Karn Evil 9

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"Karn Evil 9"
Song by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
from the album Brain Salad Surgery
Released 19 November 1973
Recorded 1973
Genre Progressive rock
Length 29:37
Label Manticore Records
Composer(s) Keith Emerson
Lyricist(s) Greg Lake, Peter Sinfield
Producer(s) Greg Lake

"Karn Evil 9" is an extended work by progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, appearing on the album Brain Salad Surgery. A futuristic fusion of rock and classical themes, it is regarded by some[1] to be their best work together with the song "Tarkus". At nearly half an hour long, it is also their longest studio recording.

General information[edit]

"Karn Evil 9" was written by Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and former King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield. The phrase "Karn Evil" is an oronym on the word "carnival".[2]

It is the fifth and final track on Brain Salad Surgery with a running length of 29 minutes and 37 seconds. The initial release of the album on vinyl found "Karn Evil 9" split between the two sides due to its length, with a fade out/fade in between First Impression parts 1 and 2. Subsequent releases on compact disc and digital download have "Karn Evil 9" as a single track.


"Karn Evil 9" consists of three movements (called "impressions") with the first impression divided into two parts:

  • 1st Impression, Part 1 (0:00 to 8:41)
  • 1st Impression, Part 2 (8:42 to 13:22)
  • 2nd Impression (13:23 to 20:30)
  • 3rd Impression (20:31 to 29:37)

The work's most recognizable portion to many is First Impression Part 2 and its introduction ("Welcome back, my friends / To the show that never ends"), which eventually became the title of ELP's second live album. It is often used as a song dedicated to the opening of sports seasons. First Impression Part 2 is also a common radio staple, although it opens with the intro line and can leave casual radio listeners a bit surprised, not necessarily knowing what led up to that point from Part 1 (the common problem being that combined, First Impression lasts over 13 minutes, and hence would not be accessible on radio played with Parts 1 and 2 together due to its length, so the shorter Part 2 is just played by itself instead).


The story of "Karn Evil 9" is told in three parts, with the second part being an instrumental interlude. First Impression, Part 1 begins with a tale of a bleak world (although timeframe is not specified): "Cold and misty morning I heard a warning borne on the air ..." and where humanity is either being destroyed or has fallen into decay and helplessness. First Impression, Part 2 tells how the decadence of the old world is preserved through exhibits that are part of a futuristic carnival show, which exhibits depravities like "seven virgins and a mule", along with things that are rare in the future, such as a "real blade of grass."

Unlike the rest of "Karn Evil", the Second Impression's instrumentation is primarily piano, bass, and drums with a solo by Emerson on a Minimoog set to imitate a steelpan.[3] (Part of such solo very briefly quotes Sonny Rollins's St. Thomas's main melody.) There is supposedly a vocal around 2 minutes (15 minutes as a whole song) that sounds like a small child's voice saying "Daddy, let's go see the carnival!" as reference to the first part. However, it is actually Emerson's voice, just sped up and altered. This impression changes from an upbeat out-of-control tune to a slow interval and then picks up the pace with a structure similar to that of a sonata. It is allegedly about computers scheming against the humans, and the humans completely unsuspecting this. This Impression is often overlooked and is less popular than the others,[citation needed]though it is a rather complex piece, showing the three musicians' virtuosity.

The Third Impression continues the story begun in the second,[4] describing a war between humans and computers, which can be interpreted in three different ways. One interpretation gives the victory to the humans, who reimpose their dominion over the computers. The second interpretation allows victory to the computers, claiming that the computers were successful in dominating the humans and let them live only for the sake of gloating. The third interpretation, consistent with Peter Sinfield's original interpretation that "what [Man had] invented ironically takes him over"[2] has humans winning a war with the help of computers, only to find the computers taking over in the moment of victory.

Writing credits and vocals[edit]

  • First Impression: Music by Keith Emerson, vocals and lyrics written by Greg Lake.
  • Second Impression: Music by Emerson.
  • Third Impression: Music by Emerson, lyrics by Lake and Peter Sinfield. All vocals are sung by Lake, except the computerized vocals, which are Emerson's.

There is some disagreement as to how much of the lyrics were written by Sinfield. All credits listed show that Lake wrote the lyrics for First Impression alone, but Sinfield himself implies that he co-wrote all lyrics in Karn Evil 9.[5]

Other uses[edit]

First Impression Part 2 was used as the theme tune for the BBC's Jim Davidson's Generation Game during the mid late-1990s. The vocals regarding seven virgins and a mule were omitted. Alan Freeman also used the "welcome back my friends to the show that never ends" line as a jingle on many of his radio shows in the UK.

As of September 2007, First Impression Part 2 is heard in a commercial for Dr Pepper.

It is also used as the intro for the Hard Rock Park website. It has also been used as the song for the introduction of Stockton Thunder.

The song was covered by guitarist Paul Gilbert on his live album Beehive Live and in the end of his instructional video Guitars from Mars II.

First Impression Part 2 can also be heard in the intro of the Episode "Career Day" in Season 1 of That '70s Show, the song goes for about 10 seconds and can be faintly heard for the first minute or so until it stops completely once Eric leaves the basement.

The intro of "Zombies, March!" by shock rock/thrash metal band GWAR is based on this song.

The Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps used Karn Evil 9 for a drum break in both 1984[6] and 1985[7].

It was a favorite of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets baseball team and played in the clubhouse and Shea Stadium before games. It was also used on their official 1986 season highlights home video.

Bon Jovi used it as a lead in to their 1988-90 New Jersey Syndicate Tour once the lights went out before their show.

First Impression Part 2 is heard in the Freaks and Geeks episode "The Garage Door".


  1. ^ "TOP 10 PROG TRACKS", Music Week, 9 April 2005  "3. Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Karn Evil 9 (from Brain Salad Surgery)"
  2. ^ a b Liner notes, Brain Salad Surgery reissue, 1996. Rhino Entertainment R2 72459. Pg. 11-12
  3. ^ "Karn Evil 9 by Emerson, Lake & Palmer Songfacts". songfacts.com. 
  4. ^ "Official Keith Emerson Website - Ask Emo". keithemerson.com. 
  5. ^ "Liner Notes from the DVD-A of Brain Salad Surgery - written by Jerry McCulley". ladiesofthelake.com. Retrieved 6 March 2012.  'And if one doubts the prophetic power of Lake's and Sinfield's lyrics, ponder "Where the seeds have withered, silent children shiver in the cold/Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold" during the next media foray into Bosnia or the South Bronx. Or consider "Performing on a stool, we've a sight to make you drool, seven virgins and a mule" when sampling the exploitative TV wares of Jerry, Jenny, Montel et al.'
  6. ^ "1984 :: Blue Devils". bluedevils.org. Retrieved 2018-09-06. 
  7. ^ "1985 :: Blue Devils". bluedevils.org. Retrieved 2018-07-19. 

External links[edit]