I suspect that there aren’t many ‘Top Ten Worst Bands of the 1970s‘ lists which don’t include Emerson Lake & Palmer. It seems that no matter how many clips surface of Keith Emerson histrionically stabbing his organ with a knife, the group just can’t find their way to the right side of the credibility line these days.
Even though in their heyday ELP were one of the world’s most successful bands, the arrival of punk rock in 1976 helped change public perceptions towards them. What had formerly been an appreciation of the band’s incredibly accomplished musicianship and on-stage showmanship, became a loathing of their pompous self-indulgence. The showmen had become show-offs, and audiences were starting to ask themselves: “Why should I sit through a 15 minute drum or keyboard solo purely out of courtesy?” Paying to be entertained was one thing. Paying to watch people tortuously gratifying their own egos was quite another, and the reality of that was dawning on young gig-goers.
It was at exactly this point in time, when Emerson Lake & Palmer released the album on this cassette – Works Volume II. And it appears the band had taken note of the changing attitudes, because the contents are mercifully free from marathon solos, opus-style compositions and general bids for the title of World’s Greatest Musician. It’s basically a pop record, although much of it wasn’t contemporary pop, even in the ‘70s.
It’s hard to determine what ELP’s rationale for this album was, because it has no real identity, and some of the old-fashioned stuff like Maple Leaf Rag and Show Me The Way To Go Home seemed a bit pointless in that there were other artists better suited to re-hashing that kind of material. The album had an air of desperation about it, and sure enough, it was all downhill from here until the band split in 1979. It was too late for a remedy or a change of tack. By the late ’70s, ELP had descended into the ‘dinosaur’ category and were simply considered irrelevant among the youth of the day.
1977’s Works Volume II does have a gem to commend it in the shape of Honky Tonk Train Blues – Keith Emerson’s highly impressive and exciting big band version of the Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis boogie woogie classic. Yes, it’s another very old track, but this one does work as a ‘70s good-time blast, and in fact it had already been a hit single for Emerson in the spring of ’76, when the track even got an airing on Top of the Pops. The only other track I find of interest on Works Volume II is Brain Salad Surgery. This is nearly but not quite what ELP should have been doing in ’77. The prog rock roots are clearly evident, but you feel it’s gently heading towards a leaner and more modern style. It’s prog with the self-indulgence and pompous elements removed. Not brilliant, but it seems to indicate that ELP were listening to their critics and recognising what contemporary audiences wanted, and perhaps more importantly – what they didn’t.
The cassette has a standard ferric tape coating, and in comparison to an ‘80s chrome cassette it does lack sparkle. The quality’s fine – it’s just nothing to get excited about. One interesting detail is the authoritative statement on the inlay, assuring purchasers that “This Stereo Cassette gives genuine reproduction on Mono equipment.” A huge number of cassette players in the ‘70s were monaural, and it wasn’t really until the early ‘80s when the Walkman and the ‘ghetto blaster’ stormed the market, that mono cassette players finally found themselves ejected from the realm of entertainment and confined to office, educational and interview room use.
As to whether ELP really deserve to be in so many derogatory Top Tens, I think it’s unfair to be honest. They could be a pain in the backside, and they did lose sight of some of the gruelling excess their audiences were having to put up with. But there must surely be ten worse ’70s bands than ELP – especially when you consider what they achieved in the early part of the decade.