Keith Emerson - Variations

Keith Emerson – Variations (20CD Boxset)

I became a fan of progressive rock in 2008, with my introduction to Dream Theater, which seemed to have everything I was looking for in a musical group: long songs, odd time signatures, virtuoso playing and great songwriting. I listened to the band solidly for a year before deciding to explore their progressive roots in 2009, listening to as much 1970s prog as I could. This ensured that I was just in time to experience Emerson, Lake & Palmer playing their last-ever concert at the High Voltage Festival in London, in July 2010. Known as “progressive rock’s first supergroup”, the three members had not played together since 1998 and the anticipation of their reformation for this one-off concert felt like a historical event. As a new lover of prog, I felt so excited to see this legendary band play once again.

While it was certainly not a disaster, it was not quite the mind-blowing experience I had hoped for. I hadn’t seen a recent picture of the group and was quite shocked at how different Greg Lake looked from his slender rock god appearance in the 1970s. Noticeable mistakes were made right from the opening song and for the rest of the concert; I was yearning for the band to not make any more. I was delighted when they began to play Tarkus, their best track, but was disappointed that they cut corners with it; the opening instrumental was played as a solo by Emerson and the complex linking instrumental Manticore was skipped altogether. It was evident that ELP were not the technical powerhouse that they used to be.

Six years later, I had the chance to interview Carl Palmer and asked him about his recollection of that evening. To my surprise, he did not deny that there were problems and said:

“We had to rehearse music we’d written ourselves for five weeks beforehand, which tells you something was wrong. With his hand injury, Keith was only up to playing for half an hour really, so it was difficult for him to play the full 90-minute set. He was having such trouble playing the music that I suggested we sampled some of what he needed to play and have that played in the background alongside his live performance. However, the minute you play with a sampler and a click track, prog music becomes a bit sterile; it needs to speed up and slow down. Keith tried his very best on the night, and as I said earlier, he was happy that I finished the group after.”

This answer made me believe that the problems had been down to Emerson, with the lithe Palmer trying to do his best to hold everything together as the group embarked on an overly ambitious concert to play songs that were now beyond their skill level. And I believed that for seven more years until I listened to this new boxset, Variations.

Described by Nice-bandmate Lee Jackson as an ‘inventor’ of progressive rock, Keith Emerson was an outstanding musician with the talent and vision to blend music from multiple genres, mainly classical and rock, and make it accessible and entertaining. He also had a brand of showmanship that made ELP concerts legendary and the image of him sticking knives into his organ during performances of Rondo is burned into the brains of prog fans everywhere.

For a long time, I’ve admired Emerson’s work in the Nice and ELP, but I’ve never mustered the courage (or, indeed, time) to listen to any of his solo work. For anyone else in the same predicament, this vast boxset dedicated to the late musician seeks to correct that, as it includes most of his solo, soundtrack and live albums to present a full picture of the man. As far as I can tell, the only omission seems to be 1988’s The Christmas Album for which I suppose I should be thankful, though it’s a bit weird that isn’t there.

Through this box set, I realised that there was a post-ELP story to Keith Emerson that I was completely oblivious to. When I watched him play in 2010, I was unaware of the journey this man had been on and was still going through at that time and I honestly hadn’t cared to find out until the release of this boxset. In hindsight, I see the High Voltage performance very differently now.

Rather than present the material chronologically, Variations is split into five parts to bring some order to the mass of material on offer. The first part just consists of one CD and is titled The Early Years / The Bands and features a compilation of Emerson’s material ranging from a piano recording made at the age of 14 to some of his best-known ELP material, such as Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression, which makes a different impression indeed when divorced from the first and third impressions. The selected parts are instrumental with the focus understandably on Emerson, showing more vividly what he brought to the table. I’m rather reminded of listening to Chris Squire’s solo album Fish Out of Water, which identified just how crucial he was to the sound of Yes.

The first CD ends with a fun live rendition of the Peter Gunn Theme which is instantly recognisable even if you’ve never watched the 1950s private eye series, as you’ll have undoubtedly heard it before; I was happy just to know the tune’s origin. The booklet gives precious little context to most of the recordings, so I had no idea when some of these tracks were made; despite being part of The Early Years, Lament for Tony Stratton Smith sounds like it was made with a programmed drum machine, and I imagine it was made around the time of Smith’s death in 1987, but it’s just a guess. Some context for these songs and why they were chosen would have been great.

Next, we embark on Part Two of the collection, The Solo Albums, consisting of four CDs and beginning with the dubiously-titled Honky from 1981, recorded in the Bahamas, as the ill-received Love Beach was three years earlier. The album cover is rather striking, featuring Emerson dressed in white surrounded by casually dressed locals, with the title painted on in bold strokes, made to look like graffiti. Emerson chose the title as it was how he was greeted by locals, perhaps unaware of its derogatory connotations; I hope that he was certain that they weren’t laughing at him behind his back. Fans hoping for a return to form after ELP’s downfall were sorely disappointed by the calypso and reggae-infused compositions found on this tropical album. Without any such expectations, I found some fun with the staccato of Green Ice and whimsy of Salt Cay, but not the nine combined minutes of Hello Sailor, which features an exaggerated use of the traditional Sailor’s Hornpipe that Mike Oldfield already perfected a decade earlier on Tubular Bells.

