Classic Album: Emerson, Lake and Palmer-Brain Salad Surgery.

When the time came for Emerson, Lake and Palmer to record their fourth album, Brain Salad Surgery, the trio were determined to record an album that they could replicate live. That hadn’t been the case with their their three previous albums. Something had to change and Brain Salad Surgery marked the start of a new era for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Their career career began  in 1970.

The Emerson, Lake and Palmer story begins in 1970. That was the year Emerson, Lake and Palmer was founded and they released their eponymous debut album.

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake first met at the Filimore West, in San Francisco. Both of them were at a musical crossroads. Keith was a member of The Nice, while Greg was a member of King Crimson. Nether of them felt fulfilled musically and decided to form a new band. 

This new band would feature Keith on keyboards, Greg on bass and a drummer. Their first choice for a drummer was Mitch Mitchell, who was without a band, after The Jimi Hendrix Experience split-up. They agreed to jam together and then the music press heard about this jam session. 

Rumours started doing the rounds that Jimi Hendrix was going to join this new supergroup. That put an end to the jam session which never took place. Jimi Hendrix had never been asked to join the supergroup. Mitch Mitchell meanwhile, lost interest in the project. This presented a problem. Keith and Greg still didn’t have a drummer. Then Robert Stigwood, who was then the manager of Cream, suggested Carl Palmer’s name.

Carl Palmer was another experienced musician. He had previously been a member of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and at that time, was a member of Atomic Rooster.  When  Carl was approached he was at first, reluctant to leave Atomic Rooster, which he had cofounded. However, when he spoke to Keith and Greg he realised that he could be part of something special. 

Having left Atomic Rooster, he became the third member of the newly formed supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They made their debut at The Guildhall, Plymouth, on 23rd August 1970. Then on 26th August 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer stole the show at the Isle Of Wight Festival. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer being offered a recording contract by Atlantic Records.

Ahmet Ertegün the President of Atlantic Records realised the potential in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Here was a band who wouldn’t just sell a huge amount of records, but could fill huge venues. So, not long after signing Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Ahmet Ertegün sent them into Advision Studios, London.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

At  Advision Studios, Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded ten tracks. They became Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Although this was meant to be the birth of a supergroup, the ten tracks on Emerson, Lake and Palmer came across as a series of solo pieces. However, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were a new band, who had just recorded an eclectic and innovative album.

Although many people refer to Emerson, Lake and Palmer as progressive rock band, they’re much more than that. Their music is eclectic. They draw inspiration from a variety of sources.  This includes classical, folk rock, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Some of the music is futuristic. That’s in part to Keith Emerson’s use of the Moog synth. The result was a pioneering, innovative album that would launch Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s career.

When critics heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer, they hailed the album as innovative and influential. On its release  in the UK in October 1970, i Emerson, Lake and Palmer reached number four. Three months later, on New Year’s Day 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer was released in the US. It reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Ahmet Ertegün, the President of Atlantic Records had been vindicated. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were on their way to becoming rock royalty.



It was a case of striking when the iron was hot for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They returned to  Advision Studios, in London to record what became their sophomore album Tarkus. It was much more of a “band” album. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were now a tight, musical unit. This was very different from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was more like an album of solo pieces. Tarkus saw the birth of Emerson, Lake and Palmer as one of the giants of s progressive rock.

Tarkus was released in June 1971. That wasn’t originally the plan. Instead, Pictures At An Exhibition was meant to be Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s sophomore album. This was a live album which was recorded in March 1971. It saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer interpret Modest Mussorgsky’s opus Pictures At An Exhibition. it was a groundbreaking album. There was a problem though. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s management didn’t agree. They weren’t sure that what essentially a interpretation of a classical suite was the direction Emerson, Lake and Palmer should be heading. So, Tarkus became the followup to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

On its release in June 1971, critics realised that Tarkus marked a much more united Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were well on the way to finding their trademark sound. Gone were ballads and jazz-tinged tracks. Instead, it was prog rock all the way. Record buyers loved Tarkus. It reached number one in the UK. Over the Atlantic, Tarkus reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Following the commercial success of Tarkus, Pictures At An Exhibition was released later in 1971.


Pictures At An Exhibition.

Three months before the release of Tarkus, Emerson, Lake and Palmer arrived at Newcastle City Hall, in Newcastle, England on the 26th March 1971. They were about to record their first live album, Pictures At An Exhibition. This was no ordinary live album.

