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"In the Studio - The Making of 'Brain Salad Surgery'"

Announcer: Hi, and welcome to In the Studio. I'm Redbeard, bringing you the stories behind the greatest rock and roll albums in history. This week we go In the Studio to mix a little rock and roll with just the right amount of the classics for a very tasty Brain Salad Surgery.

("Karn Evil 9" clip plays)

Greg Lake: This "Karn Evil 9" thing is basically about computers; the way computers take people over. In fact, there was a lot of foresight in that, now I come to think of it. Although computers weren't new at that time, the extent to which they have become dominant throughout society was something, that I must say, we foresaw at that time. I think the line was, "Load your program; I am yourself."

(refrain from "Still...You Turn Me On" plays)

KE: All right, this is Keith Emerson...

GL: And I'm Greg Lake.

CP: And, this is Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

KE: And you're In the Studio for:

GL: Brain Salad Surgery.

Redbeard: We'll be right back with Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Carl Palmer, and the inside scoop behind Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery" - coming up next.

GL: Welcome back to In the Studio, this week spotlighting "Brain Salad Surgery," from Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I'm Greg Lake...

CP: ...and I'm Carl Palmer here with...

All: Redbeard!

R: Well, thanks, guys! By late 1973, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were already firmly established as leaders in the progressive rock movement. Combining the classics with bold and adventurous rock and roll, keyboardist Keith Emerson, bass player and vocalist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer gave us four incredibly popular albums in a scant year and a half. But we would soon discover that Emerson, Lake and Palmer had simply been teasing us with those releases, because when they unveiled "Brain Salad Surgery" in December 1973, ELP had clearly outdone even themselves. To begin with, Keith Emerson took full advantage of the latest in synthesizer technology, which allowed him for the first time to play colorful orchestral chords rather than simple individual notes; thus, "Brain Salad Surgery" featured some of Keith's most impressive and innovative playing to date. But what of that unusual album title? "Brain Salad Surgery?" It's taken from the song, "Right Place, Wrong Time," a tune that was popular in early 1973. I've always been curious how Emerson, Lake and Palmer came to use it for the title of their fifth album, and more importantly, what it means. Pay close attention to Keith Emerson and first, Carl Palmer:

CP: It comes from a Dr. John song, originally, and the words, "brain salad surgery" were in a song of his. We were working with a guy called Mario Medius at Atlantic Records at the time, and he had worked with Dr. John, whatever....

KE: It was going to be called, "Whip Some Skull on Yer..."

CP: ...Which was another line of his that we thought was a little bit...

KE: ...Which means roughly the same thing as "brain salad surgery!" (laughs)

CP: Yup.

KE: We were into that sort of stuff in those days...still are, aren't you? (chuckle)

("Still...You Turn Me On" plays)

R: From Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery," that's Emerson and Lake with the lilting, "Still...You Turn Me On." I say "Emerson and Lake," because drummer Carl Palmer did not actually appear on that song. Always considered to be one of the most popular tunes from "Brain Salad Surgery," "Still...You Turn Me On" was nonetheless never released as a single. I asked why, and here's the response from Greg Lake and Carl Palmer:

GL: I think the reason for that was that we felt that the acoustic pieces, whilst they were more accessible, from a radio standpoint, they were songs, people could remember them, weren't really typical of the band as a whole. They were more "Greg Lake," they were more just things that applied more really to me. I think we had had a couple of them and we felt that we didn't want to get sort of tagged with "ELP does acoustic singles." That was the main thinking behind it. I think we all felt more and more that we didn't want to be, we didn't want anybody to be hung on that label, that we're doing "Greg Lake" singles all the time, that it was ELP. You've got to bear in mind that we had come from a whole background of where singles weren't really the thing, you know. It was almost frowned upon, singles, so, I don't know, it just didn't materialize.

CP: I think it was quite an honest approach that we had, because we didn't want to mislead anyone; them thinking that this was a band playing a single, because it wasn't. I think we still got the kind of coverage we needed from that particular single; it still hit the airwaves, you know.

