Formed in 1969 and led by charismatic guitarist Robert Fripp, King Crimson quickly earned an underground reputation which led to a record deal with Island, and their first two albums, In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969) and In The Wake Of Poseidon (1970) both made the Top Five.
From the scary cover painting by artist Barry Godber (best appreciated on gatefold vinyl) to the portentous lyrics, In The Court Of The Crimson King was a heavy-duty album – its tone set by 21st Century Schizoid Man. The album peaked at #5 in the UK and made it to #28 in the US.
One review compared the album to shards of light filtering through the windows of a Gothic cathedral . . .
By 1971’s Islands Fripp had recruited drummer Ian Wallace and bassist Boz Burrell (who went on to Bad Company) and free jazzers including pianist Keith Tippett and cornet player Mark Charig. Unsurprisingly, the results were eclectic.
This line-up promised great things but fell apart in 1972.
Lark’s Tongue in Aspic (1973) was a fine artistic achievement and a breakthrough in the music of the band.
It was recorded in the winter of 1973 by a reshuffled lineup: Fripp, ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford, vocalist and bass player John Wetton (formerly of Family and eventually to play in Asia), violinist David Cross and percussionist Jamie Muir,
The bizarre title of the LP was provided by the eccentric Muir, who abruptly (and very unexpectedly) vanished for years shortly after the album was recorded.
The next four years saw Fripp directing four completely different line-ups – among a dozen transient members were Greg Lake (ELP) and Ian McDonald (Foreigner) – and after failing to enlarge their modest following he called it a day in October 1974, putting the name on ice until their resurrection in 1981.
The 80s line-up finally managed to eke praise from the more voguish critics. Fripp’s complex, echo-laden guitars were as precise as maths, but new boy Adrian Belew’s startling guitar sounds (trumpeting elephant anyone?) provided an irreverent and thrilling contrast.
This, coupled with Belew’s David Byrne-like vocals and quirky, erudite lyrics led many to cite him as Crimson’s new linchpin.
The best, most rounded work was on 1981’s Discipline, which features the aforementioned pachyderm rage on Elephant Talk, and the sublime, near-hit Matte Kudasai.
In 1982, Beat‘s ‘more-of-the-same’ approach was welcome, but by 1984’s Three Of A Perfect Pair, a once sparky formula was wearing thin.