Home > Music > King Crimson – In The Court of The Crimson King (1969)

King Crimson – In The Court of The Crimson King (1969)

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In retrospect, this is actually a pretty scary piece of cover art. From a purely historical perspective, this was my first introduction to King Crimson, entering my life just as the novelty of dancing skeletons was beginning to wear off. Without it, my musical tastes these days might be unrecognizable, although there’s a few more albums that also deserve that accolade; some of which I’ve discussed on this blog. Through this work specifically, I became aware of the vast and potentially intimidating world of progressive rock, and to be fair, this album is not a bad way to do so. While there were tons of contemporary bands making their first stabs into the genre, this one sold enough copies that it ushered in about a decade of further commercial success for progressive rock. I’d compare that to today’s music industry, but the environment has changed so much since then…

Being that this is a relatively early installment in the history of prog, King Crimson’s various influences are more apparent and less integrated than they would be some years later; I could technically argue that they didn’t find their signature sound until 1973’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic. But this is still a fairly disjointed album, beginning with the frenzied “21st Century Schizoid Man” and then alternating between airy, pastoral folk rock and denser, more sombre symphonics. The songwriting credits suggest some versatility on the part of the musicians; I find myself unable to stereotype Ian McDonald and Peter Sinfield in particular into any one songwriting mode based on their writing credits. This doesn’t negatively impact the quality of the music, and the eclecticism on display here probably helped to sell some albums, but it does make for a markedly different listening experience; this disunity would actually carry on through the first few lineups of KC.

In the Court of the Crimson King is still an ambitious album after a few decades of mental recontextualization, and it introduces a few of the important songwriting techniques that define much of KC’s discography. Easily apparent are the lengthy sections of free improvisation, here admittedly limited to the aforementioned first track and “Moonchild” (which is… disposable at best). The songs here also demonstrate massive dynamic range, although it would take a while for the band to really get the hang of varying the dynamics within a song. The variety is going to come across better if you listen to the entire album in one go like the LP format somewhat forces you to, and because this is a foundational progressive rock album I’m going to recommend you do so. Beyond leading off with its one undeniable classic, the rest of the content here rarely rises to the amazing levels of future King Crimson albums, but it’s generally quite well written and performed and often pretty compelling. That it has to compete with all of its children does diminish it somewhat…

Highlights: Okay, fine, you can listen to “Moonchild” by Iron Maiden instead.

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