21st Century Schizoid Man

Album: In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)


  • Before a live performance of the song on December 14, 1969, Robert Fripp said that the song was dedicated to "an American political personality whom we all know and love dearly. His name is Spiro Agnew."

    Agnew was the thirty-ninth Vice President of the United States (and the first Greek American to serve in that capacity), serving under President Richard Nixon, and the 55th Governor of Maryland. He was also the first Greek American governor in United States history. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • "Schizoid" is a personality disorder. It's often associated with multiple personalities, but the medical definition is extreme social withdrawal and trouble forming personal relationships. The lyrics, which were written by Pete Sinfield, take us inside the mind of a troubled individual with dark imagery and references to the Vietnam War ("innocents raped with napalm fire"). Sinfield, who started out as the band's roadie/lighting director, was their lyricist. Along with Keith Reid of Procol Harum, he's the most prominent member of a major band who did not sing or play an instrument with the act. Sinfield has said that the lyrics of this song are about "justice and injustice."
  • After extensive rehearsal, the band recorded the basic track in one take, with all four members playing together at the same time. Greg Lake (later the guitarist for Emerson, Lake & Palmer) was on bass and added the vocals, and Robert Fripp played guitar. These two grew up together and had the same guitar teacher, so by the time they formed King Crimson they were very much in sync. Ian McDonald played saxophone on the track, and Michael Giles was on drums.

    Lake and McDonald came up with the distinctive riff for the song, although all four players are credited for composing the music.
  • One of the more innovative songs of its time, the unusual sound was achieved by over-gaining the vocal through the mixing console and varying the equalization on each hit of the hi-hat. As for the famous guitar solo, Robert Fripp explained to Total Guitar magazine in 1974: "It's all picked down-up. The basis of the picking technique is to strike down on the on-beat and up on the off-beat. Then one must learn to reverse that. I'll generally use a downstroke on the down-beat except where I wish to accent a phrase in a particular way or create a certain kind of tension by confusing accents, in which case I might begin a run on the upstroke."
  • The famous In the Court of the Crimson King album cover painted by Barry Godber portrays the 'Schizoid Man,' but the band didn't plan it that way. Greg Lake explained: "I remember getting about halfway through the record and we realized we didn't have an album cover. None of us knew anything at all about graphical art. But Pete (Sinfield) said, 'I've got a friend who's a graphic artist. He may be able to do something.' So he said, 'Okay, Pete. Give him a chance. See if he can come up with an idea for the album cover.'

    And it just so happened on the day when he turned up we were recording 'Schizoid Man.' The door opened in the studio and there stood this young man. Pete called him over, said, 'Come over, Barry, meet the band.' As he walked over we realized he had a brown parcel under his arm wrapped up in string. After we'd said hello, he took a pair of scissors out of his pocket and he slit the string and tore off the paper parcel. And at our feet he dropped this album cover.

    And, you know, the remarkable thing about it, apart from it is obviously a fantastic work of art, but we were actually staring into the face of Schizoid Man. The incredible thing was that we'd only recorded that song that very afternoon. There was no way that he could have possibly known or heard it, because we hadn't heard it ourselves. And so it was an incredible coincidence.

    A tragic development with that story was that young Barry, who did this, was only 21 years old at the time. And three days later he was walking down the street and he dropped dead of a heart attack. Of course, we were stunned. We were absolutely stunned. And we just didn't know what to do. But we loved the album cover, and we felt that it was a wonderful tribute to this very talented young man."
  • Kanye West sampled this song on his 2010 track "Power." When Greg Lake toured for his 2012 album Songs of a Lifetime, he would open the show with Kanye's song playing and Greg taking over when the "Schizoid Man" sample lyric comes in.
  • In a 2003 interview with Saga magazine, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the guitar solo on this song was his favorite of all time. While he only mentioned the guitar part, his praise of the song drew interest for the contrast between Blair's policies and the political implications in the song.

Comments: 9

  • Suedeaunym from Nawth Jawja". . . the band recorded this song in one take, with all four members playing together at the same time." Um, well, that's misleading. McDonald's reed solo in Mirrors (starting at 3:27) sounds like a great many overdubs. And the horns in the main riff sound multitracked, too. But, perhaps the main tracks were laid down in the 1st take.
  • Bippo Mckoolaid from Los AngelesLots of different misinformation! Great to know that the youtube clip released by King Crimson of 1969 Hyde Park isn't King Crimson. I wonder what other band in 1969 has Greg Lake as a singer and plays 21st century Schizoid band and posts it on this site? Innocents raped by napalm Fire, Politians funeral pyre. Can't see why that would be dedicated to Agnew, that's show business! Fripp was lying and putting on a show once again! April Wine's muzak version of the song is good but maybe not better than the original. April posted that comment himself. Luv ya Frippy Do, even if your 69 version is lame, big fan!!
  • Hugh from Phoenix, AzI love the mix of jazz, psychedelia, heavy metal, and progressive rock. The musicianship is just mesmerizing. It is also one of the spookiest rock songs ever recorded.
  • Robert from Luray, VaThey were atleast 30 years ahead of their time and this song proves it.In the court of a crimson king is a masterpiece and KC is lame without Greg Lake.e one of the bestvocalists ever.
  • Michael from Fuquay-varina, NcThe best versions of "21st Century Schizoid Man" are the live versions featuring the power trio or quartet versions of King Crimson, not the extra-large version from the first album - for instance, the saxaphone does not improve the song at all. Hearing Fripp/Bruford/Wetton kicking out the jams in Amsterdam makes the original studio version sound almost lame, especially the noisy way the original ends. I say this as an "Ultimate Crimson Fan" for many years - love the song, but the original version is NOT the best. Luv ya Mr. Fripp!!
  • Michael from Fuquay-varina, NcInteresting true facts about Agnew (leaving out his resigning the Vice Presidency in scandel and disgrace), but there is no possiblity that this song refers to Spiro Agnew. When Fripp said he was "dedicating" the song to Agnew, he was just performing to the audience - lots of performers, from the smallest club to the biggest arena, will say or sing stuff that they know isn't true, or that they don't believe in, or even understand, just to play to the audience. Ever hear a Radio DJ play a song "By Special Request"? Often nobody requested that song, he's just "putting on a show" while playing whatever the Program Director has up on rotation. It's the same thing. That's why they call it "Show Business".
  • Lester from New York City, NyReg, gotta disagree. I really like the song. April Wine does a version that's not as good, but has a very good guitar break.
  • Reg from Kemptville, On, -In my opinion, it's a shame this song is include on this otherwise fantastic album. I don't think I've ever been able to listen to it all the way through. Even as a teen way back when.
  • Alex from Milwaukee, WiVisitors please note, that is NOT King Crimson performing in the YouTube clip!
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