD Bonus Tracks.

Besides the 5 album tracks you get 5 bonus tracks and the CD comes with a total playing time of  78 minutes 11 seconds. Besides the full version of “Moonchild” I already mentioned there are 2 alternative versions of “I Talk To The Wind“. The first one is an instrumental Duo version featuring just Robert Fripp on acoustic guitar and Ian McDonald on flute. The 2nd version is just an alternative mix and is half a minute longer than the original.

You also get an instrumental backing track version of “Epitaph” you can sing along too and finally a track entitled “Wind Session” which is just them messing about with a motor car :))))))))))) and was used as the intro of “21st Century Schizoid Man“. Overall apart from the last bonus track “Wind Session” they are very worthy.

The DVD.

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The DVD menu is pretty straightforward to get around and it does come with some nice animation upon loading to the main menu. Though when playing the album tracks we just get to see the album cover rather than any moving slideshows or animations. But Barry Godber’s artwork is perhaps all one really needs as he done such an incredible job of it.

The DVD comes with a lot of extra bonus features just like we seen on the new definitive editions of the Yes albums Steve Wilson was also involved in. Besides the 5.1 mix (I will discuss later) of the album we get a new 2009 stereo remix of the original album tracks, mixed and produced by both Steve Wilson & Robert Fripp. They also included the original 24 bit original master from 2004 on here as well.

You also get all the bonus tracks that were included on the CD and an Alternative Album which is made up of an instrumental version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” a studio run through of “I Talk To The Wind“. An alternative version of “Epitaph“. A Take 1 version of “Moonchild” and “The Court Of The Crimson King (Take 3)

All of these extras come with a choice of 2 stereo high end audio formats one of which is  LPCM 24/48 and the other is an MLP Lossless 24/96 audio format. So very high quality all the way here I have to say.

Also on the DVD there is a short bit of video footage shot in black & white of the band playing “21st Century Schizoid Man” at Hyde Park in 1969. You get to see the band do the 1st verse of the song and both film footage and the audio is dreadful I have to say. No doubt a bit of nostalgia for you and trust me it is a bit as well (LOL).

The 5.1 Mix.

I have to say that I was well surprised how superb the 5.1 mixes are on these 40th Anniversary releases. I have 6 of them now so far in total and they all blow me away with how well they have been done. To be perfectly honest knowing that Steve Wilson was involved in them I did not expect them to be this good especially having heard the 5.1 mixes on both the live DVD concert releases of Deja Vroom and Eyes Wide Open.

Do not get me wrong here because Wilson does very well detailed 5.1 mixes. But has a rule he never goes over the top with them, and to get anywhere near some of my favoured engineers in this field of 5.1 mixes and to match the quality of the 5.1 mixes that were on both of those DVD’s I mentioned. You are without a doubt going to have to be more adventurous to some degree, and this is something I very rarely if ever have heard on any Steve Wilson 5.1 mix. His best 5.1 mixes to date that I have heard would of had to have been on those new definitive editions of the Yes albums he done.

But Steve Wilson was not the only guy involved in the 5.1 mixes we get here on these King Crimson releases. They was also produced by Robert Fripp himself. Though Fripp claims that on most days Wilson had already done 85% of the work on most of the mixes by the time he got to the office. I do feel that Fripp would of threw in some suggestions of his own regarding the some of the way the instruments were panned to stand out and be effective and stand remarkably so well as they do.

These 5.1 mixes are without doubt as good as the 5.1 mixes done on those both DVD’s from years ago, and they stand out a mile in relation to a lot of the mixes Wilson has ever been involved in. To put it in a nutshell. They are purely Fantastic and leave the stereo mix way behind the times.

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According to the booklet the 5.1 mixes come in the form of a DTS 24/48 5.1 surround mix and an MLP 24/48 Lossless 5.1 surround mix. Though the latter according to the disc is a 24/48 LPCM Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix as you can see by the picture above. But I am not complaining one bit, they are both stunning.

Musicians & Credits…

Produced by King Crimson For E.G. Productions David & John. Cover by Barry Godber. Equipment by Vick & Dik. Recorded at Wessex Sound Studios, London. Engineer Robin Thompson. Assistant Engineer Tony Page.

Personnel:

Robert Fripp: Guitars.
Ian McDonald: Reeds/Woodwind/Vibes/Keyboards/ Mellotron/Vocals.
Greg Lake: Bass Guitar/Lead Vocals.
Michael Giles: Drums/Percussion/Vocals.
Peter Sinfield: Words & Illustration.

The Original Album Tracks Review…

The original album In the Court Of The Crimson King was released on the 10th October 1969 and contained 5 tracks over a playing time of just under 44 minutes. Though the bands debut album was perhaps not the first we ever heard regarding progressive rock and certainly not the birth of prog rock has Fripp and many others would describe it. There is no doubt that it is in fact the first album to perhaps feature an album’s worth of it, when you look at the written material that is upon it.

Track 1. 21st Century Schizoid Man.

