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Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Tarkus (1971) front cover.jpg
Studio album by
Released14 June 1971
RecordedJanuary–February 1971
StudioAdvision, London
GenreProgressive rock[1]
ProducerGreg Lake
Emerson, Lake & Palmer chronology
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Pictures at an Exhibition

Tarkus is the second studio album by English progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, released in June 1971 on Island Records. Following their 1970 European tour, the group returned to Advision Studios in London, in January 1971, to prepare material for a follow-up. Side one has the seven-part "Tarkus", with a collection of shorter tracks on side two.

Tarkus went to number one in the UK Albums Chart, peaked at number 9 in the US, and reached number 12 in Canada on two occasions totalling 4 weeks.


After their debut live gigs in August 1970, the band toured across the UK and Europe for the rest of the year, during which their debut album, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, was released. While on 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. The group approached the album by having a centrepiece track in order to establish a concept, but a definite story or idea for it had not been discussed at this stage.[2]

The group paused touring commitments in December 1970 and set the following month aside to record. As with their debut, the band recorded at Advision Studios in London with Lake handling the production duties and Eddy Offord returning as engineer.[3] Early into the sessions Emerson presented the basis of the title track to Lake and Palmer; Lake was less than enthusiastic with its direction and threatened to leave the group. A subsequent meeting amongst the band and their management convinced Lake to stay, and he went on to contribute to the track and most of the other songs on the album[4] including the lyrics, for which he used the artwork as inspiration.[2] The band could only work out "Tarkus" during the January 1971 studio sessions, so they booked further time at Adivsion in February to work on side two, for which they had no material prepared.[5]


Side one[edit]

Side one is taken up by "Tarkus", a 20-minute piece in seven parts written by Emerson, with Lake credited for the "Battlefield" section and contributions to "Stones of Years" and "Mass". It is a conceptual piece in which its narrative remains ambiguous and open to interpretation, but the artwork depicts the Tarkus character in the form of an armadillo-like tank who is born and loses a fight with a manticore, which concludes with the appearance of an aquatic version of Tarkus named Aquatarkus.[4] The track was written in six days and the band rehearsed it for another six, after which they put it to tape. Lake said the song is about "the futility of conflict, expressed in this context in terms of soldiers and war — but it's broader than that. The words are about revolution, the revolution that's gone, that has happened. Where has it got anybody? Nowhere."[5] He went on to describe the track, which opens "in frustration" with the "Eruption" section, an instrumental in a 5/4 time signature which he considered a "frustrating" meter. The lyrical songs that follow concern "the hypocrisy of it all" and noted the closing march at the end "a joke".[5] The group would not record a longer piece in the studio until 1973, with the 29-minute "Karn Evil 9".

Side two[edit]

Side two features a series of shorter numbers unrelated to the conceptual title track. "The Only Way (Hymn)" contains themes from "Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540" and "Prelude and Fugue VI, BWV 851" by Bach. Although not credited, the music to "Are You Ready, Eddy?" was largely inspired by Bobby Troup's 1956 song "The Girl Can't Help It". Emerson refers to the track as "an impromptu jam" played in celebration of completing work on Tarkus.[6]


The front cover depicts a giant armadillo tank

William Neal made the artwork for the album's cover and gatefold. The cover image of a giant armadillo on tank treads has become an iconic image in progressive rock.[7] Emerson said, "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'!"[8]

The gatefold presents eleven panels that illustrate the events of "Tarkus". It begins with an erupting volcano, below which Tarkus emerges from an egg. Tarkus faces a number of cybernetic creatures, culminating in a battle against the manticore. The manticore stings Tarkus's eye, and Tarkus retreats bleeding into a river.[7]


Tarkus was released on 14 June 1971 in the UK on Island Records, appearing two months later in the US by Atlantic Records' subsidiary label Cotillion Records.[9] It is one of only two ELP studio albums to reach the Top 10 in the United States, making it to No. 9 (Trilogy, the following year, got to No. 5), while in Britain it is their only number-one album.[9] Additionally, Tarkus spent a total of 17 weeks in the UK Albums Chart.[10] In Japan the album was released on Atlantic Records. Later vinyl reissues were on the Manticore label.

Tarkus was certified gold in the United States shortly after its release on 26 August 1971.[11]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Sound & Vision[13]
Classic Rock RevisitedA[14]
The Daily VaultA[15]
Sea of Tranquility[16]
Classic Rock[17]

Although it is now considered a quintessential progressive rock album,[citation needed] Tarkus received generally unfavourable reviews from critics upon its release, such as David Lebin in Rolling Stone who wrote: "Tarkus records the failure of three performers to become creators. Regardless of how fast and how many styles they can play. Emerson, Lake and Palmer will continue turning out mediocrity like Tarkus until they discover what, if anything, it is that they must say on their own and for themselves."[18]

François Couture, in a retrospective review for AllMusic, said that Tarkus is "a very solid album, especially to the ears of prog rock fans – no Greg Lake acoustic ballads, no lengthy jazz interludes". Couture concluded, "More accomplished than the trio's first album, but not quite as polished as Brain Salad Surgery, Tarkus is nevertheless a must-have."[12] Paul Stump's 1997 History of Progressive Rock praised the album's title track but criticized the "enervatingly portentous lyrics" and the traditional form of the solos (beginning and ending on downbeats, using blues voicings). He also said the two comedy songs ("Jeremy Bender" and "Are you Ready Eddie?") "have aged embarrassingly."[19]

Emerson said that Tarkus was one of his favourite albums, "not least because the title track has taken on a life of its own".[9]

In 2015, Sean Murphy of PopMatters ranked Tarkus the 21st best classic progressive rock album of all time.[20]


In 1993, the album was digitally remastered by Joseph M. Palmaccio and released by Victory Music in Europe and Rhino Records in North America. This was followed by two remasters by the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in 1994[21] that are currently out of print.[22]

In August 2012, Tarkus was reissued by Sony Music and released in a 3 CD pack, containing a stereo mix from the Palmaccio master, a stereo mix in the form of an alternate version of the album, and a 5.1 surround sound mix by Steven Wilson. The set also contains previously unreleased tracks recorded during the sessions.[23]

Tarkus was reissued on record as a 12" picture disc by BMG as part of Record Store Day on 12 June 2021.[24]

Track listing[edit]

Original vinyl[edit]

All lyrics are written by Greg Lake.

