After their third album Trilogy, ELP was determined to make their fourth record easier to perform live (Trilogy included a massive amount of overdubbing). What emerged after four months of recording was the band's most successful, well-realized, and probably the loudest in their entire catalog. Brain Salad Surgery peaked at #11 on the Billboard 200 and is still considered one of the top prog rock albums of all time, thanks in large part to the famous "Karn Evil 9." Let's take a closer look at this 1973 release.
The album starts with an arrangement of Sir Charles Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's "Jerusalem," which takes a classic hymn and makes it relevant and rock. Unfortunately, the song was banned in the BBC for potential "blasphemy." The band continues with its classical influences with "Toccata," an arrangement of the 4th Movement of Alberto Ginastera's Piano Concerto No 1. Although it has heavy synthesizers (both Emerson's keyboards and Palmer's drum synthesizers featured prominently), Ginastera said "Keith Emerson has beautifully caught the mood of my piece." Greg Lake goes acoustic with his "Still...You Turn Me On," and although the lyrics can be wacky at times, the piece still is one of his best. Thankfully "Benny the Bouncer" is only 2:15 in length, since that's about all one can take of it.
The real meat of the album is "Karn Evil 9," which is so long (29:37) that it had to be split into three impressions (and two sides of the record). The first part of the first impression really grabs the audience attention, thanks to "I'll be there, I'll be there, I will be there!" Emerson has a pretty weak solo, but that's not really here nor there. Part 2 of the first impression is probably the most famous piece in the band's repertoire: "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends..." Everybody has played that, from classic rock radio to ESPN. Although overlooked by many, the second impression is probably the most complex-an instrumental that just involves piano, bass, and drums, and really highlights every member's musicianship. Maybe because the audience was getting bored, but the third impression received the least success and it was only performed live during the band's 1973-1974 tour.