King Crimson

King Crimson are an English rock band, active at multiple intervals since 1969. The original lineup of guitarist Robert Fripp, bassist–singer Greg Lake, reedist–keyboardist Ian McDonald, and drummer Michael Giles made one album, In the Court of the Crimson King, the catalyst for symphonic-rock. When Lake departed for Emerson Lake & Palmer and McDonald and Giles split off as a duo, Fripp enlisted hired hands (Keith Tippett, Gordon Haskell) for the 1970 albums In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard, which further explored the fusion of rock, folk, classical, free jazz, and post-psych whimsy.

In 1971, a second official lineup released Islands and toured for a year, generating the live album Earthbound. Fripp then revamped King Crimson with bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford for the 1973/74 albums Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, all steeped in European free music and 20th century classical with elements of heavy rock and proto-punk.

After seven years of session work on the transatlantic art-rock scene, Fripp reassembled King Crimson with Bruford, bassist Tony Levin, and guitarist–singer Adrian Belew. This lineup released the 1981–84 albums Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair, which combine elements of new wave and funk with electronic, avant-garde, and world music. Another hiatus followed before Fripp re-initiated King Crimson again for the 1995 disc Thrak.

Members: Robert Fripp (guitar, keyboards), Ian McDonald (saxophone, flute, keyboards, 1969, 1974), Greg Lake (bass, vocals, 1969-70), Michael Giles (drums, 1969-70), Peter Sinfield (lyrics, 1969-71), Peter Giles (bass, 1970), Gordon Haskell (bass, vocals, 1970), Andy McCulloch (drums, 1970), Keith Tippett (keyboards, 1970-71), Mel Collins (saxophone, flute, 1970-72, 2013-present), Boz Burrell (bass, vocals, 1971-72), Ian Wallace (drums, 1971-72), Jamie Muir (percussion, 1972-73), John Wetton (bass, vocals, 1972-74), David Cross (violin, viola, flute, keyboards, 1972-74), Richard Palmer-James (lyrics, 1972-74), Bill Bruford (drums, 1972-97), Tony Levin (bass, 1981-99, 2003-present), Adrian Belew (guitar, vocals, 1981-2013), Trey Gunn (bass, Chapman stick, Warr Guitar, 1994-2003), Pat Mastelotto (drums, 1994-present)

This page is currently in development and will undergo heavy editing and have added contents in the coming months (May 2023)


King Crimson stemmed from Giles, Giles and Fripp, the pop-psych trio comprised of guitarist Robert Fripp, bassist Peter Giles, and drummer Michael Giles. Fripp played in the unrecorded beat groups The Ravens and The League of Gentlemen (a name he’d later resurrect for a post-punk side project). The brothers had been in the beat group Trendsetters Limited, which morphed into psych-rockers The Brain for the 1967 Parlophone single “Kick the Donkey” (b/w “Nighmare in Red”).

In 1968, after the release of their singular album The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp, the trio welcomed keyboard–woodwind player Ian McDonald and his then-girlfriend, ex-Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble. When the couple split, she departed to the folk-duo Trader Horne. He also invited his friend, poet/craftsman Pete Sinfield, to serve as the band’s non-performing lyricist.

With McDonald, the band developed a set of newer, more elaborate material that was far removed from the pop whimsy of Cheerful Insanity. This move alienated Peter Giles, who soon cleared way for bassist/singer Greg Lake, fresh off a two-single stint with psych-rockers the Shy Limbs.

At Sinfield’s suggestion, the reconstituted four-piece christened itself King Crimson. They signed a management deal with David Enthoven and John Gaydon, collectively known as E.G. Productions.

King Crimson Mk I: Live Performances

The lineup of Fripp, Lake, Michael Giles, and McDonald made their live debut on April 9, 1969, at London’s Speakeasy Club. A string of shows followed over the next five months around London, Bristol, and the Midlands, including dates with Taste (5/3/69: Mothers, Birmingham), Savoy Brown and Forest (5/9/69: Lyceum), Steppenwolf and Steamhammer (5/16/69: Marquee), Circus (6/1/69: Lyceum), Bakerloo (7/19/69: Winter Gardens, Malvern), and Blodwyn Pig (7/16/69: Mothers).

On July 5, King Crimson opened the Rolling Stones free festival at Hyde Park. The following week, they played the 12 Hour Happiness Concert at the Nottingham Racecourse with Caravan, Eclection, Edgar Broughton Band, Idle Race, The Nice, Status Quo, and Yes.

In August, they played the 9th National Jazz, Blues & Pop Festival at the Plumpton Racecourse. The three-day event featured sets by Blossom Toes, East of Eden, Family, Hard  Meat, Keef Hartley Band, Keith Tippett Jazz Group, Magna Carta, Pentangle, Pink Floyd, and Soft Machine. King Crimson appeared on day two (Saturday the 9th) along with Aynsley Dunbar, Bonzo Dog Band, Breathru, Chicken Shack, Fat Mattress, John Surman, Roy Harper, Strawbs, The Who, and Yes, who just released their debut album. They were booked for the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival but pulled out of the event.

King Crimson signed with Island Records as part of that label’s growing post-psych roster (Free, Jethro Tull, Nirvana, Spooky Tooth, Traffic). They recorded their first album between June and August 1969 at Wessex Studios, London.

1969: In the Court of the Crimson King

King Crimson released their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, on October 10, 1969, on Island (UK) and Atlantic (North America). It features three group-composed epics and two numbers (“I Talk to the Wind,” “The Court of the Crimson King”) written by McDonald and Sinfield, who penned all the album’s lyrics.

21st Century Schizoid Man” (7:24) is a pensive rock epic with a crushing sax-laden guitar riff (in C minor) and distorted vocals. The lyrics concern the toxic impacts of neuroscience, war, and greed on humanity. After the second verse (“Innocents raped with napalm fire”), they cut to an instrumental section (in 6/8) subtitled “Mirrors,” which features brisk unison guitar-sax riffing, followed by a whirlwind stretch of searing Fripp leads over rapidfire bass and drums. McDonald plays a tight sax riff that ushers a tense, closed-cadence sequence. After the final verse, things spiral into cacophony.

I Talk to the Wind” (6:04) is a gentle flute-laced ballad that the group first demoed with Judy Dyble and Peter Giles. Lake, in a somber tone, sings of a living man’s attempts to communicate with the dead.

Epitaph” (8:49) is a Mellotron epic with two sub-parts, “March For No Reason” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” Lake, with pained melodrama, sings as a wrongfully condemned man who laments that “Knowledge is a deadly friend” when “The fate of all mankind… is in the hands of fools,” concluding with the anguished refrain “I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.” Midway, Fripp plays a fingerpicked classical guitar pattern with a hammered augmented fifth (in B), followed by a droning reed passage with cannon-like toms.

Moonchild” (12:13) consists of two distinct parts: “The Dream” and “The Illusion,” where Fripp interpolates the theme from “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! “The Dream” is a short pastoral ballad with foggy Mellotron, sparse cymbals, and Lake’s rising intonations on lines like “Waving silver wands to the night birds song.” On “The Illusion,” they enter a free-form jam with light, glowing vibes and moments of quiet deconstruction.

