When it comes to experimental progressive music, there aren’t many groups that can compete with King Crimson. Over the decades they’ve blended everything from classical, jazz, and folk, to electronic, industrial, and new wave. They’ve incorporated African rhythms, post-punk, minimalism, and free improvisation. While they are classified as a rock band, I think they are anything but that.
Founded in London in 1968, the only consistent member through every incarnation of the band has been guitarist Robert Fripp. He was one of the founders, has played on every album, and had guided their musical direction through every incarnation of the band.
It seems that Fripp likes to put together a select group of musicians to experiment with some specific musical styles, then after a few years, he disbands the group. After a break, he’ll bring together another stable of musicians and do something different with them. In a way, it’s a bit like Steely Dan, who was basically Donald Fagan and Walter Becker putting together a different group of musicians for every album. Or in many cases, for every song.
The musicians Fripp brings on board are the cream of the crop, known for their virtuosity, and are able to play the complex and often mind-boggling compositions.
King Crimson is one of those musical groups that I like to have playing in the background when I’m working on a project. Doesn’t matter if I’m writing, painting, or working in the garden, I find their experimentation and improvisation inspiring. I’ll admit, they aren’t a group that everyone will enjoy. Meaning, they don’t play Top 40 hits.
Their most commercially successful album was their very first, 1969s In the Court of the Crimson King. The album also contained their biggest hit, “21st Century Schizoid Man“. While they’ve had some additional airplay over the years, most of their following comes from word of mouth and extensive touring. In fact, King Crimson has one of the largest cult followings of any band, similar to groups like Phish and the Grateful Dead.
Despite the lack of airplay, they’ve recorded 13 studio albums and 15 live albums. Additionally, former members of King Crimson have gotten together to form cover bands, playing music from their stints in the band.
For this post, I thought I’d share a few of their songs to show the diversity and range of their music. I hope you give them all a listen. You may find something that inspires you.
Let’s start with their most popular song.
This is “The Night Watch” off one of my favorite albums by the group, Starless and Bible Black (which also ended up as the title of a short story in my collection Dark Journeys).
And finally, one of their many extended pieces (with the great Tony Levin on bass), “Starless”, from the album Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind.
I hope you enjoyed this foray into progressive music. Let me know what you think in the comments section.