1971 COUNTDOWN: #39 — #35

39  EMERSON LAKE & PALMER  — Tarkus

The twenty-one minute “Tarkus” suite is the best side of vinyl in the EL&P catalogue. Powerful, cohesive, with brilliant playing and a suitably dramatic sci-fi-ish story about warlike robot-animal hybrids, it is one of the pinnacles of progressive music. Co-written by Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, this second album defined both the supergroup trio and the emerging sound of prog rock, yet remains their most individual work. The second side is a mixture of the excellent and the risible, dreadful fillers “Jeremy Bender” and “Are you ready Eddy” being the reason Tarkus isn’t in the top twenty of this 1971 list. Highlight: Side one, obviously, though “Bitches Crystal” on side two is fabulously aggressive. [Released June 1971]

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38  OSIBISA Osibisa

What a thrilling debut this was. A combination of African and West Indian musicians playing an energetic hybrid—joyous, even—of rock, jazz, and world music (though the rather silly term did not exist then). All topped off with one of the most arresting covers of all time by master illustrator Roger Dean. Highlights: “The Dawn”, “Orange”. [Released early 1971]

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37  URIAH HEEP Look At Yourself

Named after the odious character in Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield”, Britain’s heavy prog/rock outfit really found their feet with their third LP (their second in 1971). This era of Uriah Heep was covered in these pages here, so for now we’ll just offer a couple of highlights. Highlights: “July Morning”; “Look At Yourself”. [Released September 1971]

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36  PROCOL HARUM Broken Barricades

I love a die-cut sleeve, but have never discovered an effective way to photograph them

With Gary Brooker’s voice and words by Keith Reid, Procol Harum’s fifth album certainly sounds like the band who rocketed to fame with that 1967 hit single. But the sound was getting rockier, tougher even, mainly due to the guitar style of Robin Trower. Tensions built, and after this excellent album, Trower departed to form his own trio. Yet his final appearance with Procol was celebrated in the strong songs and great playing on Broken Barricades. Thanks to Victim of the Fury for promoting this LP to me; it’s become a favourite of the era. Highlights: “Simple Sister”; “Song for a Dreamer”. [Released July 1971]

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35  COMUS First Utterance

Here is that rarest of albums, a collection that is truly disturbing. 

Formed via art college connections in the late sixties, Comus took their name from a seventeenth century play by Milton about the struggle between purity and depravity. The opening song, ‘Diana’, follows this theme, telling a chilling tale of a woman pursued through ‘steaming woodlands’ by an unnamed character whose ‘darkened blood’ flows with evil intent. Astoundingly, original record company Dawn released this menacing story as a single. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

‘Drip drip’ oozes with violent imagery and suggestions of even darker passions. The music chops and jumps, builds and recedes; a violin cuts swathes through the acoustic guitars while hand percussion splatters underneath. That the simple acoustic instrumentation builds such tension and disquiet is a powerful tribute to Roger Wootton and the band. Flute, bass, guitars, percussion—these are the building blocks, yet the structures that arise from the music are far from commonplace. There is beauty in the darkness, certainly, yet when Wootton’s guttural voice howls ‘I’ll be gentle and not hurt you’, any sane person would run for their life.

The striking cover art—an ink drawing by Roger Wootton—appears to be the title role; a beastly, emaciated creature writhing on the earth. Comus is a creature of darkness who weaves an arcane spell. Descriptors attached to the album include mystical, psychedelic, and acid folk. Depending on your state of mind, that could be thrilling or a really bad trip. Either way, First Utterance is unique. Darklights: “Diana”; “The Prisoner”. [Released January 1971]

