My Favorite Albums – Tarkus – Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Were you there to watch the earth be scorched?
Did you stand beside the spectral torch?
Know the leaves of sorrow turned their face
Scattered on the ashes of disgrace

Tarkus is Emerson. Lake & Palmer’s second album, the first of two in 1971. Recorded at the Advision Studios in London and released on Island Records. It would reach number 1 on the UK Albums Chart, number 9 in the United States and number 12 in Canada. Tarkus was produced by Greg Lake who also wrote all the lyrics.

Side 1 is “Tarkus” timed at 20:42 containing these continous parts:

“Eruption” (Emerson) – 2:43
“Stones of Years” (Emerson, Lake) – 3:43
“Iconoclast” (Emerson) – 1:16
“Mass” (Emerson, Lake) – 3:15
“Manticore” (Emerson) – 1:54
“Battlefield” (Lake) – 4:13
“Aquatarkus” (Emerson) – 3:55″

Side 2 has 6 songs with 3 and 4 connected:

  1. “Jeremy Bender” (Emerson, Lake) – 1:44
  2. “Bitches Crystal” (Emerson, Lake) – 3:58
  3. “The Only Way (Hymn)” (Emerson, Lake) – 3:51
  4. “Infinite Space (Conclusion)” (Emerson, Palmer) – 3:19
  5. “A Time and a Place” (Emerson, Lake, Palmer) – 3:01
  6. “Are You Ready, Eddy?” (Emerson, Lake, Palmer) – 2:13

Inside of gatefold sleeve


William Neal (English artist painter and graphic designer) was the artist for the cover and gatefold sleeve. His image of a giant armadillo on tank treads was the basis . The lion with the scorpion stinger tail would be the icon for the bands Manticore Records later on. He would also do the art for their Pictures at an Exhibition release.

To everyone, it represented what we were doing in that studio. The next day on my drive up from Sussex the imagery of the armadillo kept hitting me. It had to have a name. Something guttural. It had to begin with the letter ‘T’ and end with a flourish. Tarka the Otter may have come into it, but this armadillo needed a science fiction kind of name that represented Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in reverse. Some mutilation of the species caused by radiation … ‘Tarkus’!

Keith Emerson

The original paintings were hung at Hammersmith Town Hall, and photographed by the late Keith Morris, a former graduate with Neal from the Guildford Art school. This album was the first of the ELP progressive concept works. While on a previous tour, Emerson found that he and Palmer were exploring more complex rhythmic ideas.

He took patterns that Palmer was playing on his practise drum pads and found that they complemented runs that he had developed on the piano, and used this as a basis for material on Tarkus. This song describes the story of a war machine called Tarkus (a mixture between an armadillo and a tank). This creature emerges from an egg that is beside a volcanic crater that is making an eruption.

The greatest piece collectively as a band, which really was a blueprint for a lot of up-and-coming prog rock groups to follow, would have been ‘Tarkus.

Carl Palmer

Then a cybernetic creature that looks like a futuristic station, this creature is destroyed by Tarkus’ turrets. After that comes a creature called Iconoclast, that is a mixture between pterodactyl and a war airplane.

The initial inspiration for this record came from the music that Keith (Emerson) had written. Following on from this I wrote various songs and worked together with Keith and Carl (Palmer) as a producer to create the record you now hear. Tarkus has been the backbone performance piece for ELP and has certainly stood the test of time. It is one of the best examples of the musical genius of Keith Emerson as a composer and of the band ELP working and performing together at the very top of their game.

Greg Lake

This creature battles, but can’t compare to Tarkus and loses the battle. Another creature appears named Mass (a mixture of lizard, lobster and a rocket launcher), and after a battle Mass loses the battle and Tarkus continues his bloody adventure.

After three victories Tarkus faces a mythological creature called Manticore (this creature has a human face, lion’s body and scorpion’s tail). Tarkus faces Manticore and is stung in his eye. Manticore forces Tarkus to go back, and Manticore defeats Tarkus, whose body falls down to a river. But though Tarkus seems to be dead you can’t be sure because his turrets are not damaged. This album is very good and one of my all-time favorites. I’ve heard them play it many times live and they always perform it superbly.

For 2021 Christmas I received the Record Store Day picture disc of the Tarkus LP. It is beautiful with the cover on the front and the inner gatefold images on the other side. It was catalog number BMGCAT470LP released by BMG. It also was released on 8-Track and cassette, on Cotillion, 1971. The Original Master Recording wasn’t released by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab until 1994.

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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