King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King

Front cover

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 strongest of the progressive rock genre, where King Crimson largely stripped away the blues-based foundations of rock music 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" and it's perhaps the very first progressive rock album.


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 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 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". 

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. And for reasons that can only be put down to the vagaries of time, these tapes had subsequently been considered lost, until 2003. In the Court of the Crimson King initially received mixed reactions from critics. Rolling Stone was favorable, writing, "they 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 "as if somehow prophetic, King Crimson projected a darker and edgier brand of post-psychedelic rock" in its original review by Lindsay Planer but also calling it "definitive" and "daring" in its current review.

The Court of the Crimson King

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, it would become one of the most recognisable rock covers 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 EG'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 face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music".

Full cover

Track listing:
1. 21st Century Schizoid Man
2. I Talk to the Wind
3. Epitaph
4. Moonchild
5. The Court of the Crimson King


King Crimson:
Robert Fripp–guitar
Greg Lake–bass, lead vocals
Ian McDonald–flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, vibraphone, keyboards, mellotron, backing vocals
Peter Sinfield–lyrics, illumination
Michael Giles–drums, percussion, backing vocals

King Crimson for E.G. Productions (David Enthoven and John Gaydon-founders of EG Records)
Recorded and engineered by Robin Thompson and Tony Page (also assistant engineer)
Barry Godber–cover illustrations

In this short footage, original members of King Crimson, Peter Sinfield and Ian McDonald are talking about the band, the debut album and the making of the single for the album, "The Court of the Crimson King".

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