No Shirt, No Clue

The fall of 1977 was one of those seasons when the radio was talking to me constantly. When the chatter got too much, I’d put an album on the record player, and in that season, it was usually Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Works Volume 1.

Works Volume 1 was the first new studio recording from ELP since Brain Salad Surgery nearly four years before. It was also was the band’s White Album, a double-disc set that gave one side to each member and brought them together on the fourth side. Keith Emerson’s side featured a straight classical piano concerto that I may have listened to twice. Carl Palmer’s side didn’t excite me much, either, although it sounded more like the ELP of old than the rest of the album. The group side, featuring a lengthy adaptation of “Fanfare for the Common Man” and a 14-minute epic called “Pirates,” was the sort of thing I wanted to hear from ELP, and I dug it.

But it was side two, Greg Lake’s side, that I listened to the most, and four songs in particular: “Lend Your Love to Me Tonight,” “C’est la Vie,” “Nobody Loves You Like I Do,” and “Closer to Believing.” None of them sound much like ELP apart from containing Lake’s voice; they’re all backed by an orchestra. But I liked them then because they contained lots of lyrics that a love-struck teenage rock fan of literary bent would find profound. From “Lend Your Love to Me Tonight”:

Just lend your love to me once more
Don’t ask me what I came back for
Just watch the moonlight cross the floor
And as your blood begins to roar
You’ll feel your senses spin and soar
You will become my meteor
Divine and universal whore
Complete me

“Divine and universal whore?”

If there had been a video for the song, it would have featured Lake standing on a high cliff somewhere, shot all in blue with swirling mist, declaiming into the wind as a storm approached. If Lake was going for Big Drama, he got it.

From “Nobody Loves You Like I Do”:

You can rent your blues and photograph your soul
You can even dig some diamonds out of rock and roll.
You can change the world
But if you lose your control
They will take away your T-shirt

Those first two lines sound great, even if they don’t mean anything. But “they will take away your T-shirt”? Given that the line doesn’t have to rhyme with anything, that’s lameness of Fogelbergian dimensions.

From “Closer to Believing”:

But of course you know I love you
Or what else am I here for
Only you not face to face
But side by side forevermore
And I need to be here with you
For without you what am I
Just another fool out searching
For some heaven in the sky

Given that my love life was shot through with hideous confusion at that particular moment, “Closer to Believing” found its way onto my turntable a lot. I wanted to believe that things were going to work out, even though I was at the mercy of the gods because I sure as hell didn’t know what to do.

So be closer to believing
Though your world is torn apart
For a moment changes all things
And to end is but to start
And if your journey’s unrewarded
May your God lift up your heart
You are windblown
But you are mine

One thought on “No Shirt, No Clue

  1. Miles

    I totally agree with your assessment of Works Vol.1 but I have to take it one step further. To me, “Closer To Believing” is the most lyrically perfect song I have ever heard. It’s a complete masterpiece of words and music that is ideal for any hopeless romantic. The only other song I would mention in the same breath would be “As Time Goes By”. Anyone in love should share “Closer To Believing” with their mate.

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