Ten great Emerson, Lake And Palmer songs from the 70s

Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake standing on the porch of a wooden cabin
Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake (Image credit: Getty)

Arguably progressive rock’s first supergroup, Emerson, Lake And Palmer took the scene by storm. With bold adaptations of classical music blended with startling, original compositions, virtuoso musicianship and a flamboyant, theatrical flair, they issued a string of hugely successful world-beating albums in their heyday. Here’s 10 of their best tracks.


10) Pirates (from Works, 1977)

Originally penned for a cancelled movie project, Works Volume 1’s cinematic closer brings together the good ship ELP and its mighty orchestral crew in a florid, high-flown fantasia. With Greg Lake’s thigh-slapping, hearty vocal and percussive cannonades, they surge through choppy Stravinksy-inspired waves, while brass and string fanfares parry clarion-call synths.

9) The Great Gates Of Kiev (from Pictures At An Exhibition, 1971)

From one of the best live albums of the era, ELP, in all their considerable pomp, hype up the Newcastle crowd by firing on all cylinders and ritually disemboweling a Hammond organ. This high-octane journey moves at a breakneck pace while smartly negotiating some tricky, dangerous curves along the way.

8) Take A Pebble (from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Though their reputation for grandiosity and braggadocio would later define ELP in the popular mind, there’s a fluidity and expressiveness in this piece that’s unique within their back catalogue. Part folk ballad, part jazz excursion, this reflective track, written before Carl Palmer joined, captures a more stylistically open-ended band at work.

7) Abaddon’s Bolero (from Trilogy, 1972)

As each new, painstakingly overdubbed, instrumental voice slowly falls into step behind Carl Palmer’s insistent snare across each of its eight reiterations, this simple but hugely effective theme from Trilogy swells to truly mighty proportions, taking on the mantle of an army marching towards certain victory.

Abaddon's Bolero (2015 - Remaster) - YouTube Abaddon's Bolero (2015 - Remaster) - YouTube
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6) Knife-Edge (from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Greg Lake showcases his skills as a producer on this song that was written and recorded as work on their debut came to an end. Pared down to their essential components, Lake’s use of simple but effective tools like studio reverb and varispeed imbue this vividly fraught, claustrophobic blues rocker with teetering, high-wire drama.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Knife Edge Live in Zurich 1970 [HD] - YouTube Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Knife Edge Live in Zurich 1970 [HD] - YouTube
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5) Lucky Man (from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Written when he was 12 years old, Greg Lake’s elegy to a mythic figure fallen in battle had previously been rejected by King Crimson. Entering the progressive rock pantheon as ELP laid down their debut, Emerson’s improvised Moog solo, recorded in what he thought was a run-through, is truly heroic.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Lucky Man (Live) - YouTube Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Lucky Man (Live) - YouTube
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4) Toccata (from Brain Salad Surgery, 1973)

A bold arrangement of the fourth movement of Argentine composer Alberto Ginestera’s 1961 piano concerto, it’s easy to understand why Keith Emerson regarded this as the most complex track ELP tackled. Veering between the polarities of hair-raising dynamics and sharply contrasting harmonics, Palmer’s nuanced solo completes the shock and awe sonics.

3) The Endless Enigma (from Trilogy, 1972)

ELP always possessed a knack of being able to marshal apparently disparate elements into something both cohesive and powerful. Covering more musical ground within the first two minutes than some would manage across an entire album, much of the following momentum is buoyed by one of Greg Lake’s best vocals.

The Endless Enigma (Pt. 1) - YouTube The Endless Enigma (Pt. 1) - YouTube
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2) Karn Evil 9: First and Second Impressions (from Brain Salad Surgery, 1973)

With almost every bar and beat of Brain Salad Surgery’s epic centrepiece filled with a cavalcade of vocal hooks, frantic cadenzas and rhapsodic solos, including a soaring lead guitar breakout from Greg Lake, the sheer velocity of this bombastic tour de force and its turbo-charged complexities remains an astonishing overture.

1) Tarkus (from Tarkus, 1971)

The everyday tale of a tooled-up cyborg armadillo killing all and sundry should be absurd, but such is the ferocity of Emerson’s Ginastera-inspired musical invention, Lake’s anthemic vocals and Palmer’s surgical strikes, the side-long suite is a compositional triumph from the start of its electronic chorale to the thrilling, tumultuous climax.

Tarkus (i. Eruption / ii. Stones of Years / iii. Iconoclast / iv. Mass / v. Manticore / vi.... - YouTube Tarkus (i. Eruption / ii. Stones of Years / iii. Iconoclast / iv. Mass / v. Manticore / vi.... - YouTube
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Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.