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Karn Evil 9

by

Emerson, Lake & Palmer



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This is ELP's most popular song from their most popular album. The song is most commonly interpreted as ELP's take on a shortened history of the world into a futuristic tale. The First Impression begins on the "Cold and misty morning" of the Earth's birth, through the ice age ("Where the seeds have withered, silent faces in the cold"), and to man's growing lust for money ("Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold"), which leads to various wars. Afterwards, the world is described as a carnival, wherein various elements of humanity are reduced to circus sideshows ("A bomb inside a car," "Pull Jesus from a hat"), representing the human race's growing selfishness and indifference toward others. Even human misery is described as a "specialty" in the "show."

The second part of the First Impression focuses on the growing artificialization of the world, describing something as natural as "A real blade of grass" as some bizarre circus attraction. Despite the fact that the world is becoming more and more consumed by artificiality and given control to computers (see Third Impression), the human race insists that it is still in control, as it created all that the "Carnival" encompasses ("We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown were exclusively our own.").

The Second Impression is an instrumental piece (mostly a piano solo), symbolizing the blissful ignorance of humanity towards the impending danger of the conquest of the computers, which culminates in the Third Impression. At this point, the "machines" have concluded their superiority to humanity and begin to take on mankind's necessity to prove their own superiority. The computers are represented by heavily distorted vocals, while the voice of the all-representative "Man" is clean and without effect. The computers finally wage a violent conquest of the Earth. Mankind is shocked that its own creation is fighting back against him ("Walls that no man thought would fall") and is unprepared for the conflict. Finally the machines determine that they are sentient beings and the new "Humans," or rather the new dominant species ("Load your program. I am yourself."), pushing humanity to the subservient status that they had once occupied. After their victory ("Rejoice! Glory is ours!"), they make sure not to wipe out the human race, but preserve it to demean humanity and gloat about their superiority.

The last stanza of the suite epitomizes the conquest and the arrogance of both the old and new masters of the earth, wherein man struggles to maintain his presence as the dominant species on Earth and the computers assert that they have surpassed their creators: "I am all there is." "Negative! Primitive! Limited! I let you live!" "But I gave you life!" "What else could you do?" "To do what is right." "I'm perfect! Are you?" (thanks, Mike - Long Island, NY)
"Roll up... see the show!" represents the carnival barker. "Roll Up" is a British term inviting people to come check something out - Paul McCartney said it at the beginning of The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour."
When asked in 2009 if he knew how prophetic the lyrics, to this song would be, Greg Lake replied: "Yes we did. The reason for this was that Pete [Sinfield] and I had both written Schizoid Man some years before and could already see the writing on the wall."
Why #9? When we spoke with Greg Lake, we surmised it may have had something to do with John Lennon, who was a big influence on Lake and an affinity for the digit. Greg's response: "I have no f--king clue what number 9's got to do with anything, to be honest with you."

With that theory debunked, we can look to Keith Emerson, who says that he had an idea for lyrics about a planet called Ganton 9. Lyricist Pete Sinfield shot down the planet idea, but perhaps kept the number.
"Karn Evil" is a series of songs on the Brain Salad Surgery album which were conceived as one piece. "Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 1" runs 8:37 and closes the first side of the album. The second side begins with "Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt. 2," which is by far the most famous part of the movement. Running 4:45, it's the section that begins, "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends." This is what radio stations typically play, as it works as a self contained song and is a practical length for airplay.

"Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression" follows, running 7:07, and "Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression" closes out the original album at 9:07.

No part of "Karn Evil" was ever released as a single, but it helped the album reach #2 in the UK and #11 in the US.
The title is a play on the word "Carnival." Pete Sinfield, who wrote some lyrics for the band, came up with the phrase after hearing some music Keith Emerson wrote for the piece - he thought it sounded like something you would hear at a carnival. Sinfield says that the work of the musician Tom Lehrer and the author Kurt Vonnegut were an influence on the words he wrote.
The "Karn Evil" suite was written with live performance in mind, and it served ELP well as a concert favorite. The band's previous album was Trilogy, which contained songs that required sound effects and other assistance to play live. In our interview with Greg Lake, he explained: "We decided that the next album we made, we would make sure that we could perform it live. And so, I know it sounds horribly extravagant, but this is what we did: We bought a cinema in London and we set up on the stage, and we wrote the album, performing it on the stage in the theatre. So as we created the album, we made sure that we could perform it live.

So it came about, this line, 'Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.' It was a kind of live idea behind it."
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson, Lake & Palmer Artistfacts
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Comments (29):

The 'Welcome Back' live album (including Lucky Man) was mostly recorded in Anaheim, CA, on Feb 10. Not Buffalo. And KE9 does not begin with the Earth's birth through its Ice Age. It begins with a dark vision of the future.
- Steven, Detroit, MI
I wish we had our own present ELP nowadays! They would've told us about the future! These guys are professional dreamers!

