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Progressive rock (shortened to prog rock or prog) is an ambitious, eclectic, and often grandiose style of rock music which arose in the late 1960s, reached the peak of its popularity in the 1970s, and continues as a musical form to this day. Progressive rock artists sought to move away from the limitations of popular rock and pop music formats, and "progress" rock to the point that it could achieve new forms, often alluding to the sophistication of jazz or classical music. Progressive rock began in England and remained largely a European movement, although there are a few notable American and Canadian progressive rock bands. Over the years various sub-genres of progressive rock have emerged, such as symphonic rock, math rock, space rock and progressive metal. Another term, art rock, has occasionally been used interchangeably with "progressive rock," although it is even broader and less well defined, and may denote bands with no connection to prog rock (see article).

It is musical complexity, as well as the virtuosity of the musicians, which most distinguishes progressive rock. Other forms of rock may have extremely talented musicians, but they work mostly in simple meters, song structures, and harmonies. In the late 1970s, due to punk rock ideology and the existence of an increasing number of commercial "progressive rock" bands seen to be watered down or uncreative, the genre attracted criticism. By the 1980s progressive rock was no longer hailed as radical and cutting edge - an image which had been one reason for its success in the first place. New sub-genres like Rock in Opposition (RIO) and avant-progressive rock arose as an alternative to the so-called "dinosaur" bands topping the charts. Today progressive rock fans remain divided roughly between those who value the instrumental skills and ambitious concept albums typifying early progressive bands (as well as more recent bands following that style), and those who value a radical spirit of experimentation above technical complexity and a recognizably "prog" sound. Many listeners in the latter category disavow the idea of prog rock altogether, but the style continues to appeal to a cult of listeners, and its early pioneers remain widely popular.

The major acts that defined the genre in the 1970s are Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rush, Gentle Giant and King Crimson. Progressive rock is difficult to define in a single conclusive way as these bands do not sound especially alike. Outspoken King Crimson leader Robert Fripp has voiced his disdain for the term. Indeed, in some cases the bands themselves or well-known critics would question whether one or another of these bands were really progressive rock bands at all. (This article shall assume that they are, or at least, that they were in the 1970s). There is also debate on whether the musical output of artists and bands as varied as Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, Phish, and Tool belongs to the genre.

Contents

Characteristics of progressive rock

King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, released in October of 1969, is often cited as the first progressive rock work. It contained many of the elements that would mark the genre in the years to come: lengthy and articulated songs, odd time signatures, experimental use of instruments, and obscure album covers. King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, released in October of 1969, is often cited as the first progressive rock work. It contained many of the elements that would mark the genre in the years to come: lengthy and articulated songs, odd time signatures, experimental use of instruments, and obscure album covers.

There is probably no single element that is shared by all music that has been considered to be progressive rock. Still, there are certainly noticeable trends; these common, though not universal, features are:

