Life at 33 1/3: … And they even smile

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Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Tarkus (Island)

Rod Stewart was not the only one releasing classics in the summer of 1971 (“Every Picture Tells A Story” being his effort).  Spotlight on Emerson, Lake & Palmer, three guys with impressive progrock mileage from their previous bands King Crimson, The Nice, and Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.  Their self-titled debut album was uneven, but struck gold with the marvellous “Lucky Man”.  

They were obviously searching for a common ground from where they could build their own unique musical expressions.  They found it on the sequel, “Tarkus”.  Sometimes heavy and bombastic, sometimes beautifully fragile, peppered with clever and challenging time signatures and tempo changes, and always in motion, pushing forward.

Stockhausen, Händel, Bach, Zeppelin, Beatles and Elvis, they were all ingredients in the trio’s stew.  And they achieved the album’s greatness without much use of guitars.  ELP were an oiled machinery weighing thousands of tons, but they would turn weightless the moment Greg Lake opened his mouth and revealed that he actually was an angel.  They were pretentious – and eventually quite humorless.  But not on “Tarkus”.  This album has several smiles lurking (let’s hear it for “Jeremy Bender”).

Me, I bought “Tarkus” by accident.  I was in London that summer, and the few pounds I had burned in my pocket.  I could only afford one album, so what should I do?  I bought “Sticky Fingers”, that’s what.  But sitting in the pub next door studying the sleeve, I felt regret.  That album was already old, I could buy it second-hand in Norway.  So I went back and replaced it with… The Moody Blues’ brand new one, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”.  Half way down the next pint I regretted yet again.  This time the guy in the record shop wasn’t that friendly anymore, he gave me a grumpy look and one last chance.  I was in panic.  I wanted thousands of albums, and I could only pick one.  My eyes fell on the “Tarkus”-sleeve.  It looked cool, it was a gatefold, it was brand new.  And this time I didn’t regret.

43 years on I still don’t.  Must be a good album then.  The only ELP-record I still play.

Released: June 14, 1971

Produced by: Greg Lake

Contents: “Tarkus” (including “Eruption”/”Stones of Years”/”Iconoclast”/”Mass”/”Manticore”/”Battlefield”/”Aquatarkus”)/ “Jeremy Bender”/”Bitches Crystal”/”The Only Way (Hymn)”/”Infinite Space (Conclusion)”/”A Time and a Place”/”Are You Ready Eddy?”

Personnel:

Keith Emerson – Hammond organ, St. Marks church organ, piano, celeste, Moog synthesizer

Greg Lake – vocals, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar

Carl Palmer – drums, assorted percussion