King Crimson Album Art: Beat

King Crimson Beat

King Crimson’s Beat dropped in June 1982, smack in the mid­dle of the most unprece­dent­edly con­sis­tent run in the band’s career before or since. After unex­pect­edly rein­car­nat­ing and rad­i­cally rein­vent­ing itself less than a year before with the album Dis­ci­pline, an intense 3-year period of activ­ity saw the band stay true to their new direc­tion, employ­ing for the first time a con­sis­tent sound, lineup, and — most rel­e­vant to the dis­cus­sion at hand — uni­fied design approach.

The var­i­ous dis­tinct eras of King Crim­son are usu­ally delin­eated by lineup, but you can just as well iden­tify related sets of albums by changes in the album art. The early years were marked by richly detailed psy­che­delic paint­ings (In the Court of the Crim­son King, In the Wake of Posei­don, and Lizard), and the 1972–74 lineup favored solid fields of color (mostly cream, red, and black). But I would argue that Beat was the first King Crim­son cover obvi­ously designed and con­ceived to be part of a continuüm.

King Crimson Beat front and back coversKing Crimson’s Beat — front and back covers

I’m not sure if it was pub­lic knowl­edge at the time, but Sid Smith’s band biog­ra­phy In the Court of King Crim­son men­tions that this ver­sion of the band was con­trac­tu­ally oblig­ated to release three stu­dio albums. With this fore­knowl­edge, it makes sense that the band and man­age­ment might have planned how the tril­ogy would appear as a set. Beat’s strictly lim­ited color palette and serif typog­ra­phy were con­sis­tent with its pre­de­ces­sor Dis­ci­pline, strongly imply­ing that this edi­tion of King Crim­son would not be a sin­gu­lar occur­rence. This fact would have been already obvi­ous to any trainspot­ter who had noted that the lineup had remained sta­ble for the first time ever.

The album title and art­work com­prise a mul­ti­lay­ered pun. The title alludes to a musi­cal beat, the lead sin­gle “Heart­beat”, and Adrian Belew’s inter­est in the 1950s Beat Gen­er­a­tion lit­er­a­ture of Neal Cas­sady, Jack Ker­ouac, and Paul Bowles. Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, the art­work is a halftone rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an eighth note. Got all that?

The numer­ous ref­er­ences to Beat lit­er­a­ture in Belew’s lyrics are beyond the scope of this arti­cle, but it’s worth sin­gling out “Sar­tori in Tang­iers” for its com­plex title that alludes to two Beat nov­els: Jack Kerouac’s Satori in Paris (Satori being the Bud­dhist con­cept of enlight­en­ment) and Paul Bowles’ The Shel­ter­ing Sky (which was set in the city of Tang­iers). I have no the­ory as to why satori is misspelled.

King Crimson's Beat, The Robert Fripp String Quintet's The Bridge Between, and King Crimson's TRHAK tour programThree exam­ples of halftone art from within the King Crim­son fam­ily: Beat, The Robert Fripp String Quintet’s The Bridge Between, and the 1995 THRAK tour program.

Halftone print­ing is a method of pro­duc­ing com­plex images with a lim­ited num­ber of col­ors. For instance, a greyscale image may be printed with only solid black dots of vary­ing sizes (in other words, using only one color ink). When enlarged, halftone images often have a aes­thetic appeal of their own. As employed on the Beat sleeve, the halftone effect on the quar­ter note adds grit and tex­ture, and implies dis­tor­tion and low-fidelity (which is arguably not really appro­pri­ate for this band lineup whose sound tended towards the crisp and clean). A halftone design motif also appears on the THRAK CD label, the THRAK tour pro­gram, and on The Robert Fripp String Quin­tet album The Bridge Between.

Designer Rob O’Connor also worked as an Art Direc­tor or Designer on a great num­ber of other albums, includ­ing Fripp’s solo album Let the Power Fall and EP Net­work. The LP was still the dom­i­nant audio for­mat in 1982, and Beat was orig­i­nally issued in a sin­gle sleeve with a folded insert. The 30th Anniver­sary lim­ited edi­tion CD in 2001 was pack­aged in a mini-gatefold sleeve, with the orig­i­nal LP insert repro­duced as the inner gatefold.

