7 Songs That Summarize Keith Emerson’s Genius
via Kenny Talarico/YouTube
A Musician Like No Other
Keith Emerson is more the Keyboard King, he’s also a stellar songwriter who penned several classic hits for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and his first commercially successful band, The Nice. His songs showcased his genius and creativity. They also defined progressive rock. He found success in the ’60s and ’70s, establishing himself as one of the most formidable musicians of the prog-rock movement.
Here are seven songs that show Emerson’s full range of songwriting brilliance. There are covers here that he expanded dramatically and arranged in a way that only a gifted musician can.
7. Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “Piano Concerto No. 1”
It’s 18 minutes long and it took up the entire side 1 of ELP’s fifth studio album Works Volume 1. It was a pretty bold move especially considering that the double-LP was their first material in over three years. But they didn’t disappoint. Emerson came through with this piece.
6. Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “Fanfare for the Common Man”
Some of you might complain that Emerson only reworked a 1942 musical work by Aaron Copland. But here’s the thing, he took the song and made it his own, in a dramatic way we might add. Emerson admired Copland’s compositions and so he expanded this into something more grandiose. The original version is just a little over three minutes long but ELP extended it to almost 10 minutes. So it’s no surprise that Copland loved what they did to his song and felt flattered about it.
5. The Nice – “America”
Even Emerson couldn’t resist writing his own protest song against the Vietnam War. He reworked a song by Leonard Bernstein from the Broadway musical West Side Story. Their instrumental version made them controversial figures because it exuded anger and aggression. Plus, they removed the lyrics and instead, added a spoken word line at the end. Bernstein himself was furious. But Emerson said, “It was done to highlight what a corrupt society America was – and still is.”
4. The Nice – “Rondo”
Emerson took the jazz standard composition “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by Dave Brubeck and added his own spin to it. Emerson has long admired the legend and this was his tribute to him. Aside from featuring it in The Nice’s debut album, he also included it in ELP’s setlist for the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.
3. Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “Pirates”
Written by Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, Lake’s former bandmate in King Crimson Pete Sinfield contributed the lyrics. It’s outrageous and definitely something only ELP can play. Take note of Emerson’s playing though, he pulled out all the stops.
2. Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “Tarkus”
The title track of ELP’s second album, this was way ahead of its time. It’s bold, ambitious, and complex. Emerson drew inspiration from Frank Zappa and the Argentinian classical composer Albero Ginastera. When he presented the song to Palmer and Lake, only the lyrics were missing. Emerson was once asked what songs he was proudest of and he named Tarkus as one of them.
1. Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression”
It’s the song that elevated ELP to rock god status. They were trailblazers and trendsetters. And Emerson’s work in the 2nd Impression was nothing short of stellar. It’s their most popular track and it’s not hard to see why. Emerson revealed, “I was dabbling at the piano, and before you knew it, I had something pretty nice. It’s a jazz piece, really, partially inspired by Chick Corea, perhaps.”