What I said back then:
Much derided, both at the time and, even more, since – and not without reason (if you want a good laugh, try searching for the lyrics of Pete Sinfield), they were nevertheless as important to me and my musical education as anything I heard in the mid-Seventies.
It was a music class, I recall – I think the teacher’s name was McPherson, but I might be wrong. At any rate, he decided to try and impress us with some modern music, and thought that comparing and contrasting the Ravel orchestration with ELP’s version of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ would at least penetrate our disinterested teenage brains.
Well, it worked with me. I’ll come back to Mussorgsky in a minute, but the version I rushed out to buy was ELP. Now, say what you like about the pretentiousness or otherwise of what they were about, but these guys were (and still are) proper musicians, with real musical ideas, and they opened my mind to so much which I would otherwise have scorned. I retain, for instance, a fondness for the Ginastera Piano Concerto – a tortuous piece of music – thanks to Keith Emerson’s ‘Toccata’, and I would never have explored Aaron Copland otherwise.
When ‘Works, vol. 1’ came out, I snapped it up, and loved it in all its variety, getting to know Emerson’s Piano Concerto, and considering it the equal of any I’d heard before then. Which, of course, was hardly any – I didn’t know any concerto the way I knew this one. Many, many years later, I decided to dig it out and listen again, confident that my teenage enthusiasm would prove to have been misplaced.
But it’s actually a fine piece of work, if a little derivative in places – it certainly stands up to the passage of time in a way that a lot of those lyrics didn’t. All together now:
Every day a little sadder,
A little madder,
Someone get me a ladder…
What I think now:
Yes, I still listen to ELP on occasion. What I didn’t mention at the time was the prog rock rivalry which existed at school – everyone was allowed Pink Floyd, for some reason, but then you had to choose – either Yes, ELP or Genesis. My path had been set, and so until about half a dozen years ago, I had never listened properly to either of those two other bands in their Seventies pomp. On mature reflection, I kind of wish I had – Gabriel-era Genesis, for example, is a splendid thing of its type. But I’ll always be an ELP boy, mainly, I think due to Keith Emerson’s keyboard skills.
Not much, really – I bought some of the CDs I used to own on vinyl, and I listened to some of the post 1980 material. I really wish I hadn’t. I’ll stick to my memories, thanks. Oh, and while I was researching links for this, I discovered Rachel Flowers.
Wow. Just wow. I love that this music can still provoke that reaction in me.