King Crimson's Beat - inner gatefoldThe folded insert included with the orig­i­nal 1982 LP was repur­posed for the inner gate­fold of the 2001 30th Anniver­sary CD

To my taste, the pink on blue color scheme is a curi­ous choice. Yel­low or white would pro­vide bet­ter con­trast against blue. It’s pos­si­ble the use of pink was meant to call back to the Island Records pink LP labels, or even the hues of Barry Godber’s paint­ing for In the Court of the Crim­son King. It’s more likely that I’m read­ing into things, and the color scheme is more a relic of the neon-colored 1980s aesthetic.

Below is a sam­pling of major albums released in 1982, prior to Beat’s release, so many of these would have been seen in record shops at the time. This selec­tion is by no means meant to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of album art trends at the time, but it does show that Beat was not alone in employ­ing solid fields of color and min­i­mal­ist color schemes.

1982 album art, Men at Work, Van Halen, The Human League, Toto, Men Without Hats, Duran Duran, Genesis, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, XTCSome sig­nif­i­cant other min­i­mal­ist album cov­ers released in 1982: Men at Work, Van Halen, The Human League, Toto, Men With­out Hats, Duran Duran, Gen­e­sis, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, XTC

The music on Beat included mate­r­ial gen­er­ated dur­ing the Dis­ci­pline ses­sions and already road tested on the ensu­ing tour. How­ever, Beat has always fallen a lit­tle flat to me. It’s some­how at once too busy, too brief, and too unfo­cused. The inclu­sion of the impro­vised “Requiem” as the final track some­how smacks of padding out the run­ning time. True, nearly every prior Crim­son album had been partly com­prised of impro­vised mate­r­ial, often to stun­ning effect. For instance, “Trio” and “The Shel­ter­ing Sky” were both near-miraculous pieces of music, fea­tur­ing bet­ter begin­nings, mid­dles, and ends than many of the com­posed works.

Per­haps Beat suf­fers by being sand­wiched between two more over­pow­er­ing albums? I would argue that the stone-cold clas­sic Dis­ci­pline is one of the key cor­ner­stone albums of their career, at least as impor­tant as In the Court of the Crim­son King and Larks Tongues in Aspic (both of which are sub­ject to mega-deluxe boxed set reis­sues as part of the 40th Anniver­sary Series, which gives Dis­ci­pline the same treat­ment as some of the rel­a­tively — rel­a­tively! — less impor­tant albums like Lizard and Islands). And Three of a Per­fect Pair may be a schiz­o­phrenic lis­ten, but is more rich and var­ied than most, rang­ing widely from one of the band’s most com­plex and pol­ished song-based com­po­si­tions (“Sleep­less”) to nearly an entire side’s worth of adven­tur­ous improv-based experimentation.

King Crimson Beat LP labelsLP labels from the orig­i­nal 1982 UK LP Beat

So while Beat may be Crimson’s ninth stu­dio album, it may also be a vic­tim of sopho­more slump — eas­ily lost between two impos­ing albums by a lineup so new it was prac­ti­cally a new band. Per­haps the stu­dio record­ing is miss­ing some unquan­tifi­able spark? For instance, “Sar­tori in Tang­iers” never really had an impact upon me until I saw it per­formed live on the Three of a Per­fect Pair Live in Japan VHS release, where it pos­i­tively cooked. Robert Fripp has never embraced the “gui­tar god” trap­pings of some of his peers on the instru­ment, but the com­po­si­tion is essen­tially a show­case for him to burn up the fret­board. Hope­fully the forth­com­ing 40th Anniver­sary Edi­tion reis­sue will fea­ture a remix and restora­tion from Steven Wil­son and Fripp that might bring the record­ing to life.