We then leap ahead to 1995 and the release of Changing States, which was confusingly recorded six years earlier, but is closer in style to what fans hoped for. Understated piano pieces such as Ballade and Interlude are interspersed with full-band workouts like Another Frontier and The Church which would fit right in on an ELP record. Also present is an orchestral version of Abaddon’s Bolero, originally featured on 1972’s Trilogy, which foreshadows some orchestral work we will reach later in the set.

While a follow-up to Changing States in the same style would have been nice, the next disc is a completely different kettle of fish. Emerson plays Emerson is a more intimate album, featuring just the man and his piano, rattling off twenty-four short numbers he has penned over the years. This is either relaxing or incredibly tedious, depending on your state of mind. Most of these songs were unknown to me; the inclusion of a few more acoustic versions of ELP songs would have made a world of difference to me. I was also disappointed to hear Emerson’s Medley, recorded at age 14, played here once again; I had hoped it was an exclusive recording to open the first disc but had come to find out it was just copied from this disc. Why feature the same track twice? There’s also a misprint in the booklet that lists the medley as four separate tracks when there are, in fact, only three.

Reading along with the notes, I became familiar with Marc Bonilla, an American guitarist whom Keith Emerson approached to work with after hearing him play in a small pub in San Jose. It was certainly one of the most chance meetings ever but Bonilla, who worshipped Emerson, leapt at the chance to work with the prog legend and ended up working with him for the rest of his life. While there always seemed to be a struggle of egos within ELP, Bonilla surely knew his place and was content to help Emerson achieve his visions.

The fruition of their work together can be heard on Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla (they really couldn’t find a better album title?) which features the remarkably good 35-minute suite The House of Ocean Born Mary as well as some extra tracks. No, it’s not miraculously better than Tarkus or Karn Evil 9, but it’s far more decent than you’d expect Emerson to sound three decades after his ELP heyday and includes plenty of exciting proggy workouts. It could have been a tad more cohesive, but that’s a minor quibble. Elsewhere, Malambo shows Emerson taking a well-known classical theme and converting it into a rock setting effectively.

We’re now onto Part Three, which includes Emerson’s extensive collection of soundtrack recordings which began with 1980’s Inferno. The film was directed by Dario Argento, who normally worked with Italian prog group Goblin but wanted a more ‘delicate’ score and chose to work with Emerson instead; I suppose he still wanted those prog accents. Having seen many of Argento’s collaborations with Goblin, including his most famous film, Suspiria, I cannot say I’m a fan of his silly brand of horror, which I don’t find scary in the slightest. However, I could normally respect the craft and see what he was trying to do. With Inferno, however, I was utterly lost; I could only watch half-an-hour before I had to turn it off so as not to waste any more time. The performances and production were so amateurish that there was no hope of me taking it seriously, and it’s definitely the worst Argento I’ve ever witnessed.

That’s not to say the score is bad, though. Just as expressive as any good silent film score, Emerson deftly weaves between understated and brash to accentuate the film’s moments, adding some more prog notes to tracks such as Taxi Ride (Rome). His work with the orchestra is also impressive, and I wonder if he took the time to compose for all the instruments. The album predates Honky and is a more respectable start to Emerson’s solo career.

The next film that Emerson scored is quite different indeed: 1981’s Nighthawks is an action crime thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams at the height of their popularity as they chase down a ruthless, psychopathic terrorist played by Rutger Hauer. Far more palatable than Inferno, I was actually able to make it all the way through this film, but found it to be thoroughly forgettable. Indeed, the score by Emerson was perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film. One wouldn’t expect prog rock to accompany a buddy cop film, but the two actually go hand in hand. Things get poppy with the frantic Nighthawking, played during a scene where Stallone stalks Hauer in a bustling discotheque, but elsewhere the score is decent orchestral prog.

After two disappointing films, I decided to stop watching along and just focus on the music. Murderock sees Emerson returning to Italian film, this time without the accompaniment of an orchestra. The quality of the recordings has greatly diminished too, much less ‘prog’ than before and simply a banal selection of jams, as well as the horrible pop song Tonight is Your Night, whose outro features the irritating repeated chorus far too many times. Emerson appears to have traded all of his signature instruments for cheesy ’80s synths and the timbre is quite difficult to bear for the full length of the album, even if it is only 34 minutes long.