Instead, Emerson, Lake and Palmer had decided to adapt Russian classical composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. This was one of the first times classical music had been adapted by a rock band.  That night in Newcastle, just four of the original ten pieces in Mussorgsky’s suite, along with the linking Promenade were recorded, They  were performed live as one continuous piece, with new parts written by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. These new parts linked Mussorgsky’s original themes, which Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s played with enthusiasm and energy. Despite this, Pictures At An Exhibition was nearly never released.

It seemed that Pictures At An Exhibition was fated. Problems with their management meant that Pictures At An Exhibition’s release was delayed.  It wouldn’t be until November 1971 the album was released. However, at one point it looked as if Pictures At An Exhibition wouldn’t be released. Atlantic Records were reluctant to release what was essentially a classical suite as an album. This they feared, wouldn’t sell well. So the project was put on the back burner, Suddenly, it looked unlikely that Pictures At An Exhibition would be released. That was until Tarkus was certified gold in America. All of a sudden, Atlantic had a change of heart,

Rather than release Pictures At An Exhibition on the main Atlantic label, a decision was made to release the album as a budget priced album. Atlantic Records it seemed were hedging their bets. That seemed a wise move when the reviews were mixed. Rolling Stone magazine was far from impressed with Pictures At An Exhibition. Neither was the self styled Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, Despite this, Pictures At An Exhibition sold well.

When Pictures At An Exhibition was released in November 1971, it reached number three in the UK. In America, Pictures At An Exhibition reached number ten in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s third consecutive gold album. A year later, three became four.

Pictures At An Exhibition was released as a budget priced album in November 1971. It reached number three in the UK. In America, Pictures At An Exhibition reached number ten in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s third consecutive gold album. A year later, three became four.



Just like previous albums, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were determined to push musical boundaries on Trilogy, their third studio album. Just like their two previous albums, Trilogy was recorded at Advision Studios, London. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at their innovative best, recording  progressive rock, but with a twist. 

An example of this was the inclusion of Abaddon’s Bolero on Trilogy. Rather than the usual 3/4 rhythm a Bolero would have, it was turned into a march by using a 4/4 rhythm. Emerson, Lake and Palmer also pioneered the beating heart sound on Trilogy. Pink Floyd would use it to such good effect on Dark Side Of The Moon. So would Jethro Tull on A Passion Play and Queen on Queen II. This sound was first heard on Endless Enigma Part One. It came courtesy of Carl Palmer’s Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal. Once again, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were demonstrating that they were one of the most innovative progressive rock bands. Their efforts were rewarded.

On its release in January 1972, Trilogy reached number two in the US. As usual, Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoyed more success in the US. Trilogy reached number five in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in another gold disc for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Things were about to get better for Emerson, Lake and Palmer though.


Of the three previous studio albums Emerson, Lake and Palmer had recorded, they complex, innovative, genre-melting affairs. Emerson, Lake and Palmer embraced the latest technology in what seemed like their quest for musical perfection. They also made use of overdubbing. This made their music difficult to replicate live. The band always felt they came up short live. So Emerson, Lake and Palmer set about recording an album they could replicate accurately live. This was Brain Surgery Salad

Brian Surgery Salad.

Recording of Brian Surgery Salad took place between June and September 1973. Brain Salad Surgery was a fusion of progressive rock and classical music. This is obvious straight away. 

Emerson, Lake and Palmer adapted  William Blake and Hubert Parry’s hymn Jerusalem and then Alberto Ginastera’s Toccata. Greg Lake wrote Still…You Turn Me On and then cowrote Benny The Bouncer and Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression with Keith Emerson and Peter Sinfield, one of the founding members of King Crimson. Keith Emerson penned Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression and cowrote Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 1 with Greg Lake also penned Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 1. These tracks were brought to life by Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their inventive best.

On Brain Salad Surgery, Keith Emerson played Hammond organ, piano, accordion and a myriad of synths. Greg Lake took charge of vocals, acoustic, electric, and twelve-string guitars. He also played bass guitar. Carl Palmer played drums, percussion, percussion synthesizers, gongs and timpani. Greg Lake produced Brian Surgery Salad, which was released in November 1973.

When Brain Salad Surgery, was released in November 1973, it became Emerson, Lake and Palmer most successful album. It reached number two in the UK and number eleven in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in two more gold discs to add to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s collection. They were well deserved though.