Side one
  • "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"
Keith Emerson, Greg Lake20:59
Side two
1."Jeremy Bender"Emerson, Lake1:44
2."Bitches Crystal"Emerson, Lake3:58
3."The Only Way (Hymn)"Emerson, Lake3:51
4."Infinite Space (Conclusion)"Emerson, Carl Palmer3:19
5."A Time and a Place"Emerson, Lake, Palmer3:01
6."Are You Ready, Eddy?"Emerson, Lake, Palmer2:13
Total length:18:06
2010 Japan SHM-CD reissue bonus tracks
8."Prelude and Fugue"Friedrich Gulda / Performed by Keith Emerson on piano3:17
Total length:21:23

2012 Edition[edit]

All lyrics are written by Greg Lake (except "Unknown Ballad").

CD 2 – The Alternate Tarkus New 2012 Stereo Mixes
  • "Eruption" (Emerson)
  • "Stones of Years" (Emerson, Lake)
  • "Iconoclast" (Emerson)
  • "Mass" (Emerson, Lake)
  • "Manticore" (Emerson)
  • "Battlefield" (Lake)
  • "Aquatarkus" (Emerson)"
Emerson, Lake20:46
2."Jeremy Bender"Emerson, Lake1:57
3."Bitches Crystal"Emerson, Lake3:59
4."The Only Way (Hymn)"Emerson, Lake3:47
5."Infinite Space (Conclusion)"Emerson, Palmer3:23
6."A Time and a Place"Emerson, Lake, Palmer3:03
7."Are You Ready, Eddy?"Emerson, Lake, Palmer2:12
Bonus tracks
8."Oh, My Father"Lake4:07
9."Unknown Ballad"Gary Margetts/Mike Rowe3:04
10."Mass (Alternate take)"Emerson, Lake4:30


Emerson, Lake & Palmer




Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[36] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[37] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Macan 1997, p. 116.
  2. ^ a b Dome, Malcolm (14 June 2016). "ELP's Tarkus: The Story Behind The Album". Loudersound. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  3. ^ Dome 2011, p. 74
  4. ^ a b Macan 1997, p. 87.
  5. ^ a b c Logan, Nick (20 February 1971). "ELP: So afraid of being thought flash". New Musical Express.
  6. ^ Emerson, Keith (2004). Pictures of an Exhibitionist, John Blake Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-84454-053-7, p. 205.
  7. ^ a b Macan 1997, p. 88.
  8. ^ Dome 2011, p. 76
  9. ^ a b c Dome 2011, p. 77
  10. ^ "Emerson, Lake & Palmer chart positions in the UK". The Official Charts Company. Archived from the original on 9 November 2014.
  11. ^ "RIAA's Gold & Platinum Program searchable database". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  12. ^ a b François Couture. "Tarkus – Emerson, Lake & Palmer". AllMusic Review. AllMusic.
  13. ^ Mettler, Mike (14 December 2016). "ELP Reissue Series: Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Tarkus; Pictures at an Exhibition". soundandvision.com. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  14. ^ Wright, Jeb. "ELP – Emerson Lake & Palmer and Tarkus Deluxe Editions (Razor & Tie)". Classic Rock Revisited. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  15. ^ Haugen, Tom (2019). "The Daily Vault Music Reviews : Tarkus (Deluxe Edition)". dailyvault.com. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  16. ^ Pardo, Pete. "Emerson Lake & Palmer: Tarkus (remastered/remixed)". Sea of Tranquility. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  17. ^ Rock, Classic (5 November 2019). "Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Tarkus – Album of the Week Club review". Loudersound. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  18. ^ Lebin, David (19 August 1971). "Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Tarkus: Music Reviews". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 10 November 2007.
  19. ^ Stump, Paul (1997). The Music's All that Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. Quartet Books Limited. p. 99. ISBN 0-7043-8036-6.
  20. ^ Murphy, Sean (16 November 2015). "The 25 Best Classic Progressive Rock Albums". PopMatters. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  21. ^ "Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab complete Gold CD UltraDisc and UltraDisc II discography".
  22. ^ "Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab album discography".
  23. ^ "Emerson Lake & Palmer – TARKUS [DVD-A]".
  24. ^ "SpecialRelease Record Store Day".
  25. ^ Tarkus (Media notes). Island Records. 1971. ILPS 9155.
  26. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.
  27. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 0254a". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  28. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Tarkus" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  29. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
  30. ^ "Longplay-Chartverfolgung at Musicline" (in German). Musicline.de. Phononet GmbH. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  31. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970–2005 (in Japanese). Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  32. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Tarkus". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  33. ^ "Emerson, Lake & Palmer | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  34. ^ "Emerson, Lake & Palmer Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  35. ^ "Top 100 Album-Jahrescharts" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. 1971. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
  36. ^ Emerson, Keith (11 November 1971). "Tarkus Gold (Pictures of an Exhibitionist)". p. 217. ISBN 9781844540532. Retrieved 29 April 2021. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  37. ^ "American album certifications – Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Tarkus". Recording Industry Association of America.

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]