Emerson just kicks the brains out!
- valo, Moscow, Russia Federation
In response to David~Syracuse for an add-on: The ELP concert in Buffalo, New York was at Summerfest II at Rich Stadium and yes it was one of the most outstanding concerts I have ever seen. It was and the only one that I was ever at in quadraphonic sound; quite an achievement at the time. Some of the songs at Rich Stadium were included in their "Welcome Back my Friends . . ." album including the "Take a Pebble" (Lake) including "Still...You Turn Me On" (Lake) and "Lucky Man" (Lake). I know because if you listen carefully when Lake is tuning his guitar after "still . . . you turn me on" you can hear me yell "play, lucky man" and he begins playing (I'm sure just a coincidence). I was at about the 40 yard line, center. You can also view the video of this performance on some sites and Youtube. The kid who you hear whooping it up on Lake's piece is clearly on the right side of he stage and can be heard on the album as well. For some reason he wound up in my car on the way home!
- Jim, Buffalo, NY
some interesting comments from Pete Sinfield on the 20 yr aniversary CD . The Carnival (Karnevil) is a comment on man's existance, also said nine was arbitrary number , that sounded good. Also BSS is a sexual act that came because the original cover painting had a phallic symbol that Geiger had to "airbrush out" and as Keith said :r"eplaced by a shaft of light"
- mike, perth, Australia
My older brother bought the album "hot off the presses" in '73 and I've liked it ever since. Although it wasn't until I was reading an article about Toccota (that Ginestera piece) in 2008 that I "got" the double meaning of Karn Evil 9. I'd always put the accent on Evil and never "heard" it as "carnival" Guess I'm pretty dense
- Tom, Appleton, WI
After a 35 year wait to see them live, I was lucky enough to see ELP do their 40th anniversary gig at the High Voltage Festival in London (UK) this past weekend (25/07/10) and they opened their 90 minute set with First impression part 2 it was excellent. The rest of the set was: The Barbarin, Touch & Go, Knife Edge, Take a Pebble, Tarkus, From the beginning, Lucky Man, Farewell to Arms, Pictures at an exhibition (knives and all) and fanfare for a common man as a finale. It was the greatest musical experience of my life. I really hope that the crowd reaction tempts them to do one last tour.
- Paul, Manchester, United Kingdom
The computer voice created in Karn Evil 9 3rd Impression is created with a Moog ring modulator. I have one. It is called a "Moogerfooger", and you can use it on your voice, to create that frightening voice. It helps to also have a mixer that contains echo, so you can REALLY freak people out!
- Steve, Shelby, OH
The first time a group of my friends and I heard both the parts of the 1st Impression back to back it was rather to amazing to us. Of course it was on 8-track and when Part 1 ended the tape reversed and we all thought the song was over. Then we heard "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends" and instantly it was our favorite song. Of course we were all as usual in that era rather 'baked' so it would of course seem to be rather amazing to us while in "that condition."

I was one of a crowd claimed to be over 70,000 people who saw ELP end an all day concert in Soldier Field in Chicago. To many decades have passed and to many various substances have passed through my body for me to be able to remember so much as one other group that played that long day but I can still see ELP as if it had been just last week.

One other amazing memory of ELP is when they were on "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" performing songs from "Brain Salad Surgery." I do not recall the song but I will never forget seeing Keith Emersons's grand piano, bench and all, rise up and then begin to spin end to end like some carnival ride and he played the whole time and I did not notice one error.

All three were extremely skilled artists the likes of which are no longer seen. They're kind have long since gone the way of the Dodo bird and the full service gas station.