R: You've got that right, Carl. Though Palmer did not lend his drumming prowess to that track, he certainly made up for it with his technique on the song called, "Toccatta," which featured one of the first solos on synthesized drums. Always an innovator, I asked Carl Palmer to explain how those synthesized drums worked.

CP: Well at that particular time, most bands had an electrician which they would employ almost full-time. We had one that was in the sort of "R & D" area - Research and Development for the band. The particular problem that I faced at the time: there was no electronic equipment, though Bob Moog had made something for drums, which I thought was adequate. So this chap actually worked for the whole band, he would do pedal boards, and things for the organ, and whatever, so at the same time this was all going on, we would sit and talk about what would be nice, and he basically came up with various boards that were similar to what were in the keyboard synthesizers, that I could actually use, and trigger from a pad; trigger from a drum. And we used what you would call little contact mikes; we used them way back then, but inside the drum, not stuck to the drum, to trigger the sound. Basically I had an octave switch where I could jump between, say, an octave, the sound, whatever I had the sound couldn't be changed except that it could be made higher or lower. I had eight of these boxes; they were roughly the size of a cigar box. They were banked together, and that was the percussion sort of synthesizer, as it were. They really weren't that flexible, and what you heard was what you got. The button situation, as far as changing sounds, was OK, not reliable, and that was about it, really, there was nothing to buy in the marketplace. At least here I had sort of eight different sounds which were very clear, and they all sort of complimented each other.

("Jerusalem" plays)

R: Wow, the power and the majesty of Emerson, Lake and Palmer from "Brain Salad Surgery." That's their rendition of a British hymn called "Jerusalem." With more on the story, here's drummer Carl Palmer.

CP: We wanted to put it out as a single. We figured it was worthy of a single. In England, they have this format where four or five people have to veto it in before it gets played on the airwaves; it's a very old-fashioned way of doing it, but that's the way it was being done at the time. I think there was some apprehension to whether or not we should be playing a hymn and bastardizing it, as they said, or whatever was being called at the time. I think it got rejected, I recall. We thought we'd done it spot-on, and I thought that was very sad because I've got a jukebox at home, and that's a piece of music that I've got on the jukebox, so I actually thought the recording and just the general performances from all of us were absolutely wonderful. I couldn't believe the small-mindedness of the English, sort of, whatever-they-are, committee to vote these things onto the radio or off the radio. They could even, really, they obviously didn't even listen to this. It got banned and there was sort of quite a big thing about it, these people just would not play it. They said, "No," it was a hymn, and we had taken it the wrong way.

R: It was singer Greg Lake, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer who explained just how revered the song "Jerusalem" is in their native England.

GL: It's a bit of a national anthem type of thing, you know.

CP: That's what it is.

GL: You've got the BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, and they're very conservative - or they were more conservative then. I think they felt it was a bit of an affront to British-"ness" - you know, that we sort of took this thing and...Carl says we did, it was a good version of it, isn't it?

CP: It was a great version. There's no personal contact with these people, so you can't actually get hold of them to say, explain, you know, what is the problem? Not that we would change the piece of music, but there's nothing you can do in that situation. I thought that was a little bit of a loss because it was a great piece of music.

R: Easily one of the most fascinating aspects of the Brain Salad Surgery album was its macabre packaging, which on the original vinyl album opened up from the skull on the outer cover, revealing a rather exotic, mysterious-looking woman. As we discussed "Brain Salad Surgery" in their hotel room, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake explain that the artwork was conceived in Switzerland by an artist named H.R. Giger.

KE: I think we were playing in Zurich, and I got invited over to this guy's apartment as I recall, and I was completely amazed at the place, I mean this guy was like on acid.

GL: Yeah.

KE: It was wall-to-wall stuff. I said to Greg and Carl, "You've gotta meet this guy. He's really out there!"

GL: His house is like a horror movie, I mean, it's dark and it's full of the type of...umm..."artwork" and umm...

KE: Oh, everything, he was into sculptures...

GL: Sculptures...on this cover, it really, it's a horrible place to be. It was very impressive.

