Obscure Today – Tarkus

The local River North restaurant Rockit uses former album covers as binders for their menus.  I was surprised one day to see Tarkus by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

While Tarkus would be an obscure album today (the average person who is familiar with classic rock might know “Lucky Man” and a couple other songs) it is hard to think that in 1971, when this album came out, it reached #1 on the billboard charts in the UK (and #9 in the US).  According to wikipedia, this album landed between “Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones and “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel.

To put this in context – “Sticky Fingers” was one of the run of 4 fantastic albums that put the Rolling Stones in the pantheon of rock – they were 1) Beggars Banquet 2) Let it Bleed 3) Sticky Fingers 4) Exile on Main Street.  And everyone knows Bridge over Troubled Water.

And yet Tarkus, and mostly Emerson, Lake & Palmer, is completely and utterly unknown.  Nowadays Tarkus would be viewed as a niche product, un-commercial for radio / MP3 singles but perhaps capturing a tiny but devoted market.  The song Tarkus takes up a whole side, and is over 20 minutes long, a series of sub-songs linked into one big song.  If you even thought about releasing a jazz / semi-metal / progressive rock album (CD) like this today you’d get laughed out of the record executive’s office (if they have offices anymore).

At least I was entertained seeing Tarkus as part of my lunch menu.  To think that one day long ago that this would be more than a minor trivia item, or a piece of kind of ugly artwork, is almost unthinkable.

Cross posted at LITGM

17 thoughts on “Obscure Today – Tarkus”

  1. Never liked ELP. BUT, it would be a good use of an afternoon to have a substantial amount of high quality alcohol handy, and listen those four Stones albums straight through in one sitting. It would have to be with no kids or wives around, since they would inevitably have many urgent reasons to interrupt, which would disrupt the deep Stones-trance that would be the purpose of the exercise.

  2. Ah, memories of my slightly mis-spent youth …yes, I was on my first hitch as an AFRTS broadcaster, when Emerson, Lake & Palmer were pretty much pop and album standards. (late 1970s) So much so that one of the AFRTS ongoing comedy shows, Omega Flats, (http://www.omegaflats.com/episodes.php) riffed off their name, on one of their episodes.
    “Emerson Lake, on the Palmer Planet.”
    As for the cover, I think the artist was visualizing the armadillo’s revenge, for being run over on so many back-country Texas roads…
    And the cut ‘Tarkus’ would have been loved by late-night rock DJs in any case. At 20 minutes long, there would have been time to use the can, or any of a number of other mid-shift errands.

    What? You didn’t think that the DJ spent ALL that time in the studio, during looooonnnnnggg cuts, did you?

  3. Just listened to Beggars Banquet end to end. Youtube kicks ass. Not as intoxicated as I probably should have been, just a couple glasses of wine in me (gotta work tomorrow) but damn what a great way to spend 40 minutes or so.

  4. ELP was what we called Pomp Rock. I didn’t much care for them. I don’t remember the album, but the cover art rings a very small bell.

  5. I liked Brain Salad Surgery a lot. Geiger did the cover (he invented that crazy Alien creature and created the Dead Kennedy’s album insert with dicks that got them banned).

    Funny in Chicago I saw Tributosaurus do the Rolling Stones. They sounded good but had zip sleaze or sex appeal (per my better half, at least). But they had the saxophonist Bobby Keys who had some great songs and apparently he wrote a lot of their best riffs involving a sax (can’t you hear me knockin…).

    If we do the stones 4 in a row it has to be around Bears season when I can start drinking again I can’t be sober.

  6. Tarkus was the only ELP I liked, probably for the odd time signatures and mechanical feel. (And no singing.)
    Reminds me of the “math rock” bands I played in and listened to in the ’90’s.


    There wasn’t a whole lot of this in the South at the time, save Richmond. But Chicago was a big town for it.

  7. I don’t recall owning Tarkus, but I saw ELP in concert on the Brain Salad Surgery tour. Not as loud as the Who, but better, at least on the dates I saw them.

  8. Tarkus is quite easily one of the top 3 jazz-rock albums of all time. I wore out two vinyl copies when it first came out, and my Tarkus CD still gets played at least four times a year.

    And I don’t even LIKE jazz rock.

  9. The reason ELP is so little known these days is the organ use at the center of their sound. It SOUNDS so dated and 70s that you wouldn’t want to be caught dead listening to it lest you be thought of as a 60s reject. Sort of like listening to disco. It really wasn’t awful music at all… it was just a period style and once everyone moved past that period, no one wanted to be caught drifting back to it.

    There are certainly 70s bands that can still be listened to — Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” is one that I think stands the test of time well from that era. But ELP, as good as their stuff was, isn’t one that doesn’t sound remarkably dated, and that’s why people don’t listen to them any more.

    US$0.02 {—– mine, and worth every pfennig.

  10. ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery introduced me to Blake; Their version of “Jerusalem”

    “Whoa, those guys can wirte some heavy lyrics!”

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