The Court of the Crimson King” (9:26) is a swelling Mellotron rocker similar to “Epitaph.” The lyrics consist of four stanzas that detail the ceremonies (tournament, funeral march, orchestra, puppet dance) of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1194–1250), Europe’s first modern ruler. After the second verse, a fast section ensues with sparkling, cymbal-driven organ enswirled in Mellotron. Midway (4:16), they enter a slow passage (“The Return of the Fire Witch”) of light guitar, flute, and drizzling cymbals. After the final verse and refrain vocalise, the song has a false ending (at 7:00), followed by a flute-tone march that signals a reprise (“The Dance of the Puppets”), which modulates the main four-bar Mellotron riff with loud undercurrents.

The album was engineered by Wessex Sound’s Robin Thompson, who worked concurrently on To Our Children’s Children’s Children, the November 1969 release by The Moody Blues. McDonald handles all keyboards (Mellotron, harpsichord, piano, organ) and reeds (saxophone, flute, clarinet), in addition to vibraphone and backing vocals.

King Crimson were given the go-ahead to self-produce their debut album after an earlier round of sessions stalled between the band and Tony Clarke, who produced the Moodies’ 1967 release Days of Future Passed, one of the first album-length fusions of rock band and orchestra.

Like McDonald, Moodies keyboardist Mike Pinder utilized the Mellotron, a keyboard with key-triggered string sounds. The instrument made it possible for a keyboardist to approximate lavish orchestral sounds with two hands, thus giving rise to the self-contained symphonic-rock unit. In the Court of the Crimson King is often cited as the template for subsequent bands in this vein.

In the Court features artwork by computer programmer Barry Godber, a friend of Sinfield. He used his own reflection as the basis for the gatefold, which shows the gaping, anguished face of the Schizoid Man. The inner-gate shows the Crimson King: a smiling, sad-eyed lunar character with trickster hands. This would be the only album cover by Godber, who died of a heart attack at age 23 in February 1970, three months after the album’s release.

In the Court of the Crimson King reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 28 on the US Billboard 200. “The Court of the Crimson King” was issued as a two-part single: Pt. 1 (side a) and Pt. 2 (side b). It reached No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100.

US Tour, Lineup Change

King Crimson marked the release of In the Court of the Crimson King with an October 11 show at the London College of Printing, supported by Synanthesia and Skin Alley.

They launched their first US tour on October 29 at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. Over the next six weeks, King Crimson played multiple nights with Al Kooper (10/30–11/1/69: The Boston Tea Party) and Gypsy (12/3–7/69 Whiskey-A-Go-Go, Los Angeles). In New York City, they did a two-night stand with Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, and Voices of Harlem (11/21–22/69: Fillmore East). Notable single-night engagements, planned as two-nighters, included shows with Jefferson Airplane (11/14–15/69: Eastown Theater, Detroit) and Iron Butterfly (11/7–8/69: Chicago’s Kinetic Playground, destroyed by an after-show fire that caused the venue’s closure).

On November 28–29, King Crimson played the Palm Beach International Music & Art Festival, a Raceway event headlined by the Rolling Stones with sets by Janis Joplin, Chamber Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Spirit, Rotary Connection, Vanilla Fudge, and Bethlehem Asylum. As the tour advanced, McDonald and Michael Giles grew weary of Fripp’s dark musical leanings.

King Crimson’s US tour wrapped with a four-night engagement (Dec. 11–14) with the Chambers Brothers and The Nice at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. It was here that Lake befriended Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson. The two held an impromptu jam and discovered their musical chemistry. They agreed to launch a new project after the end of their respective tours.

Back in the UK, McDonald and Giles left King Crimson to record as a duo. Fripp retained Sinfield as lyricist and Michael Giles and Lake as session musicians for the second Crimson album, recorded between January and April 1970 at Wessex Sound.

1970: In the Wake of Poseidon

King Crimson’s second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, appeared on May 15, 1970, on Island and Atlantic. Side one contains the dissonant heavy rocker “Pictures of a City (including “42nd at Treadmill”)” and the symphonic epic “In the Wake of Poseidon (including “Libra’s Theme”)” — respectively modeled after their counterparts on side one of Crimson King: “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Epitaph.” Fripp composed all the music on side one and co-wrote the second half (“Cat Food” “The Devil’s Triangle”) with McDonald.

Peace” bookends Poseidon as an a cappella prelude (“A Beginning”) and postlude (“An End”) sung by Lake, who sings everything apart from the acoustic ballad “Cadence and Cascade,” sung by ex-Les Fleur de Lys bassist Gordon Haskell, Fripp’s onetime Ravens bandmate. Neither Lake nor Haskell supply the album’s bass parts, which are played instead by Peter Giles, who also appears as a third wheel on McDonald and Giles.

Pictures of a City” (7:57) is a distorted, grandiose rocker that transports the arrangement of “21st Century Schizoid Man” to the key of G minor. The lyrics present a fractured collage of metropolitan imagery:

Concrete cold face, cased in steel
Stark sharp glass-eyed, crack and peel
Bright light scream beam, brake and squeal
Red, white, green, white, neon wheel

In the Wake of Poseidon” (8:24) is a slow, heavy Mellotron epic in the vein of “Epitaph.” It opens with a slow, descending symphonic passage, followed by Lake’s impassioned account of “Plato’s spawn” and “Bishop’s kings” and other characters in the Greek god’s wake.

Side two starts with “Peace – A Theme,” an instrumental spin on the prelude–postlude vocal melody. “Cat Food” (4:52) is a discombobulated mid-tempo vocal number with running free-jazz piano, played by Keith Tippett, who also plays on “The Devil’s Triangle” (11:30), an instrumental suite in three parts:

  • “Merday Morn” — a flute-Mellotron bolero with a slow fade-in.
  • “Hand of Sceiron” — a louder, swelling continuation of “Merday” that succumbs to icy winds.
  • “Garden of Worm” — a dissonant spin on the bolero that breaks into free-form randomness.

In addition to guitar, Fripp handles all Mellotron, plus celesta (“Cadence and Cascade”) and Hohner pianet (“Garden of Worm”). Ex-Circus reedist Mel Collins supplies saxophone (“Pictures of a City”) and flute (“Cadence”).

Fripp and Sinfield co-produced In the Wake of Poseidon, which Thompson engineered amid work with Brainchild (Healing of the Lunatic Owl), Cressida (Cressida), and Web (I Spider). Sinfield designed the album’s gatefold cover, which appropriates faces from The 12 Archetypes, a 1967 work by Dutch painter Tammo De Jongh. Each face (the joker, the warrior, the observer, etc) represents a combination of Air and Water or Earth and Fire. Sinfield himself painted the watery impressionistic backdrop on the inner-gates.

“Cat Food” appeared as a single on Island (UK, Norway, Denmark), Philips (France, Australia), and Stateside (Germany, Netherlands), backed with Fripp’s non-album “Groon,” a brisk, electrified hard-bop instrumental with Sharrock-like guitar licks and Buddy Rich-style drum fills.

In the Wake of Poseidon reached No. 4 on the UK Album’s Chart and No. 30 on the US Billboard 200. After the album’s completion, Lake reconvened with Emerson. They formed the super-trio Emerson Lake & Palmer with drummer Carl Palmer (Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster). Their self-titled debut album appeared in late 1970 on Cotillion.

One day after Poseidon‘s release, King Crimson were booked for Joint Meeting 1970, a rock festival at the Eisstadion in Düsseldorf, Germany. Since there was no actual Crimson lineup at this stage, Fripp pulled out of the event. No Crimson concerts occurred that year.