KE: And we said this is amazing, we have to use this, this is for an album cover design, and he hadn't done album covers before. We looked at several of his ideas and said, "Well we like this bit, here, this part," because he had so much of that sort of style, it was really difficult to focus in on one particular area. It's interesting to note that Giger went on to do the scenario for the film "Alien." After that, he designed that monster which you see in the film. That was before he was actually discovered. Definitely a strange technique! I mean, it's airbrushing...

GL: But the guy himself is a sweet character. You know? It's a real sort of dichotomy, a strange thing, because he's total...when you meet him, you think you're gonna meet somebody who is possessed by the devil, you know! Actually when you talk to him, he's a very sweet, (in high voice) "Hi!" you know, very sweet chap! (chuckle)'s a very funny thing.

KE: We had a lot of problems with the album cover, actually, to begin with, because there's various things on it which we couldn't really...print, could we? The phallic-ness of it...that was a bit over the top.

CP: That's right, on there, the phallicness of it is right in front of you.

KE: If you look harder, yeah...

CP: No, on the CD, it stands out a lot. That's gonna be...if you haven't seen it yet, just keep looking!

KE: Everybody's gonna be sort of like, "Well let's check this out!" (chuckle) Just keep lookin'!

GL: (Laughing) Oh no...

KE: Well the interesting thing was when you played the actual vinyl copy, the label on the record, you know where you put the hole through the middle...

(someone snickers)

KE: It actually went through the lady's....

GL: Don't continue...(chuckle) Please don't continue!

KE: ...mouth. (laughs heartily) Well!

GL: Yeah, so that was that, so it was a bit of a good (unintelligible) The whole thing, his ability to...

CP: To be perverted!

GL: To be...yeah (snicker) to bond all this together in this way, you know, he's a fabulous artist. It is a great cover - all credit to him for doing it.

("Benny the Bouncer" plays)

R: Yeah! (chuckle) A humorous look at the age-old adage, "the bigger they come, the harder they fall." That's Emerson, Lake and Palmer's, "Benny the Bouncer." Still to come: a three-part song about the advent of the computer age. I'm Redbeard, and you are In the Studio, with Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery."

KE: Hi, this is Keith Emerson. Welcome back to In the Studio, this week featuring Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery."

("Karn Evil 9" plays)

R: Initially split into two parts because of the time limitations of vinyl albums, that's "Karn Evil 9, First Impression, Part II," from Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery" album. The lyrics to "Karn Evil 9" were co-written by Pete Sinfield, an old friend of Greg Lake's. Here's Greg:

GL: I'd been writing, I mean I've written, it goes back to King Crimson, "In the Court of the Crimson King," that I've written with Pete, and we've done various things throughout ELP. I love the way Pete writes, I've enjoyed working - he's a great lyricist. It was just a comfortable, natural thing to do. I've learned a tremendous amount from him and it just fitted at the time, you know? We came up with this concept, this Karn Evil 9 thing, basically about computers, the way computers take people over. In fact, there was a lot of foresight in that, now I come to think of it. Although computers weren't new at that time, the extent to which they have become dominant throughout society was something that, I must say, we foresaw at that time. I think the line was, "load your program, I am yourself." I think there was a degree of foresight in that. That was what was fun about working with Pete; we used to do these things, and dream a lot. It all started in the King Crimson days; we used to really get into dreaming and scheming.

R: When Emerson, Lake and Palmer took their Brain Salad Surgery music on the road, they designed a stage show that was so ambitious and over-the-top, that the overall weight of their equipment was estimated at 36 tons! That's an unheard-of 24,000 pounds of equipment per band member - unbelievable! Among the toys that Emerson, Lake and Palmer took with them was a new sound system known as "quadrophonic," which enabled the band to literally swirl the sound around the audience. It was truly a marvelous effect, but it was not without its drawbacks. Here's Greg Lake:

GL: The one problem with quadrophonic sound is that it's dependent on where you're sitting. If you're sitting in one corner of the quad, it's disorientating. So its use is limited, but I still feel it's worthwhile. I like it in a live concert setting. It isn't something which you can broadcast the whole music through all the time, but it's appropriate at moments. It's just a wonderful effect; changes the perspective for a while. If only for that reason, I think it's a nice effect. I personally was sad to see the end of quad sound, because I think people would be prepared to sit in their living rooms and set their living rooms up for quad. I think they didn't give enough credit to people's preparedness and integrity to go and do that. It was a bit of a shame really, because it's one of the nicest effects.

("Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression" plays)

CP: We always reinvested back into the group. Live performance was a very important part; the career, to reinvest in apart from just the records.

GL: We've always, all throughout the band's career, we've always been, we've tried to make the show theatrical rather han rock & roll. We would rather have it look like a ballet than like a discotheque. That's really where we started to really be able to develop the "look," in the big arenas. That was what it was all about, really, is to have a more theatrical - restrained, in a way, although it was quite dramatic to see it. It was not very flashy - it was just theatrical.

(rest of "Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression" plays)

R: From Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery," that's the Second Impression of "Karn Evil 9." Emerson, Lake and Palmer's penchant for outrageous stage presentations laid the groundwork for disaster. Keith Emerson's unpredictable synthesizers were frequently augmented with onstage knife throwing, explosions, and grand piano twirling! ELP never knew from one night to the next what might happen on stage. Needless to say, there were many near misses for the band at ELP concerts in the 70's. Once again, here's Keith Emerson:

KE: Hollywood Bowl - I fell down a hole...Greg can't remember any of these things! (loud laugh) I fell down this hole...and...

GL: I live in dread.

KE: ...I broke a rib...I've jumped over the organ...I cleared the organ; ended up in the pit with them still playing on the stage, wondering where I'd got to...(giggle in background) and then I've not been allowed back on the stage because I don't have a security pass.

GL: (laughs loud and long)

KE: We played Meadowlands and I actually went into the audience with the Hammond. The organ actually toppled over... and I went with it into's lucky we had all the crew, because this thing weighs about 340 pounds. I went right over the top and ended up in the second row of the audience, and I just thought, "There's gonna be somebody underneath this instrument. It's got to have killed somebody." The road crew, strong guys that they were, they managed to get it and save the actual weight, while I actually ended in the second row. The audience loved it, they thought it was planned - nobody, thank God, was hurt. No, I've broken so many ribs...Carl's also had an accident on stage, didn't he? You stepped backwards and fell into a....

CP: Mm-hmm, when we used to have the back of...when the grand piano used to come up through the middle of the stage, on the hydraulic...and the game was, we'd all come to the front of the stage, take a bow; whilst this was happening, the floor would open up, and up would come a piano. I was at the front of the stage with the guys taking a bow, and I forgot. I totally, sort of dazed, stepped back - the stage had already opened, and I fell into the piano.

KE: (giggling) It's funny now that you look back on it!

CP: I got caught because it was a grand piano and the lid was already open, but it was below stage level, so as I stepped back I kind of slid down the roof, the um, lid of the piano and I was caught by this burly sort of road manager...

KE: ...who threw you back again! (laughs heartily)

R: Wow! Rock and roll can be hazardous to your health! After more than a dozen years apart, Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunited in 1992. Though the children of some original ELP fans are fully grown now, Greg Lake spoke for the entire band when he told me how much he still enjoys hearing the music Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded together so many years ago, on the radio.

GL: It's always nice to hear your music played; it's always nice that people like it. It's a very nice feeling after you've...especially when you've recorded it a long time ago. One expects in a way to hear your current record being played, but when people play things from years ago, it's a very gratifying feeling that people still like it - it's very nice.

("Karn Evil 9, Third Impression" plays)

R: Wild stuff - one of three movements for that particular song, from "Brain Salad Surgery." That's Emerson, Lake and Palmer with "Karn Evil 9, Third Impression." We'll be right back In the Studio, after this. (computer destruct sequence continues in background)

R: This is Redbeard, extending my gratitude to Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer for detailing the making of their time-honored album, "Brain Salad Surgery." Look for Emerson, Lake and Palmer on the road very soon supporting "Black Moon," their first album together since 1978. (more credits)

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