In this laconic post I'll be looking at this cover of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP), focusing on one specific element: the keyboard solo; specifically, production-/mix-wise.
In the piece, ELP (and I'm guessing E in particular) have gone to great lengths to stay truthful to Prokofiev's original score while still adapting it to their own style. They achieve this not by creating a 1-1 transcription—which would be awkward at best—but by carefully filtering and merging the essential musical elements. The result sounds powerful despite the occasional use of now dated synthesizers (although I'm sure you hipsters love that analog sound). Take a listen:
Pay attention to the solo as it comes in at 2:18 and try to notice anything that might seem extraordinary in the way it's mixed. I would suggest using headphones. Did you catch it?
The pan is all over the place! This has always struck me as a weird production choice. Usually, you'd want your solo to firmly stand out. Unless there are extra soloistic elements (like an alternating or competing solo line) you would expect a straightforward middle placement. The auto-pan effect can be used to make an element stand out from a dense mix, but it can also be a bit jarring and could eventually overshadow the actual performance in favor of the effect, as I argue is the case here. So why did they go for it?
I think the answer is exactly the fact that it makes the element stand out from the mix. The solo, being the only thing not written by Prokofiev, quite literally does not belong in the track and so, its constant movement is a symbolism of its struggle to find its place in the piece. Simple, yet effective; a truly creative use of an otherwise mundane effect.
And that's it. Cheers.