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Album: TarkusReleased: 1971
This progressive epic runs 20:42 and takes up the entire first side of the album. The parts are: Eruption, Stone of Years, Iconoclast, Mass, Manticore, Battlefield, Aquatarkus.
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. 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. 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.
, who wrote the lyrics for this track, explains: "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."
The album cover, created by the artist William Neal, shows a depiction of Tarkus. While most EL&P albums were completed long before the cover art was done, in this case, it helped adhere the songs. Lake explains: "The album cover art lent a sort of visual concept to an album which didn't really have a bonding concept at all. Before the album sleeve was conceived the whole thing was just a string of various musical and lyrical concepts weaved together into one continuous arrangement."
Keith Emerson poured through Greek mythology looking for a name for this song, but came up empty. Inspiration struck when the word "Tarkus" popped into his head when the band was driving back from a gig. It conjured up visions of a tank, so the idea developed to make the new mythological creature an armadillo (because of its armor) with tank treads. Emerson says that the word is completely original, and the only thing he's heard close to it is "tukhus" - a Yiddish word for the rear end.
Always a very theatrical band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer at one point shared the stage with a model of the Tarkus creature, which would blast a foamy substance at key moments. This provided a Spinal Tap moment when during a show that Carl Palmer recalls being in Brighton, the creature was aimed in the wrong direction, and the foam went into Emerson's grand piano. "We had to stop the show and on came the roadies with the dustpans and the Hoover to clear it out," Palmer said.