Emerson only partially contributed to the Argento-produced La Chiesa in 1989, so his compositions for that film are included on the Best Revenge CD, which is fine because there is more than enough space for both of them. Excitingly, Best Revenge sports a fifteen-minute orchestral suite but, after some initial fanfare, it doesn’t remain stimulating for very long. Perhaps it makes sense when accompanying John Trent’s obscure film, but the lack of cohesiveness and the way the suite peters out at the end despite having such a strong opening made me wonder why it needed to be a suite at all. The rest of Best Revenge is a sloppy ’80s cheese-fest but La Chiesa holds some decent Goblin-esque compositions that surely added to the creepy factor of the film.

We then reach the nadir of the set. After witnessing Emerson’s soundtrack compositions gradually get worse and worse, we hit complete rock bottom with Iron Man Volume One (thankfully, there was never a Volume Two) made for the Iron Man animated series that broadcast in the mid-nineties. I initially was giddy when I gazed at the tracklist – four suites ranging from 16 to 19 minutes in length bookended by short themes – but I was soon to learn that this was no Tales from Topographic Oceans. Instead, we have a bunch of random, half-baked themes played by Emerson all smushed together with no rhyme or reason. The production is terrible and the timbre of the synthesisers is utterly grating. There’s so little continuity to the music that it feels like it was generated by AI. And worse still, there are 73 continuous minutes of this rubbish. Keith Emerson should have never made this record; it really is one of the worst things I’ve ever had to listen to.

Just when you think Emerson couldn’t get any more random, he’s drawn into two Japanese productions on the next disc, the anime Harmagedon from 1983 and Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004. He certainly was adventurous! The step back in time is a relief, as some of his old instruments and keyboard sounds have returned. Interestingly, it seems that he didn’t write the music for Harmagedon but simply played the keyboards on Nozomu Aoki’s compositions. Aoki’s style is a bit more atmospheric than Emerson’s intense melody-led structures, but he still makes good use of Emerson’s signature playing. Sonny’s Skate Skate features the honky tonk sound that Emerson will often bring out and Challenge of the Psionic Fighters has a few keyboard spots for Emerson to shine. Children of the Light is a great melancholic finisher featuring vocals by Rosemary Butler, an American singer who achieved fame as a solo artist in Japan by contributing to films such as these.

Godzilla: Final Wars, however, is barely recognisable as Emerson. Featuring a ton of modern samples and sound effects, this electronic music is worlds apart from the artist we know and love. I wonder if his heart was in this or if he was heavily directed to make this sort of music. It all sounds very slapdash as if almost no thought went into writing or recording this music, but at least it’s a little more coherent than Iron Man.

Fortunately, that concludes the most dreadful part of the set and we can move on to better and brighter things. Later on in life, Emerson befriended Norwegian conductor Terje Mikkelsen who, like Bonilla, helped him achieve some of his musical dreams. Emerson was especially keen to hear The Endless Enigma as played by an orchestra, and Mikkelsen was all too happy to take on the challenge. This rendition begins Part Four of the collection, focusing on collaborations. Three Fates Project brings new life to a host of Emerson compositions, but the most exciting is Tarkus (Concertante) which marries the Münchner Rundfunkorchester and the Keith Emerson Band to produce a radically different yet equally satisfying version of the beloved classic. The vocals are dispensed with, with Bonilla substituting his guitar to ‘sing’ the lines.

This might be an extremely unpopular opinion, but I’m not a fan of ELP’s take on Fanfare for the Common Man, which I feel goes on for way too long and just relies on Palmer and Lake keeping the same rhythm for eight minutes while Emerson faffs about on the keyboard. There’s nothing clever about it. The initial theme is nice and the funky rhythm is good for the first few minutes but that’s about it.

On Three Fates Project, Emerson’s Fanfare for the Common Man is revived, but as a two-part track. I couldn’t understand how the funky part was going to be made orchestral. It turns out, it wasn’t. Instead, the first part is much longer, including more of Copland’s original theme; why play the whole original fanfare on an album about Emerson? The second part is simply the funky part, as played by Emerson’s new band. What’s the point of this? To have something everyone knows so people will buy the record? This doesn’t add anything original at all. Fortunately, however, the second part is shortened and Emerson doesn’t take so long soloing, so I guess I have that to be thankful for that.

The next disc is a posthumous release: Beyond the Stars was released in tribute to Emerson in 2018 and featured some new performances of Emerson tracks. Especially impressive is a reprise of The Dreamer, which was heard on Emerson plays Emerson but is here played skilfully by Emerson’s 13-year-old grandson. Unusually, however, the new tracks stop halfway through the disc, and we’re back to listening to recordings we already heard on the previous disc. This feels like a monumental waste of time, especially as we have to sit through that same recording of Fanfare for the Common Man all over again. The one saving grace is that The Endless Enigma now has the newly-recorded Fugue section inserted, which was missing on Three Fates Project. The suite doesn’t feel complete without it. All the same, I cannot understand why Terje Mikkelsen et al would feel content to peddle the same music under a different guise and call it a tribute. There is nothing written about this album to suggest that it takes freely from the previous one, and it took me reading the recording details to realise what had happened. It feels like a scam to me, but this isn’t the first time in the box set that the music has been replicated.

