Joint Recordings of April 1975: Brain Salad Surgery, Ummagumma

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery
Manticore MS 66669 0S93 (LP). Greg Lake; prod.; Geoff Young, eng. (all tracks except "Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression"); Chris Kimsey, eng. ("Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression"). TT: 45:02.

Pink Floyd: Ummagumma
Capitol/EMI STBB-388 (LP). Norman "Hurricane" Smith, prod. (studio album); Pink Floyd, prod. (live album); Peter Mew, eng. (studio album); Brian Humphries, eng. (live album). TT: 86:21.

For a long time there, it seemed like anyone who walked into a good hi-fi shop and used the word "rock" and/or "bass" had a better-than-even chance of being "Lucky Man-ed" (footnote 1) until his ears bled. I'm choosing Brain Salad Surgery as my favorite currently popular Rock offering partly because I've had it long enough to get over the first, transitory, blush of enjoyment, and mainly because most of the people I run into who have high-quality systems rate this group as one of the best. And EL&P come out with some very high-quality discs, making them the system demo group. I know of several expensive speaker systems that have been listed KIA as a result of several-hundred-watt amps and EL&P.

Because of their wide popularity and exposure—they are known as super-creeps and classical rip-offs in the audio tabloids, which can only enhance their image in the eyes of their fans—it would seem that I had chosen something that most people would go along with. Not so. This particular album has been criticized for sounding "thin" and for "not evolving beyond" their previous stuff. Sorry, but you've been warned about painted ladies and Japanese speakers with hand-carved grilles. Rock has always been linked to a primitive, driving beat; a cliche that would obscure the structure here. There is an existentialist nobility in the lyrics that offsets some unwieldiness. If you enjoyed "2001" try "3rd Impression."

Recording quality is very good, although there is some obtrusive tape hiss on heavily overdubbed portions, and some recorded-in steeliness.

A friend of mine once summed-up Pink Floyd as being "out to kill." I know, and any rabid Pink Floyd fans out there know, that there is no way I'm going to be able to single out any one album by them as their best. I can only say that I consider Ummagumma at least twice as good as any other single album by them, for the simple reason that it contains two discs. Recorded in June 1969, these discs—one of them live—differ more in the quality of the recording than in professionalism of performance.

There is something that drives groups into attempting to fuse Rock with the Classics, something that invariably sounds like those commercials that go "If Mozart were alive today, he'd probably be recording something like this..." followed by one of the composer/victim's "big hits" being played on electric kazoo. Pink Floyd doesn't do this, yet there is something in the texture of their music that I suspect would be highly palatable to a generation that has acquired the impression that all rock is of the luv-ya-baby-done-shot-ya-down school.

The word "genius" has been bandied about quite a bit lately, particularly in reference to David Bowie and Mott the Hoople, which leaves me feeling that June 1969 should be five years in the future, rather than in the past.

Time and poor treatment makes it hard for me to guess how good the recording quality was on my pressing of this, but I suspect it was better than average. They must have had machine guns trained on the audience to get them this quiet, although the studio disc is still an improvement over the recorded-live one.—Paul Karagianis

Footnote 1: "Lucky Man" was on an untitled EL&P album, Cotillion SD-9040.

dalethorn's picture

Ummagumma is where I get my first indications of the major differences between Roger Waters and David Gilmour. I think of Waters as the John Lennon of Pink Floyd (cynical, brash) and David Gilmour as the Paul McCartney of the band (lyrical, melodic).

Ray in Michigan's picture

Love David Gilmour
Absolutely HATE Roger Waters

ok's picture

dalethorn's picture

The Narrow Way part 3 still gets played often on my system. Gilmore has made some great lyrics with that, and with a more recent composition "On The Turning Away".

ToeJam's picture

I just rocked Still....You Turn Me On in 24bits last night. Still sounds great!