Fripp enlisted Collins and Haskell for a new King Crimson lineup. He also added drummer Andy McCulloch, a Shy Limbs alumnus recommended by Lake. Tippett declined an offer of membership but stayed on as an auxiliary. They reentered Wessex in August 1970. Concurrently, Fripp debuted as a sessionist on “The Emperor In His War Room,” a two-part epic on H to He, Who Am the Only One, the 1970 third album by Van Der Graaf Generator.


King Crimson’s third album, Lizard, appeared on December 10, 1970, on Island and Atlantic. Side one contains four numbers: “Cirkus,” “Indoor Games,” “Happy Family,” and the short, quiet ballad “Lady of the Dancing Water.” The album’s title-suite consumes side two and consists of four parts.

Cirkus” (6:27) starts out with muted verses where Haskell sings lines like “Night, her sable dome scattered with diamonds, fused my dust from a light year” in jumbled syllables over tingly electric piano. A swelling reed-tone Mellotron riff (in G minor) blares in at the 42-second mark. The song proceeds with further verses, interspersed with reed–Mellotron breaks and a five-note Tippet refrain. Fripp lays Spanish guitar filigree across the second half, subtitled “Entry of the Chameleons.”

Indoor Games” (5:37) sports tight interplay between Collins (sax) and a three-piece brass section. Its convoluted verses and strum-along chorus assail the decadent rich. Another stretch of free-form ensues amid the roaming reeds and rhythmic vagaries that dominate the song’s second half.

Happy Family” (4:22) drops in with a descending, tremolo-laden riff on the EMS VCS 3 analog synthesizer, performed by Sinfield. The verses are distorted and flanked with fluttering reeds, disconnected drum fills, and roaming Fender Rhodes electric piano. The lyrics are dense metaphors about the rise and fall of The Beatles, referenced as Judas (Paul McCartney), Jonah (John Lennon), Silas (George Harrison), and Rufus (Ringo Starr).

Lizard” (23:25) starts with an icy Mellotron, the opening note of “Prince Rupert Awakes” (4:32), a proper song with desolate verses and a singalong chorus sung by Yes frontman Jon Anderson. That song fades into “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” (6:32), an instrumental with a romantic melody that succumbs to colliding reeds, tinkling jazz piano and marching snare drums. Just as the melody returns, it clears out for the suite’s longest section, “The Battle of Glass Tears” (11:05), subdivided into three sections:

  • “Dawn Song” — a subdued vocal passage.
  • “Last Skirmish” — a melange of dueling reeds, disconnected drum fills, frosty Mellotron and general free-jazz cacophony.
  • “Prince Rupert’s Lament” — a dark, foreboding passage of monotone bass and searing, distant leads.

The suite ends with “Big Top,” a fade-in/fade-out postlude of shimmery Mellotron and upward spiraling celestial sounds.

Fripp composed and co-produced Lizard with Sinfield. This was the final King Crimson album engineered by Thompson, who subsequently worked on the 1971 self-titled album by Samurai, a renamed Web. The brass section consists of Scottish oboeist Robin Miller and two members of Tippett’s experimental big band project Centipede: cornetist Marc Charig and trombonist Nick Evans.

Lizard sports gatefold cover art by Gini Barris, a recent graduate of London’s Central School of Art and Design who pitched her concept to Sinfield. It shows the words “King” (back gate) and “Crimson” (front gate) in medieval letters flanked with miniatures of period and contemporary activities that correspond to the lyrics on each side. On the word “Crimson,” the “C” engulfs a miniature of a circus (“Cirkus”) and the “i” is flanked by The Beatles (“Happy Family”). The “K” in “King” encloses a battle scene led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Duke of Cumberland (1619–1682), a Royalist cavalry commander during the English Civil War.

1971: King Crimson Mk II

The Lizard lineup proved transitory. After sessions wrapped, Haskell resumed his solo career with the 1971 Atco release It Is and It Isn’t.

McCulloch played on one track (“It’s Good to Be Alive”) on Volume Two, the 1970 second album by Manfred Mann Chapter Three. He then joined Fields, formed at Fripp’s encouragement by ex-Rare Bird organist Graham Field with guitarist–bassist Alan Barry, another ex-Shy Limb. Their album, Fields, appeared in 1971 on CBS. (Barry also played on Haskell’s album along with Mogul Thrash bassist John Wetton, a future member of King Crimson.)

Fripp retained Collins and enlisted a new rhythm section comprised of singing bassist Raymond “Boz” Burrell and drummer Ian Wallace, a onetime member of beatsters The Warriors, which also featured Jon Anderson, guitarist Brian Parrish (Parrish–Gurvitz, Badger), and keyboardist Brian Chatton (Flaming Youth, Jackson Heights). Fripp hired Boz as a vocalist first after producing him in that capacity on Septober Energy, the 1971 double-album by Keith Tippett’s Centipede. Boz, a beat-era rhythm guitarist for Elkie Brooks, learned bass at the urging of Wallace, who most recently played on Lucky Planet, the 1970 Liberty release by Bonzo Dog-spinoff The World.

The King Crimson lineup of Fripp, Collins, Burrell, and Wallace lasted through 1971 and gave the Lizard material its first live airing, starting with a four-night engagement (April 12–15) at Frankfurt’s Zoom Club. A unique piece on this tour was their elongated (12–13-minute) improv-laden cover of Donovan‘s “Get Thy Bearings,” originally found on the Scottish folkster’s 1968 release The Hurdy Gurdy Man.

King Crimson did a round of May–June UK shows, followed by another round in the late-summer and autumn, starting with a two-night stand (August 9–10) at London’s Marquee Club with Vivian Stanshall. Sessions for a new studio album occurred intermittently between mid-July and October at Command, London. They launched their second North American tour on November 10 at the Armoury in Wilmington, Delaware.

Meanwhile, Fripp played guitar on the October 1971 Charisma release Pawn Hearts, the fourth album by Van Der Graaf Generator. Months earlier, he played on Fool’s Mate, the debut solo album by VDGG frontman Peter Hammill. Fripp and Hammill also partook in the all-star sessions for the debut album by singer–songwriter Colin Scot, released in 1971 on UA/Liberty with musical backing by Brinsley Schwarz and vocal backing by members of Genesis (Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins), Lindisfarne (Alan Hull), Renaissance (Jane Relf), and Tudor Lodge (Ann Steuart).


King Crimson’s fourth album, Islands, appeared on December 3, 1971, on Island and Atlantic. Fripp composed all six tracks, which consist of two lengthy yet subdued numbers (“Formentera Lady,” “Islands”), two instrumentals (“Sailor’s Tale,” “Prelude: Song of the Gulls”), and two tracks with dichotomous passages (“The Letters,” “Ladies of the Road”).

Formentera Lady” (10:18) weaves cello, flute, and glistening ivory around a romantic vocal line. It morphs into a free-form vocal jam (in A), then drops into Sailor’s Tale” (7:29), a dissonant guitar jam (in A minor) engulfed by soaring Mellotron. The lyrics concern a temptress from Formentera, a hippie getaway island near Ibiza.

The Letters” (4:28) starts with muted, desolate vocals, then erupts (“Cirkus” style) with punching sax and searing electric sustain. It’s based on “Why Don’t You Just Drop In,” a then-unheard song by Giles, Giles & Fripp (later released on The Brondesbury Tapes).