At last, we’re onto the fifth and final part of the collection, and where the most fun can be had: Live Collaborations. The first disc has the cringeworthy title Boys Club and was recorded in 1998 but released in 2009 (the booklet has a misprint and claims it was recorded in 1988). Collaborating with Bonilla and Glenn Hughes, the energetic group gives storming renditions of Hoedown and Nutrocker before presenting delighted fans with most of Tarkus. Hughes’s nasal and wavering delivery of the lyrics is rather difficult to appreciate and I’m grateful that the Battlefield section was skipped, lest he botch that part too. But it’s not just Emerson songs on show, but quite a wide variety. A powerful rendition of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale is an unexpected treat.

The next two discs make up Moscow, a 2008 recording of the Keith Emerson Band playing in Russia’s capital to support Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla. Some of The House of Ocean Born Mary is heard, as well as Malambo, from that album, but the space is mostly reserved for stone-cold classics such as Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression Part 2, Lucky Man, The Barbarian and Nutrocker. Oh, and they play Tarkus again. This version is utterly brilliant, the best live rendition I’ve ever heard. The band take the time to stretch every moment they can and add new solos and improvisations to the less structured parts, increasing the runtime to a whopping 35 minutes. I was struck by how tight the group were, how on top of his game Emerson was, and how this version of Tarkus rocked way harder than the bastardised version I had heard ELP play just two years after this recording.

The following disc features Emerson and Greg Lake in Live from Manticore Hall recorded in May 2010, just two months before they played with Carl Palmer at the High Voltage Festival. This intimate set sees the two playing mostly acoustic versions of ELP songs – a welcome respite from the frenzy of Moscow – and speaking candidly about their time together in ELP and how various songs were composed. I was quite surprised by the tracklisting though, featuring ambitious numbers such as The Barbarian, Pirates and, yet again, Tarkus. When I saw Tarkus played live, I had imagined it to be a one-off treat for the final ELP performance, but it seems Emerson couldn’t get enough of playing it live. For these tracks, Emerson and Lake would switch over to electric instruments and play along to what sounds like a programmed drum machine; I agree with Palmer that it does sound a bit sterile, but I had no idea he was speaking from first-hand experience. Nevertheless, it’s impressive that they programmed a drum machine to play Pirates all the way through.

Meanwhile, in Tarkus the programmed kit is only employed for the bombastic finale. Emerson and Lake are very creative in performing the first twelve minutes acoustically. It dawned on me that Emerson’s piano solo intro to Tarkus, which came straight after a quick run-through of Take a Pebble, was identical to what I had heard at the High Voltage Festival. And, just like at the festival, the Manticore section was skipped completely. It was clear that Emerson and Lake were actively using these sets as rehearsals for their gig. It still felt like a cop-out that Emerson performed the whole Tarkus intro by himself that night, but at least I could see the precursor to what I had witnessed.

Despite featuring a false drummer, Live from Manticore Hall is still one of the gems of the set as it introduces us to Emerson’s personality as he jokingly talks about the Nice and how he never liked the name, as well as how ‘catchy’ The Barbarian is. Stripped of the bombast and energy of Palmer’s drumming, Lake and Emerson provide a more relaxed evening which culminates in Emerson performing his iconic Lucky Man solo on the original Moog synthesiser.

It was hard to believe how effortless this set seemed given just how stilted their High Voltage gig had been just two months later. When I rewatched the video of that night, my perception had been altered. Given that Emerson and Lake had had so much time together in the weeks running up to this concert, it made more sense that Palmer would be the odd one out; I realised then that it was his drumming that sounded more jerky and awkward than the other members’ playing, and he was also looking frantically to the other two for cues. I’m not saying he was entirely to blame for the imperfections that evening, but I think that he downplayed his part in causing them when I interviewed him later about it. Having listened to the Moscow recording of Tarkus as well as the High Voltage one side by side, there’s absolutely no contest: Keith Emerson Band drummer Tony Pia was streets ahead of Carl Palmer.

Up next is a very different sort of album, Off the Shelf, an assortment of bits and bobs that Emerson had gathered over the years and decided to release in one tidy package in 2006. For no reason whatsoever, it opens with the same recording of the orchestral Abaddon’s Bolero we already heard on Changing States; it’s hardly a rarity if it’s on one of your official albums, but I suppose it must have been one of his favourites at that point. The richness of the orchestral sound is followed by a grating five-minute home recording of Pictures at an Exhibition, which the booklet mislabels as ‘Pictures at an Exhibit’. The sound quality is terrible, there is nothing useful to be gleaned from this home exercise. The rest of the set is an extremely unpredictable smorgasbord of mostly dreadful material – the relentless synthesised din of Rhythm-A-Ning and Asian Pear are enough to make one want to use the CD as a frisbee instead – but an unexpected highlight comes in the centre of the album with two songs performed alongside the London Jazz Orchestra, Au Privave and Walter L. These are exciting, dynamic swing pieces that feature plenty of flurries and panache from all the musicians involved; if there was a whole album like this, it could have been the best in the boxset. Instead, Off the Shelf ends with a botched cover of Ian Dury’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll that attempts to turn the song into an ’80s-style arena rocker when the brilliance was in the original’s understated, casual style.

