King Crimson

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King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King.jpg

King Crimson is a band that began in 1969 in London, from the first generation of Progressive Rock groups. They've pretty much existed ever since, despite some pretty regular break-ups and reformations (1969-1974, 1981-1984, 1994-present). Also debatably proof that time travel is real.

The only constant member of the band is guitarist and mastermind Robert Fripp, and indeed the band's 1969-1974 period was plagued by unstable lineups. However, things have stabilised somewhat since their 1981 reformation.

Their music is characterised by really impressive instrumental technique, Epic Rocking, pretty extreme dynamic contrasts, lots of Improv, lyrics that usually sound cooler than they read (when they appear), and a large percentage of tunes that seem specifically designed to fuck with your head.

Current band members:

  • Robert Fripp (1969 - present): guitar, guitar synthesizer, etc.
  • Adrian Belew (1981 - present): guitar, vocals
  • Tony Levin (1981 - 1999, 2003 - present): Chapman Stick, bass
  • Pat Mastelotto (1994 - present): drums, percussion
  • Gavin Harrison (2007 - present): drums

Former band members:

  • Ian McDonald (1969): saxophone, flute, Mellotron
  • Greg Lake (1969-1970): bass, vocals
  • Michael Giles (1969 - 1970): drums
  • Peter Sinfield (1969 - 1971): VCS 3 synthesizer, lyrics
  • Mel Collins (1970 - 1972): saxophone, flute, Mellotron
  • Gordon Haskell (1970): bass, vocals
  • Andy McCulloch (1970): drums
  • Boz Burrell (1971 - 1972): bass, vocals
  • Ian Wallace (1971 - 1972): drums
  • John Wetton (1972 - 1974): bass, vocals, piano
  • Jamie Muir (1972 - 1973): percussion, drums
  • Bill Bruford (1972 - 1998): drums, percussion
  • David Cross [1] (1972 - 1974): violin, Mellotron, piano
  • Richard Palmer-James (1973 - 1974): lyrics
  • Trey Gunn (1994 - 2003): touchstyle guitar, Chapman Stick, fretless bass

Additional musicians:

  • Peter Giles (1970): bass
  • Keith Tippett (1970 - 1971): piano
  • Jon Anderson (1970): vocals
  • Nick Evans (1970): trombone
  • Robin Miller (1970 - 1971, 1974): oboe, cor anglais
  • Marc Charig (1970 - 1971, 1974): cornet
  • Harry Miller (1971): double bass
  • Paulina Lucas (1971): vocals
  • Eddie Jobson (1975): violin, piano, recruited to add violin to the live album USA whenever Cross' contributions were lost to technical issues

Studio album discography:

  • In the Court of the Crimson King (LP) - 1969
  • In the Wake of Poseidon (LP) - 1970
  • Lizard (LP) - 1970
  • Islands (LP) - 1971
  • Larks' Tongues in Aspic (LP) - 1973
  • Starless and Bible Black [2] (LP) - 1974
  • Red [3] (LP) - 1974
  • Discipline (LP) - 1981
  • Beat (LP) - 1982
  • Three of a Perfect Pair (LP) - 1984
  • VROOOM (EP) - 1994
  • THRAK (LP) - 1995
  • The ContruKction of Light (LP) - 2000
  • Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With [4] (EP) - 2002
  • The Power to Believe (LP) - 2003

"ProjeKct" studio album discography:

