Knife-Edge

Album: Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970)

Songfacts®:

  • A track from the debut Emerson, Lake & Palmer album, "Knife-Edge" incorporates themes of madness and desperation. Greg Lake sings:

    From the flight of the seagull
    Come the spread claws of the eagle
    Only fear breaks the silence
    As we all kneel pray for guidance


    Later in the song, the images get even more bleak, with references to "the gallows" and "the furnace," invoking the fiery underworld. In the end, Lake asks the question:

    Can you still keep your balance?
    Can you live on a knife-edge?
  • ELP songs started with the music and had to stand on their own before they would consider vocals. In our interview with drummer Carl Palmer, he said: "'Knife Edge,' which was the only rock track on the very first album, was something which came together very, very quickly in the studio and really worked - it was fantastic. We thought it was an instrumental, and Greg said, 'No, hang on.' He said, 'I could put a topline on this, we could have something.'"
  • Keith Emerson came up with the music for this song, incorporating many elements of classical music. His bandmates didn't know it at the time, but much of it was based on a 1926 piece by the Czech composer Leos Janacek called "Sinfonietta." A few years after "Knife-Edge" was released, the publisher who owned the rights to "Sinfonietta" brought up the issue, and Janacek was given a songwriting credit. Johann Sebastian Bach is also credited, as the song uses quotations from his "French Suite in D Minor."
  • Richard Fraser is listed as a lyricist on this song along with Greg Lake. Fraser was one of many roadies for the band, and one they were particularly fond of. The official songwriting credits on the track read:

    Music: Leos Janacek, Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged by Keith Emerson
    Lyrics: Greg Lake, Richard Fraser
  • In the 2016 reissue of the album, Emerson wrote: "Yes, that was Janacek. He used fifth chords quite a lot. The theme that goes 'Ba ba baa' sounds great on a Hammond organ. It's almost like a guitarist's riff. We called it 'Knife-Edge' and you are basically looking at C and G. And then you go down to B flat and an F. The rest is all yours. All you have to do is stick the twiddly bits in between.

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