After forming in early 1970, the band came to prominence following their performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970. In their first year, the group signed with Atlantic Records and released Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970) and Tarkus (1971), both of which reached the UK top five. The band's success continued with Pictures at an Exhibition (1971), Trilogy (1972), and Brain Salad Surgery (1973). After a three-year break, Emerson, Lake & Palmer released Works Volume 1 (1977) and Works Volume 2 (1977) which began their decline in popularity. Following the release of Love Beach (1978), the group disbanded in 1979.
They reformed in 1991 and released Black Moon (1992) and In the Hot Seat (1994). Emerson and Palmer continued in 1996 and toured until 1998. Lake returned in 2010 for the band's headline performance at the High Voltage Festival in London to commemorate the band's fortieth anniversary.
Their musical sound included adaptations of classical music with jazz and symphonic rock elements and was dominated by Emerson's flamboyant use of the Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, and piano. Lake wrote several acoustic songs for the group.
The urban legend surrounding the song states that on the last day of recording their debut album in September 1970, the group discovered they were short of satisfying the label's contract requirement of 21 minutes of music per album side, and therefore needed one more song, so Greg Lake began playing a song he had written when he was 12 years old. It was reported that producers raved about it and insisted it was going to be the lead single off the album. In truth however, according to session notes, recording for the album took place between July and September 1970, with Lucky Man actually being recorded early in the period. An early demo of the song featuring just Lake and an acoustic guitar, eventually released on the 2012 deluxe edition of the album, was reportedly met with low enthusiasm by the other two members of the group; it wasn't until Lake added numerous overdubs of bass, triple-tracked acoustic guitars, electric guitar, and harmony vocals that Emerson was impressed enough to feel he could contribute. Another alternative version of the song featured on the deluxe edition, features a second electric guitar solo in place of where Emerson would later overdub his Moog solo.
Unlike several songs on the album, which use a distorted fuzz bass to sound like a guitar, "Lucky Man" is an acoustic ballad. The lyrics tell the story of a man who had everything, went to war, and died. A Moog synthesizer solo, recorded in one take, is performed by Keith Emerson at the end of song, making it one of the first rock compositions in which a Moog was a featured solo instrument.
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