Ladies of the Road” (5:31), a comedic number about groupies, cuts between muted vocal verses and swelling, dissonant guitar–sax passages.

Prelude: Song of the Gulls” (4:14) is a chamber instrumental composed of sharp cello, sweet violin, and pizzicato strings. The track — derived from the GG&F piece “Suite No. 1” — is performed by a string ensemble conducted by Centipede violinist Wilfred Gibson, who joined Electric Light Orchestra for their 1973 second album ELO 2.

Islands” (11:51) surfaces with another romantic vocal line embellished with light cello and piano. Midway onward, it builds on a two-chord pattern (B–A) with sax, harmonium, and Mellotron amid a running drone (sustained E). The track fades at 9:12 but contains a hidden postlude sound collage.

Another track from the sessions, “A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls,” got withheld from the album. It’s a post-bop instrumental with legato guitar runs and rapidfire snare–ride rolls. Midway, it breaks for a 6/8 reed riff (in G minor) that Fripp would poach for the subsequent album. (“Peacemaking” finally appeared on 40th anniversary reissues of Islands.)

King Crimson self-produced Islands at Command, a recently opened Piccadilly studio also used for 1971 albums by Anno Domini, Beggars Opera (Waters of Change), Continuum, Ekseption, Jack Bruce (Harmony Row), Pentangle, Pink Fairies, Raw Material (Time Is…), Stonehouse, and Stud. Islands was engineered by Andy Hendriksen, a soundman on 1969–71 albums by Arcadium (Breathe Awhile), Fire, The Kinks (Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), Paul Brett’s Sage (self-titled), Woody Kern (The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk), and Writing On the Wall (The Power of the Picts).

Hendriksen would also engineer the 1972 RCA Victor release Blueprint, Tippett’s improvised debut solo album, produced by Fripp. Tippett plays all piano parts on Islands, which again features musical guests Charig, Robin Miller, and contrabassist Harry Miller, then a member of Centipede and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.

Islands is housed in a gatefold with photographs of the emission nebula by Robert Ellis, who also photographed the inner-gate group shot for the 1971 Osibisa album Wɔyaya (famously illustrated by Yes/Uriah Heep cover artist Roger Dean). Islands’ inner-gates display glowing, saturated puddle formations on a white background. The inner-sleeve features lyrics and a leaf-shaped collage of live pics. Atlantic copies (North America) replace the celestial imagery with the puddles-on-white.

1972: Earthbound

Islands would be the only studio album of the Mk II lineup. After the close of their US tour on December 11, 1971, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, King Crimson combusted over disparities between Fripp’s European classical leanings and the remaining band’s preference for blues-rock and R&B arrangements. However, they patched their differences for another round of US dates in February–March 1972, opening once again at the Armoury, Wilmington.

In June 1972, Island issued Earthbound, comprised of numbers from their winter–spring stateside tour. It features elongated renditions of “21st Century Schizoid Man” (11:45) and “Groon” (15:30), both from their 2/11/72 Armoury show. It also documents two group-credited improvs: “Peoria” (3/10/72: The Barn, Peoria, Illinois) and “Earthbound” (2/27/72: Kemp Coliseum, Orlando). The abbreviated “Sailor’s Tale” (4:45) is from their 2/26/72 show at the Baseball Park in Jacksonville, Fla.

The performances were captured live on an Ampex stereo cassette by sound engineer Hunter MacDonald, who performed the VCS3 passages. Consequently, Earthbound has poor sound, which couldn’t be improved on later reissues due to the quality of source tapes. Atlantic blocked the album’s North American release because of the audio limitations. (In 2012, Fripp issued better-quality Mk II live recordings, mostly from 1971 dates, on his Discipline Global Mobile label.)

Mk II Breakup

Mk II’s second US tour saw band relations improve as the other members exerted their influence on the live arrangements. They were eager to continue as a band after the tour, but Fripp — sensing the others were ill-suited to the new music he envisioned — nixed the proposal. In his wish to move past the post-psych lyrical whimsy of the preceding four albums, he severed ties with Sinfield.

Collins and Wallace both played on the 1972 Charisma solo album by singer Graham Bell (Skip Bifferty, Every Which Way, Bell + Arc). As part of the pickup touring band Snape, they played on the 1972/73 Brain releases The Accidental Band and Live On Tour In Germany by blues stalwart Alexis Korner. The latter features Boz, who also appears on the 1973 Chrysalis release On the Road to Freedom, a collaboration between guitarist Alvin Lee (Ten Years After) and Mylon LeFevre. Boz and Wallace also appear on the 1973 Virgin release Manor Live, taken from an all-star event led by Vinegar Joe bassist Steve York with appearances by Mike Patto (Patto, Boxer), keyboardist Tim Hinkley (Jody Grind), and drummer Rob Tait (Battered Ornaments, Pete Brown & Piblokto!).

Separately, Collins played on Still, the sole album by Sinfield, released in 1973 on ELP’s Manticore label and produced by Greg Lake. Wallace played on Bump ‘n’ Grind, the fourth and final album by Jackson Heights. He reunited with Collins on Streetwalkers, the 1974 collaborative effort (and blueprint for a namesake band) by Family mainstays Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney. Subsequently, Wallace joined Alvin Lee & Co. and played on albums by Labi Siffre and Humble Pie. Collins did numerous sessions (Amazing Blondel, Chili Charles, Dana Gillespie, Duncan Mackay, Keith Christmas, Snafu) and surfaced next in funk-rockers Kokomo.

Boz teamed with guitarist Mick Ralphs (Mott the Hoople) and half of Free (Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke) in Bad Company, which signed to Led Zeppelin‘s Swan Song label and reached major league status with the 1974/75 albums Bad Company and Straight Shooter and the singles “Can’t Get Enough” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”

Mk III: Bill Bruford and John Wetton Join

In the summer of 1972, Fripp assembled a new lineup of King Crimson. He teamed with Scottish percussionist Jamie Muir, a flamboyant multi-media artist who studied under choreographer Lindsay Kemp and performed on The Music Improvisation Company, the 1970 ECM free-music release by saxist Evan Parker and guitarist Derek Bailey. More recently, he played in the Afro-rock band Assagai, a Brotherhood of Breath spinoff that issued two 1971 albums on Vertigo with help from Jade Warrior. At the time of meeting Fripp, he played in Sunship, an experimental jazz-rock band with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist Alan Gowen (later Gilgamesh) that never got beyond rehearsals.

Fripp also enlisted drummer Bill Bruford and bassist John Wetton, a fellow Dorset native. Bruford was fresh off a five-album stint with Yes, having played on their 1969–71 albums Yes, Time and a Word, The Yes Album, and Fragile. He left the band in July 1972, just after sessions wrapped on their magnum opus Close to the Edge, released later that year. His initiation in Crimson included a reading list of esoteric works favored by Muir, an enlightening presence for the mannered drummer.

Wetton was fresh off a one-year stint with Family that produced the 1971/72 albums Fearless and Bandstand, the latter finished just before his departure. Fripp rounded out the new KC lineup with David Cross, an electric violinist and keyboardist from Plymouth who played in the unsigned act Waves. For lyrics, Crimson employed Wetton’s friend Richard Palmer-James, an original member of Supertramp. He mailed words to Fripp and Wetton from his base in Germany, where he currently worked with brass-rockers Emergency.

