Friday, March 18, 2011

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer: Knife-Edge

It’s another Friday Flipside and today we head back to 1971 with the “B” side to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Lucky Man,” a song I featured about two months ago. “Knife-Edge” shows the classic side of Keith Emerson as the music is based primarily on a composition by Leoš Janáček and features a J.S. Bach interlude. Richard Fraser, ELP’s lyricist and roadie, and Greg Lake authored the lyrics. This is actually one of the first LP’s heavier tunes.

My second favorite part of the song is where Keith Emerson finishes the Bach interlude and does a pitch bend on the Hammond Organ. Since organs didn’t come with pitch bend wheels, ribbons or any other such device, many musicians wondered how he accomplished this feat. Was it some trick with the tape deck? No – it is so dreadfully simple even a cave man could do it – but it was a little known effect until word got out how Emerson accomplished this and some of his other organ pyrotechnics.

OK, I know you are salivating like Pavlov’s dog – here’s the story. If you are playing an old Hammond B3 (as did Emerson) and you played a chord and simultaneously turned the organ off, the residual electricity in the tubes (valves for you Brits) caused the pitch to raise as it dissipated. The trick was to turn the organ back on so the warm-up was nearly instantaneous. When I was in college, they had a Hammond C3 on stage and occasionally I would go down and play it – yep turning it off created Emerson’s effect.

My favorite part of the song is the ending where the tape deck was shut down without the brakes engaged. On both the single and the LP, where it was the last song on side one, the music slowed and finally stopped just in time for the needle to lift off the record. What a great effect and especially to experience it surrounded by those big can headphones of the 70s. Rock on.

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