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Emerson Lake & Palmer - The very Best of Emerson, Lake & Palmer  CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer

Symphonic Prog

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1 stars Okay, I'm confused. The earlier "Best of Emerson, Lake & Palmer" has nine tracks, but "The Very Best of Emerson, Lake & Palmer" has thirteen. Now, I'm not a professional logician, but shouldn't "The Very Best" be a subset of "The Best"? That is, shouldn't it be a smaller group winnowed from the "best," a group of absolute must- haves? One would think so, but when it comes to marketing music to aging boomers who need to be cajoled into picking up a CD out of the remainder bin, who cares about making sense? I can just imagine the pre-release meeting, "Just start the CD off with 'Lucky Man' and you can call it whatever the hell you want."

Nevertheless, the CD is available now for purchase and deserves at least one review by someone who gave a damn about ELP when they mattered (which was longer than they gave a damn about their fan base).

Now, the reality is this is a collection of the ELP pieces that were most often played on the AOR FM stations in the '70s. No more, no less. With the possible exception of "Trilogy" and "The Hut of Baba Yaga/The Gates of Kiev," all these songs were extensively played on radio in the '70s (and continue to be played on classic rock stations). Of course, all these songs are good ELP tracks, even top-notch ELP. But are they collectively the "very best"? No, they are not.

Look, if you are going to call a compilation album by any group the "very best," you better be ready to defend your choices to the core fan base. And it's obvious that serious ELP fans were not part of the compilation process.

To get right to the point, let me list what I believe is the "very best" of ELP, keeping in mind the time limitations of a single CD (and this is a severe limitation when it comes to choosing the very best of ELP):

1. The Barbarian (4: 27) 2. Knife-Edge (5:04) 3. Tarkus (20:44) 4. Endless Enigma (parts 1 & 2, including fugue section) (11:00) 5. From the Beginning (4:16) 6. Hoedown (3:47) 7. Toccata (7:22) 8. Karn Evil 9 (Parts 1, 2, 3) (29:43)

And that's it; that's all that fits. This music represents the very best of what they have done. Now, I know there are many other great tunes, but given the approx. 80 minute time limit, this is the best that can be done.

First, before simply dispensing with the majority of the tunes on the released CD, I would like to comment on why I did so:

"Lucky Man": Of course, the song the band is most known for, which is a shame. The song itself made up of a mediocre melody and the lyrics, while intriguingly archaic, fail to create more than a caricature of a "lucky man" (and one, incidentally, that few could care about: a prince, with white horses and ladies "by the score;" this is lousy poetry). The theme is, of course, interesting: the bounty and beauty of life seized and replaced with the cold finality of death. But this rather chilling theme should have been better lyrically rendered. Emerson's solo at the end of the tune "luckily" saves the song from the oblivion it deserves with his dread-evoking synth runs.

"Trilogy": This is a great tune and would have been my next choice if I had room. But the CD is already top heavy with Trilogy tunes, so I had to dispense with it.

"Jerusalem": I don't know how this got selected. This cover of an "olde" English hymn was a bad choice by Greg Lake, who should have been coming up with more compelling original stuff. "From the Beginning" shows what Greg Lake can do if he works at it. This track certainly doesn't belong on a "very best of" album.

"Still, You Turn Me On": In the context of "Brain Salad Surgery," this is a nice airy acoustic ballad to offset the intensity of the other tracks, but weighed in the balance of the band's entire catalog, it does not buoy to the top as one of the "very best." A lot of what Greg Lake wrote was this sort of melodramatic , radio-friendly pop. But with a line like "Someone get me a ladder," I think I need not put up much of a defense of my choice to leave it off.

"Pirates": This is an overblown disappointment. Even with Sinfield to assist with the lyrics (and it was wise of Lake to ask for assistance), Lake was creatively spent at this point, and rather than take some time to rethink his approach, he instead wrote this embarrassingly childish paean to pirates, of all things. And instead of realizing it was, a bad idea badly rendered into music, he just poured on the production values hoping the sheer bombast would convince its listeners of its greatness. Needless to say, the listeners saw through it.

"Fanfare": This is sort of Emerson's "Pirates." Same sort of problem and same critical argument applies, though the end result was more listenable. Compared to the band's earlier tracks, it measures up, but barely.

"Cie la vie": Not bad; it's catchy, but not the "very best."