King Crimson’s Mk III lineup would last for two years and three albums but shrink from five-to-three members over its course. They made their live debut on October 13, 1972, at Mk II’s launching ground, the Zoom Club in Frankfurt. On the 17th, they performed a new song, “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic,” for a segment of the German music program Beat-Club (aired 11/25/72). The title came from Muir, who uttered the words as descriptors for the music’s sound. His Crimson live tenure covered the next three months, wrapping with a 12/15/72 show at Portsmouth’s Guildhall.

Meanwhile, Fripp produced Matching Mole’s Little Red Record, the second album by Robert Wyatt‘s post-Softs outfit Matching Mole. He also collaborated with Wiccan journalist Walli Elmlark on The Cosmic Children of Rock, an unreleased spoken-word album.

1973: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson released Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, their first of three Mk III-era albums, on March 23, 1973, on Island and Atlantic. It draws upon European avant-garde chamber music and veers between composed segments and free improv: a radical departure from the post-psych sounds and surrealist lyrics of prior albums.

Larks’ features three songs per side and is bookended by Parts One (group written) and Two (Fripp) of the title track. Both parts are instrumental, along with “The Talking Drum,” another group composition. Everything is in the seven-minute range apart from Part One (13:36) and the following “Book of Saturday” (2:53). The latter, along with “Easy Money,” were co-written by Fripp and Wetton with lyrics by Palmer-James, who also penned the Fripp–Cross composition “Exiles,” an enduring live staple. The album’s title translates to “birds tongues in meat jelly.”

Larks’ was self-produced during January–February 1973 at Command with engineer Nick Ryan, whose prior credits include albums by Jimmy Campbell and Liverpool Scene. Fripp and Cross share Mellotron and Hohner pianet honors. Muir’s unlisted sundries include chimes, bells, shakers, rattles, and sheet metal. The album’s sun–moon illustration is credited to Tantra Designs.

“Larks” One and Two would later function as the opening sequence of an ongoing series, initiated by “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part III)” on their 1984 album Three of a Perfect Pair.

Larks’ Tour, Outside Credits

The month Larks’ hit shelves, Bruford married his romantic muse Carolyn, a sculptress. At the wedding reception, Muir chatted with Jon Anderson and encouraged the singer to read Autobiography of a Yogi, the 1946 autobiography of Indian Hindu monk Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952). Anderson was struck by the footnote on page 83, which describes four Shastric scriptures. He used this as the basis for Tales from Topographic Oceans, the 1973 double-album by Yes.

Soon after, Muir resigned from King Crimson and left the music scene for seven years to join a Buddhist monastery. The abridged Mk III lineup of Fripp, Bruford, Wetton, and Cross launched a nine-date UK tour with Claire Hamill, starting with a March 16, 1973 show at Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow. After a round of Continental dates, they launched a North American tour on April 18 at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio. They gigged throughout the US for ten weeks, culminating with a July 2 show at Kent State University. After a summer pause, they resumed in Quebec on September 19 with a fall tour that wrapped on November 29 at the Cine Alcala in Madrid.

Also during 1973, Fripp and Wetton played on two tracks (“Baby’s On Fire,” “Driving Me Backwards”) on Here Come the Warm Jets, the debut solo album by ex-Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno. As a duo, Fripp and Eno held three sessions that produced No Pussyfooting, comprised of two side-long experiments in tape-delay looping, later dubbed “Frippertronics.” The album appeared in November 1973 on Island/EG.

Fripp notched another producer’s credit on the 1973 self-titled RCA release by Ovary Lodge, a free-music group assembled by Tippett and his wife Julie Driscoll with bassist Roy Babbington (Delivery, Nucleus). Fripp is also credited as the producer of “And Now for Something Completely Different! – Sabre Dance,” the b-side of the Love Sculpture cover “Sabre Dance” by Spontaneous Combustion.

Elsewhere, Bruford played on two tracks (“Catherine of Aragon,” “Anne Boleyn: The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended”) on The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the 1973 debut solo album by then-Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who left Yes one album after Bruford. Sessions for Six Wives occurred intermittently during the prior year, before and after Bruford’s departure from Yes.

Meanwhile, Wetton played alongside Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett on “Knights-Reprise,” the closing track on side one of The Two Sides of Peter Banks, the 1973 solo album by original Yes guitarist Peter Banks, then part of Capitol–Sovereign recording artists Flash. Concurrently, Wetton made cameos on Sinfield’s Still and Rare Bird’s fourth album Somebody’s Watching.

1974: Starless and Bible Black

King Crimson sixth studio album and second Mk III release, Starless and Bible Black, appeared on March 24, 1974, on Island–Atlantic. Side one exceeds 26 minutes with six tracks, including the album’s four lyrical numbers: “The Great Deceiver” (about the commercialization of the Vatican), “Lament” (about fame), “The Night Watcher” (an observation of the namesake Rembrandt painting), and the group-written “The Mincer” (about a home-invading serial killer). The first three are Fripp–Wetton compositions with Palmer-James lyrics.

The players are group-credited on the instrumentals “We’ll Let You Know” and the drummerless “Trio,” an ambient piece played (as the title indicates) by three-fourths of the band. Bruford, who found his presence superfluous as the track unfolded, receives a co-write for his “admirable restraint.”

Side two consists of “Starless and Bible Black” (9:11), a group-credited free-form instrumental. The title became the chorus line of “Starless,” a track on Crimson’s next album. Fripp composed “Fracture” (11:14), a convoluted instrumental that gradually centers on a recurrent riff that swells to a menacing climax.

“The Great Deceiver” and “Lament” were recorded at AIR Studios, London, in January 1974. The remaining tracks are live improvisations recorded during their 1973 tour. “We’ll Let You Know” was improvised in Glasgow (10/23/73: Apollo) and “The Mincer” was improvised in Zurich (11/15/73: Volkhaus) with lyrics overdubbed at AIR by Wetton. “Trio,” “The Night Watch,” “Starless and Bible Black,” and “Fracture” are taken from a show in Amsterdam (11/23/73: Concertgebouw). Most of these pieces are trimmed from their original concert length.

Starless and Bible Black was engineered by George Chkiantz, a soundman on albums by Beckett, Chicken Shack (Imagination Lady), Hawkwind, High Tide (self-titled), Khan, Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy), Man, and Third World War. The assistant engineer, Peter Henderson, also worked on 1974 albums by Camel (Mirage) and America.

Starless is housed in a gatefold designed by Tom Phillips, whose 1973 modernist painting After Rapheal was later scalloped and appropriated for the cover of Eno’s 1975 third solo album Another Green World.

King Crimson promoted Starless and Bible Black with a March 1974 European tour, followed by three months of North American dates that culminated with shows in New Jersey (6/28/74: Casino Arena, Asbury Park), Rhode Island (6/30/74: Palace Theater, Providence), and a July 1 alfresco event at New York’s Central Park, their final show for seven years.

As the tour wrapped, they cut Cross from the lineup. He next appeared on the 1975 Virgin release Forever Blowing Bubbles, the second album by the French space-rock ensemble Clearlight. After twelve years away from the scene, he resurfaced (with Tippett) in the 1987 jazz rock one-off Low Flying Aircraft, which issued a self-titled disc on the indie label Red Hot.


