Housed in its distinctive cover painted by Peter Sinfield’s friend, Barry Godber, it remains the most widely recognised album by King Crimson.
“Wessex Studios mid-August 1969. The apocalyptic blast of 21st Century Schizoid Man is abruptly cut off in mid-flow as recording engineer, Robin Thompson, mutes the speakers. Gathered in the cavernous performance area of Wessex Studios below, Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Ian McDonald, Peter Sinfield and Greg Lake stopped work to welcome the arrival of artist Barry Godber, carrying a large rectangular package wrapped in brown paper.
A few weeks previously Sinfield had commissioned his friend to come up with something for the cover for what would be King Crimson’s debut album. “I used to hang around with all these painters and artists from Chelsea Art School” says Sinfield. “I’d known Barry for a couple of years…he’d been to a few rehearsals, and spent a bit of time with us. I told him to see what he could come up with. I think I probably said to him that the one thing the cover had to do was stand out in record shops.”
Godber tore off the brown paper and laid the painting on the floor as the band gathered around to see his handiwork.
Greg Lake recalls “We all stood around it and it was like something out of Treasure Island where you’re all standing around a box of jewels and treasure…this fucking face screamed up from the floor and what it said to us was Schizoid Man – the very track we’d been working on. It was as if there was something magic going on.”
In 1995 Fripp commented, “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.
Entering the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic upon its release the album catapulted King Crimson from their cultish underground origins to something approaching mainstream success.
The album cover was so striking that a number of record shops filled their window displays with the album. In 1969, Rhett Davies, who would later work with King Crimson on Discipline, was then employed in the Liverpool Street branch of Harlequin Records in London. He ensured that Crimson’s debut album occupied a whole window of the store. “I phoned up the label and asked them to send me over twenty album sleeves and I stuck a joint in one of the mouths!”
Here’s how some of the music papers of the day reacted to the album.
This eagerly-awaited first album is no disappointment, and confirms their reputation as one of the most important new groups for some time. It gives little idea of their true power on stage, but still packs tremendous impact especially the brutally exciting “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the eerie title track, with its frightening mellotron sounds. It’s not all high power stuff though – there’s some nice flute from Ian McDonald on the beautiful “I Talk To The Wind” and “Moonchild” is pretty, though too long. The vocals are clear and controlled and the instrumental work can hardly be faulted. This is one you should try and hear.
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