Pictures at an Exhibition (Emerson, Lake & Palmer album)

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Pictures at an Exhibition
Live album by
ReleasedNovember 1971
Recorded26 March 1971
VenueNewcastle City Hall, Newcastle
ProducerGreg Lake
Emerson, Lake & Palmer chronology
Pictures at an Exhibition
Emerson, Lake & Palmer live chronology
Pictures at an Exhibition
Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends
Singles from Pictures at an Exhibition
  1. "Nut Rocker (Live)"
    Released: 28 February 1972 [1]

Pictures at an Exhibition is a live album by English progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released in November 1971 on Island Records. It features the group's rock adaptation of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, performed at Newcastle City Hall on 26 March 1971.

The band had performed the Mussorgsky piece since their live debut in August 1970, after keyboardist Keith Emerson had attended an orchestral performance of the piece several years before and pitched the idea to guitarist and frontman Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer, who agreed to adapt it while contributing sections to the arrangement. The album concludes with the concert's encore, "Nut Rocker", a rock adaptation of The Nutcracker originally arranged by Kim Fowley and recorded by B. Bumble and the Stingers in 1962.

Pictures at an Exhibition went to number 3 on the UK Albums Chart and number 10 on the US Billboard 200. In 2001, it was reissued as a remastered edition that included a studio version of the piece recorded in 1993.


Label of a German edition of Pictures at an Exhibition
Newcastle's City Hall

In February 1971, Emerson, Lake & Palmer finished recording their second studio album Tarkus. They resumed touring in the following month, which began with a UK leg that included a show at Newcastle City Hall, Newcastle on 26 March. The tour's setlist included their rock arrangement of the classical suite Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, which had been performed since their live debut in August 1970. Keyboardist Keith Emerson had attended an orchestral performance of the suite several years before, and bought a copy of the score. He pitched the idea of performing the suite to singer/bassist/guitarist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer, who agreed to adapt it. Both members contributed their own arrangements and additions to the suite.

The band had already recorded and filmed a live performance of the Mussorgsky suite at the Lyceum Theatre in London, on 9 December 1970, and planned a live album release around August 1971. However, their dissatisfaction with the picture, editing, and audio led to the decision to record another show. Palmer deemed the film "shocking" which lacked any contemporary filming technique, and said the absence of engineer Eddy Offord to control the sound contributed to its substandard quality.[2] The date at Newcastle City Hall was chosen for the new recording, and Palmer recalled the "amazing atmosphere" of the concert.[2] Emerson said the venue was chosen as the band were popular there, and hoped to use its pipe organ. He was granted permission, but had to promise the Musician's Union he would not stick knives on the console, which he had done since he was in The Nice.[3] The band paid for the recording costs themselves, with the aim of producing the best quality version. They arrived at Newcastle at 10am and underwent rehearsals and checks for several hours.[2] The Lyceum concert film had a limited theatrical release, which Palmer said was only due to the fact that a group friend was in charge and let them release it.[2]

The album was recorded using the mobile recording unit from Pye Records. The opening section, "Promenade", features Emerson playing a Harrison & Harrison pipe organ which was installed at the venue in 1928. The organ console is some way above stage level, at the top of a stepped terrace typically used for choral performances. Palmer's drum roll connecting "Promenade" to the following section was added to give Emerson time to return to his keyboards.


The band's arrangement of the suite uses only four of the ten parts in Mussorgsky's suite, along with the linking "Promenade" sections. The suite was performed live as one continuous piece, with new, group-written sections linking Mussorgsky's original themes.

