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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

I Believe in Father Christmas EP

Review by Rick Damigella

There is something about the composing of Christmas music. The ingredients are not equal parts nutmeg, cranberries and peppermint. They are however, a dash of beauty, a sprinkling of melody, add some passionate pomp and circumstance and blend it all together. With a bit of luck, you will compose a Christmas song which will become a traditional, something everyone knows and remembers year in and year out. After three decades of Christmastimes come and gone, it is very safe to say Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” is a modern traditional.

Rhino Records released this fantastic ELP EP in 1995 and each year you can generally find it popping up in better-stocked Christmas music displays and online stores. It takes the classic Greg Lake solo recording and adds some additional stocking stuffers to make a unique and enjoyable rocker’s holiday listening experience. There is something magical however about the original recording that ranks it right up there with a near-200 year old classic like “Silent Night” as amongst the best songs to hear each December.

Of course you can sometimes find Greg Lake’s original version popping up on the random holiday compilation every now and then, but for the full “I Believe in Father Christmas” experience, I highly recommend you ask your Santa for a copy of this disc (well in advance of 12-25 of course).

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
I Believe in Father Christmas (Greg Lake solo original)
Originally recorded in 1975 as a Greg Lake solo single with ELP and King Crimson collaborator Peter Sinfield as co-writer, the song starts off with a beautifully played guitar melody inspired by Prokofiev’s “Troika,” followed by one of the best vocal performances by Greg Lake. The addition of choir voices and festive Moog sounds continue the building of the piece until it reaches an ELP style bombastic finale. The lyrics range from optimistic holiday cheer to dark sentiment of “hallelujah, noel, be it heaven or hell” but it is this dichotomy of imagery coupled with the truly modern (and still not dated as of 06) sound of the recording that gives the song its classic status.
Troika (from Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije Suite”) (Keith Emerson solo project)
The often classically inspired works of ELP are well known and here is where Greg Lake received his inspiration for “I Believe in Father Christmas.” This time though it is ELP keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson who takes on the Russian composer’s riff in a Moog driven modernistic rearrangement. Starting off in a nearly pure classical vein, the piece quickly explodes into a classic explosion of Keith Emerson’s keyboard wizardry. This instrumental track is taken from Emerson – The Christmas Album. Listening to it back to back with “I Believe in Father Christmas reveals two sides of the similarly inspired duo of progressive rock masters.
Humbug (B-side of I Believe in Father Christmas)
Another Lake/Sinfield collaboration, this flipside to Lake’s Christmas single is primarily instrumental, apart from the male choir repetition of the song title. Again, refrains of “Troika” are present, though to a much lesser degree. The slightly silly bouncy march of the piece gives way a downright Russian flourish and then into a short jazz jam. This is not exactly the classic that it’s A-side is, but a piece of ELP history for completists as this is the only release it is currently available on.
I Believe in Father Christmas (Emerson Lake and Palmer version)
Recorded two years after the Lake original and originally released on Works, Volume 2, this is essentially the same song (albeit with all members of ELP present) with a couple notable differences. Lake’s vocals sound nearly identical to the original, which is a testament to his singing ability of the era. This version is slightly darker in tone (as opposed to the bright production of the original) owing to the Moog bass line percolating underneath. It is the Keith Emerson keyboarding on this version that sets it apart the most from the original. The bombastic choir and orchestra ending of the original is replaced here by the band performing the crescendo themselves and Emerson playing the song out on piano. Personally, I prefer the Greg Lake solo original over this version.
Nutrocker
How can you not love the frenetic classically tinged boogie of “Nutrocker?” ELP’s live performance here of the B. Bumle and the Stingers hit is the same recording from their Pictures at an Exhibition album but frankly fits in just as well here.
 
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