The opening song “21st Century Schizoid Man” perhaps gave many of their fans something to rave about and it is without doubt the most uptempo track on the album with it being played at quite a fast pace. Sinfield’s lyrics are written very much in a poetic way and perhaps describing the mayhem of how things will be so drastically bad in the future, by looking at how things are developing in the present. The Vietnam War in particular is perhaps the subject matter of the Schizo here.

They are only really clever in the way that many people can make out many different interpretations about them which is a good thing. But as one cannot see into the future they can also be entirely meaningless and proven to be wrong or over exaggerated with some of the interpretations that I have came across. But no doubt they suit the frenzy of the music and are a change from hearing the same old “I Love You” garbage that tends to be found in the biggest majority of pop music.

Musically there is a ton of things going on here and its far from anything easy to play either. There is a load of progression in here with how the song changes its pattern, shape, and direction. Different time signatures of 4/4 and 6/8 mainly and the ending of the song played in free time. A lot of fusion as been thrown into the diversity and the pot. It blends and lends styles of rock and jazz to make it what it is, and no doubt this is progressive rock.

To be perfectly honest this song was never a favourite of mine and it was all a bit too bizarre for my personal taste. I have never been that fond of brass either and that jazz element would of certainly been the thing that threw my off the song. But as one gets older and listens more closely to what is contained in all the bizarre frenzy we have here, you get to analyse everything that is going on and strip it down to what every instrument is playing.

The most complex work on this track is without a doubt played by the bass and drums. To be honest I never seen Greg Lake as a really great player of the bass. But the bass on this song is something else and is superbly done. It’s also hard to believe he actually played it. His voice is far more meeker than this too, and here distortion has been applied to give it more of an harder edge.

Michael Giles is working his butt off on the drums. Ian McDonald’s Alto Sax also does the business on the track too. No doubt Robert Fripp is working his guitar very well into the track, though this is not really a guitar piece at all, and the lead lines are far from anything complicated or interesting and nothing to really write home about either. But no doubt he is a very good guitar player all the same.

There is no doubt that the band Gong may have been influenced by this song especially in some of the sections in the lead break from 4 minutes onwards. I also feel that it opened up the path for a lot of jazz fusion bands too and no doubt they was heavily influenced by this one.

I have to admit I have a lot more respect and like “21st Century Schizoid Man” a lot more than I ever did when I first brought this album. But for me personally I still do not see this one as a contender for the top spot on the album. But that is perhaps down to my own personal taste more than anything else. But no doubt the music is very well structured and it may even be the most complex track on the whole of the album.

Track 2. I Talk To The Wind.

Now this one is much more to my own preferred taste with the beautiful melancholic side of prog rock. It’s more like the Canterbury side of things we got with bands like Genesis a bit later on. Though I am more into early Genesis with what they gave to the world of prog rock, there is no way that Peter Gabriel is a match for Ian McDonald on the flute I will say. The combination of McDonald’s flute and clarinet on this song is pure bliss.

The music is no doubt classically inspired and is very peaceful and serene almost too nice. Lake’s voice on this song is where it works the best with his more meeker, milder and softer side. McDonald also backs him up on the backing vocals on this one too. The combination of the whole band work so well here.

The song was originally written in 1968 when Fripp was playing with the both Giles brothers. They also did a version with Judy Dyble who had not long left Fairport Convention. Though it was more developed and had a lot better arrangement for their debut album.

I have to confess that there are 3 songs on this album that could merit the top spot award. If anything “I Talk To The Wind” is the least complexed song of them all. But it’s beauty is what hits my personal spot and for that reason “I Talk To The Wind” is my personal favourite track on the album and merits the Top Spot Award.

Though it was a most difficult decision to make, and the other two contenders are without a doubt sheer class just like this song.

Track 3. Epitaph.

Once again Sinfield’s lyrics are embarking on the current war in Vietnam around the time and he would of got the idea from looking at gravestones to inspire the lyrical content we have here. In many ways the lyrics are cryptic and some people even see them as some kind of prophecy of things that was to come.

But in all honestly the fact that the world has never really changed that much and was more of a thing that is bound to have carried on, rather than be any futuristic prophecy in reality rather than what people are trying to make it out to be. Never the less these are once again great lyrics and ones that many politicians should adhere too before they make stupid decisions.

Epitaph” is quite dramatic with how it’s put across. Greg Lake sings it with great conviction. Ian McDonald spent hours recording many of his woodwind instruments into the mellotron to give the strings the great orchestral sound he played on the mellotron on the song. Robert Fripp’s acoustic and electric guitars also feature very well throughout the track. It’s very much one of my contenders for the top spot on the album.

Track 4. Moonchild.

The longest track on the album, and for this review I am taking onboard the full version and not the edited down version that Fripp decided to use for the main album track on this release. It’s perhaps my least favourite track on the album even though it does have a bit of charm about it. It’s perhaps too much like a dreamlike fairytale in reality.

Musically it’s perhaps more of a percussion and vibe thing than anything else, and vocally it does not seem to go hardly anywhere with what little content we do have here. It’s also perhaps more avant garde than prog rock as well and is not the best of improvisations with what they are exactly doing here. It lacks a lot of ideas and not a great deal of thought and attention has been put into it I am afraid.