  • (as "ProjeKct Two") Space Groove (LP) - 1997
  • (as "ProjeKct X") Heaven and Earth (LP) - 2000
  • (as "Jakko Jakszyk, Robert Fripp, and Mel Collins - A King Crimson ProjeKct") A Scarcity of Miracles (LP) - 2011
King Crimson provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Alliteration: Each verse of "Elephant Talk" is a list of words that mean "talk" that share the same first letter. This gets lampshaded in the fourth verse with the line "These are words with a D this time."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In a live performance of "Thela Hun Ginjeet", Adrian Belew recounts how the gang he encountered wanted to "Kill me! Rip my limbs off! Smash my tape recorder!"
  • Bald of Awesome: Tony Levin.
  • Berserk Button: Robert Fripp hates (unsolicited) flash photography during concerts (and doesn't feel too hot about bootlegs, either).
    • To the point of actually stopping concerts when it happens and having the roadies take away the camera.
    • Don't ask him for an autograph either.
      • Specifically, RF believes that such things screw with a musician's ability to perform music in a honorable fashion. If you're "the right person," (who isn't out to sell autographed material, disrupt performances, or ask anything of him so you can brag about it to your buds later), at "the right place," (namely, not at concerts or out of the blue on the street), at "the right time" (when he's prepared to do such things), you may just get lucky.
    • Generally, anything to do with the inherently shitty nature of the music business (such as the folding of the record label King Crimson was under due to unsound business practices, ill-designed venues, self-serving promoters, jerkass "fans," and a consistent ignorance of anything KC did after 1974 by the press and the public alike) can cause the soft-spoken Englishman to make the word "fuck" REALLY stick more than any DI could hope to achieve.
  • Cover Version: "Get Thy Bearings" by Donovan, "Mars, the Bringer of War" (from The Planets) by Gustav Holst, "Prism" by Pierre Favre, "Heroes" by David Bowie (note: Fripp played guitar on the original version of this song, and Belew played the song live as a member of Bowie's touring band)
  • Darker and Edgier: Many albums, notably Red.
    • The whole Wetton, Cross and Bruford line-up could be considered this. Starless and Bible Black is probably every bit as edgy as Red but just not quite as heavy.
  • Epic Rocking: To a T.
    • Robert Fripp needs his own special tuning to rock this epically.
    • Adrian Belew also qualifies. His ability to make his guitar sound like another instrument or an animal call, combined with the dexterity of the other band members, is probably what Fripp meant on making Crimson a "Small, mobile, intelligent, self sufficient unit".
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foreign Language Title: "Matte Kudasai", "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)", "Shoganai"
  • Gratuitous Panning: The studio version of "VROOOM" from the THRAK album is mixed with with half of the band members (Fripp, Gunn, and Bruford) on the left channel and the other half (Belew, Levin, Mastelotto) on the right channel.
  • Instrumentals: Lots of them. Some King Crimson fans resent that they do songs with vocals at all.
  • Improv: From beloved ("Asbury Park") to almost universally despised by fans ("Providence").
    • Your Mileage May Vary with "Providence". The first minute and a half contains some excellent Silence of the Lambs-styled violin work from Cross and Wetton provides one of the best bass solos in music history in the last three minutes. The improv section of "Moonchild", on the other hand...
    • A curious example: "The Deception of the Thrush", an improvisation featured on many King Crimson live albums. Each iteration follows the same basic structure, but with wild variations in actual content. The linked version is arguably the best one.
  • Intercourse with You: Not many of their songs; "Ladies of the Road" is one exception.
  • Japanese Stock Phrases: "Matte Kudasai" (lit. "please wait"), "Shoganai" (a variant of "shikata ga nai")
  • Last-Note Nightmare: "21st Century Schizoid Man" is probably the best known example, but the band use this trope pretty often. It's especially commonplace during live improvisations.
  • List Song: "Elephant Talk" lists ways to say talking ("Arguments, agreements, advice, answers...")
    • "Coda: I Have a Dream" (from "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV") lists major events of the 20th century.
    • "Coda: Marine 475" (from "VROOOM") lists… something… related to "a Lloyd's insurance syndicate which suffered huge financial losses and whose members included [the band's former managers]"
  • Long Title: "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum", "Mother Hold the Candle Steady While I Shave the Chicken's Lip"
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Earthbound has only the band name and album name on a black background. Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair each have a symbol, the band name, and album name on a solid-color background. Red just has a picture of the band's lineup at the time (Fripp, Wetton and Bruford), with text and title. Larks' Tongues in Aspic probably takes the cake, having just a symbol on a stark white background.
    • Actually, every single album they've made. These guys don't go for Design Student's Orgasm.
