The Art of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King

King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King

King Crim­son exploded right out of the gate in Octo­ber 1969 with In the Court of the Crim­son King, one of the few debut albums to become an instant clas­sic. Pop­u­lar music his­tory is lit­tered with exam­ples of acts that didn’t peak in artis­tic and/or com­mer­cial terms until well into their record­ing careers. Artists as diverse as Gen­e­sis, Brian Eno, and Radio­head searched for their voices until their third albums, and even the sainted Bea­t­les didn’t go from merely excel­lent to sub­lime until Rub­ber Soul, their sixth. But In the Court of the Crim­son King was the com­plete pack­age, and remains sig­nif­i­cant and influ­en­tial to this day in both musi­cal and visual terms. Eric Tamm describes the album’s impact upon the music scene as a sort of cos­mic big bang that pro­duced a num­ber of splin­ter genres:

In ret­ro­spect, what­ever one felt about this music, the sem­i­nal nature of the album can­not be denied: the var­ie­gated yet cohe­sive In the Court of the Crim­son King helped launch, for bet­ter or for worse, not one but sev­eral musi­cal move­ments, among them heavy metal, jazz-rock fusion, and pro­gres­sive rock. As Charley Waters, writ­ing for the Rolling Store Record Guide, was to put it some years later, the album “helped shape a set of baroque stan­dards for art-rock.“
– Eric Tamm, Robert Fripp: From King Crim­son to Gui­tar Craft, page 43

What Pete Townshend Thinks about King Crimson

Its musi­cal influ­ence is only part of the story. The album The Who’s Pete Town­shend famously called “an uncanny mas­ter­piece” also boasts a sin­gu­larly unique cover that still reg­u­larly appears on best-of album cover lists. It ranked #62 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Great­est Album Cov­ers in 1991, #9 on MusicRadar’s The 50 Great­est Album Cov­ers of All Time, and #50 on Gigwise’s Top 50 Great­est Album Cov­ers of All Time. It was selected for the book The Story of Island Records: Keep on Run­ning, cel­e­brat­ing the label’s 50th Anniver­sary (with­out per­mis­sion, as Robert Fripp has detailed in his online diary). Even many of its var­i­ous LP labels from dif­fer­ent edi­tions are repro­duced in the book Labelkunde Vinyl by Frank Won­neberg, also seen in Fripp’s diary.

Praise for the cover is often met by equally oppos­ing deri­sion. No less than two such back­handed com­pli­ments came from The A.V. Club, which placed In the Court of the Crim­son King on its lists of 18 Par­tic­u­larly Ridicu­lous Prog-Rock Album Cov­ers, and Great Albums with Ter­ri­ble Art. The lat­ter described “that dis­torted, scream­ing face in nau­se­at­ing blues and pinks” as “headache-inducing”.

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