Artist’s Remorse: Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Regret Over ‘Love Beach’

The late ’70s were a transitional period for rock bands in general, and progressive rock in particular was going out of fashion. In 1978, some of the most accomplished prog bands were moving in a distinctly poppier direction. Genesis and Yes put out albums for which the bulk of the songs were under (gasp!) five minutes. But no prog band departed more dramatically from their typical sound and lyrics than Emerson, Lake & Palmer did.

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ELP fans knew they were in for something different just by looking at the album cover for Love Beach. It was actually the second ELP album to put the trio on the cover. Unlike the somber rendering of Emerson, Lake & Palmer on Trilogy, Love Beach showed them on an actual beach, sporting lots of visible chest hair. Once listeners tore open the cellophane and put the needle on the vinyl, they realized they could judge this album fairly by its cover.

Sometimes change is good, but ELP themselves were not enamored with their collection of jaunty tropically tinged songs. How did they go from prog arrangements of orchestral works to “Margaritaville” on a Moog? Here’s the story of the album that ELP wished they could have had back.

Made Under Duress

Like many albums that artists later regretted making, Love Beach would probably not exist if not for a contractual obligation. After releasing Works Volume 1 and Volume 2 in 1977 and then completing tours of North America over a 10-month period, ELP would have preferred to have taken a break. Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun had other ideas. Not only did he want ELP to fulfill their contract with the label in a timely manner, but he wanted the band to make a more commercially viable album.

It’s not as if ELP had been commercial flops. Each of their eight previous albums had been certified Gold in the U.S., and all of them, aside from Works Volume 2, reached the Top 20 of the Billboard 200. While ELP were staples on album-oriented rock stations, they were light on Top 40 hits. “From the Beginning” went to No. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Lucky Man” was a Top 40 near-miss, peaking at No. 48.

Singer/guitarist/bassist Greg Lake says ELP made Love Beach “under duress.” In a 1986 interview, he said, “Because we were pressured into that situation, I think it was something where we all would’ve rather said, ‘Look, we’ve gotta stop this for a while.’ … Nobody was that keen to play.”

Not Enough Adversity

As Carl Palmer explained in a 2023 interview for Louder magazine, ELP had essentially broken up around the time Love Beach was recorded. Emerson and Lake had houses in the Bahamas, so to encourage the band to record one last album for Atlantic, Ertegun arranged for them to record Love Beach at Compass Point Studios in Nassau. Palmer suggested the setting was not ideal for a prog band to record a quality album. “To write a prog album, you’ve got to sit in traffic jams and go through a lot of s–t before you get to the studio, and then you come up with the goods. When you’re living in the Bahamas and you’ve got the beach and the sea and you’ve all got boats, what are you going to get? You’re going to get Love Beach.”

At least Palmer acknowledged that one of Love Beach’s tracks, “Canario”—a concerto composed by Joaquin Rodrigo—is a “fantastic piece of music.” It’s also the one track on the album that sounds like ELP. Even the 20-minute suite “Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman” lacks the dynamics and elegance of their best work.

Atypical ELP Lyrics

Emerson minced no words regarding his feelings for Love Beach, calling it “an embarrassment against everything I’ve worked for.” He was also not a fan of Peter Sinfield’s lyrics for “Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman,” calling them “a bit gross.”

Sinfield generally took a different approach with lyrics for Love Beach than he had in his previous work with ELP. The music may have called for something different, but lyrics like We can make love on love beach and Yeah, taste it, taste it, taste it / Around the maze of pleasure would have sounded out of place on earlier ELP albums. And they didn’t land all that well on Love Beach either.

Steady Sales but No Hits

Against their wishes, ELP delivered their final album for Atlantic before the end of 1978. While Ertegun got his album, he likely didn’t get the commercial results he was looking for. Love Beach was certified Gold in January 1979, two months after it was released, but its single, “All I Want Is You,” didn’t chart in any country. Love Beach’s peak position of No. 55 was the lowest for any ELP album on the Billboard 200 until Black Moon topped out at No. 78 in 1992.

After Love Beach

Making Love Beach didn’t inspire ELP to stay together. Though they initially intended to perform tour dates in support of the album, they never even got that far. ELP went their separate ways in 1979. Lake released a pair of solo studio albums in the early ’80s. Emerson also released a solo album, Honky, which—believe it not—he recorded in the Bahamas. Palmer released one album with his band PM before joining Asia in 1981.

ELP wouldn’t reform until 1991, but in the interim, two spinoff bands enjoyed some chart success. Emerson, Lake & Powell (with drummer Cozy Powell) made a self-titled album that went to No. 23 on the Billboard 200. Then Emerson and Palmer teamed up with Robert Berry to form the band 3. While To the Power of 3 barely reached the Top 100 (No. 97 on the Billboard 200), the single “Talkin’ Bout” went to No. 9 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

Love Beach didn’t destroy the careers of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but it put a smudge on their collective musical legacy. Based on their own comments about the album, it’s an entry on the ELP discography that they would have sooner not had on there at all.

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Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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