There’s no doubt that Brain Salad Surgery was the finest hour of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s four album career. Brian Surgery Salad featured Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their tightest and loudest. Here was a tight, visionary band fusing progressive rock, jazz and classical music. It was an ambitious, powerhouse of an album. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at the peak of their creative powers.

This was obvious from the get-go. Brian Surgery Salad begins with the reinvention of Jerusalem and Toccata. Jerusalem becomes a dramatic marriage of electronics and rock, before heading back to its religious roots. However, Emerson, Lake and Palmer can’t resist the theatre and the track becomes almost wonderfully overblown. This continues on Toccata, another dramatic fusion of rock and electronics. It’s grandiose, futuristic, dramatic and features progressive rock royalty at their visionary best. How many groups would have had the vision and bravery to open an album with a take on a hymn and then a classical piece? After that, Emerson, Lake and Palmer change tack.

Still You Turn Me On is a beautiful, heartfelt, soul-baring ballad. It’s reminiscent of Pink Floyd and shows another side to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This was absent on Trilogy and makes a welcome return on Brain Salad Surgery. 

Very different is Benny The Bouncer. It shows that Emerson, Lake and Palmer have a sense of humour. A fusion of vaudeville, pomp rock and pub rock, it teaches you to expect the unexpected as far as Emerson, Lake and Palmer are concerned.

The centrepiece of Brain Salad Surgery is Karn Evil. It’s four separate pieces that make up an prog rock epic. Originally, Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 1 and 2 were meant to be one song. The time limits of vinyl put paid to that. So, the song became two parts. 

Emerson, Lake and Palmer kick loose from the get-go. They produce a virtuoso permanence, combining drama with flamboyance to create a progressive rock powerhouse. Crucial to the song’s success are the bleak lyrics and Greg’s vocal. It’s that’s an outpouring of despair and disbelief. Then there’s a series of musical masterclasses. Keith pounds at his Hammond organ as if in frustration, while Greg Lake seems to have tapped into the spirit of Hendrix. His performance is otherworldly. So is the music. It’s sometimes futuristic, with a dramatic 21st Century sound. As for Carl Palmer, he won’t be outdone and adds a thunderous heartbeat. The result is a thirteen minute epic, that showcases Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their inventive, innovative best.

There’s another change in style on Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression. It sees Emerson, Lake and Palmer turn their back on the progressive, sci-fi rocky sound. It’s replaced by a seven minute jazz instrumental. Emerson, Lake and Palmer manage to make this work. They’re versatile and talented musicians who are just as happy playing jazz as rock. Later, they take a detour via Latin and rock music, as they showcase their versatility and undeniable talent.

Gone is the jazz of the previous track on Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression, which loses Brain Salad Surgery. It sees a return to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s usual prog rock sound. It’s as if everything was building up to this track. Banks of synths and the distorted  bass play important parts. Their raison d’être us providing a backdrop for Greg’s powerhouse of a vocal. Again, the lyrics are bleak. He’s like a seer, whose seen the future and doesn’t like it. Dread and despair fills his vocal, at what the future holds. Effects are added to the vocal, as if someone is trying to silence Greg during a track that’s a potent mixture of drama, emotion, music and theatre. 

Brain Salad Surgery is a window into the inventive and innovative world of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Throughout Brain Salad Surgery. Emerson, Lake and Palmer take the tracks in a variety of directions. Sometimes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer bowl a series of curveballs as the track heads in a totally unexpected direction. Mind you, that’s what you expect from one of the most groundbreaking groups of the seventies, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. That’s apparent throughout Brain Salad Surgery, which sadly, marked the end of an era.

Although Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s career continued after Brain Salad Surgery. they never released as successful an album. They released five further albums. 1977s Works Volume 1 were certified gold in the UK, Canada and US. Later in 1977, Works Volume 2, was certified gold in the US. Then 1978s Love Beach was certified gold in the US and silver in the UK. Neither 1992s Black Moon nor In The Hot Seat. However,  Brain Salad Surgery. remains Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoy biggest selling album. No wonder. 

Brain Salad Surgery demonstrates Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their innovative and groundbreaking best. Here were Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their tightest and loudest. It was as if everything had been building up to Brain Salad Surgery. So when Emerson, Lake and Palmer released Brain Salad Surgery they were  a tight, visionary band. Their fusion of  progressive rock, jazz and classical music resulted in an ambitious, powerhouse of an album, Brain Salad Surgery which features Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at the peak of their creative powers.

Classic Album: Emerson, Lake and Palmer-Brain Salad Surgery.


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