Last but not least are two CDs of bonus tracks, including a previously unreleased live performance from 2004. With the sounds of the audience quite high in the mix, this feels more like a bootleg recording and the audio is not the best. The setlist is initially quite sparse of favourites, with only America / Rondo and Bitches Crystal as bastions of quality to hold onto – and these arguably aren’t among Emerson’s finer moments. We get a stomping rendition of Touch and Go, originally recorded by Emerson, Lake & Powell, but is anybody really interested? Eventually, Emerson and the rest of the band take a break and we’re left listening to the guitarist (presumably Bonilla) singing one of his own rather meek numbers, entitled Just Crazy. The volume of the bustling audience completely ruins the dynamics of this quiet piece. Fortunately, the second disc holds the real meat: fantastic editions of Lucky Man, Hoedown and (you guessed it) another rendition of Tarkus, this one clocking in at half-an-hour. It’s inferior in almost every way to the Moscow recording, but it still feels like a reward for making it all the way through the first disc.

There’s almost no information in the booklet about the following bonus tracks, so I had to do some digging myself to discover that the next seven tracks are a 1963 reel-to-reel home recording of the Keith Emerson Trio, consisting of Godfrey Sheppard on double bass, David Keene on drums and, of course, Emerson on piano at the tender age of 18 or 19. These warm and crackly jazz numbers that only saw the light of day in 2015 show just how skilled he was at an early age. However, the understandably poor audio quality of the recordings will keep all but the most avid Emerson fans from wanting to hear them more than once.

The box set ends in the most inauspicious way possible, with a 1988 Christmas single pulled from The Christmas Album which remains an odd deletion from this set, given just how much other rubbish had been included for completeness. The lolloping electronic instrumental We Three Kings is practically unrecognisable from its traditional version and makes me so glad that the rest of The Christmas Album wasn’t included. However, the final track of the set – Captain Starship Christmas – is an original track that piqued my interest. With actual drums played by Ian Paice and barely audible guitar by Gary Moore, this is a surprisingly progressive song with technical flourishes that I’m ashamed to say I played quite a few times in a row after hearing it. The children’s singing and Christmas-based imagery is less than ideal, but I’m impressed at how much creativity and energy Emerson put into this track. Perhaps it’s not such a bad ending after all.

However, there’s some confusion as the booklet (or at least the PDF version of it that I received) lists five more tracks that are not present on any other announced tracklisting for this box set and indeed weren’t included in the MP3s I was sent. These are Troika (Sleigh Bells Edit) (which I would have liked to have heard), I Saw Three Ships (which I would not), Big Horn Breakdown, Rum-A-Ting and Salt Cay. I’m confused because the final three tracks are songs we’ve already heard on Honky, so why would they need to be included again, unless they were some sort of single edit? And why only choose two more Christmas songs when there’s a whole unreleased album? Either give us the whole thing or nothing at all. Moreover, with the track listing already pushing the CD’s time limit at 75 minutes, there’s a chance none of those tracks would have been able to fit on anyway, so why are they listed in the booklet as such?

The booklet has been a source of ire for me as it frequently leaves out necessary details such as personnel listing, recording and release dates and gives very inconsistent liner notes for each album. On the other hand, Jerry Ewing’s biography of Emerson is thankfully brief yet informative, deftly skipping over Emerson’s years in ELP, which aren’t the focus of this box set. The only thing I felt was missing was a discussion of why Emerson didn’t like to use a Mellotron, one of prog’s most loved keyboards. There are plenty of picture collages, although some captioning could have been nice to help me appreciate what I’m looking at. The interviews with Bonilla and Mikkelsen seemed heartfelt and I was grateful to understand how they came together to support Emerson in his final years in a way that Lake and Palmer never could. It was the kind of support he deserved.

There you have it, the gargantuan boxset that details almost all of Emerson’s work since the ’80s and even a little of what came before. Listening to all of it is a massive undertaking and, quite frankly, there’s some stuff you don’t want to hear at all. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to become more familiar with this legendary musician and reassess his place in progressive history, but I can guarantee I wouldn’t have felt so glad if I had had to pay the £150 price of admission. Having recently picked up a 16CD/1DVD box set of Blue Öyster Cult albums for just £53, the price of Variations seems extortionate, especially given the poor quality of some of the music. The only real difference in the sets is that Variations is presented in a gaudy 10”×10” box while BÖC is presented in a clamshell case; are we really paying a hundred quid for three extra discs and a bit more cardboard? One can’t help but feel that these emerging humongous boxsets are designed purely to gouge as much money out of sentimental ageing prog fans as possible.