  • Long compositions, sometimes running over 20 minutes, with intricate melodies and harmonies. These are often described as epics and are the genre's clearest nod to classical music. A very early example (perhaps the first multi-part suite to appear in prog rock) is In Held Twas In I by Procol Harum, clocking in at 17:30. Classic examples include Pink Floyd's 23-minute Echoes, Genesis' 23-minute Supper's Ready, Jethro Tull's 44 minute "Thick As a Brick", and Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, a double-album that contains only four songs. More recent examples include the 33-minute Cassandra Gemini by The Mars Volta and the 42-minute Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence by Dream Theater.
  • Related to and overlapping with these lengthy compositions, many progressive rock songs are made up of shorter parts (often, but not always, explicitly called out on the track list of the album on which they appear) that in some cases could be songs in their own right. Often, pieces are divided into movements in the manner of classical suites. For example, Yes' Close to the Edge is divided into four parts, Rush's 2112 into seven, Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond into nine. Yes' single Soon is actually a five-minute excerpt from The Gates of Delirium, which is over 20 minutes long; similarly, parts of Jethro Tull's aforementioned Thick as a Brick have appeared as songs in their own right on various compilations.
  • Lyrics that convey intricate and sometimes impenetrable narratives, covering such themes as science fiction, fantasy, history, religion, war, madness, and literature. It is relatively rare for progressive rock songs to be about love or sex, and practically unheard-of for such songs to concern other pop staples such as dancing or cars.
    • Most progressive rock bands have also avoided direct political commentary, preferring to shade their views in fictional or allegorical settings — for example, Genesis' album Selling England by the Pound is tied together by a theme of commercialism versus naturalism. (A number of notable exceptions exist, though most postdate progressive rock's commercial heyday.)
  • Concept albums, in which a theme or storyline is explored throughout an entire album or series of albums, sometimes in a manner similar to a film or a play, often called "rock operas " (a term popularized by The Who, though they are not generally considered a progressive rock act). In the days of vinyl, concept albums were often two-record sets with strikingly designed gatefold sleeves. Famous examples include The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, and the series of albums by Pink Floyd, starting with The Dark Side of the Moon. More recent examples include Operation: Mindcrime by Queensrÿche and Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater.
    • Some themes of progressive concept albums include: the story of a mechanical-organic chimaera, in the first half of Emerson Lake & Palmer's Tarkus; the symbolic story of two planets where light and darkness alternates, in Le Orme's Felona e Sorona; the satyrical and social-critic poem by a fake little genius, in Jethro Tull's Thick As a Brick; the visionary and mythological deeds of a Puerto Rico migrant, in Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; the adaptation of Nietzsche's Zarathustra, in Museo Rosenbach's LP with the same name, and of Darwin's The Origin of Species in Banco del Mutuo Soccorso's Darwin.
  • Prominent use of instruments unusual in rock music, including electronic instrumentation, as well as unusual vocal styles. Perhaps the most famous example of such instrumentation is the extensive use of the flute by Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson. Keyboard instruments including the synthesizer, organ, piano, and Mellotron are very common in progressive rock, much less so (though by no means unheard-of) in other rock genres. Other examples include the use of nonwestern instruments, particularly ethnic percussion. Gentle Giant are the progressive rock band best known for their vocal style, though many progressive rock singers such as Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator take highly unusual approaches as well.
    • Related to this is the prominence of multi-instrumentalists such as Mike Oldfield, Ian Anderson, and Neal Morse.
    • Perhaps surprisingly, in the progressive heyday, the use of orchestras and choirs was quite rare among the best-known progressive rock bands; the most famous examples from the late 60s and early 1970s are probably the title suite from Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother, The Nice's Five Bridges Suite and Yes' second album Time and a Word, all of which predate those bands' most successful, and arguably most progressive, period. More usually, the aforementioned Mellotron was used to simulate strings or a choir. Less well-known bands such as Renaissance did make extensive use of an actual orchestra. Such instrumental choices, particularly the use of orchestras, have become much more common in recent progressive rock.
  • Use of unusual time signatures, rhythmic techniques, scales, or tunings. Many pieces use multiple time signatures and/or tempi, sometimes concurrently (King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet", for example, contains passages in which some band members play in 7/8 and others in 4/4 to create an "off-balance" effect).
  • An extremely wide dynamic range, with very quiet and very loud passages often occurring in the same piece of music. Use of compression to reduce this effect is much less common than in other forms of rock music. This is characteristic of music that is meant to be listened to relatively closely and for its own sake, as opposed to relatively casually or as background noise (as are several of the features on this list, in fact).
  • Solo passages for virtually every instrument. This contributed to the fame of such performers as guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardists Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, and drummer Neil Peart.
  • Inclusion of classical pieces on albums. For example, Emerson, Lake and Palmer have performed arrangements of pieces by Copland, Bartók, Moussorgsky and others, and often feature quotes from J. S. Bach in lead breaks. Sometimes these pieces are significantly reinterpreted; Jethro Tull recorded a version of a Bourée by Bach in which they turned the piece into a "sleazy jazzy night-club song" (in Ian Anderson's own words).
  • An aesthetic linking the music with visual art, a trend started by The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and enthusiastically embraced during the prog heyday. Some bands became as well-known for the art direction of their albums as for their sound, with the "look" integrated into the band's overall musical identity. This led to fame for particular artists and design studios, most notably Roger Dean for his work with Yes, and Storm Thorgerson and his studio Hipgnosis for their work with Pink Floyd and others. H.R. Giger's painting for Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery is one of the most famous album sleeves ever produced, although it was censored to remove a phallus. By way of contrast, Charisma Records allowed Paul Whitehead to produce evocative gatefold album covers and sleeves for Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator without interference from the record label.
  • The use of sound effects in compositions, otherwise known as Musique concrète. This is a particular trademark of Pink Floyd with examples including the entirety of "Speak to Me", the opening track from Dark Side of the Moon, but other bands did this too; for example, sounds of warfare can be heard throughout Jethro Tull's single "Warchild". The Mars Volta make heavy use of ambient noise on their album Frances the Mute.
  • Exchanging of members. Though not nearly to the degree of jazz artists, there is a tendency for members of progressive rock groups to work between bands and create side projects. For instance, Jon Anderson of Yes sang on a King Crimson album, and Robert Fripp of King Crimson played on two Van der Graaf Generator albums. Drummer Bill Bruford has worked with Yes, Genesis (very briefly), King Crimson, prog supergroup UK, and many other projects. In the 1990s, a touring version of Yes that included almost everyone who had ever been a member included two full lineups who played in various combinations "in the round" during concerts. More recently, Dream Theater side projects have come to outnumber the band's own albums, involving nearly every current and former member of the band working with a bewildering variety of members of other recent prog bands.

