Saturday, January 15, 2011

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer: Lucky Man

Being that it is a Saturday, I feature songs that bubbled under the top 40. Today, it is arguably one of my all time favorite songs and comes from the super group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s debut, self-titled album. I first heard this album in 1971 when I spent two weeks at my brother Chuck’s home in Lexington, KY. I was exposed to quite a few albums during those weeks and really expanded my musical horizons.

The best tune on the album, “Lucky Man,” was an afterthought as the band needed one more song to fulfill their contract their contract with EG Records in the UK. According to Song Facts, Greg Lake wrote the ballad when he was 12 years old and was experimenting in the studio with it when Keith Emerson fired up his new Moog synthesizer and was experimenting with some sounds not knowing that the tape was running at the time. What was just a bunch of random notes and sounds produced by Emerson would become the song’s signature.

When I went shopping for my first synthesizer in 1981, I had originally been torn between an Arp Odyssey and a Micro-Moog; however, the salesman at the Pied Piper in Huntington, WV suggested that I try a new model – a Sequential Circuits Pro One. It didn’t have the pitch ribbon which I wanted, but it had other features that made the creation of sounds much easier than its contemporary synths at a price much lower than I had expected.

When I got the instrument home two hours later to Beckley, I unpacked it and the first thing I attempted to figure out was the synth lead on “Lucky Man.” I did well as could be expected with the first part of it, but I am no Keith Emerson. When I joined my first band Audio Game, the Pro One came in handy for sound effects for certain songs.

I remember using it as the bomb sounds on the Gap Band’s “You Dropped A Bomb on Me.” It was also employed to do the sequenced synth parts on the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby.” I think I used it on Soft Cell’s rendition of “Tainted Love.” Later in Second Story, I used it for the portemento parts of REO Speedwagon’s “Riding the Storm Out.” There were probably other songs that I used the Pro-One on, but I also had a Prophet 5 at the time – so my memory of which instrument is a little fuzzy 30 years later.

After I posted this, I got the old Pro-One out of mothballs and started tinkering with it. I was amazed of how much of the solo of “Lucky Man” that I remembered. I didn't think I could do it, but i must have listed to this song 20 times this week and apparently it reopened some finger memory.

Back to “Lucky Man,” the single charted in the US at 48, which qualifies it for our “Bubbling Under” category. The album and single were released on the Atlantic Records’ Cotillion subsidiary. I bought the single in 1971 at the Monroeville Mall (famous for its inclusion as the set for George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” sequel to “Night of the Living Dead”).

My friend Rege Franko and I walked from North Versailles to the Monroeville Mall one Saturday and I came back with several singles that included Jackson Brown’s “Doctor My Eyes,” Sailcat’s “Motorcycle Mama,” and a few others including the cut-out single of “Lucky Man.” I still have it in my collection and I ran across the single the other day when I was packing up my singles in anticipation of our move. What memories of a great tune and what a long walk which took us through four towns: North Versailles, East McKeesport, Wilmerding, and Monroeville.

Besides Emerson’s synth parts, I love the mix on Carl Palmer’s drums. Greg Lake who played acoustic guitar and sang lead also overdubbed the lead and bass guitar parts. When performing live, Keith Emerson handled the low end and the guitar lead on his Hammond Organ.

I finally got to see the band live in concert during their “Works” tour in 1977 at the Charleston Civic Center. The venue was too small to include the orchestra, so the trio performed as a trio. A friend of mine at the time had seen the full blown orchestra show in Cincinnati a few days earlier and confessed that the Charleston show had been better. I was down front able to see all of the legendary keyboard antics of Keith Emerson during the show. It was fantastic. I am sorry that I never saw them again.

While their debut album somewhat criticized because its musical style is disjointed, it is an excellent musical expression from three of the world’s best and underrated musicians. The driving force of “Knife Edge” is one of the best of their heavy tunes and was the flip of “Lucky Man.” The prepared piano and piano chops by Keith Emerson and Lake’s acoustic guitar on “Take a Pebble” send chills up and down my spine. Most of the remainder of the album showcases the classical training of Keith Emerson which is amazing when you think of his relatively young age when this LP was produced. If you don’t have this LP, check it out.

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