Album of the Day: Emerson, Lake & Palmer (6/14/71)

Not just the first supergroup in progressive rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (aka ELP) was also the earliest prog-rock band to truly master the heady mix of classical, hard rock and pop music that became a significant and commercially viable force in the 70s. Formed in very late 1969, the trio issued their eponymous debut LP in 1970 and followed with the prog-rock seminal Tarkus on June 14, 1971.

Keyboardist Keith Emerson and bassist Greg Lake met in 1969 while on tour with The Nice and King Crimson, their respective artsy hard rock bands of the time. Realizing the opportunity to form a new venture and deciding on a trio, they convinced drummer Carl Palmer to jump over from his group Atomic Rooster. (There is much truth to the rumor that they also courted Jimi Hendrix to join them and form “HELP”, but Hendrix declined and was dead a few months later, anyway). With the super-trio in place, ELP set about crafting their signature organ-dominated, pop-goes-cathedral sound for the self-titled first LP. For album #2, Tarkus, the band expanded the theme, gloomy at times and explosive at others, sharing compositions and instrumentation in a mostly glorious, thundering cannonade of early but now classic progressive rock.

Tarkus features the epic, 21 minute conceptual title track that consumed Side 1 of the original LP and taught everyone that such self-centered indulgences were acceptable (but only when they were credible and listenable!). On Side 2, ELP bookends a Bach-based hymn (“The Only Way”) and three more spirited rockers (“Bitches Crystal,” “Infinite Space (Conclusion)” and “A Time And A Place”) with two curious but acceptable matings of countrified rock ‘n’ roll with Emerson’s classical-turned-dancehall piano, “Jeremy Bender” and “Are You Ready, Eddy?” The whole is as good as the sum, although “Tarkus” the composition is the best of the album.

The album climbed as far as #9 in North America and opened the door for a broad range of successful 70s art/prog/avant-garde rockers, from Ambrosia to early Moody Blues to Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Yes (ELP’s chief competitors in the mid70s). My Top 25 ELP tracks will be up on DrRock.com shortly, and Tarkus is available as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon and as iPod downloads on iTunes.

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