We have a look back at the fascinating tales behind some of our favourite album covers. This month: King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969).
With their debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King, English progrock group King Crimson were quickly recognised as one of the most radical – and later influential – bands in the genre’s history; their irreverent adoption of jazz and symphonic flairs over the blues-based patterns that defined rock music before them was unprecedented.
Their debut’s cover features a painting by computer programmer Barry Godber, who was a friend of King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield. Tragically, Godber’s first ever album cover artwork would never spell a change in career fortunes for the blossoming watercolour artist; he died in 1970 at the age of just 24, reportedly from a heart attack.
The original painting is now owned by King Crimson lead guitarist Robert Fripp, who was horrified to find it languishing in the band’s label HQ in the mid-‘90s. “They kept it exposed to bright light, at the risk of ruining it,” he said in 1995. “So, I ended up removing it.”
He has described the featured visage as “the Schizoid Man”, the protagonist of In The Court Of The Crimson King‘s single 21st Century Schizoid Man (sung by lead vocalist Greg Lake, later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer).
In a December 1969 performance of the track, Fripp told the audience the song is about Spiro Agnew, the 39th Vice President of the United States (under President Richard Nixon). Agnew resigned from office in 1973 amid investigations of flagrant corruption and the burgeoning Watergate scandal, which prompted the first ever use of the 25th Amendment (which details succession to a Presidential office when its current holder is “incapacitated”). Agnew pleaded no contest to the criminal charges brought against him and was disbarred by the Maryland judiciary, who declared him “morally obtuse.”