King Crimson released their seventh studio album, Red, on October 6, 1974, on Island–Atlantic. It’s the third and final album of the Mk II lineup, now slimmed to the trio of Fripp, Bruford, and Wetton. Side one features the Fripp-composed title instrumental and two Fripp–Wetton numbers: “Fallen Angel” and “One More Red Nightmare.”

Despite the stylistic continuity with its two predecessors, Red sports a tighter, heavier sound, due in part to overdubs. Sessions commenced at Olympic Studios, London, the day after they fired Cross, who only appears on “Providence” (8:08), a live improv from the Palace Theater show. He also has a co-writing credit on “Starless” (12:18), a vocal rock epic conceived for the prior album but set aside due to its then-unfinished state. Since the chorus line “Starless and bible black,” was used for the title instrumental of that album, the name was shortened here.

Red was self-produced during July–August 1974, once again with Chkiantz. It reinstated the 1970/71 practice of auxiliary players, including brass sessionists Charig and Robin Miller (“Fallen Angel”) and an uncredited string section. Former member McDonald plays alto sax on “One More Red Nightmare” and “Starless,” which has fellow alumnus Collins on soprano sax. The assistant engineer, Rod Thear, also worked on 1974 albums by Focus and The Eagles. He subsequently engineered Camel’s 1975 magnum opus The Snow Goose.

Red sports a shaded monochrome group shot (front) and the image of a streaming speed monitor in the red zone (back) by photographer John Kosh, who also has visual credits on 1974 albums by Andy Fairweather-Low, Badfinger, Hudson–Ford, Linda Lewis, Stackridge (The Man In the Bowler Hat), T. Rex, and the team effort First of the Big Bands by Tony Ashton and Jon Lord.

Fripp took a less hands-on role during the making of Red as he contemplated his exit. When the visiting McDonald refused to take the reins, Fripp dissolved King Crimson on September 24, 1974, two weeks before the album’s release.

Interim Years

King Crimson’s sudden breakup shocked many parties in the inner-circle, including Bruford and Wetton. In May 1975, with public demand unabated, Atlantic issued USA, a live album culled from the band’s June 1974 shows at Casino Arena and Palace Theater. It features three numbers from Larks’ (“Exiles,” “Easy Money,” “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)”), two from Starless (“Lament,” “Fracture”), an elongated “Starless” (14:55), and the concert perennial “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The improvisational “Asbury Park,” recorded at the New Jersey show, is cut to 6:54, half its original performance length.

USA features studio overdubs by violinist and keyboardist Eddie Jobson, Eno’s replacement in Roxy Music. Along with Wetton, he appears on Diamond Head, the 1975 debut solo album by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. They also backed Roxy frontman Bryan Ferry on his 1976 release Let’s Stick Together. After separate stints with Frank Zappa (Jobson) and Uriah Heep (Wetton), they reteamed in UK, a supergroup with Bruford and Holdsworth that produced a 1978 self-titled album. Minus the latter two, Jobson and Wetton revamped UK with the 1979 album Danger Money.

Bruford played on albums by ex-Yes mates Steve Howe and Chris Squire (Fish Out of Water) and joined the initial lineup of National Health, formed by members of Gilgamesh and Hatfield and the North. In early 1976, he played drums for Genesis on the tour behind A Trick of the Tail, their first with drummer Phil Collins at the microphone. He also played on albums that year by Pavlov’s Dog and Absolute Elsewhere. In 1977, he formed the jazz-rock combo Bruford with Holdsworth. After cutting the album Feels Good to Me, they joined UK for one album, then resumed Bruford for the 1979 release One of a Kind.

Robert Fripp: Sabbatical and Side Credits (1975–80)

Fripp took a year-long sabbatical at the International Academy for Continuous Education. He announced plans to produce an upcoming solo album by ex-Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower, an opening act on Crimson’s ’74 US tour. (This never occurred, though Fripp would write the liner notes on the ’90s-era CD reissues of Trower’s ’70s catalog.)

In 1975, Fripp played on three tracks (“St. Elmo’s Fire,” “I’ll Come Running,” “Golden Hours”) on Another Green World. He reteamed with Eno for the Island release Evening Star, comprised of four ambient instrumentals and the 28-minute drone piece “An Index of Metals.”

In 1976, Fripp oversaw the packaging of The Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson, a two-album compilation housed in a gatefold with two paintings by Scottish post-surrealist Fergus Hall: The Landscape Player (front) and Earth (back), both purchased by Fripp. (Another Hall painting, Il Divino, appears on the cover of the 1986 compilation The Compact King Crimson.)

Later that year, Fripp resumed session work, playing electric guitar, classical guitar, and banjo on Peter Gabriel, the debut solo album by the ex-Genesis singer, released in early 1977 on Atlantic. Fripp backed Gabriel on the accompanying tour from behind the stage under the pseudonym “Dusty Rhodes.” The experience brought Fripp into contact with American bassist Tony Levin (b. 1946), a Boston native with credits on albums by Alice Cooper, Bert Sommer, Carly Simon, Chuck Mangione, Herbie Mann, Lou Reed, O’Donel Levy, and (most recently) the 1976 Nemperor release Resolution by singer–songwriter Andy Pratt.

Fripp’s profile rose during 1977 when he played lead guitar on Heroes, the second of three Eno-produced albums by David Bowie, recorded at Hansa Tonstudio in West Berlin. He also plays lead guitar (countering Manzanera’s rhythm work) on “King’s Lead Hat,” the art-punk song on Eno’s ’77 release Before and After Science. (Ex-Free bassist Andy Fraser plays drums on that track.)

In August, Fripp produced and played guitar on Sacred Songs, the debut solo album by Daryl Hall, recorded at NYC’s Hit Factory. He contributed “Urban Landscape,” a Frippertronics piece that segues into “NYCNY,” a heady prog-punk rocker that conjures Manhattan’s summer ’77 malaise: marked by the heatwave, the July blackout, and the Son of Sam murders. (RCA, Hall’s label, shelved the album until a letter-writing campaign forced its release in 1980.) Fripp also plays uncredited guitar on “As the World Turns,” a track on Ferry’s fourth solo album In Your Mind.

In 1978, Fripp produced and split guitar duties (with future Late Night With David Letterman guitarist Sid McGinnis) on Peter Gabriel, the singer’s second eponymous solo album (often called “scratch,” a reference to its cover). Fripp plays electric guitar on “Mother of Violence,” “On the Air,” “Perspective,” and acoustic guitar on “White Shadow.” He does Frippertronics on his co-write “Exposure,” a blueprint for the gloomy post-punk style that would soon emerge.

Elsewhere, Fripp added looped guitar to “Blame It On Love,” an art-punk number on Along the Red Ledge, the seventh studio album by Hall & Oates. He also plays the slow, sinister leads on “Fade Away and Radiate,” a desolate mood piece on Parallel Lines, the third album by Blondie.

In 1979, Fripp produced the debut album by The Roches, a folk trio comprised of the Irish-American Roche sisters from Park Ridge, New Jersey. He also debuted as a solo artist with the EG–Polydor release Exposure, recorded with backing by Levin, McGinnis, Phil Collins, drummer Narada Michael Walden, and keyboardist Barry Andrews, who recently left XTC after their second album Go 2. Exposure features a second take on the title-track with vocals by Terre Roche. The album also includes a Gabriel-sung piano demo of “Here Comes the Flood” (from his first album); a remake of “NYCNY” titled “I May Not Have Had Enough of Me But I’ve Had Enough of You” (sung by Hammill and Roche); and the pop-punk “You Burn Me Up I’m a Cigarette” (sung by Hall).