Note that Mussorgsky's original compositions are listed in bold:

  1. Promenade: Pipe organ solo and drum roll
  2. The Gnome: Group instrumental adaptation featuring fuzz bass, Hammond and Moog
  3. Promenade: Hammond organ and soft vocal, followed by a short synthesizer solo
  4. The Sage: A new picture drawn by Lake solely on acoustic guitar in the mood of a medieval minnesang, it works as sort of romantic prelude to "The Old Castle"
  5. The Old Castle: Begins with Emerson squeezing out whoops and whistles from the Moog's ribbon controller, followed by an accelerated adaptation of the original theme played by the full band
  6. Blues Variation: a Hammond-driven twelve-bar blues credited to the group, borrowing themes from "The Old Castle" and those that Emerson had previously performed with The Nice on their version of "My Back Pages"
  7. Promenade: Full group instrumental version of the primary theme
  8. The Hut of Baba Yaga: Full group instrumental adaptation
  9. The Curse of Baba Yaga: Lake adapts a section of Mussorgsky's music on fuzz/wah-wah bass, followed by a group-penned section with lyrics/vocal climaxing on a siren-like Moog solo
  10. The Hut of Baba Yaga: Full group reprise of the earlier "Hut" theme
  11. The Great Gates of Kiev: with lyrics/vocal added by the group and an extended climax featuring Emerson dragging his Hammond organ across the stage to produce feedback


The cover was designed and painted by William Neal, who produced every canvas. Palmer bought one of them after he had completed it.[2] The album was packaged in a gatefold sleeve, the outside of which depicts blank picture frames labelled with the titles of the pictures: "The Old Castle", "The Gnome", etc. The paintings were large oil paintings containing various images related to the band, like the Tarkus background in "The Hut" and the white dove embossed into the titanium white oil paint in "Promenade" (visible only on the original painting), resembling the cover of the band's debut album. On the inner gatefold all of the paintings were revealed, but "Promenade" remains blank; this section of the suite is not about a picture, but represents a walk through the exhibition. Some later pressings on CD use only the "revealed" version.

Neal's paintings were later hung at Hammersmith Town Hall, and photographed by Keith Morris and Nigel Marlow, both former graduates from Guildford School of Art.[4]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Record GuideD+[6]
Rolling Stone(unfavorable)[7]
The Daily VaultB+[8]
Sound & Vision[9]
Sea of Tranquility[10]

After the album was recorded Lake was wary that its classical content would make the public compare Emerson, Lake & Palmer to The Nice, and argued against its release before Tarkus.[11] As a compromise Pictures at an Exhibition was to be released at a budget price, but upon learning this Atlantic Records vetoed the idea. The label could not decide whether to promote it as a rock or classical record and at one point, considered putting it out on its subsidiary, Nonesuch Records.[11] Fearing that this would lead to poor sales, the band decided to shelve the work. Palmer said the group received letters from fans expressing their anger at the delay.[2] After the album was broadcast in its entirety on WNEW-FM in New York City, the public's demand for the album convinced Atlantic to release it at full price.[11] The band had hoped to release it in the UK for 99p, but it was released at £1.49.[2] Originally, the group had thought of releasing Pictures at an Exhibition as a double album, with the suite on side one and the material they had recorded for Trilogy (1972) on side two, but they thought the public had waited long enough for Pictures to be released and wanted to put it out sooner.[2]

The album was released in November 1971 and reached number 3 on the UK Albums Chart. Budget-priced albums were eligible for inclusion at the time of release, but a change in chart regulations in early 1972 excluded them, which meant that the album disappeared from the chart after just five weeks. In the US, the album peaked at number 10 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Critical reception to the album was generally favorable in the UK (where ELP won the Melody Maker poll for best group that year) but quite harsh in America, where a new contingent of rock critics was beginning to rail against the excesses of progressive rock. Robert Christgau gave the album a D+ and Lester Bangs, writing for Rolling Stone, brutally mocked the attempt at covering a classical suite. The album was a great success with fans, however, and a shortened version of "Pictures" continued to be used as a live encore through the remainder of the band's career. The album continues to evoke a highly divided reaction among critics, with some hailing it as a peak of the progressive rock genre while others continue to bewail it as its nadir.

