Top 10 Emerson, Lake & Palmer Songs

Emerson

Photo: By Gorupdebesanez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer were one of the first premier super-groups of the Progressive Rock Era. They formed towards the end of the 1960’s, and consisted of Greg Lake of King Crimson fame, Keith Emerson of The Nice, and Carl Palmer of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. They’re one of the most beloved cult bands of all time and one of the forefathers of progressive rock. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer didn’t hesitate to express themselves in every stylistic representation they could. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s symphonic and neo-classical embellishments were far and wide in a class unrivaled among the other popular progressive rockers of the day. This was a band that also inspired countless piano players and drummers to practice, practice, practice.

Emerson Lake & Palmer’s first album Emerson Lake & Palmer was released in 1970. The band recorded nine incredible studio albums ending with In The Hot Seat in 1994. This Top 10 Emerson, Lake & Palmer Songs list takes a look at some of the highlights of their career.

# 10 – Paper Blood

The piece “Paper Blood” which starts out our top ten Emerson, Lake & Palmer songs list was released on their 1992 comeback album entitled Black Moon. While many critics panned the album, we thought it was quite good. This is a rocking track that was a welcome addition to the Emerson Lake & Palmer catalog. Listen to Keith Emerson tear it up at the end of the song. While many will argue there are far better ELP songs that should have been included on this list, we feel as a history site it’s important to cover all time periods of a band when presenting a survey of a band’s career.

# 9 – The Sage

The piece “The Stage,” which continues our top ten Emerson, Lake & Palmer songs list was released on their 1971 live album Pictures at an Exhibition. At the start of the song listeners will hear Keith Emerson’s’ signature Moog synthesizer sounding like it clawed its way out of the bowels of one of the Street Fighter games. The song presented hauntingly dissonant chord changes that pivot between medieval-style minor melodies and free-flowing classical interpretations. Factor all of this in with Greg Lakes’ moody vocals and you have classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

# 8 – Tank

The recording of Tank was released on their self-titled debut album which was issued in 1971. The instrumental “Tank,” featured the incomparable bass of Greg Lake. The song also featured a clavinet and Moog synth courtesy of Keith Emerson that sounds like they could be playing through the halls of a 13th-century castle. The song also features a jazz-inflicted drum solo by Carl Palmer that’s so completely mad and off the rails that it’s undeniably brilliant and reason enough to be on this list.

# 7 – From the Beginning

Continuing our Emerson Lake & Palmer Songs list is the track From The Beginning. The musical selection was released on the Emerson Lake & Palmer album entitled Trilogy. The album was released in 1972. It featured a cover designed by the famous Hipgnosis art company. Hipgnosis designed many of the iconic Pink Floyd album covers including Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.

# 6 – Fanfare For The Common Man

The heart-pounding epic piece “Fanfare For The Common Man,” was released on the great Works double album set. The album featured an individual side for each member of the band. The album’s final side featured the entire band. “Fanfare For The Common Man,” was composed by Aaron Copland.

# 5 –  Still…You Turn Me On

This was Greg Lake at his most savagely delicate in terms of vocalization and instrumentation; here he substitutes his bass for a twelve-string acoustic. The wonderful chord voicing he uses in this drop D composition baffles me as a fellow guitarist because of its overly simplified intricacies. I think it’s all in the manner in which he picks out each arpeggio note of the chord AND sings…all at the same time! But still, every time I listen to this poetically seductive ballad I always remain enamored by it.

# 4 –  Take a Pebble

This twelve minute suite off of their classic self-titled record is the kind of sound dreams are made of. This tune is absolutely stunning, with some of the most reserved and elegant piano-playing rock has to offer. Like most of Keith Emerson’s piano articulations, it sounds like music fit for a royal king. And the crowning achievement of the song lies within the middle section that takes a detour into acoustic territory. With those beautiful, Asian-like melodies against the backdrop of what sounds like a peaceful river bank, there’s nothing more exciting than having this as a follow-up track to the heavy opener, The Barbarian.

# 3 – Lucky Man

The Emerson Lake & Palmer track “Lucky Man,” was released on the band’s debut album. The song was composed by Greg Lake and became the band’s most successful commercial recording. The song was released as a single and was usually found on all those 1970s Ktel compilation albums that featured artists ranging from Yes to Paper Lace.

# 2 – Tarkus

This twenty minute concept that tells the story of Tarkus, a giant armadillo/tank hybrid, is broken down into seven different sections that takes the listener on a journey through Tarkus’ birth. during a volcanic eruption all the way to his descent into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Tarkus wages war on cybernetic spiders, pterodactyl/airplane hybrids, a reptilian lobster with rocket launchers attached to him, and a Manticore. There is nothing more progressive rock than that. It’s hailed by almost all Emerson Lake & Palmer fans as their most intricate piece and is a cynosure in the progressive rock pantheon. The Emerson Lake & Palmer track “Tarkus,”  harbors all of the musical components that the genre would soon be synonymous with.

# 1 – Karn Evil 9

This isn’t an opinion, but a fact: All three Karn Evil 9 impressions are without a doubt, the greatest music epic they’ve ever written and composed. And it’s more appropriate to include all three impressions as a whole since that’s what was intended when they recorded it. This is also their longest recording, clocking in at nearly thirty minutes. It’s a dystopian tale of a futuristic society overran by computers where every horrible and bleak representation of the world is on display in a macabre exhibit. This could be a portentous glance into the looking glass of what modern society as we know it could evolve into, or could it just be a really marvelous suite with some of the most nihilistic poetry ever put to rock music. Either way, this song deserves to be number one.

Updated May 6, 2023

Don’t miss our interview with Carl Palmer

The Carl Palmer Interview

Top 10 Emerson, Lake & Palmer Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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