That fall, Fripp played on three cuts (“No Self Control,” “I Don’t Remember,” “Not One of Us”) on Peter Gabriel, the singer’s third eponymous solo album, released early the following year with appearances by Levin, Collins, Larry Fast (Synergy), Kate Bush, Morris Pert (Brand X), saxophonist Dick Morrissey (If, Morrissey Mullen), and fellow guitarists David Rhodes (Random Hold), Paul Weller (The Jam), and Dave Gregory (XTC). Concurrently, Fripp played guitar on “I Zimbra,” the Afro-rhythmic opening cut on Fear of Music, the second of three Eno-produced albums by Talking Heads.

Fripp opened 1980 with the EG–Polydor release God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners, a collection of five Frippertronics instrumentals. On April 4, he partook in an all-star concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre for the benefit of imprisoned Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell. The concert featured the other three Stranglers, plus singers Hazel O’Connor, Toyah Willcox, and Richard Jobson (Skids); guitarists Robert Smith (The Cure) and Steve Hillage; bassist John Ellis (The Vibrators); and members of Ian Dury‘s backing band the Blockheads. Fripp plays guitar on three numbers from the Stranglers’ 1978 third album Black and White: “Toiler On the Sea,” “Tank,” and “Threatened,” the last two with Hammill on piano and vocals. The event marked an early interaction between Fripp and Toyah, his future wife.

That spring, Fripp partook in the sessions for Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), Bowie’s fourteenth studio album. Fripp plays on six cuts, including the hit “Fashion,” where he interacts with keyboardist Andy Clark, formerly of Be-Bop Deluxe and Bill Nelson‘s Red Noise.

Also in 1980, Fripp played guitar on a frenzied remake of the Leiber–Stroller chestnut “Hound Dog” by NYC No Wave violinist Walter Steding. He also contributed the title track to Miniatures, a collection of one-minute songs assembled by Morgan Fisher (Morgan, Mott the Hoople) with cuts by Fred Frith, The Residents, The Work, Etron Fou LeLoublan, Hector Zazou (ZNR), Dave Vanian (The Damned), Martin Chambers (The Pretenders), and XTC frontman Andy Partridge. Elsewhere, Fripp backed Andrews on the Virgin single “Rossmore Road” (b/w “Win a Night Out With a Well-Known Paranoiac”), the keyboardist’s second post-XTC release.

Fripp and Andrews formed the post-punk band League of Gentleman with drummer Kevin Wilkinson and bassist Sara Lee, then a secretary at Polydor. Their self-titled album appeared in February 1981 on EG–Polydor. It features ten jagged instrumentals, three spoken word tracks, and one vocal song (“Minor Man”) sung by Lemon Kittens frontwoman Danielle Dax. They played 81 confirmed shows. The members surfaced in Shriekback (Andrews), Gang of Four (Lee), and China Crisis (Wilkinson).

Fripp followed Gentlemen with his third solo album, Let the Power Fall: An Album of Frippertronics. He also played on two tracks (“Glide/Spin,” “Lost and Found”) on Fourth Wall, the second album by The Flying Lizards.

1981: King Crimson Mk IV

In the spring of 1981, Fripp set out to form a new “first division” act, tentatively called Discipline. He called back Bruford, who folded his namesake jazz-rock band with the 1980 release Gradually Going Tornado. Fripp also enlisted Levin, who recently played on albums by Catherine Lara, Joan Armatrading, Johnny Warman, Kazumi Watanabe, Mike Mainieri, and Roy Harper.

Discipline became a four-piece with Kentucky-born guitarist–singer Adrian Belew, recently of the unsigned GaGa, an opening act on League of Gentleman’s New York dates. Belew emerged in 1977 when Zappa hired him for a tour, documented on the 1979 double-album Sheik Yerbouti and the concert film Baby Snakes. In 1978, Belew backed Bowie on the singer’s Isolar II Tour, documented on the live double-album Stage. He also played on the 1979 release Lodger, the third in Bowie’s Eno-produced Berlin trilogy.

Through Eno, Belew linked with Talking Heads and played on their 1980 release Remain In Light. He joined their expanded nine-piece lineup in support of the album, documented on the live double-album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads. In 1981, he played on Heads side projects by David Byrne (The Catherine Wheel), Jerry Harrison (The Red and the Black), and Tom Tom Club, the funk-pop spinoff of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz.

The new band — comprised of Fripp, Belew, Bruford, and Levin — recorded their first album during May–June 1981 at Island Studios, London. By the time sessions wrapped, they decided to use the name Discipline as the album title and rename their act King Crimson.


King Crimson released Discipline on September 22, 1981, on EG–Warner. Of the seven cuts, five are Belew-sung numbers, including the slow, blurry “Matte Kudasai” and the pensive, menacing “Indiscipline.”

In addition to bass, Levin plays the Chapman Stick, the polyphonic 12-string tapping instrument responsible for the “note spray” on “Elephant Talk” and “Frame by Frame,” both warbly, off-kilter numbers on side one. “Thela Hun Ginjeet” is a scratchy, poly-rhythmic uptempo number (in F#) indebted to recent Talking Heads. Fripp imposes a 7/8 figure on parts of the underlying 4/4 structure.

The album wraps with two instrumentals: “Discipline,” which features interlocking staccato leads over a bass ostinato; and “The Sheltering Sky,” a shimmering display of guitar-synth tones and subtle, Chapman–bass noodling over a quasi-Mideastern rhythmic bed — similar to recent Japan (Tin Drum) and Mick Karn‘s upcoming solo work (Titles).

“Matte Kudasai” is Japanese for “please wait” (待って下さい). “The Sheltering Sky” was inspired by a namesake 1949 existentialist novel by American Beat writer Paul Bowles.

Discipline was co-produced by King Crimson and Rhett Davies, a veteran soundman with recent credits on recordings by The B-52’s, Dire Straits (self-titled), and The Quick. The assistant engineer, Nigel Mills, worked on 1979–80 albums by Joe Jackson (Beat Crazy), Peter Bardens, The Vapors, and Paul Young‘s Q-Tips.

On one of the Discipline session dates, Belew was accosted by a gang in Notting Hill Gate while walking to the studio: a story retold on the ensuing tour. This was a catalyst for “Thela Hun Ginjeet,” an amalgam for “heat in the jungle.”

Graphic artist Peter Saville — known for his minimalist visuals for artists on Factory Records (A Certain Ratio, Joy Division, Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark) — designed the Discipline cover, which appropriates a Celtic knot by artist George Bain (1881–1968) to a crimson background. An issue with Bain’s estate forced a modified design on later reissues.

Discipline reached the Top 20 in Canada, France, and New Zealand. The Mk IV lineup ushered this release with their live debut on September 26, 1981, at the Broadcasting House in London. Their tour commenced on October 5 at the Moles Club in Bath. After a week of Continental dates, they launched a North American tour on the 23rd at the Toronto Concert Hall. The tour wrapped in mid-December with nine Japanese dates.

