The Story Behind 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson
An extraordinary track that “fitted with nastiness of the human condition and war and stuff”, the opener of King Crimson groundbreaking debut album sounds like nothing before or since
It’s October 1969, and King Crimson’s debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation By King Crimson) has just been released, nine months after the band’s formation. Any discerning music fan browsing the ‘New In’ racks would have paused to decode Barry Godber’s disturbing gatefold sleeve art. The contorted face on the cover would epitomise the opening track: 21st Century Schizoid Man. A seven-minute cyclone of formidable psychedelic rock and free jazz, it positioned the group at the forefront of a fledgling scene termed ‘progressive rock’. What an entrance it was. You wanted extreme? With King Crimson you got it. “It was intense at the start, unbelievable,” recalls lyricist Pete Sinfield.
King Crimson came into being after the Pythonesque and artily high-functioning Bournemouth trio Giles, Giles & Fripp – bassist Peter Giles, drummer Michael Giles and guitarist Robert Fripp – found themselves getting nowhere, despite an album deal with the Deram label, and invited ex-Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble and her multi-instrumentalist boyfriend Ian McDonald to demo exploratory recordings. Lyricist Sinfield then came into the circle via McDonald, with whom he had already written.