Emerson, Lake & Palmer

The Only Way (Hymn)

Composed by Greg Lake / Keith Emerson

Song Review by

Released on the 1971 LP Tarkus and tied to the instrumental piece "Infinite Space," "The Only Way" is ironically identified as an "hymn." Traditionally, this kind of piece celebrates God, but in this case lyricist Greg Lake charges against religion: "Can you believe God makes you breathe?/Why did He lose six million Jews?" The message is clear: the Christian dogmas are mythical; they make no sense in real life, so "how can you just obey?" We need to assume the fact that "man is man-made," ignore the rules enforced by religion, and do things our own way -- "It's the only way."

Rarely has Lake written so clearly on a subject and affirmed such a strong position, yet even back in 1971 it felt like he was ramming against an open door. Emerson, Lake & Palmer decided to treat this anti-religion song the cynical way. Emerson begins on church organ, quoting Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata in F" (he later uses the "Prelude No. 6"). The celestial grandeur is mocked by the lyrics before things shift to a jazzy bridge on piano. After this interlude Emerson remains at the piano, playing a variation of the opening theme while Lake leaves the church alone to glorify man's freewill.

Since the church organ is an essential part of the song's message, "The Only Way (Hymn)" was not performed live. Eclipsed by the epic suite "Tarkus," it remained a half-forgotten song.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Tarkus 1971 BMG / BMG Rights Management 3:47
No Image 2006 Sony Music Entertainment
Great British Albums 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music 3:46
The Everlasting: Best of ELP 2017 Victor Entertainment 3:53
blue highlight denotes editor's pick