King Crimson:In the Court of the Crimson King – [Record 160]
In the Court of the Crimson King (also titled In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson) is the debut studio album by the British rock group King Crimson, released on 10 October 1969. The album reached number five on the British charts, and is certified gold in the United States, where it reached #28 on the Billboard 200.
The album is generally viewed as one of the first works to truly embody the progressive rock genre, where King Crimson largely departed from the blues influences that rock music had been founded upon and mixed together jazz and classical symphonic elements. In his 1997 book Rocking the Classics, critic and musicologist Edward Macan notes that In the Court of the Crimson King “may be the most influential progressive rock album ever released”. The Who’s Pete Townshend was quoted as calling the album “an uncanny masterpiece”. In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album came fourth in its list of “40 Cosmic Rock Albums”. The album was named as one of Classic Rock magazine’s “50 Albums That Built Prog Rock”.
The album was remastered and re-released on vinyl and CD several times during the 1980s and 1990s. All of these versions were based on tape copies that were several generations removed from the originals. The original first-generation stereo master tapes were thought to be lost, but were finally located in a storage vault in 2003. This led to a much improved remastered CD version (see below) in time for the album’s 40th anniversary.
Once again, in November 2010 the album was re-released both on vinyl and CD with newly cut masters approved by Robert Fripp. Remastering was executed by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.
1. 21st Century Schizoid Man.
2. I Talk to the Wind.
5. The Court of the Crimson King.
Album cover: Barry Godber (1946–1970), a computer programmer, painted the album cover. Godber died in February 1970 of a heart attack, shortly after the album’s release. It was his only album cover, and is now owned by Robert Fripp. Fripp had said about Godber:
“Peter brought this painting in and the band loved it. I recently recovered the original from [managing label E.G. Records’s] offices because they kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of ruining it, so I ended up removing it. The face on the outside is the Schizoid Man, and on the inside it’s the Crimson King. If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music.”
Production details: King Crimson made their live debut on 9 April 1969, and made a breakthrough by playing the Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people.
Initial sessions for the album were held in early 1969 with producer Tony Clarke, most famous for his work with The Moody Blues. After these sessions failed to work out, the group were given permission to produce the album themselves. The album was recorded on a 1″ 8-track recorder at Wessex Sound Studios in London, engineered by Robin Thompson, and assisted by Tony Page. In order to achieve the characteristic lush, orchestral sounds on the album, Ian McDonald spent many hours overdubbing layers of Mellotron and various woodwind and reed instruments.
Some time after the album had been completed, however, it was discovered that the stereo master recorder used during the mixdown stage of the album, had incorrectly aligned recording heads. This misalignment resulted in a loss of high-frequencies and introduced some unwanted distortion. This is evident in certain parts of the album, particularly on “21st Century Schizoid Man”. Consequently, while preparing the first American release for Atlantic Records, a special copy was made from the original 2-track stereo master in an attempt to correct some of these anomalies. (The analog tape copying process usually results in generation loss). From 1969 to 2003, this second-generation “corrected” copy was the source used in the dubbing of the various sub-masters used for vinyl, cassette and CD releases over the years. The original, “first-generation” stereo masters, however, had been filed away soon after the original 1969 mixdown sessions. These tapes were considered lost until 2003.
Critical reception: In the Court of the Crimson King initially received mixed reactions from critics. Robert Christgau called the album “ersatz shit”. Rolling Stone was favorable, writing, “[t]hey have combined aspects of many musical forms to create a surreal work of force and originality.”
The album has since attained a classic status, with Allmusic praising it “[a]s if somehow prophetic, King Crimson projected a darker and edgier brand of post-psychedelic rock” in its original review by Lindsay Planer and calling it “definitive” and “daring” in its current review.
CD editions: LP and CD re-issues during the 1980s and 1990s by Polydor and EG Records were taken from tape copies several generations removed from the corrected stereo sub-master tape. This resulted in a lack of clarity and excessive tape hiss. Several different remastered CD versions were released in this period while attempting to make the best use of the tape recordings that were available.
Virgin Records released a 30th Anniversary 24-bit remastered edition in 1999.
The first generation stereo master tapes for the album were finally rediscovered in a storage vault in 2003. A 2004 HDCD version (described as the “Original Master Edition”, DGM0501) was released on Robert Fripp’s Discipline Global Mobile label. This release has greatly improved sound over previous CD editions. Modern digital technology was used to repair high frequency problems caused during the original mixing sessions. 24 bit mastering was also used to enhance the sound. This edition also has a twelve-page booklet that includes pictures and press clippings from the period.
With Fripp’s collaboration Steven Wilson remixed the original 8-channel master tapes to into a 5.1 Surround Sound and new stereo mix, and a 40th Anniversary edition was released on 12 October 2009. There are three different versions: a two-CD set containing the old and new stereo versions, a CD+DVD set with the surround and new stereo mixes, and a six-disc (5CD/1DVD) box containing all versions as well as related studio and live material.