A small bit of trivia that I wonder how many know is that there was a song with the title "Brain Salad Surgery" but in those days recordings were on albums mainly and 8-track tapes second and there was not room enough for all the songs and in the end the title song was the one they believed the least likely to be a hit. I only heard it once back in 1973 when a Chicago radio station played it. It was a good song and I hope one day to find it on a CD along with the rest of the songs.
- ian, Henderson, NC
If there are any Genius musicians out there anywhere in the world, along the lines of ELP, I would like someone to let me know. Most of these new bands, are whiny little CANTS. It is all whimpering bull s--t.
ELP ruled. I saw them in Buffalo in 77 or 78.. Rich stadium, with James Gang first then Lynyrd Skynrd, then ELP to finish the concert. You talk about a concert? It did not get any better than this, and probably will never be...
- David, Syracuse, NY
what does the "9" in the title signify?
- Josh, Westborough, MA
Dam it i just got a greatest hits CD of ELP today and this song is shortened to only 4min 53sec thats a rip off
- Erik, KC, MO
By far the greatest progressive rock tune ever. Way ahead of their time for 1973 and so revolutionary!
- Spence, Brooklyn, NY
THis song's keyboard kicks butt!!! I LOVE IT!!!!
- Allie, a little ol' town in, MI
acoustic-theirs misspell sorry
- wes, sherwood, AR
fyodor,that definately stands as elps most memorable line!sure takes me back!what amazes me most is teir transformation from prog rock one moment to greg lakes great acostic ballads the next!
- wes, sherwood, AR
Saw this show live in the 70's . Now BRAIN SALAD SURGERY is my favorite album . Heavy Mental Metal ! KARN EVIL 9....Off into man's future of black evolution into a cold deadly bio-mechanical life form....best heard with Dr. Leary's medicine at 3:00 A.M. ........
- Rick, DENVER, CO
During a recent "Dr. Pepper" commercial, a short and stocky football player, who appears to have scored his first touchdown, is shown removing a 20 oz. bottle of the beverage from his sock, and then begins a celebration dance in the endzone, as well as on the crossbar, to Part III of this song.
- Randy, Colerain Twp., OH
When I heard it I only heard the second part of the first impression, the part that gets the most radio play. I thought it was about the sensationalism that goes on in rock concerts. In some cases, they seemed to suggest that the goings-on onstage might be more of an attraction than the music, and that eventually rock concerts become the equivalents of freak shows where the music gets lost in the shuffle.
- John, Overland Park, KS
The best way to spend half an hour.
- Wade, Vancouver, Canada
The song is most commonly interpreted as both ELP's take a shortened history of the world into a futuristic tale. The First Impression begins on the "cold and misty morning" of the Earth's birth, through the ice age ("Where the seeds have withered, silent faces in the cold"), and to man's growing lust for money ("Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold"), which leads to various wars. Afterwards, the world is described as a carnival, wherein various elements of humanity are reduced to circus sideshows ("A bomb inside a car," "Pull Jesus from a hat"), representing the human race's growing selfishness an indifference towards others. Even human misery is described as a "specialty" in the "show." The second part of the First Impression focuses on the growing artificialization of the world, describing something natural simply as "a real blade of grass" as some bizzare circus attraction. Despite the fact that the world is becoming more and more consumed by artificiality and given control to computers (see Third Impression), the human race insists that it is still in control, as it created all that the "carnival" encompasses ("We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown were exclusively our own."). The Second Impression is an instrumental piece (mostly a piano solo), symbolizing the blissful ignorance of humanity towards the impending danger of the conquest of the computers, which culminates in the Third Impression. At this point, the "machines" have concluded their superiority to humanity and begin to take on mankind's necessity to prove their own superiority. The computers are represented by heavily distorted vocals, while the voice of the all-representative "man" is clean and without effect. The computers finally wage a violent conquest of the Earth. Mankind is shocked that its own creation is fighting back against him ("Walls that no man thought would fall") and is unprepared for the conflict. Finally the machines determine that they are sentient beings and the new "humans," or rather the new dominant species ("Load your program. I am yourself."), pushing humanity to the subservient status that they had once occupied. After their victory ("Rejoice! Glory is ours!"), they make sure not to wipe out the human race, but preserve it to demean humanity and gloat about their superiority. The last stanza of the suite epitomizes the conquest and the arrogance of both the old and new masters of the earth, wherein man struggles to maintain his presence as the dominant species on earth and the computers assert that they have surpassed their creators: "I am all there is." "Negative! Primitive! Limited! I let you live!" "But I gave you life!" "What else could you do?" "To do what is right." "I'm perfect! Are you?"
- Mike, Long Island, NY
I think the line, "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends" will be the one thing that outlasts all other memories of this band! Do y'all know that that line, which kicks off "Part 2" of Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, appeared at the start of side 2 of the LP? No way to truly reproduce the original desired effect on CD, except maybe to divide the record into 2 very short discs, I guess. Also, the lyrics shown at the time I write this are only some of the lyrics for Karn Evil 9 1st Impression. A whole chunk of lyrics have been left out from the very start of the song, which I've cut (from another site) and pasted and submitted to the host. They represent the setup for the story of the carnival, whose purpose seems to be to "save what's left of humanity." How a carnival is supposed to do that, I don't rightly know, maybe give people something fun to do or something. Pete Sinfield sure knew how to turn a phrase, whether it all made any sense or not! Also, following Karn Evil 9 Parts 1 and 2 were Karn Evil 9 2nd Impression, an instrumental, and Karn Evil 9 3rd Impression, which had a whole 'nother set of lyrics with a totally different story. I was an "ELP Freak" as a teenager; theirs was the first big rock concert I ever saw! My tastes have since shifted to less bombastic fare, but there's still a place in my heart for these talented but pretentious clowns!
- fyodor, Denver, CO
The title could be seen as a pun on the content: Karn Evil = carnival?
- Bryony, Near Brighton
Wow this song's lyric is scary.
And he dies and he dies..........
- Alfred, Sidmouth, CO
keyboard solo's awesome.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
I personnally think that the first part of impression one is better than the second part.
- Michael, Houston, TX
I have to think Paul's "tour"-hawking holler on "Magical Mystery Tour" referenced a certain duality that I had to suspect of another quite venerable band, Rush, in which Geddy Lee repeatedly implores the anthemic "Roll the Bones!"
Enter Gates At Own Risk...
- Brian, Meriden, CT
IT'S HALF AN HOUR LONG! (29min., 39sec.) Just this song, not the whole album. I mean, it's pretty funky, but if you're listening for the most popular verse about "the show that never ends," it's 8:43 into the song. Not meant for radio play...
- Gabriel, Columbus, OH
Amazing Keyboard...
- Marlon, NYC, NY
Grear song, really long though. That was pretty typical for ELP though. great musicians too.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
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