Emerson, Lake & Palmer: ‘Tarkus’ – 5 stars


Formed in 1970, Emerson, Lake & Palmer were the classic progressive rock band and inevitably became tagged as a ‘supergroup’.  Keith Emerson (keyboards) had just disbanded The Nice while Greg Lake, the vocalist and bassist of King Crimson, was finding Robert Fripp’s dictatorship of that band impossible to work with (although if you listen to the results of King Crimson’s debut album “In The Court Of The Crimson King” they were very impressive.)

This pair hunted around for a suitable drummer; Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience was sounded out and a jam took place with Hendrix himself turning up to give a hand.  The press got hold of the news and rumored they were going to start a band together, and while nothing came of this, one often wonders.

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Carl Palmer was then courted for the job.  Ex-percussionist of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, he had just started Atomic Rooster with Vincent Crane and wanted to give that a try.  However, following a couple of months’ persuasion from Keith Emerson and Greg Lake he finally relented and the line-up was complete.

ELP’s first gig was at Plymouth Guild Hall in front of a few disinterested punters, whereas their second was at the Isle of Wight Festival in front of 600,000 people and it is recognized that the music and performance the band put on (versions of rocked up classical music, Keith Emerson ending with their adaptation of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” by firing two canons off into the crowd) stole the show.

A first album was quickly recorded and put out on sale.  It was a solid, eclectic effort combining, Emerson’s keyboard workouts with some of Lake’s acoustic and quieter numbers and even a drum solo from Palmer.  The band went out on a European tour in 1970 and their popularity grew.

By the time they got back to the Advision studio early the next year, with Lake producing and Eddie Offord engineering, their second album Tarkus was born, consisted of one epic track of 21 minutes on side one, broken up into seven parts.

Starting with the monster Tarkus, part machine, part reptilian beast, a representation of “Charles Darwin’s theory in reverse”, according to Keith Emerson, this mutilation of armadillo with tank tracks and turret guns arrives, causes havoc, and then, in what turns out to be his final battle ground, is defeated and disappears off into the sea to recover.

The musicians tell this story with spell binding power.  There is a version of Tarkus on ELP’s triple live album “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends”, where you can hear the band concentrating on getting every note right.  This version also includes Greg Lake doing an emotional version of “Epitaph” from his King Crimson days, which he sings as the defeated Tarkus retreats to his watery hideout.


“Tarkus” would make a great soundtrack to the proposed upcoming King Kong vs. Godzilla movie.  But once this epic finishes we still have six more pieces of music to listen to.  “Jeremy Bender” is about a strange little chap, “Bitches Crystal” is classic rock played by a piano led jazz trio and “The Only Way” sounds like Satan’s keyboard player has taken over the church organ and proves why the devil gets the best music.  Greg Lake’s angelic tones wrap themselves around some very un-angelic vocals, before the number is brought to a conclusion by the good guys regaining power.

“Infinite Space” is the albums only instrumental and gives Keith Emerson the chance to really give his piano a hammering.  “A Time and Place” is pure heavy metal rock but without guitars and the album closes with a bit of rock ’n’ roll fun in “Are You Ready Eddy?”

This Sept. 30, 1972 file photo shows (from left) Greg Lake, Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer of the rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer. (AP Photo)
This Sept. 30, 1972 file photo shows (from left) Greg Lake, Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer of the rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer. (AP Photo)

The whole album was recorded in six days and combined with successful touring and the follow up albums it gave Emerson, Lake and Palmer the right to print money.  “Tarkus” went to number one in the British charts, but stalled at number nine in the United States of America.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (on Tarkus):

Keith Emerson – Hammond organ, St Marks Church organ, piano, celesta, moog modular synthesizer.

Greg Lake – vocals, bass guitar, electric and acoustic guitars.

Carl Palmer – drums and percussion.

Track List:

Side 1



Stones of years






Side 2

Jeremy Bender

Bitches Crystal

The Only Way (Hymn)

Infinite Space (Conclusion)

A Time and a Place

Are You Ready Eddy