No doubt in my mind it’s the weakest spot on the album and they would of been better off doing the Donovan cover of “Get Thy Bearings” instead that the band used to play at their live shows.

Track 5. The Court Of The Crimson King.

The albums title track is much more like it and here we have great well structured melodies and progression along its path. It’s also has another great dramatic approach to it. For me personally it’s my favourite structured piece on the album and very much an high contender for the top spot on the album. No doubt we have a classic here.

The song features lots of great mellotron from McDonald as well as some lovely flute from him too. Some fine guitar work from Fripp. Fine bass and vocals from Lake and Giles makes it up very well on the drums and percussion. It ends the album off superbly even down to where it goes down and comes back in for an encore.

Summary…

To sum up the 40th Anniversary Edition of In the Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson. Both the remastered CD and 5.1 mix on the DVD are top draw for sound quality. Personally I do not think a lot of the earlier versions are gonna match the quality we have here, and as for the 5.1 mix they simply do not have chance of either. The bonus material is also really good, and for money it is without a doubt well worthy of buying again.

For surround freaks like myself I would say it’s a must. But even if you’re not both CD and the high end quality of material on DVD in stereo are the bees knees. You simply cannot go wrong with everything it has to offer here.

King Crimson as a band could never hold a permanent line up unfortunately and this was Greg Lake’s only album he appeared on and left to join ELP afterwards. Though that statement is not strictly true because before he left he agreed to record his vocals for their 2nd album In The Wake of Poseidon to which features Lake singing on all the tracks bar one. He did so in exchange for some PA Equipment.

Just before Lake left in 1970 both Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left to form their own band late 1969 during the bands first American tour. Though Giles did play all the drums on their 2nd album he was only credited as a session player and no longer a band member. McDonald went into session playing and in 1976 formed the rock band Foreigner.

Conclusion…

In the Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson certainly made its mark and was a great debut album, though I would not say it was a solid album with all the material that was put on it. But never the less it’s not that far off being one and for me personally it’s only really one track here that lets the album down if anything.

The band has gone through many line up changes and incarnations throughout their entire career, but never the less Robert Fripp has brought in the right musicians to make it work and be successful as they went along. The band had loads more to offer has they went along too, and their first two albums they made have always been amongst my favourites throughout their entire career.

King Crimson may not be a band for everyone’s taste, and many would regard a lot of their music as noise. I certainly do not think they was at this early stage of their career, and the noise they made later, still had something lying deep beneath its surface with all the excellent musicians they brought in.

It’s very much a band you should never write off after hearing them once. They make music you have to grow into, and once you have you will get to see the finer side of the quality they have always had in the band regarding the many musicians who have played within it.

The Wind Cannot Hear…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. 21st Century Schizoid Man. 7:24.
02. I Talk To The Wind. 6:00.
03. Epitaph. 8:52.
04. Moonchild. 9:02.
05. The Court Of The Crimson King. 9:31.
06. Moonchild [*][Full Version]. 12:15.
07. I Talk To The Wind [*][Alternate Take][Duo Version]. 4:55.
08. I Talk To The Wind [*][Alternate Mix][Alternate Take]. 6:36.
09. Epitaph [*][Backing Track][Instrumental]. 9:05.
10. Wind Session [*]. 4:31.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 7/10

The Bonus Tracks Rating Score. 9/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 10/10.

The Original Album Rating Score. 8/10.

4 thoughts on “Lee Speaks About Music… #26

  1. I know this album well and my favorite tracks are “Schizoid man” and “I talk to the wind”, a most beautiful ballad. Very interesting, that you think it has influenced Gong. Which album of Gong do you mean? I am just familiar with the debut and Espresso II. Back to King Crimson I think they were most accessible on their first album and stepped later into more jazzy and dissonant areas not suitable for the many listeners. They published a lot of daring music and were not so focused on “Give the fans what they want and sound nice” like YES and other Prog-Giants.

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    • It would be on the Gongs Flying Teapot album when Steve Hillage had joined the band. You will also hear it on Hillage’s debut album Fish Rising as well. There is that sporadic jazz fusion parts just like you can hear in the solo section on “Schizoid Man”. I also would say that King Crimsons 2nd album was also very accessible just like the their debut album was. I would even say the 2nd album they made was more of a solid album than their debut album as well.

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      • I don’t know the Flying Teapot album (funny title btw) You mean “In the wake of Poseidon”? I have not listened a lot to that album, but I remember it sounding as a copy of the first one, but not a s strong. I will give it another try

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  2. In the wake of Poseidon is the one indeed and it’s an excellent album. Some of the tracks even have the same melancholy that was on the first album and despite most of the band leaving after the first album both Greg Lake and Michael Giles are still very much on it.

    To be honest even though I would say that Ian McDonald was by far the greatest musician and main writer of the material that was on their 1st album. The 2nd album still manages to work so well without him.

    All the music on the 2nd album was written by Fripp apart from “The Devil Triangle” which in reality is Holst’s Mars from The Planets that both Fripp and McDonald arranged.

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