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Music / In the Court of the Crimson King

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"Death seed, blind man's greed/Poets' starving children bleed/Nothing he's got he really needs/21st century schizoid man!"

In the Court of the Crimson King is the debut studio album by King Crimson, released in 1969 through Island Records in the UK and Atlantic Records in the US. The album is generally seen as the kick-starter for the Progressive Rock genre. The album never generated any hits, but nevertheless managed to become a Cult Classic, inspiring countless rock bands to change their sounds and move towards Progressive Rock instead.


Side One

  1. "21st Century Schizoid Man" (7:24)
    • "Mirrors" (2:06-5:47)
  2. "I Talk to the Wind" (6:04)
  3. "Epitaph" (8:49)
    • "March for No Reason" (3:58-5:17)
    • "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" (6:58-8:49)

Side Two

  1. "Moonchild" (12:13)
    1. "The Dream" (2:26)
    2. "The Illusion" (9:47)
  2. "The Court of the Crimson King" (9:26)
    • "The Return of the Fire Witch" (4:16-5:53)
    • "The Dance of the Puppets" (7:20-9:26)

Principal Members:

  • Robert Fripp: guitar
  • Michael Giles: drums, percussion, vocals, timpani
  • Greg Lake: lead vocals, bass
  • Ian McDonald: saxophone, mellotron, vocals, harpsichord, piano, organ, clarinet, bass clarinet, vibraphone

21st Century Schizoid Tropes:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "The Court of the Crimson King" mentions how "The purple piper plays his tune."
  • Album Title Drop: "The Court of the Crimson King".
    "The purple piper plays his tune,
    The choir softly sing;
    Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
    For the court of the crimson king."
  • Alliterative Title: In the Court of the Crimson King.
  • Big Rock Ending: The title track is an epic jam, which clocks in at 9:26.
  • Breather Episode/Mood Whiplash: After the shockwave of "21st Century Schizoid Man" is the soft, gentle "I Talk to the Wind".
  • Broken Record:
    "In the court of the Crimson Kiiiiiiiiiing ahhhhhhhhhhhhh... kiiiiiiiiiing ahhhhhhhhhhh..."
    • From "Tomorrow and Tomorrow":
    "Crying... crying... crying..."
  • Color Motif: "The Court of the Crimson King" is full of this, with almost every character given at least one color
  • Crapsack World: "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Epitaph" both describe this kind of world. See Dystopia below.
  • Creepy Circus Music: One section of the Title Track give off this vibe (the organ/mellotron solo section subtitled "The Dance of the Puppets", for the curious).
  • Darker and Edgier: AllMusic's review of the album uses the trope by name to describe it.
  • Decadent Court: There's a very sinister air about the title track that implies the eponymous Court to be this.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The iconic album cover was illustrated by Barry Godber, a computer programmer. This would be his only cover too, as he died in 1970 of a heart attack. Robert Fripp on the cover art:
    "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."
  • Digital Destruction: All CD releases of the album prior to 2004 were sourced from multigeneration tapes as a result of the masters being lost, resulting in them having audibly strong tape hiss and requiring various equalization tricks to work around the quality loss. The master tapes were eventually recovered from Virgin Records' archives in 2004, allowing for all reissues from the aptly-titled Original Master Edition onward to use the first-generation audio. While these in turn were criticized as overly bright, they ended up being favored over pre-2004 CDs in blind listening tests.
  • Dramatic Timpani: The intro to "Epitaph".
  • Dystopia: The general theme of the album is man's feeling of stress, anxiety and paranoia in the 21st century, which was still four decades ahead at the time when this album was released. "Epitaph" isn't particularly optimistic:
    "Knowledge is a deadly fiend
    If no one sets the rules
    The fate of all mankind I see
    Is in the hands of fools"
  • Epic Rocking: All tracks are over six minutes in length, with "Moonchild" being the longest at 12:13. (Note that Steven Wilson's remix of the album shortens "Moonchild" by around three minutes, which is regarded by some fans as an improvement).
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "The Court of the Crimson King" does this, briefly fading out before fading back into a quiet recorder solo.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: The album cover shows a screaming man in close-up, so we can literally look inside his opened mouth (and up his nostrils too).
  • Heavy Mithril: The album is well known for Peter Sinfield's abstract, fantasy-based lyrics.
  • Imaginary Friend: "I Talk to the Wind"
    "I talk to the wind
    My words are all carried away
    I talk to the wind
    The wind does not hear
    The wind cannot hear"
  • Instrumentals: "Mirrors", "March for No Reason", "The Illusion", "The Return of the Fire Witch", "The Dance of the Puppets".
  • Last Note Nightmare: The conclusion of "21st Century Schizoid Man".
    • Also, the ending of the album.
  • Mysterious Waif: The title character in "Moonchild".
  • Nightmare Face: The creepy face on the cover.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The album cover is unnerving enough, but take a gander at the lyrics of "21st Century Schizoid Man":
    "Blood rack, barbed wire
    Politicians' funeral pyre
    Innocents raped with napalm fire
    21st Century Schizoid Man"
  • One-Man Song: "21st Century Schizoid Man".
  • One-Word Title: "Epitaph", "Moonchild".
  • Progressive Rock: This album practically popularized the genre. It's also arguably the most important Trope Codifier.
    • Progressive Metal: With "21st Century Schizoid Man", they provided an arguable Ur-Example of the genre. It's been a staple of many progressive metal bands' playlists ever since progressive metal was a thing.
  • Properly Paranoid: "21st Century Schizoid Man".
    "At paranoia's poison door
    21st century schizoid man"
  • Protest Song: "21st Century Schizoid Man" protests The Vietnam War:
    "Innocents raped with napalm fire"
  • Psychedelic Rock: This album is generally seen as a bridge between psychedelic and progressive rock.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "21st Century Schizoid Man" references The Vietnam War in the lyric "innocents raped with napalm fire".
  • Self-Titled Album: The band's name is mentioned in the title.
  • Shout-Out: The opening lyrics to "Epitaph" reference Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence". Or just a reference to The Bible. Same with the Simon & Garfunkel song.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: One section of "Epitaph" is called "Tomorrow and Tomorrow", which is fitting since the song is about death and despair.
  • Solar and Lunar: The moonchild in "Moonchild" is "waiting for the smile from a sun child". Also, the first lines of the title track are "the rusted chains of prison moons/are shattered by the sun"
  • Textless Album Cover: The album cover shows no title, nor the band's name.
  • Title Track: Played with. The official name for the album's closing track is "The Court of the Crimson King", excluding the "In" at the start. However, various other releases of the song, such as the French and Japanese single releases, a UK 7" test pressing, and a 1993 Spanish promo CD, bill it as "In the Court of the Crimson King", making it a true title track in the process.
  • Trope Codifier: For Progressive Rock. While they didn't invent the genre (The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, The Nice, Spirit, Family and others had already been playing it since '67), they both solidified it (and many of its associated tropes) in the public eye and helped to separate it from Psychedelic Rock (the other bands were much more rooted in Psychedelia). It's often called the most influential prog rock album of all time. It's also one of the most critically acclaimed examples of the genre and frequently makes lists of the greatest albums of all time.
  • War Is Hell: "21st Century Schizoid Man" mentions this in the second verse, as part of its protest against the Vietnam War. "Epitaph" alludes to nuclear weapons with its mention of "instruments of death" as well.
  • World of Symbolism: The eponymous "Court of the Crimson King." The imagery throughout the song is surreal and dream-like, and there have been many different political interpretations of what the song is truly meant to represent.