While Greg Lake earned critical acclaim from prog-rock lovers as a member of King Crimson and supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer, his biggest success on the charts was on his own, when a peaceful balled he co-wrote called "I Believe in Father Christmas" made its way up the British charts for the holiday season of 1975.
Co-written with King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield during a lengthy hiatus for ELP, "I Believe in Father Christmas" was, like many of the 20th century's great Christmas songs, a prayer for peace and charity in a season of reflection. "It brings, sometimes, some strange reactions," Lake later said of the song. "People would say it’s anti-religious…when in reality it was really about objecting to the commerciality of Christmas."
The song's chiming guitar figure - which Lake realized he could sing "Jingle Bells" over, inspiring the direction of the tune - was complemented by a quote of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé suite between verses, added at the suggestion of Keith Emerson. In an attempt to bring levity to the session, recorded in the dead of summer, Lake decided to hire a stripper to visit the studio - which drove members of the assembled orchestra to distraction. "All the guys in the orchestra all rushed to the front," Lake recalled in an interview, "and somebody stepped on a double bass. Put their foot right through!"
Despite that setback, the song was reportedly finished in one take. "I remember falling on the floor with exhaustion and tears," Sinfeld recalled in Uncut in 2011. "It was an amazing experience. Overwhelming."
With the aid of a video shot across Egypt and the West Bank, "I Believe in Father Christmas" was a swift seller, reaching No. 2 on the British charts; it was kept out of the top by Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." (“I got beaten by one of the greatest records ever made,” Lake later said of the second-place finish. "I would've been pissed off if I'd been beaten by Cliff Richard.")
A remixed version was later released on ELP's Works Volume 2 in 1977, but the original remains a staple of holiday compilation albums. Lake, who died in 2016, was humorously candid about his earnings from the song after a reader of The Guardian asked if it was possible to live off royalties of one Christmas song, as the main character of Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy did.
"I can tell you from experience that it’s lovely to get the old royalty cheque around September every year, but on its own, the Christmas song money isn’t quite enough to buy my own island in the Caribbean," he quipped in a printed response. "If Guardian readers could all please request it be played by their local radio stations, maybe that Caribbean island wouldn’t be so far away – and if I get there, you’re all invited."