Top 10 Greg Lake Songs
Greg Lake‘s co-founding participation in a pair of seminal progressive rock bands provides more than enough material for a lifetime of musical intrigue — to say nothing of a kick-ass Top 10 List. First in King Crimson (with whom he recorded two memorable turn-of-the-’70s albums) and then as the soul of Emerson Lake and Palmer, Lake helped set a template for prog’s early ambitions. With ELP, he crafted a series of titanic combinations of rock and classical throughout the ’70s, before issuing a pair of ’80s-era solo efforts. Other than his brief reunions with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, beginning in the ’90s, Lake hasn’t issued much original material since those days — making him perhaps easy to overlook. That’s where our list of Top 10 Greg Lake Songs comes in, as we touch on key moments from each of these eras.
“Affairs of the Heart”
You might have expected ELP, after more than a decade away, to come back with a big, showy effort. Instead, Lake does what he does best — offering one of this album’s simpler, very welcome joys. It starts with a quixotic moment of classic Lake emotionality, and bravely stays there.
“Love You Too Much”
Featuring the nasty, raw-boned guitar work of Gary Moore and a co-writing credit from — wait, what? — Bob Dylan, this standout track from Lake’s under-appreciated solo debut shouldn’t have sounded anything like ELP. Yet, there it is, at about the midway point: this loose, rangy bridge, where a bursting keyboard tangles with Moore’s scorching asides. That definitively connects “Love You” with Lake’s more familiar work with ELP, even as he moves beyond it.
“The Only Way (Hymn)”
Boasting one of ELP’s most serrated lyrics, “The Only Way” finds Lake exploring thoughts on a higher being’s place in an existence torn apart by violence and war. Emerson and Palmer apparently blanched, but ultimately went along. Whatever it took for ELP to get here, “The Only Way” certainly set them apart from what concurrent bands like Yes were doing with their own florid messages of peace and love.
“Touch and Go”
A brawny, ’80s-era update of the old ELP sound, “Touch and Go” was part of an off-shoot project that happened when drummer Carl Palmer became unavailable because of ongoing contractual obligations with the band Asia. In his place stepped Cozy Powell, who later died following a car crash in 1998. Though it only went to No. 60, Lake still includes this impassioned lyric in his solo shows today.
“Karn Evil 9″
At nearly half an hour long, the outsized “Karn Evil” ends up boasting a bit of everything that makes ELP so representative of a different era. We have some seriously weird plot points: Lake sings about a future where evil is relegated to side-show exhibits; there’s a war between man and computers. There’s also these dizzying flights of instrumental fancy: Check out that carny-creep middle interlude. It’s completely of its time, sure. But still a marvel of over-the-top gumption.
“From the Beginning”
Perhaps the best example of a lilting romanticism that Lake brought to the alchemy that was Emerson Lake and Palmer, “From the Beginning” finds him layering twin guitars and bass over the lightest of accompaniments from Carl Palmer. This approachable ballad, made complete with a few pastoral flourishes from Keith Emerson, would become ELP’s highest-charting single at No. 39.
“21st Century Schizoid Man”
“Schizoid,” part of a five-song cycle that moved boldly away from the blues underpinnings that shot through so much of popular music of the time, worked as a turbulent rebuke of the on-going Vietnam War. Elsewhere, this seminal debut focused on classical, jazz and European influences. Here, however, Crimson presupposed the darker edges to come in post-psychedelic rock — with a heavily processed Lake vocal leading the way.
A three-part showcase for the compositional and improvisational abilities of Emerson Lake and Palmer, “Endless Enigma” holds a number of musical wonders — among them Emerson’s two-minute fugue and Palmer’s opening bass-drum heartbeat. However, it’s Lake, with a vocal instrument at the peak velocity, who holds it all together as he moves from sweet reverie to foundation-shaking retorts.
“The Court of the Crimson King”
This brilliantly episodic, Mellotron-driven item launched Lake’s career even as it became a foundational moment for prog rock. But though ‘Court’ reached No. 80 in the U.S. — becoming the first, and so far only, charting stateside single for King Crimson — Lake already had one foot out the door. By 1970, he’d be in Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
A late add to ELP’s debut, “Lucky Man” started as a childhood composition of Lake’s, and included one of the great improvised moments in the band’s history. The track peaked at No. 48 on the U.S. charts, helping Emerson Lake and Palmer’s debut into the Top 20. But Emerson’s now-legendary Moog solo was actually a serendipitously recorded moment of first-day noodling when the new instrument arrived during these sessions. Lake tacked it on, and the song was complete.