The album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[12]


The album was reissued in 2001 with a new master and a bonus studio version of the suite recorded in 1993 that was released The Return of the Manticore (1993) box set and some pressings of In the Hot Seat (1994). A new remaster was issued in a 2005 Deluxe Edition included the live performance of the suite from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The album was remastered once more in 2016, containing live bonus tracks from the 1972 Mar y Sol Festival (actually only the track "Pictures at an Exhibition (Medley)") and the December 9, 1970 Lyceum Theatre concert (almost the complete show).

Track listing[edit]

All music by Modest Mussorgsky, except where noted. All lyrics by Greg Lake and Richard Fraser.

Side one
1."Promenade"Modest Mussorgsky arr. by Keith Emerson1:58
2."The Gnome"Mussorgsky, Carl Palmer4:18
3."Promenade"Mussorgsky, arr. by Greg Lake1:23
4."The Sage"Lake4:42
5."The Old Castle"Mussorgsky, Emerson2:33
6."Blues Variation"Emerson, Lake, Palmer4:22
Side two
7."Promenade"Mussorgsky, arr. Emerson1:29
8."The Hut of Baba Yaga"Mussorgsky, arr. Emerson1:12
9."The Curse of Baba Yaga"Emerson, Lake, Palmer4:10
10."The Hut of Baba Yaga"Mussorgsky, arr. Emerson1:06
11."The Great Gates of Kiev"Mussorgsky, Lake6:37
12."Nut Rocker"Tchaikovsky, Kim Fowley, arr. Emerson, Lake, Palmer4:26


Emerson, Lake & Palmer


  • Greg Lake – producer
  • Eddy Offord – engineer
  • Joseph M. Palmaccio – remastering
  • Keith Emerson – musical arrangement
  • Greg Lake – musical arrangement
  • William Neal – cover design and painting
  • Nigel Marlow – photography
  • Keith Morris – photography


Chart (1971) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[13] 19
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[14] 3
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[15] 6
Finnish Albums (The Official Finnish Charts)[16] 8
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[17] 9
Italian Albums (Musica e Dischi)[18] 5
Japanese Albums (Oricon)[19] 2
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[20] 18
UK Albums (OCC)[21] 3
US Billboard 200[22] 10
Chart (2016) Peak
UK Independent Albums (OCC)[23] 32
UK Rock & Metal Albums (OCC)[24] 22


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[25] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[26] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "ELP singles".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Meadows, Dick (27 November 1971). "Carl Palmer interview". Sounds.
  3. ^ Emerson 2004, p. 206.
  4. ^ William Neal Studio Archived 5 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Eder, Bruce (2011). "Pictures at an Exhibition – Emerson, Lake & Palmer | AllMusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  6. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: E". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 24 February 2019 – via
  7. ^ Bangs, Lester (2 March 1972). "Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 11 December 2007. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  8. ^ Smith, Dan (2019). "The Daily Vault Music Reviews : Pictures at an Exhibition". Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  9. ^ Mettler, Mike. "ELP Reissue Series: Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Tarkus; Pictures at an Exhibition". Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  10. ^ Pardo, Pete. "Emerson Lake & Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition (remastered)". Sea of Tranquility. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Emerson 2004, p. 207.
  12. ^ Dimery, Robert (2005), 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, United Kingdom: Universe Publishing, ISBN 1-84403-392-9
  13. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  14. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 7504". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  15. ^ " – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  16. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
  17. ^ " – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  18. ^ "Classifiche". Musica e Dischi (in Italian). Retrieved 17 October 2023. Set "Tipo" on "Album". Then, in the "Artista" field, search "Emerson Lake & Palmer".
  19. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970–2005 (in Japanese). Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  20. ^ " – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition". Hung Medien. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  21. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  22. ^ "Emerson Lake Palmer Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  23. ^ "Official Independent Albums Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  24. ^ "Official Rock & Metal Albums Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved October 17, 2023.
  25. ^ "British album certifications – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition". British Phonographic Industry.
  26. ^ "American album certifications – Lake Emerson & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition". Recording Industry Association of America.