History of progressive rock

Precursors

Progressive rock was born from a variety of musical influences in the late 1960s. The later Beatles and many psychedelic bands began to combine traditional rock music with instruments from classical and Eastern music. An important precursor, Beck's Bolero, composed by then-Yardbirds Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in 1966, is a brief reworking of Maurice Ravel's "Boléro". Psychedelic rock continued this experimental trend and began to compose very long pieces, although usually without any carefully thought-out structure (for example, Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" or "1983...(A Merman Should I Turn to Be)" by Jimi Hendrix).

Bands such as The Nice and the Moody Blues began deliberately combining rock music with classical music, producing longer pieces with deliberate structures. German electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream introduced a variety of synthesisers, tape effects, and other unusual sounds in their compositions, usually in purely instrumental albums. By the mid- to late-'60s, The Who had also created concept albums and rock operas, as well as long live rock song performances — although those were often in the more blues-based improvisational style also featured by contemporaries Cream and Led Zeppelin.

All these bands are sometimes considered "early progressive," or as part of a transitional genre between psychedelic and progressive, sometimes referred to as proto-prog.

First progressive rock acts

Key early progressive rock bands included The Nice and Soft Machine and the roots of the genre can be traced back to the mid-sixties. However, King Crimson's appearance in February 1969 is often seen as a pivotal moment. King Crimson were quickly followed by other English progressive rock bands, including Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP), and Jethro Tull. It is worth noting that, aside from ELP, these bands began their careers before King Crimson, and changed their musical styles considerably following the release of In the Court of the Crimson King. As for ELP, they inherited their singer and bassist, Greg Lake, from the original King Crimson lineup.

Progressive rock also gained momentum when many rock fans grew disillusioned with the "Peace and Love" movement. Progressive rock often distanced itself from the "smiles and sunshine" of 1960s pop music and moved towards darker and sometimes more violent themes. For example, Genesis' Trespass includes "The Knife", a song about a violent demagogue, and "Stagnation", a song about a survivor of a nuclear attack. Genesis labelmates, Van der Graaf Generator, often took an existentialist approach that bordered on nihilism, even in album titles, such as Godbluff.

Progressive rock was especially popular in continental Europe. Indeed, progressive rock was the first form of rock that actually captivated countries such as Italy and France. This era saw a great number of European progressive rock bands, most notably Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), Area and the aforementioned Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme from Italy, and Ange and Magma from France. Of these bands, only PFM was significantly successful in the English-speaking world. Germany also had a significant progressive movement, often referred to as Krautrock. The Italian progressive rock has been considered somehow a case of its own (sometimes cited as a separated genre, as "Italian symphonic rock"): although most of the bands scored appalling success even in their home country (often releasing only one LP), today CDs of otherwise unknown groups like Museo Rosenbach, Osanna, Il Balletto di Bronzo, Semiramis etc., along with the more renowned ones, are increasingly sought by fans as true classics of the genre, and also attracting the interests of higher musical critics and universities.

