Right off the bat, the sonic presentation of the album was like nothing I had heard before. I bought the album in 1969 because the cover was SO cool and because some guy in the record store who I never met before or since promised me the record would change my life. He was right; thank you, Guy in Record Store! It begins with the crushing authority of the album's opening riff for "21st Century Schizoid Man," augmented by a vocal treatment that was at the time very unique. After that, a lot of the album's appeal to my ears was due to the use of a mellotron, the quirky symphonic precursor to my lifelong fascination with synthesizer music. To this day and for all the wondrous string sounds I've heard from a keyboard, nothing matches the texture or pseudo-warmth of a proper mellotron. The style and the sound of this album were for me and bazillions of others an introduction to the world of progressive rock (this is often referred to as "the most influential prog album of all time" in music journalism); from King Crimson, I discovered early Genesis, Moody Blues and Yes on the symphonic side, Hawkwind and Black Sabbath on the heavier side... and if I recall properly, it was because of this album that I first sought out Pink Floyd as another "psychedelic rock" band.
The album's personnel, of course, leads to further explorations. Greg Lake would leave King Crimson after three albums as a founding member of Emerson, Lake and Palmer... which led me to Keith Emerson's synthesizer riff on "Lucky Man" and wound up starting another half-century obsession for me, that of synth and electronic music and the myriad of previously undreamed-of genres that came as a result. There was particular intrigue on Crimson's debut with one of the personnel credits; Peter Sinfield was listed in the musicians credits for "lyrics, illumination." The idea of somebody who neither played an instrument or sang being listed as a musician fascinates me to this day and was a major factor, I believe, in giving the literary side of rock credibility. From that, Sinfield somehow wound up as the producer for the debut album by Roxy Music (another album with incredibly alluring cover art, though in a completely different style), and lo! I discovered "art rock." I still consider Bryan Ferry to be my favorite rock vocalist of all time (and I best not even THINK about all the music I found as a result of Bryan and Roxy, lest this article run to encyclopedic lengths. I mean, c'mon... Brian Eno...).
And... there was and is Robert Fripp. This is a man who not only played a very different style of guitar - he essentially changed a lot of thinking about the guitar as in instrument; guitar as more than an instrument, but as a paint brush, a gateway to art. Over the course of decades, Fripp showed a complete lack of fear in re-inventing both himself and King Crimson. After three albums when the momentum was decidedly in his favor and Crimson was being heralded as forerunners of a whole new movement in rock, he changed it. With "Islands," Crimson became less aggressive and more ethereal, incorporating elements of space rock and jazz, melding dissonance and structure. A third reworking of the band, marking the beginning of the Adrian Belew era of Crimson, stressed composition, structure and precise discipline within the framework of the performances live and studio... and again, the world of rock was shifted in a positive manner.
Then one day, Robert Fripp introduced perhaps his most radical and sweeping change in his approach to making music with Frippertronics. Even for a lot of hardcore fans, the floating ethereal soundscapes released under the new moniker were a challenge to hear, and even more so to understand. I know I tried for a long, long time to get what he was doing, and I don't think I had my lightbulb moment until I actually saw him perform Frippertronics live. It was at House of Blues (?!?) in Orlando, and it was Fripp and machines on a stage. He would play a note and let it loop in rhythm. He'd add a phrase, then a texture, then a slow looping counter rhythm. The creation of each individual piece went on for eight to ten minutes or so, then Fripp would lay the guitar down on the stool, step to a shadow on the rear of the stage and listen himself, hands behind his back as if a schoolboy. That was a powerful vision all at once. It struck me that Fripp was essentially destroying a myriad of boundaries with this new approach to composition and performance. First, he was ignoring the standard dictates of chronology; he was composing pieces of music NOT by placing one note after the other, but instead by reacting to what was already there, weaving into and out of the existing composition as he felt was called for. Second, he was reducing the barrier between performer and audience in a way; by reacting to what was playing and endlessly looping, he was both performer and observer at the same time. Third, he was reinforcing the sanctity and intimacy of a live performance, offering that evening's crowd something that had not been presented before and in likelihood would not be exactly replicated again. It was aurally and intellectually one of the most powerful performances I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
Of course, it didn't end with any of the original explorations, and it won't end with any of their derivations. Rick Wakeman was the keyboard player for Yes, which steered me to an early album by The Strawbs; Peter Gabriel would leave Genesis and present me and the world with a completely different approach to merging world music styles (so eventually I found Afro-Celt Sound System and so many others); Hawkwind combined intensity and guitars and science fiction in ways that inspired countless other bands, and also helped continue and further the idea of visually overwhelming live performances. In retrospect, way beyond all the technological changes that encouraged me to buy "Court of the Crimson King" over and over again, this might be the most expensive album I ever owned for all the reasons outlined here... and I call it money and time well spent. The Black Queen has chanted her funeral march probably thousands of times in my life already, and thankfully, I see no end in sight.