At first glance, it’s hard to imagine less likely candidates for a lavish singles box set than Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Yet, here we are. Singles comprises 12 7-inch singles, from the tender Greg Lake ballad Lucky Man, a Dutch Top 20 hit in 1972, to the 1993 version of I Believe In Father Christmas, re-recorded for The Return Of The Manticore collection.
The singles are packed into a sturdy box, they all have their original picture sleeves, and each is presented in a different coloured vinyl. There’s some rather skimpy sleevenotes, a briefer-still introduction from Carl Palmer – who informs us this was “an idea I had” – and each sleeve is also represented as a seven-inch art print. So those who have long-desired a picture of the ELP-as-Bee-Gees Love Beach sleeve, which graced the splendid single version of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Canario, need desire no more.
With the best will in the world, ELP didn’t really do singles, so the compilers have been creative and trawled global releases. The Japanese version of Stones Of Years manages to get the song title wrong, but splendidly. From The Beginning was an Angolan release, although what the upstanding folk of Luanda made of Lake’s plaintive, mostly acoustic strum must remain a mystery. Meanwhile, the US promo version of the clattering Brain Salad Surgery makes the cut. There’s a small amount of repetition, and it’s all very pointless but rather wonderful.
There are no surprises, just reminders. The stentorian, keyboard-crazed version of Jerusalem was unquestionably ahead of its time, while C’est La Vie had all the makings of a standard in waiting and was the peak of the Lake/Pete Sinfield partnership, even beyond I Believe In Father Christmas, which by 1993 had been stripped of most of its Christmas trimmings and sounded both better and more bitter.
Towering above everything, of course, is their version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man, astonishingly a Number 2 hit in the UK. Cut for radio friendliness from the nearly 10 minutes found on Works Volume 1, it was a remarkable display of three-way musical virtuosity and gladiatorial power, albeit one best enjoyed via the video filmed in a deserted Montreal Olympic Stadium in the middle of the Canadian winter. It was also, as all great singles should be, impossibly catchy.
So, if ELP truly weren’t a singles act, then Singles adds nothing. But it does, of course, add something: Emerson, Lake & Palmer could have been a singles act. If they’d wanted to be.