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How difficult is it (really) to release an album that defies all definitions of weird and grotesque in a time when the world is going gaga over the Beatles, the Stones and the Beach Boys?
Ask Robert Fripp of King Crimson, a man solely responsible for thinking up and birthing a whole new genre that would captivate millions – progressive rock, or as the cool would say, prog rock.
King Crimson was progressive before progressive got cool, before half the world was playing ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ to go with their questionable ‘pastimes’ and before Jethro Tull were permanent features at virtually every little town hall in England on Saturdays.
What started out as a rebellion, however, later spiralled into a mania that would see the band implode (remember, THRAK? I mean, what was that all about, really?!). Here, I attempt to narrow down the acts that I think best compete with the quirkiness of King Crimson.
Essential Albums: ‘The Snow Goose’, ‘Mirage’, ‘Camel’
Essential Tracks: ‘Mystic Queen’, ‘Ice’, ‘Lady Fantasy’
Camel marked the first generation of bands to be directly influenced by King Crimson’s brand of mystique.
Camel was also the first band to add new flavours to prog rock by consistently deriving help from other genres, including jazz, blues and even high-European classical music.
They gained tremendous popularity during their early years, but faded into obscurity during later phases of their careers.
Essential Albums: ‘The White Tape’, ‘Lawn Boy’, ‘Picture of Nectar’
Essential Tracks: ‘Tweezer’, ‘Run Like an Antelope’, ‘Bathtub Gin’
Phish upheld the baton of progressive rock from King Crimson, and how!
Regarded by many critics as the most musically versatile progressive rock band ever, Phish consistently managed to keep the boat of prog rock floating through the deluge of punk, thrash and disco(!) of the 80’s.
The six (sometimes twelve) string genius behind the curvy Phish sound, Trey Anastasio, has put it on record that King Crimson were the biggest influence on early Phish albums (‘Phish’ and ‘Junta’, in particular).
Essential Albums: ‘Telepathic Surgery’, ‘Hear It Is’, ‘Embryonic’
Essential Tracks: ‘Jesus Shootin’ Heroin’, ‘The Spark That Bled’, ‘This Here Giraffe’
Among the prog rock bands that are still releasing new material of import, the Flaming Lips probably rank the highest in terms musical connectedness and gamut of talent.
King Crimson’s influence on the Flaming Lips is certainly more than palpable, as the band covered the ground-breaking debut album of their heroes – ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ – in its entirety.
Elaborately deceptive live shows and confounding musical tantrums define the true spirit of prog rock that the Flaming Lips have kept alive.
A band like King Crimson provides much-needed cerebral massage that many of us crave. This is not just an English or American phenomenon, however.
Progressive rock has spread equally in other parts of the world, especially mainland Europe.
Essential Albums: ‘Focus Plays Focus’, ‘Focus 2’, ‘Focus 3’
Essential Tracks: ‘Sugar Island’, ‘Anonymous’, ‘Black Beauty’
Focus was the Dutch contemporary of King Crimson and created a short-lived wave of immense prog rock popularity in Amsterdam (fuelled by obvious factors).
With a track titled ‘House of the King’ on the German edition of their debut album, ‘Focus Plays Focus’, was a homage to King Crimson.
Essential Albums: ‘Epilog’, ‘Hybris’
Essential Tracks: ‘Kung Bore’, ‘Sorgmantel’
Änglagård is the youngest and probably the most misfit band on this list.
Formed in 1991 in Sweden, Änglagård has gone on to achieve massive popularity in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries. Having been suggested to give them a listen by a more ‘worldly’ peer, I somewhat reluctantly yielded, only to be taken aback by their clean, crisp sound – much like King Crimson’s.
Although I couldn’t make out the head or tail of their lyrics, I still feel this is a bet worth making for all King Crimson fans.
It wouldn’t be too rash to say that King Crimson will feature in top ten lists of most musically eccentric bands of all time. The fact that they used this aspect to their (and their fans’) advantage explains their longevity and popularity.
To help you explore the sense-ousting prog rock more avidly, here are a few more bands like King Crimson: Yes, ELP, Asia, Soft Machine, Mars Volta, Mystery Jets.
Do feel free to let us know of your favourite bands like King Crimson in the comment space below!