Probably one of the most influential bands to come out of the treasure trove that was the early seventies was a band that was known by the names of its three members: Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
The band was founded in 1970 by keyboardist Keith Emerson, who had just left The Nice. In The Nice, Emerson had been accompanied by a bassist/vocalist and a drummer. For his new band, Emerson decided to use the same format. To fill in the role of bassist/vocalist Emerson recruited Greg Lake, of King Crimson fame. Lake was originally a guitarist but playing guitar in King Crimson alongside Robert Fripp was not an option, so he picked up the bass. Drummer Carl Palmer was enticed away from Atomic Rooster, finalizing the line-up.
In 1971 Emerson, Lake and Palmer released their second album Tarkus, named after the epic track that took up the entire first side of the album. It is considered by many to be ELP's magnum opus and it is for that reason that we've chosen this album to represent ELP in Counting Out Time.
The track Tarkus is divided into seven parts, four of which are instrumentals. It's a song about the futility of conflict, expressed in the context of soldiers and war. The soldier is Tarkus, a machine which looks like a cross between a tank and a swine. The war is the revolution, about which Lake, who wrote the lyrics, says: "The words are about revolution that's gone, that has happened. Where has it got anybody? Nowhere."
The first part, Eruption, is where Tarkus comes into being. The music reflects this, as the track starts with a synthesizer sound which swells slowly and then erupts as Lake and Palmer join in and Emerson switches to the Hammond organ. Later on we hear the Moog synthesizer screaming for the first time. Emerson was in fact a pioneer on this instrument, even at times surprising inventor Dr Moog himself with its possibilities! Emerson was also one of the first musicians to use any synthesizer in a rock band. His Moog solo in Lucky Man (from the debut album Emerson, Lake and Palmer) is legendary. Eruption is full of odd time signatures and it is Lake's solid bass playing, which keeps things together between Emerson's virtuosity and Palmer's energetic drumming.
Stones Of Years is the first vocal part. It introduces Lake's warm voice which gently admonishes Tarkus. Emerson then takes over with the very characteristic 'click' organ (which can also be heard in Deep Purple's Child In Time). Lake then sings the last verses supported by Emerson's Hammond.
All hell breaks loose in Iconoclast as Tarkus takes on his first enemy. Palmer tries hitting all of his drums in rapid succession and manages to make it sound in tune, Lake keeps up effortlessly in the background and Emerson hammers the Hammond. A repetition of the Eruption theme follows and leads into Mass.
Lake's bass comes to the foreground for the first time supported by Emerson on piano. But before long Emerson's organs take over again, getting sounds out of them that no manufacturer probably ever intended! Amidst this carnage an electrical guitar can suddenly be heard.
Then it's battle again in Manticore, one of the more complex parts of the song with some delightful drumming by Palmer. Emerson takes the Hammond to its boundaries again (and probaly even beyond). A short drum solo leads into The Battlefield, the only part of Tarkus for which the music was not written by Emerson but by Lake. It's one of the more special pieces of music ELP has done in the sense that it features a solo on electric guitar. The music breathes a lament on the futilities of war and the grief it causes. Lake's wailing guitar and dramatic voice illustrate this perfectly.
Emerson's Hammond leads us into the final part of Tarkus: Aquatarkus. He takes us through his entire arsenal of instruments again: Moog, Hammond and piano all battle for attention. A march rhythm by Palmer seems to end the song until it erupts into what I consider to be one of the finest endings to a song ever. A gong heralds the beginning, Emerson is back on Hammond and screaming Moog like the beginning of the song. Indeed, a part of Eruption is revisited before the Moog synthesizer majestically brings Tarkus to an end.
The rest of the album can but stand in the shadow of the might of Tarkus, but still contains some very fine work. Jeremy Bender is a more traditional Rock & Roll song, with Emerson stealing the show on piano. Bitches Crystal is quite similar to parts of Tarkus, and features aggressive vocals by Lake. It starts of with very delicate piano but also the Moog turns its head around the corner now and again. Palmer's drumming on this track is energetic as always.
The Only Way (Hymn) is a great piece with Emerson on church organ. Ironically, Lake's lyrics, delivered with his warm and full voice, criticize that very same mother church. A line like 'How can you say God makes you breathe, why did he lose six million jews' can't be taken to mean anything else. The second half of the track is a jazzy affair, Emerson having switched to piano. Palmer has to contain himself and deliver some very delicate drumming. The Only Way flows seamlessly into Infinite Space (Conclusion), which continues the same jazzy theme first explored in the preceding song.
A Time And A Place is a short rock song and the only group composition on the album. It's quite chaotic, with Emerson apparently having acquired a third hand. The song ends with a delightful outburst on the Moog.
The final song on the album is Are You Ready Eddie, a short funny song about engineer Eddie Offord. If Jeremy Bender was a more traditional rock & roll song, this is the archetype of a R&R song, complete with vocal effects (the slight echo), the high tempo, and the staccato piano.
ELP had always been quite a spectacle live. Their shows were packed with visual and special effects. For Tarkus, Emerson and Lake would fire with cannons at each other on stage. At one such occasion one of the roadies had loaded Emerson's cannon with too much gunpowder which resulted in Lake being blown clear off stage!
ELP went one to make two more highly acclaimed studio albums (1972's Trilogy and 1973's Brain Salad Surgery) but after the release of the fantastic live album Welcome Back My Friends... things declined rapidly. There was a brief resurgence with Works Volume One, released in 1977, but by then it was already apparent that there was no real unity within the band anymore. In 1979, after the release of the not very succesful Love Beach, the band died a quiet death, only to resurface again briefly in 1986 and later in the nineties.
Nevertheless Emerson, Lake and Palmer made a lasting impression on the music scene and to this day their influence can still be felt and their music still inspires bands from around the world.