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]
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]
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]
36 PROCOL HARUM — Broken Barricades
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]
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]