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26 comments

  1. It’s prog week! And the one that’s not prog still has a Roger Dean cover.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Because of the huge variety of sounds in this lot, I hadn’t actually thought if it as a ‘prog’ collection, but I think you are correct! They are/were all progressive in their own ways, from Osibisa’s jazz-rock African fusion to Keith Emerson’s keyboard magic. Not to mention the ‘wyrde folk’ of Comus.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I choose Osibisa as the entre from this tasty menu, and very good it was too.
    Now….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Isn’t it a delight? Jazz, African, rock, a touch of Caribbean. Yum!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I saw Robin Trower in concert when he first went solo, great concert. I didn’t know or (more likely) have long forgotten he played with Procol Harum.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s fantastic. Those first few albums are really good (and not at all Procoly!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks to a weird mix up in the early days of iTunes this album art appears in my upload of Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. It’s been 20 years now and it still makes me giggle

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Which one in particular?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The one with the armadillo tank on it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Blonde On Motorised Armadillo.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Totally agree with your Tarkus comments, and their strange use of ‘fillers’. Benny the Bouncer and The Sheriff being other strange examples!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, they have form on the Prog/Music Hall hybrid. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve got four of these five! I believe this is the first such occurrence as I’ve followed you through your countdown years. Feels important somehow…

    I appreciate the mention, especially with regard to a personal favorite. The ELP, Procol, and Uriah I’ve had and enjoyed since youth but I only picked up the Osibisa earlier this year. I do like it enough, although it hasn’t caused me to want to pick up more from the band yet. I’ve read about the Comus on blogs (maybe?) but the only familiar bit is the album cover. Your description makes me want to give it a listen, and what better time than this Samhain weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve referred to (and presented a photo of) the Comus album before. Earlier this year was the last time (I just re-used the photo). Perfect timing for a listen, Vic.
      And high fives all round for that 80% overlap score!

      Like

  8. Some real gems here!
    I love Tarkus but totaly agree about the fillers – I guess they tried to prove they are not so straight-faced as their debut album would suggest and to continue on silly side of some early proto-prog/psychedelic music. The Nice being the obvious example but there were many others (Giles,Giles and Fripp, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, early Soft Machine). And as I like the humouristic aspects of most of thoise mentioned before, the ELP jokes are sadly rather stiff and forced than funny for me. BUT, they don’t spoil the enjoyment of the good parts which fill the rest of the album.
    Osibisa – great and unique band. I realy dig their first two albums. Dean’s covers are a treat.
    Uriah Heep – now you hit my sweat spot with this one 🙂 I love it since I was about three years old. My older brother, who was listening the album all the time, tried to teach me the name of the band (English is not our native language) bur I could barely speak my native tongue then, so my pronunciation was hillarious (it sounded like “Uraefit” and I couldn’t tell the difference between my version and my brother’s 😛
    Procol Harum – I’ve heard it maybe once, many years ago and wasn’t impressed. Time to revisit I guess 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean sweet spot, but sweat spot sounds interesting 😛

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Really enjoyed your responses and reflections, iwarti. Some really good points re the ‘silly’ songs. Of course that music hall tradition has a prominent place in the Beatles story too. I utterly loath ‘When I’m sixty-four’.
      ‘Look At Yourself’ battles it out with ‘Demons and Wizards’ for my Heep affections. I love that your brother’s passion infected you so early!
      As for Procol, I like this one and ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’ too ( which I think I have reviewed, possibly in an ‘Art on your sleeve’ feature).
      Great hearing from you.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Comus is still giving me nightmares on a regular basis. It’s more terrifying than any death/satanic metal album ever. The other records are quite good too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That’s right. You can’t easily convince yourself that Comus is just bad theatre. It’s wonderfully dark.

      Like

  10. Laughing at your “filler” comments on Tarkus. I guess “Are you ready Eddy” will never even quality for an airing on the Deep Tracks channel! But, oh, that side one is great. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. Prog in a box, that one. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, that’s quite a collection! I haven’t heard any of these, but I dig these posts. Cheers!

    Oh, and as for photos of die cuts, mabye slide something flat and a little thick into the sleeve so it pops up? I dunno.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bit like the mystery of Stonehenge, Aaron. Eternal.

      Like

      1. Why did I just have a flash of Spinal Tap? LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  12. ‘Tarkus’ here I come. Eddie and Jeremy await.

    Liked by 1 person

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