      • What about Lizard, …Poseidon, and the ones designed by PJ Crook? Those aren't so minimalistic.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: From 1 to 7, depending on the era and the song.
    • A circa-1975 interview with Robert Fripp mentions the difference in the public's perception of the band, depending on the country: in America, they were seen almost as something one would put on a suit and tie to go see, while they were considered elsewhere to be some kind of killer metal.
  • Mythology Gag: The lyrics of "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum" include references to earlier Crimson songs, in particular "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" ("happy as a lark's tongue in cheek bone china doll") and "Frame by Frame" ("the world's my oyster soup kitchen door frame by frame").
    • "Walking on Air" (from 1995) includes the lyric "In between the deep blue sea and the sheltering sky", and one of their instrumentals (from 1981) is titled "The Sheltering Sky" (itself a reference to a novel by Paul Bowles).
    • Then there are "FraKctured", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part III", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV", and "Fearless and Highly Thrakked", whose titles refer to earlier songs/instrumentals.
  • New Sound Album: One of the kings of this trope.
  • The Not-Remix: The "40th Anniversary Series" of album reissues, and two tracks ("Cadence and Cascade" and "Bolero - The Peacock's Tale") on the compilation Frame by Frame.
  • Progressive Rock: One of the Trope Maker.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The vocal sections of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" come straight from Adrian Belew's frazzled story of being confronted by gangsters just minutes earlier. As Belew began his story, Robert Fripp signalled to the studio engineer to begin recording.
  • Reclusive Artist: Robert Fripp (who combines Gentleman Snarker with Smart People Wear Glasses - read his blog). The band as a whole haven't been heard from much in a while, though.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: When the showmanlike, somewhat flamboyant Adrian Belew and the focused, intellectual Robert Fripp are put on the same stage, this kind of interaction inevitably results.
  • Revolving Door Band: See above.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus: "The Devil's Triangle" has some obvious similarities to "Mars, the Bringer of War", but different enough to not be a copyright violation. (They either didn't ask for permission or were denied permission to record it at that time. Later on, some archival live albums such as Epitaph included recordings of their adaptation of "Mars, the Bringer of War" that they performed live in 1969, titled simply "Mars".)
  • Rock Trio: The lineup just before their mid-70s hiatus. In the 90s, King Crimson's six-man lineup was billed as being two Rock Trios put together.
  • Sampling: In a rather unexpected move, "21st Schizoid Man" was sampled for the beat of Kanye West's "Power".
  • Scare Chord: Several, but the one in "The Devil's Triangle" is particularly jarring.
  • Shout-Out: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Rupert Bear are depicted on the cover of Lizard.
    • The lyrics of "Happy Family" (from Lizard) are widely believed to be a thinly-veiled reference to The Beatles' breakup ("Silas" = George, "Rufus" = Ringo, "Jonah" = John, "Jude" = Paul), which would explain the cover illustration.
    • Also, the opening lyrics to "Epitaph" reference Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence"
  • Something Blues: "ProzaKc Blues".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A French porn studio in the mid 70s used "Larks Tongues In Aspic, Part II" in one of their films (Emmanuelle). While Fripp was irked that they didn't ask for his permission to use the track, he commented/joked in his online diary that they actually couldn't have picked a better KC song to use (honestly, the song does have certain raunchy, sexy overtones). Nonetheless, the heaviness of the piece might seem a bit off to some.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Elephant Talk," "Indiscipline," "Thela Hun Ginjeet," "Neurotica," "Dig Me", "Coda: Marine 475"[5]
    • "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part I", near its end, includes a recording of the play "Gallowglass": "[...] you shall be hanged by the neck upon a gibbet until you are dead", with a Scare Chord at the same time as the word "dead".
  • Studio Chatter: Right at the end of the Islands album, there's a recording of the string and woodwind musicians rehearsing "Prelude: Song of the Gulls".
  • Textless Album Cover: In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Islands, and Larks' Tongues in Aspic.
    • Also, the ProjeKct Two albums Space Groove and Live Groove.
  • The Spartan Way: Bill Bruford's descriptions of what playing in King Crimson was like almost make the band sound like this.

Bruford: In Yes, there was an endless debate about should it be F natural in the bass with G sharp on top by the organ. In King Crimson... you were just supposed to know.
Bruford (on joining King Crimson): It was like going over the Berlin Wall... into East Germany.

  1. No, not that David Cross
  2. partially recorded live
  3. partially recorded live
  4. partially recorded live
  5. only in the studio version, and even there it's almost inaudible in the mix