A strong element of avant-garde and counter-culture has long been associated with a great deal of progressive rock. In the 70's, Chris Cutler of Henry Cow formed a loose collective of artists referred to as Rock in Opposition or RIO, whose purpose was essentially to make a statement against the music industry. The original members included such diverse groups as Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna, Univers Zero, Etron Fou Leloublan, Stormy Six, and later Art Zoyd, Art Bears, and Aqsak Maboul. The Rock in Opposition movement was short lived, but the artists came to be recognized as some of the originators of Avant-progressive rock. Dark melodies, angular progressions, dissonance, free-form playing, and a disregard for conventional structure are all elements that have been used to describe these artists.

Rise and fall

Fans and music historians have a variety of ways to categorize the flavors of 1970s progressive rock. The Canterbury scene can be considered a sub-genre of progressive rock, more oriented towards Jazz rock, or simply another collection of true progressive rock bands. Other bands took the genre in a more commercial direction. These bands, including Renaissance, Queen and Electric Light Orchestra, are sometimes classified as "progressive rock", "commercial rock", or "symphonic pop." Over time, Led Zeppelin and Supertramp, among others, also incorporated more unusual instrumental elements, odd time signatures, and long compositions into their work. In a similar "prog pop" vein was Manfred Mann's Earthband. A feature of The Earthband were virtuoso Minimoog solos by Mann and they were considered a top class prog act which was surprising given Manfred Mann's more well known 60's heritage.

Progressive rock's popularity peaked in the mid-1970s, when prog artists regularly topped readers' votes in mainstream popular music magazines in England and America. By this time, several New World progressive rock bands had been formed. Kansas, which had actually existed in one form or another since 1971, became one of the most commercially successful of all progressive rock bands. Toronto's Rush were equally successful, with a string of hit albums extending from the mid-1970s to the present (though little of their recent work falls into the progressive rock category). Less commercially successful, but at least as influential as either band, were the Dixie Dregs, from Georgia (argurably more of a fusion band).

Yes performing in 1977. Yes performing in 1977.

With the advent of punk rock in the late 1970s, popular and critical opinion in England and America moved toward a simpler and more aggressive style of rock, with progressive rock increasingly dismissed as pretentious and overblown. This attitude has remained until the present day, though it began to diminish since about 2004.

1980s revival

The early 1980s saw something of a revival of the genre, led by innovative artists such as Marillion, IQ, Twelfth Night , Pendragon, Galahad, Pallas, and Saga. Groups that arose during this time are sometimes termed neo-progressive or neo-prog (also referred to as the New Wave Of British Prog Rock). Bands of this style were influenced by '70s progressive rock groups like Genesis, Yes, and Camel, but incorporated some elements that were reflective of the New Wave and other rock elements found in the 80s. The digital synthesiser became a prominent instrument in the style. Neo-prog continued to remain viable into the '90s and beyond with bands like Arena, Jadis, Collage, and Iluvatar. Their sound was generally similar in style and sound to neo-prog pioneers like Marillion and IQ, which differentiated them from the emerging Third Wave movement in the 1990s.

Some progressive rock stalwarts changed musical direction, simplifying their music, making it more commercially viable. In 1982, the much anticipated supergroup Asia, composed of Steve Howe (Yes), Carl Palmer (ELP), John Wetton (King Crimson), and Geoff Downes (Yes), surprised (and disappointed) with their pop-oriented debut album. Top 5 single "Heat of the Moment" rotated heavily on MTV for years, while the first Asia album established a sales record for 1982. This demonstrated a market for more commercialized British progressive rock -- incidentally, the same style purveyed by North American Top-40 stalwarts such as Styx and Journey for several years.

Other British bands followed Asia's lucrative example. In 1983, Genesis achieved some international success with "Mama", a song with heavy emphasis on a drum machine riff. This signalled a very commercial direction during the 1980s. In 1984, Yes also had a surprise comeback with 90125, featuring their only number one (US) single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Written by guitarist Trevor Rabin prior to joining Yes, "Owner" was accessible enough to be played at discos, and more recently has been remixed into a trance single. Often sampled by hip-hop artists, "Owner" also incorporated contemporary electronic effects, courtesy of producer/ex-member Trevor Horn. Likewise, Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987 was a departure from their traditional extended play concept albums, featuring much shorter songs and an all together much more electronic sound.