King Crimson Heartbeat 7-inch singleThe pic­ture sleeve for King Crimson’s 1982 7″ sin­gle Heartbeat

The sin­gle Heart­beat was released in 1982 in 7″ for­mat with pic­ture sleeve, backed with an edited ver­sion of “Requiem”. The design is more closely related to the par­ent album art than any prior Crim­son 7″ sleeve, which often seemed to have been designed by peo­ple who had barely so much as glanced at the orig­i­nal album art, and often failed to even apply con­sis­tency in typog­ra­phy. Amidst the trio of albums Dis­ci­pline, Beat, and Three of a Per­fect Pair, the Heart­beat sin­gle appears to be part of con­certed and con­sis­tent campaign.

Heart­beat” is per­haps the most trans­par­ently pop-oriented King Crim­son song. Prior attempts like “Cat Food” and “Ele­phant Talk” were both too weird for the main­stream, and the later “Sleep­less” and “Dinosaur” were both too adven­tur­ous to chart against the likes of The Police and Talk­ing Heads in the 80s, or Pearl Jam and Oasis in the 90s. Adrian Belew later re-recorded the song for his solo album Young Lions in 1990, effec­tively claim­ing it as his own despite cred­it­ing the com­po­si­tion to all four King Crim­son members.

King Crimson, The NoiseThree Noises: the orig­i­nal 1982 VHS, the 1997 VHS reis­sue, and the 2004 DVD Neal and Jack and Me

The music indus­try was rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent in the 1980s, than from what King Crim­son had oper­ated within dur­ing its pre­vi­ous incar­na­tions. Behind the scenes, the busi­ness was chang­ing into a more cor­po­rate oper­a­tion, but a greater sea change hap­pen­ing in front of everyone’s eyes was the more image-conscious MTV era. While musi­cal acts had always appeared in tele­vi­sion and film, exam­ples of what we would rec­og­nize as a mod­ern music video began to appear in the 1960s. But sud­denly in the 1980s every­body had to look good on TV.

King Crim­son made a num­ber of tele­vi­sion appear­ances in the 80s, far more than ever before. Curi­ously, the band only pro­duced two music videos, (“Heart­beat” and “Sleep­less”), while Fripp appeared in many more sup­port­ing his solo and col­lab­o­ra­tive projects, includ­ing “I Advance Masked” and “Parade” by Summers/Fripp, “Jean the Bird­man” by Sylvian/Fripp, and even Fripp’s own “Expo­sure”. Belew takes the star­ring role in the “Heart­beat” video, chat­ing up a series of 80s lovelies while Fripp, Bill Bru­ford, and Tony Levin do a pass­ing job act­ing as wall­flow­ers dur­ing a party. “Sleep­less” was even­tu­ally released on the DVD Neal and Jack and Me, but the “Heart­beat” clip remains lost in the ether. In case you haven’t had the plea­sure, here you are:

One con­cert per­for­mance filmed in France on August 27, 1982 was released on VHS cas­sette in 1982 as The Noise. The title may be a lit­tle unflat­ter­ing and self-deprecating, but is at least tan­gen­tially related to the album title Beat in that it puns on audio noise as well as “noise” in the sense of the video dis­tor­tion that pro­vides the pur­plish back­ground tex­ture in the art­work (sim­i­lar to the aes­thetic of the sleeve for Fripp’s solo album Expo­sure). The Noise was reis­sued on VHS in 1997 with a more appro­pri­ate cover than the hideous orig­i­nal, and again in 2004 as half of the DVD Neal and Jack and Me.

ART & DESIGN CREDITS:

  • 1982: Cover design by Rob O’Connor
  • 2001: 30th Anniver­sary scrap­book design by Hugh O’Donnell

FURTHER READING:

SPECIAL THANKS:

  • Thanks to com­menter baz for cor­rect­ing a silly mis­take I made regard­ing the eighth note musi­cal notation.
  • Thanks to com­menter mhanna49 for alert­ing me to the exis­tence of a promo video for “Heart­beat”. I’ve been an avid King Crim­son fan for ages and had never even heard of it.

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:

 

3 thoughts on “King Crimson Album Art: Beat

  1. Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, the art­work is a halftone rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a quar­ter note.”

    I would like to point out that that is actu­ally an eighth note. Per­haps rep­re­sen­ta­tive of some of the off-beat mea­sures or syn­co­pated rhythms that they like to employ.
    These are awe­some, keep ‘em coming!

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