Still, if you have more money than sense and/or you’re a massive fan of Keith Emerson with a few gaps in your collection – if you happen to already own Iron Man Volume One, please call me, I’m worried about you – this is the warts-and-all package to complete your set in one tidy purchase. I quite enjoyed myself, on the whole; the copious number of renditions of Tarkus more than make up for some of the perilous lows of this set, and I would happily listen to Tarkus half a dozen more times. I’m a simple man, and it’s easy to make me happy: keep playing Tarkus. As much as I liked hearing Emerson’s professional growth after the dissolution of ELP, and the wild journeys he took with Marc Bonilla and Terje Mikkelsen, I loved hearing how much the man liked to play Tarkus live; it’s honestly the best thing about this set.


Having just completed this essay and painstakingly cobbled together the track list – which was made harder by the fact that I wasn’t sent all the necessary MP3s for this release – I stumbled upon a Google suggested search for how Keith Emerson died, something I hadn’t considered whilst writing this review. I vaguely remember the news but it was 2016, the year of Trump, Brexit and a host of celebrity deaths, including Greg Lake’s. As the details around Emerson’s death weren’t revealed until a few days later, I had chalked it up to being caused by one of the many old man diseases and thought nothing more about it. I realise this makes me seem like a complete ignoramus, but I was truly shocked and saddened by this news and can’t believe I went seven years and reviewed a whole box set without knowing about Emerson’s suicide.

It certainly paints Variations in a different light altogether. I had considered Emerson’s post-ELP story to be a joyful and successful one, where he came into contact with musicians who loved and supported him in the best way possible and helped his dreams come true. On Live at Manticore Hall, he seemed positively jovial and I can only imagine how satisfying it was to see his music come to life once again on Three Fates Project. Instead, the story is more of a cautionary one, that you can never tell what someone is going through on the inside, no matter how positive and successful they seem. It’s truly a tragedy that a man who made all this music, made such an indelible impression on the progressive rock scene and delighted worldwide fans for half a century could be in such pain at the end.

Part One: The Early Years / The Bands

01. Medley – Keith Emerson (Age 14) (1:23)
02. Rock Candy – The T Bones with Chris Barber (2:56)
03. Lament for Tony Stratton Smith – Keith Emerson (8:03)
04. America / 2nd Amendment – The Nice (6:16)
05. The Three Fates – ELP (7:46)
06. The Old Castle / Blues Variations – ELP (5:25)
07. Fugue – ELP (1:57)
08. Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression – ELP (7:10)
09. Piano Improvisations (Live) – ELP (11:51)
10. Fanfare for the Common Man – ELP (9:42)
11. Barrelhouse Shakedown – ELP (3:48)
12. Honky Tonk Train Blues – ELP (3:12)
13. Introductory Fanfare / Peter Gunn Theme (Live) – ELP (4:28)

Time – 74:02

Part Two: The Solo Albums

01. Hello Sailor (Intro) (1:58)
02. Bach Before the Mast (2:18)
03. Hello Sailor (Finale) (4:30)
04. Salt Cay (4:59)
05. Green Ice (6:18)
06. Intro-Juicing (0:24)
07. Big Horn Breakdown (2:12)
08. Yancey Special (4:31)
09. Rum-A-Ting (5:09)
10. Chickcharnie (6:21)
11. Jesus Loves Me (5:04)

Time – 43:49

Changing States

01. Shelter from the Rain (3:37)
02. Another Frontier (6:47)
03. Ballade (4:30)
04. The Band Keeps Playing (5:11)
05. Summertime (3:48)
06. The Church (5:13)
07. Interlude (1:34)
08. Montagues and Capulets (2:04)
09. Abaddon’s Bolero (Orchestral Version) (8:04)
10. The Band Keeps Playing (Aftershock Mix) (5:16)

Time – 46:09

Emerson Plays Emerson

01. Vagrant (2:33)
02. Creole Dance (3:04)
03. Solitudinous (2:18)
04. Broken Bough (4:00)
05. A Cajun Alley (4:10)
06. Prelude to Candice (1:47)
07. A Blade of Grass (2:07)
08. Outgoing Tide (1:44)
09. Summertime (3:41)
10. Interlude (1:36)
11. Roll’n Jelly (1:14)
12. B&W Blues (5:22)
13. For Kevin (1:55)
14. The Dreamer (2:42)
15. Hammer It Out (2:36)
16. Ballad for a Common Man (3:19)
17. Barrelhouse Shakedown (3:45)
18. Nilu’s Dream (2:07)
19. Soulscapes (2:34)
20. Close to Home (3:40)
21. Honky Tonk Train Blues (3:58)
~ Medley – Keith Emerson (Age 14):
22. Nicola (0:37)
23. Silver Shoes (0:42)
24. I’ll See You in My Dreams (0:48)

