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.
Suggestion credit: Victor - Mexico city, Mexico
Greg Lake, 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 ELP 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.
In our interview with Carl Palmer, he said: "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.'
The music in 'Tarkus' was very, very simple. It was a 10/8 rhythm, which I played to Keith, and I said, 'We could count this in 5/4, this is where the accents are.' He wrote, then, a topline that went wherever the accents were, and we had the melody. This was a fantastic piece of music, unbelievable.
All that was wrong with 'Tarkus' was it probably wasn't as mature as a concept lyrically as what it should have been. It was just a group of songs nailed together, but the actual music itself was outstanding. It just didn't have the political overtones that something like Pink Floyd had with The Wall. It wasn't that in-depth. But the music was superior, was absolutely fantastic. We just never really carried it through far enough intellectually.
So great album, great, great music, just didn't cap it off completely. But very proud of it."
Laurence from LondonI was at that gig in Brighton when the little polystyrene balls that shot out of one of the guns of the Tarkus went directly into the top of the grand piano and they had to stop the show to vacuum the piano. Pretty sure it was November 1972. I was 16 at the time, had left home and was penniless, and used to hang around at the stage door (of the Brighton Dome) when there were bands on always looking for a way to get in. On this particular night the piano tuner turned up at the door and as the doorman checked the list for his details I slipped in behind him and said I was the drum tuner, carrying on walking in backstage without looking back. I think I managed to confuse him long enough as no one chased me down. (Carl Palmer was probably unaware of my presence and potential services that night!) A friend that also came to the concert who I met later at the front collected up some of the polystyrene balls shot from the Tarkus, filled his pocket with them asking anyone he met to put their hands in his pockets - (actually it was quite an interesting experience!) There is more to this story but it just gets weirder, the early 70's in Brighton were like that, so I'll leave it at that.
Stephanie from Wigtown, United KingdomWilliam Neal an artist now in Wigtown Scotalnd, www.williamneal.co.uk, did the Tarkus album cover. He has done a limited edition CD "Marginal Movement" introduced by Keith Emerson.
Milton from Sao Paulo, BrazilWow! That guy is a monster of a keyboardist! Terrific!
Rick from Denver, CoSavage , barbaric in spots...perfect for a dark frowning night as the leaves of sorrow turn thier face , scattered on the ashes of disgrace....Also I am an accomplished bassist of 30 years standing , and this song takes real work to master Whew !
Ryan from Marion, IaThe story is pretty dumb, but the music is awesome. A defining song of not just ELP but the prog rock genre.
Lester from New York City, NyThis is a great piece of music, and Greg Lake's vocals are excellent.
Ricky from Ohswken, CanadaFitting snare drum section in this song.
Alex from Fort Mill, ScTarkus is the name of the tank like armadillo on the cover of the album, the song in fact covers Tarkus's life: birth in a volcano "Eruption", to his fight with a manticore, leaving the ruins of the battlefield, and transforming to a aquatic version of himself after loosing the fight. This is probably ELP's best song, Greg Lake has an awesome guitar solo. Too bad Hendrix died before joining ELP, otherwise I could honestly say this would be the most talented band of the 70s.
John from Guildford, EnglandThe piece was inspired by a drum pattern (in 10/8 time!) by Carl Palmer, though he is not credited as a composer.