A friend recently hooked me up with forty-two episodes from the Mike Nelson years of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, and as I make my way through them I occasionally encounter one that I missed during the original run. Such an episode is the one where Mike and the Bots took on THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN — a film I cannot believe was made by the same guy who directed THE BLACK CAT (1934) — and during one of the skit segments Mike does an impersonation of former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman during his "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" solo period, complete with ludicrous cape and a fright wig to simulate the musician's signature tresses.
That bit kicked me in the head as, for the first time in nearly twenty years, my thoughts turned to the Rick Wakeman album "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" (1975).
For those who've never heard of it, "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" is Wakeman's musical evocation of exactly what its title states, and it's an ambitious bit of heavily-orchestral composition accented by Wakeman's talented keyboard fiddling. Fraught with choral vocals that sound like two-thousand singers were in the studio and minimally-worded retellings of some key aspects of the Arthurian legends — the lyrical scarcity theoretically allowing the music to fill in the narrative and descriptive gaps — the album can be seen by some as an ideal soundtrack to a lengthy D&D campaign (which would not be inappropriate since Dungeons and Dragons first appeared scarcely a year before Wakeman's foray into Camelot, and both efforts simply reek of that early 1970's fantasy vibe). Lancelot, Galahad, Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, Guinevere, Merlin, and of course Arthur are all present and represented with the kind of legendary aural bombast that would have made Basil Poledouris turn green with envy.
God help me, I used to love that record during my mid-adolescence, appealing as it did to my "romantic" side, but now I look back on it and ask myself what the fuck I was thinking. While there're some admittedly interesting moments to it, "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" has got to be one of the most overblown and pretentious pieces musical masturbation ever recorded, very clearly the product of a twenty-five-year-old with delusions of grandeur (plus, it was written during Wakeman's recovery from three minor heart attacks at that young age, so that may factor into it). Particularly embarrassing are the bits where the lush orchestral compositions abruptly derail into teeth-grinding examples of rinky-dink "pee-anny," most notably during the track devoted to Merlin. It's largely the same thing Wakeman was shooting for with the soundtrack to Ken Russell's LISZTOMANIA (1975), only everything worked much better there and had Roger Daltrey along for the ride. But what really pushes this whole exercise over the top is the fact that it was supported by a live show of "King Arthur on Ice" — no, I am not making that up — that not unpredictably lost Wakeman money, leading to inaccurate reports of the composer going bankrupt as a result.
An example from "King Arthur on Ice."
Now that I've listened to the "Arthur" album again for the first time since perhaps 1990 or 1991, I cannot believe that I used to lay there in my room in Westport at the age of sixteen (a good three years before I ever smoked weed), caught up in its dreamy evocation of Malloryesque pageantry and actually buying what Wakeman was selling. As anyone who knew me at the time can attest, I was far from shy about sharing the music I loved with all and sundry (often much to their great annoyance), but "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" was never spun for my friends, which leads me to conclude that on some level I knew it was a load of bullshit and realized I would be soundly and deservedly ridiculed for being a fan. I feel like a complete twat and wish I could go back in time and kick myself right up the arse (as FATHER TED creators and writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews once so eloquently put it) for ever being such a complete and utter pussy. It's hard to convey what this album's really all about to anyone who has not heard it and I won't even try to give the album a proper review because everything I could possibly say about it, and more, can be found in the review posted here.
So, what's your equivalent to "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" as the once-beloved album that now makes you want to wear a bag over your head out of sheer embarrassment? Please write in and share your shame.