Time – 62:28

Keith Emerson Band

01. Ignition (1:42)
02. 1st Presence (0:36)
03. Last Horizon (2:32)
04. Miles Away, Pt. 1 (1:54)
05. Miles Away, Pt. 2 (2:15)
06. Crusaders Cross (1:12)
07. Fugue (0:37)
08. 2nd Presence (0:18)
09. Marche Train (6:12)
10. Blue Inferno (1:11)
11. 3rd Presence (1:07)
12. Prelude to a Hope (2:23)
13. A Place to Hide (4:25)
14. Miles Away Pt.3 (2:30)
15. Finale (5:57)
16. The Art of Falling Down (3:29)
17. Malambo (from Estancia Suite) (5:33)
18. Gametime (2:37)
19. The Parting (4:43)

Time – 51:20

Part Three: The Soundtracks

01. Inferno (Main Title Theme) (2:56)
02. Rose’s Descent into the Cellar (4:56)
03. Taxi Ride (Rome) (2:13)
04. The Library (0:54)
05. Sarah in the Library Vaults (1:16)
06. Bookbinder’s Delight (1:09)
07. Rose Leaves the Apartment (3:28)
08. Rose Gets It (2:07)
09. Elisa’s Story (1:07)
10. A Cat Attic Attack (3:11)
11. Kazanian’s Tarantella (3:31)
12. Mark’s Discovery (1:22)
13. Mater Tenebrarum (2:36)
14. Inferno Finale (2:24)
15. Cigarettes, Ices, Etc. (2:49)
16. Inferno (#1) (3:09)
17. Inferno (#2) (2:14)
18. Inferno (#3) (1:37)
19. Inferno (#4) (2:41)
20. Inferno (#5) (0:33)

Time – 46:18


01. Nighthawks (Main Title Theme) (2:26)
02. Mean Stalkin’ (2:21)
03. The Bust (2:08)
04. Nighthawking (6:18)
05. The Chase (6:03)
06. I’m a Man (4:19)
07. The Chopper (3:04)
08. Tramway (3:25)
09. I’m Comin’ In (3:04)
10. Face to Face (2:52)
11. The Flight of a Hawk (3:09)

Time – 39:12


01. Murderock (2:49)
02. Tonight Is Your Night (3:34)
03. Streets to Blame (2:40)
04. Not So Innocent (3:37)
05. Prelude to Candice (1:48)
06. Don’t Go in the Shower (1:05)
07. Coffee Time (2:37)
08. Candice (3:41)
09. New York Dash (1:32)
10. Tonight Is Not Your Night (1:12)
11. The Spillone (1:53)
12. Murderock (Part 1) (1:25)
13. Murderock (Part 2) (1:58)
14. Murderock (Part 3) (1:22)
15. Murderock (Part 4) (2:48)

Time – 34:07

Best Revenge

01. Orchestral Suite to Best Revenge (15:29)
02. Playing for Keeps (4:22)
03. The Dreamer – Love Theme (2:40)
04. Wha’dya Mean (5:04)
05. Outgoing Tide (1:49)
06. For Those About to Win (3:34)
07. The Runner (3:28)
~ La Chiesa
08. The Church (Main Theme) (3:57)
09. The Possession (2:26)
10. Prelude 24 (2:21)
11. La Chiesa Revisited (4:22)

Time – 49:38

Iron Man

01. Iron Man Main Title Theme (1:06)
02. And the Sea Shall Give Up Its Dead (18:58)
03. I Am Ultimo, Thy Deliverer (16:15)
04. Data In Chaos Out (17:00)
05. Silence My Companion, Death My Destination (19:19)
06. Iron Man Theme Alternative (1:04)

Time – 73:43


01. Theme of Floi (3:35)
02. Jo and Michiko (2:44)
03. Sonny’s Skate State (4:14)
04. Zamedy Stomp (2:59)
05. Challenge of the Psionic Fighters (4:12)
06. Children of the Light (3:59)
~ Godzilla: Final Wars
07. Godzilla Vs. Gotengo (1:51)
08. Godzilla Final Wars Titles (2:59)
09. EDF Headquarters Fight (1:37)
10. EDF Museum (1:18)
11. Infant Island (2:00)
12. Rodan Attacks NYC (4:15)
13. Earth Defense Forces Theme (2:45)
14. Motorcycle Battle (2:49)
15. Godzilla Awakens (1:51)
16. Love Theme (1:28)
17. Monster Zero Theme (2:14)
18. Cruising the Cirro-Stratus (2:44)
19. Godzilla Theme (1:20)
20. Godzilla: Final Wars End Titles (4:40)

