Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
King Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is iconic. The cover, a painting of a screaming creature (reportedly the only painting ever by computer programmer Barry Godber, who passed away shortly after the album’s release at the age of 24), is instantly recognizable and unforgettable. Although it was not the first prog-rock album, In the Court raised the bar and in many ways created the road map for the successes and excesses of the style. Nearly 44 years after the album’s release, it was discussed on, of all places, a New York Mets broadcast, and not because Mets fans so often have the same look on their faces.
Crimson leader Robert Fripp has described the first song on the record, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” as the first heavy metal song. That’s a claim that’s far from settled, but the crunching riff and distorted vocals and music displayed here would in fact become mandatory in the metal songs that followed in its wake. (Still, it is amusing to think of vocalist Greg Lake as a heavy metal godfather.) But the song also has a jazzy middle section, some virtuoso guitar soloing, and a free-time ending. Lyrically, the song is typical Peter Sinfield, filled with bizarre and obscure allusions and dystopian imagery which many have related to the Vietnam War. Fripp, at least once, dedicated “21st Century Schizoid Man” to Spiro Agnew.
The song has often been covered, more often than not in a metal style. As we will see, other covers pick up on the various styles included in the original. But not always.