"Peter Gunn": Good live ELP, but Emerson can do this sort of thing in his sleep. He's the master of riffing and improvising off the classics, but there's already "Toccata," and "Hoedown" (not to mention "Knife Edge" which was inspired by Janacek's works). Good enjoyable ELP, but not the "very best."

"Hut": "Pictures at an Exhibition" was meant to be heard as a single piece, and I don't think a "very best" compilation should be splicing up tunes. Besides, these two tracks are not the best on "Pictures" anyway. I'm really curious who chose these to be included.

Well, enough said. ELP is best heard album by album, not collected. This is ELP we're talking about, not Herman's Hermits.

Now, I know there are a few of you who may be wondering why I didn't include anything from "Love Beach." Well, I'll save that for another day.

Report this review (#14662)
Posted Monday, February 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars There are several types who buy a "best of" ELP collection. A person who doesn't know prog from frog but just LOVES that weird sound at the end of "Lucky Man." A young person who wants a decent introduction to the creations of a classic band. And then there's people like me who owned a few of their albums back in the 70s, was never a huge fan but occasionally needs an ELP "fix" on the commute to or from work and sees this cd for just eight bucks at Best Buy and figures "why not?" Turns out it's not half bad, literally. In fact, there's only a few boners here in the ghastly "Pirates" and the self-indulgent "Toccata." The rest of it is top-notch. I personally liked the ballads because they were always a relief from the typical top 40 crud that crowded the airwaves around that time. Personally, these guys just got a little too dang noisy for my tastes and their albums were usually a case of too much of a good thing to my ears. But admire them, I did, and this collection of songs reminds me why. "Knife- edge," "Trilogy," "Karn Evil 9" and "Fanfare for the Common Man" are true standouts in prog history. And the aforementioned "Lucky Man" holds up well over the years as the song that brought the Moog to the masses. And, for the price, it's hard to beat.
Report this review (#74644)
Posted Tuesday, April 11, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars I heard this cd originally because my brother bought it due to the fact that he liked the song "from the beginning" He primarily listened to the acoustic greg lake stuff and didnt pay as much attention to the true Prog Rock on it. When he left for the army and gave me all of his cds I started listening to this one...mostly just for the acoustic stuff as it was more new listener freindly. I eventually started listening to the other songs as well and was quite fascinated with the music selection on it and I still am. Everything here is awesome although "peter gunn theme" is kind of unnecesary although I wont argue with it because it is a decent song. Who cares if this is not exactly the "best" of ELP. It is an epic presentation of awesome material and is a good introduction to their stuff although looking back I now would rather just have all these songs in their original album format because I will be buying every ELP album available. It is a good way to snag listeners into progressive rock and eventually get them hooked on it. If someone would have handed me "pictures at an exhibtion" I doubt i would have gotten into it although now I love that album. In conclusion, it is a perfect way to get standard issue music listeners into progressive rock.
Report this review (#81769)
Posted Thursday, June 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars A nice collection, but one would be much better off simply buying their first four studio albums. But it is nice to have a disc with both live and studio work on. C'est la Vie and The Hut of Baba Yaga are ELP at their best live, and to be thrown in with studio work is great. C'est la Vie is an absolute gem. It is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. The live version is very much better than the studio. But, especially for anyone even slightly a collector, it is much nicer to have a group's albums in place of a collection. An album's specific feel and atmosphere is brought out better on isolated albums. When mixed together, the atmospheric feel for each specific album is lost.
Report this review (#95160)
Posted Thursday, October 19, 2006 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
2 stars This was the first exposure I had to Emerson, Lake, & Palmer beyond what I heard on the radio. It ultimately got me into the group, so I suppose this album is good for those uninitiated to progressive rock. That said, this is certainly not the best of this band by any means, but even though it may sucker some people who look for a couple of songs, it can be a great starter album for others. While not an ideal compilation, this release is a good place for someone new to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to begin, as it has many favorites. The problem is that for the progressive rock fan, what is here is stuff heard on the radio all the time anyway. There is absolutely nothing from Tarkus, and what is from Brain Salad Surgery isn't particularly important. "Pirates" is a great addition to this collection, however, which is a song I always felt was underrated, even if it can be a tad corny. The climax of Pictures at an Exhibition is present, but as with any holistic release, excepts simply cannot do justice. For the right price, this is a great starting point, but it is likely full albums can be had at cheaper prices.
Report this review (#219890)
Posted Thursday, June 4, 2009 | Review Permalink

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