Time – 55:42

Three Fates Project

01. The Endless Enigma Suite (Pt.1) (4:08)
02. The Endless Enigma Suite (Pt.2) (3:06)
03. American Matador (5:33)
04. After All of This (4:13)
05. Walking Distance (3:48)
06. Tarkus (Concertante) (20:04)
07. Malambo (4:03)
08. The Mourning Sun (2:57)
09. Abaddon’s Bolero (6:42)
10. Fanfare for the Common Man (Pt.1) (3:33)
11. Fanfare for the Common Man (Pt.2) (5:12)

Time – 63:25

Beyond the Stars

01. Toccata Con Fuoco (7:51)
02. Beyond the Stars (5:44)
03. Glorietta Pass (4:17)
04. The Dreamer (3:02)
05. The Endless Enigma Suite (Pt.1) (4:05)
06. The Fugue (2:37)
07. The Endless Enigma Suite (Pt.2) (3:06)
08. Malambo, Op.7 (4:05)
09. The Mourning Sun (2:55)
10. After All of This (4:12)
11. Walking Distance (3:46)
12. Fanfare for the Common Man (Pt.1) (3:33)
13. Fanfare for the Common Man (Pt.2) (5:13)

Time – 54:31

Boys Club (Live from California)

01. Afterburner (4:11)
02. Long Journey Home (3:04)
03. Hoedown (4:28)
04. A Whiter Shade of Pale (5:39)
05. White Noise (5:27)
06. Cover Me (5:20)
07. Nutrocker (5:06)
08. Tarkus (18:54)
09. Dreams (9:38)
10. Middle of a Dream (6:38)

Time – 68:30

Moscow Pt.1

01. Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression – Pt.2 (5:21)
02. Piano Concerto (3rd Movement) (9:01)
03. Bitches Crystal (5:49)
04. Malambo (7:46)
05. Touch and Go (5:13)
06. Lucky Man (9:26)
07. Miles Away Pt.1 (1:56)
08. Miles Away Pt.2 (2:13)
09. Crusaders Cross (1:15)
10. Fugue (0:46)
11. Marche Train (6:44)
12. Finale (5:54)

Time – 61:25

Moscow Pt.2

01. The Barbarian (6:19)
02. Tarkus (35:39)
03. Nutrocker Suite (5:17)
04. Moscow Fantasia (1:46)
05. Malambo (Orchestral Version) (4:14)

Time – 53:16

Live from Manticore Hall

01. From the Beginning (6:09)
02. Introduction (1:04)
03. I Talk to the Wind (5:32)
04. Bitches Crystal (6:18)
05. The Barbarian (6:21)
06. Take a Pebble (5:19)
07. Tarkus (17:07)
08. C’est la vie (6:00)
09. Pirates (13:29)
10. Moog Solo / Lucky Man (10:37)

Time – 78:02

Off the Shelf

01. Abaddon’s Bolero Orchestral (8:04)
02. Pictures at an Exhibition (5:02)
03. And Then January (5:45)
04. Rio (3:52)
05. Straight Between the Eyes (2:36)
06. Don’t Be Cruel (4:16)
07. Au Privave (5:25)
08. Walter L (5:33)
09. Rhythm-A-Ning (5:56)
10. Asian Pear (6:42)
11. Motor Bikin’ (2:41)
12. America (5:20)
13. Lumpy Gravy (2:11)
14. Up the Elephant & Round the Castle (2:26)
15. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (3:33)

Time – 69:28

Live at BB Kings – 21/05/2004

01. America / Rondo (12:21)
02. Country Pie (7:42)
03. Hang on to a Dream (9:54)
04. Bitches Crystal (5:11)
05. Touch and Go (5:03)
06. Piano Interlude (2:48)
07. Karelia Suite (8:12)
08. Blade of Grass (2:02)
09. A Cajun Alley (3:48)
10. Creole Dance (3:48)
11. Quango Story (4:41)
12. Just Crazy (7:53)

Time – 73:28

Live at BB Kings – 21/05/2004

01. Lucky Man (6:57)
02. Hoedown (5:28)
03. Tarkus (30:18)
~ The Keith Emerson Trio:
04. You Say You Care (4:50)
05. There Will Never Be Another You (3:51)
06. Teenies Blues (3:21)
07. Winkle Picker Stamp (2:31)
08. 56 Blues (3:06)
09. You Came a Long Way from Saint-Louis (2:06)
10. Soul Station (4:56)
~ Christmas Single:
11. We Three Kings (4:22)
12. Captain Starship Christmas (3:41)

Time – 75:32

Total Time – 19:34:05

Too many to name and some are unidentifiable, but notably:
Keith Emerson – Piano, Keyboards, Synthesisers
~ With:
Marc Bonilla – Guitars, Vocals
Terje Mikkelsen – Conductor

Record Label: Spirit of Unicorn Music
Catalogue#: SOUMBOX002
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 13th October 2023

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