Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Works, Vol. 1
Works, Vol. 2
by David Chiu
By 1977 Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at the peak of their popularity as one of the most commercially successful progressive rock bands of the era. In that year, ELP had both the clout and moxie to release their most ambitious and sprawling set of music in Works, Vol. 1. Each of the first three vinyl sides of the album was devoted to a solo work from Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer respectively. Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” was a nearly 20-minute straightforward classical symphonic work with none of the rock stylings or pomp that characterized his previous songs; Lake’s side mostly consisted of his usual brand of romantic acoustic-sounding ballads, including the lovely “C’est La Vie,” “Closer to Believing,” “Lend Your Love to Me Tonight,” and “Nobody Loves You Like I Do”; and Palmer’s set was perhaps the most rocking, funky and brassy of the three sides, characterized by “L.A. Nights” (featuring guitar and scat vocals by Joe Walsh), the energetic “Food For Your Soul,” and an updated version of ELP’s “Tank” from the band’s 1970 debut album. The fourth side of the original vinyl album version features ELP together on their take of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (in the same rock-oriented treatment of a classical work as they did with Copeland’s “Hoedown”) and the dramatic and theatrical epic “Pirates.” The emphasis on Works, Vol. 1 was to showcase each of the individual’s talents as musicians, composers and arrangers, and it certainly did to an extent, even as critics viewed this approach as a bit over-the-top.
Remarkably, a few months later, ELP followed that release with Works, Vol. 2, a more straightforward single album featuring a collection of leftover music from previous album sessions (Think about it: ELP released three albums’ worth of music in a single year). And like its predecessor, the companion Works, Vol. 2 show displayed a variety of musical styles, particularly blues, folk, and jazz, and early popular music in addition to rock: from the bouncy “Tiger in a Spotlight” and the cosmic “Brain Salad Surgery” (which didn’t appear on the album of the same name), to the ballad “Watching Over You,” an interpretation of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” and the now-holiday staple “I Believe in Father Christmas.” For this new reissue, Works, Vol. 2 is now an expanded set with the inclusion of Works Live, featuring live performances recorded in 1977 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal (it’s a blend of songs from Works and earlier albums, including the familiar ELP staples “Pictures at an Exhibition” and “Knife-Edge.” Works, Vol. 2 may have not had the conceptual scope or vision as Works, Vol. 2, but it definitely showed the group’s stylistic range.
Progressive rock bands had a hard time in the late 1970s when punk and disco became the rages, and ELP were not immune. Love Beach, the band’s final album for almost 15 years before their 1992 reunion on Black Moon, was an attempt at a mostly accessible record with an emphasis on shorter and direct songs. That was certainly evident on the Lake and Peter Sinfield-composed romantic tracks like the title song, “All I Want Is You,” and “Taste My Love.” Only the 20-minute suite “Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman” hearkened back to the band’s prime form. Love Beach has generally been maligned as ELP’s weakest effort (the album’s cover photo of the trio that recalls the Bee Gees from their Saturday Night Fever days didn’t help much), but it’s not terrible either and is actually above average. The new reissue of the album contains previously unreleased outtakes from those sessions.