In the Court of the Crimson King (subtitled An Observation by King Crimson) is the debut studio album by English rock band King Crimson, released on 10 October 1969 by Island Records. The album is one of the earliest and most influential of the progressive rock genre, where the band combined the musical influences that rock music was founded upon with elements of jazz, classical, and symphonic music. The album reached number five on the UK Albums Chart and number 28 on the US Billboard 200, where it was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
“The Court of the Crimson King” was written by keyboardist/woodwinds player Ian McDonald and Sinfield for their earlier group The Creation, and started as a country and western song before its final progressive rock configuration.
Multiple sources state that King Crimson made their live debut on 9 April 1969 at The Speakeasy Club in London, but Sinfield claims they did an earlier show in Newcastle, stepping in for a cancelled King Curtis. The Speakeasy Club concert, which Sinfield describes as their second, was smashed up by members of The Pink Fairies Drinking Club. King Crimson opened for the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, London in July 1969, before an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people, which brought them positive attention.
Initial sessions for the album were held in early 1969 with producer Tony Clarke, most famous for his work with The Moody Blues. After these sessions failed to work out, the group were given permission to produce the album themselves. The album was recorded on a 1″, eight channel recorder at Wessex Sound Studios in London, engineered by Robin Thompson and assisted by Tony Page. In order to achieve the characteristic lush, orchestral sounds on the album, Ian McDonald spent many hours overdubbing layers of Mellotron and various woodwind and reed instruments. In some cases, the band went through five tape generations to attain deeply layered, segued tracks.
While supervising a mastering cut, Ian McDonald discovered that the copy master had a problem on the right track, and because the first generation master tapes were missing since 1969, this problem was compensated for by EQ until 2002. Fripp speculated that the problem was caused by incompetent mastering engineers or “some tapes were mastered in different countries on machines that were not very well maintained or from copies made in the source country (normally US or UK in the case of rock music) where the second machine was inadequately maintained/monitored. These tapes were then sent out to licensee countries who had no adequate measure of comparison and trusted the source material from the record company office. Tape machines running at different speeds occasionally resulted in albums being a couple of seconds shorter/longer”. The first generation master tapes were later found in the Virgin Record archives in 2002.
One of the most famous record covers in history graces this album. Barry Godber (1946–1970), a computer programmer friend of Sinfield’s, painted the design for the cover. He used his own face viewed through a mirror. Godber died in February 1970 from a heart attack shortly after the album’s release. It was his only album cover; the original painting is now owned by Robert Fripp. Fripp had said about Godber’s artwork: “Peter [Sinfield] brought this painting in and the band loved it. I recently recovered the original from [managing label E.G. Records] offices because they kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of ruining it, so I ended up removing it. The face on the outside is the Schizoid Man, and on the inside it’s the Crimson King. If you cover the smiling face, the eyes reveal an incredible sadness. What can one add? It reflects the music”.
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