1982: Beat

King Crimson’s second Mk IV release, Beat, appeared on June 18, 1982, on EG–Polydor. The title is a reference to 1950s Beat literature, the source of inspiration for the album’s lyrics. “Neal and Jack and Me” references Beat writers Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, whose 1957 novel On the Road is referenced in the lyrics.

The title “Heartbeat” comes from a 1976 memoire by Cassady’s wife Carolyn regarding her time in the Beat scene. The instrumental “Sartori in Tangier” draws its title from Kerouac’s 1966 novella Sartori a Paris and the city of Tangier, Morocco, a nesting place for Beat writers. “Neurotica” takes its title from a 1948–51 NYC quarterly that published works by assorted Beat writers. The intro appropriates “Hååden Two,” a Frippertronics piece on Exposure. “The Howler” references Howl, a 1955 Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg.

All of Beat‘s material is group-credited with lyrics by Belew apart from “Two Hands,” a modernist ballad with chorused, vibrato riffing and words by Adrian’s then-wife Margaret Belew. “Requiem,” the album’s closing instrumental and longest track (6:48), features improvisations by Fripp and Belew over a Frippertronics loop. Its creation was the source of conflict between the two guitarists.

Sessions took place in March–April 1982 at London’s Odyssey Studios, the site of recent recordings by Chris Rea, Kate Bush (The Dreaming), Landscape (From the Tea-rooms of Mars… to the Hell-holes of Uranus), Marvin Gaye, Thin Lizzy, Thomas Dolby (The Golden Age of Wireless), and The Who. Davies’ production of Beat ran consecutive with his work on albums by Roxy Music, Talk Talk (The Party’s Over), and Wang Chung (Huang Chung).

Like its predecessor, Beat sports minimalist cover art (pink quaver over blue background), this time by Rob O’Connor, who did the cover to Let the Power Fall and recent sleeves for The Fixx, John Cale, Killing Joke, Level 42, and Siouxsie and the Banshees (Kaleidoscope, Juju).

“Heartbeat” was lifted as a single, accompanied with a video that made early use of face-blending techniques. King Crimson promoted Beat with a US tour that started in the Northeast (7/26/82: Toad’s Place, New Haven, Conn.) and headed West before landing in Lisbon, Portugal, on August 20. The tour wrapped on September 29 at Munich’s Alabamahalle.

Outside Activities, Belew Solo

Between the sessions and release date of Discipline, Belew recorded his first solo album at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, with members of his earlier band GaGa. The resulting Lone Rhino appeared on Island in late April 1982, less than two months ahead of Beat. Musically, the album applies the sonics of his work with Talking Heads and King Crimson to a pop-vocal framework.

Meanwhile, Fripp produced The Roches’ 1982 third album Keep On Doing, which features backing by all of Mk IV Crimson (Belew excepted). Fripp also teamed with Police guitarist Andy Summers on I Advanced Mask, released on EG–Polydor (Germany) and A&M (US). It features thirteen guitar–synth instrumentals recorded entirely by the pair at free intervals over a nine-month period.

Levin played on 1982 albums by M and Yoshitaka Minami. He’s also part of the return cast on Gabriel’s fourth album Security. It features Levin’s Chapman stick on four cuts, including the international hit “Shock the Monkey.”

In 1983, Belew released his second solo album, Twang Bar King, backed once again by GaGa. It features ten originals and two covers, including the less-known Beatles rocker “I’m Down.”

Bruford plays on one track (“So Hard, It Hurts!”) on Been In the Streets Too Long, the 1983 release by Annette Peacock, a prior collaborator. Along with Levin and keyboarist Jan Hammer, Bruford appears on “Calliope,” a track with Simmons electronic drums on Scenario, the sixth solo studio album by ex-Return to Forever guitarist Al Di Meola.

Elsewhere, Bruford formed an improvisational piano–drum duo with Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz, a non-overlapping Yes alumnus (1974–76 era) who currently played in the Moody Blues. Their first of two albums, Music for Piano and Drums, appeared that year on Editions EG.

1984: Three of a Perfect Pair

King Crimson’s tenth studio album, Three of a Perfect Pair, appeared on March 27, 1984, on EG–Warner. It features nine group-composed numbers, including five with Belew-penned lyrics. The four instrumentals account for half the album’s 41-minute running time.

On the title-track, syncopated verses (in 3/4) with airy, lucid vocals cut to a jerky bridge with the biting line “One, one too many schizophrenic tendencies, keeps it complicated.” The title implies three sides to every two-party story: the views of party A and party B, plus the objective truth.

Model Man” is Heads-style funk cut, sung from the perspective of a confused, humbled simpleton. “Man with an Open Heart” has Belew on heavily chorused, fretless guitar with flanged vocals. On “Dig Me” (an experiment in fretless vibrato), warbly guitars collide with random Simmons drum rolls, intermixed with a stripped rock chorus.

Sleepless” unfurls with slapping bass over luminous synth sustain, underlaid with chorused figures and tribal percussion. Remote vocals about nightmare scenarios unfold as harmonic notes and echoey effects engulf the song’s unresolved open cadence.

Side one closes with “Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds),” a minimalist piece with distant echoey tones that fade in and out amid pinching, oozing guitar tones and matted, tribal percussion.

Aside from “Dig Me,” side two is instrumental. “Industry” is seven minutes of slow-swelling, discombulated layers over a dirgy ostinato (in low C#). “No Warning” beacons with echoey, searing sustain; tackled gradually with uncontainable drum rolls.

The album wraps with “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part III),” which starts with scaly, staccato counterpoint, followed by a brisk, hi-hat-driven riff that channels the titlesake Part Two from Larks’. Midway, it breaks to a down-beat, closed-cadence lurch reminiscent of “The Sahara of Snow, Pt. 2,” the closing track on Bruford’s One of a Kind.

Three of a Perfect Pair was recorded between May and November 1983 at three locations: Arny’s Shack (Poole, Dorset), Marcus (London), and Bearsville (Woodstock, NY). The self-produced album was engineered by Brad Davis, a veteran soundman with credits in the worlds of rock (Glenn Hughes, Ian Gillan Band, Trapeze), soul-funk (Cheryl Lynn, Imagination), jazz (Stanley Clarke), and world music (Manu Dibango). 

In keeping with the Mk IV trend, Three sports another minimalist, primary color cover, this time by graphic designer Timothy Eames, who also did early ’80s covers for The 8th Day, Khemistry, Nazareth, and Roger Hodgson (In the Eye of the Storm). The symbols — opposing blue male and female shapes (front) joined by a unifying red line (back) — were supplied by Peter Willis, an artist at Trevail Mill Studio.

Second Breakup

King Crimson launched their 1984 tour on April 18 in St. Louis. After two weeks of shows in Japan, they did seven weeks of North American dates, starting in Chicago (5/22/84: Auditorium Theatre) and wrapping with a two-night stand on July 10–11 at Montreal’s Le Spectrum. These would prove to be their final live shows for ten years when Fripp dissolved the band a second time. Like the prior breakup a decade beforehand, this move shocked multiple parties in the inner-circle.



1 thought on “King Crimson

  1. For the original intro: “King Crimson’s TriMax-era output divides into three phases: the symphonic/psych pastoralism of 1969–71; the chamber/metal fractiousness of 1973–74; and the vibrato/arpeggio-laden exotica of 1981–84.”

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