Many progressive rock fans were unhappy with the direction taken by these bands, but others simply accepted the changes and enjoyed the music. Yes, for instance, enjoyed a brief renaissance during the 1980s with a mixture of old and new fans. Moreover, other progressive rock bands like Rush arguably released some of their best material during the early and mid-1980s, due to a merge of new wave and early progressive sounds.

Third wave and prog metal

The progressive rock genre enjoyed another revival in the 1990s. A notable kickoff to this revival were a trio of Swedish bands Änglagård, Anekdoten and Landberk in 1992-1993. Later came the so-called "Third Wave", spearheaded by such bands as Sweden's The Flower Kings, the UK's Porcupine Tree, Italy's Finisterre and Deus Ex Machina, and Spock's Beard, Echolyn and Glass Hammer from the United States. Arjen Anthony Lucassen with the backing of an array of talent from the progressive rock genre, produced a series of innovative concept albums. While not necessarily sounding alike, many of the Third Wave bands had very strong ties musically to the 1970s progressive rock acts, often to the point of sounding 'retro' in nature.

One of the most commercial bands of the alternative rock movement, The Smashing Pumpkins, incorporated progressive rock into their unique, eclectic style, going so far as to release two albums dealing with the same concept, and Seattle's Soundgarden helped bridge the gap between progressive rock and the Grunge movement. Phish would often be referenced in their early albums as a technical example of progressive rock due to their unique sound and the incorporation of many elements considered to be "characteristic" of progressive rock. Their 1988 release Junta is often seen as a 1980s progressive rock landmark.

In recent years, one of the more commercially viable categories of prog has been progressive metal, which mixes some of the common elements associated with progressive rock (lengthy compositions, concept albums, virtuosity) with the power and attitude associated with metal. One distinguishing characteristic is the prominence of a keyboard instrument to a music (metal) that is normally fairly guitar dominant. Several of the leading bands in the prog-metal genre (Dream Theater (U.S.), Ayreon (Netherlands), Opeth (Sweden), and Fates Warning (U.S.)) cite pioneer progressive hard-rockers Rush as a prime influence, although their music shows large influences from bands such as Black Sabbath or Deep Purple as well. Tool have cited pioneers King Crimson as an influence on their work. King Crimson opened for Tool on their 2002 tour, and expressed admiration for Tool while denying the "prog" label [1].

Meanwhile, other heavy metal bands not generally considered prog-metal, such as System of a Down have nevertheless incorporated prog-influenced elements like bizarre shifts in time signatures and tempo in their music. In recent years, a number of heavily classical-influenced goth metal bands have emerged in Europe, most notably Finland's Nightwish. Though they probably do not think of themselves as progressive metal bands, fans of the genre often consider them to be such and indeed, several could claim at least as many of the "characteristics of Progressive Rock" listed above as bands like Dream Theater.

It should be noted that the term "progressive" in the early 1970s had been coined to emphasize the newness of these bands, but by the 1980s the term had become the name of a specific musical style. As a result, bands such as King Crimson which continued to update their sound were not always called "progressive", while some newer self-described "prog" bands purchased vintage mellotrons in order to recreate the sound of early 1970s prog. Fans and hostile critics alike had established "progressive rock" as the permanent name of this genre, and so the connection to the usual meaning of "progressive" became irrelevant.

Influences

The work of contemporary artists such as Ween, post-rock bands like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and alternative or new prog groups like Radiohead and Muse could be said to incorporate some of the elements of progressive rock, sometimes combined with the aesthetic sensibilities of punk rock. A better example of a contemporary progressive band however is probably The Mars Volta, who are notable for intentionally fusing punk with progressive rock, two elements once polar opposites. The cult English band Cardiacs has specialised since 1980 in a kind of progressive punk sound which has influenced a slew of other bands who are occasionally described (with tongue-in-cheek) as pronk acts. Among the more experimental and avant garde musicians, the Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu publicly cites progressive rock bands as a prime influence on his work, while Chicago's indie-rock band The Fiery Furnaces could also be considered progressive, blending electronic and orchestrated bits into their craft, while also expanding on The Who's mini rock-opera ethic.

There are also a number of contemporary prog bands, such as Mostly Autumn that combine Celtic, and sometimes pagan, influences with earlier prog rock styles. Other bands of note incorporating progressive rock into their sound include The Mars Volta, Umphrey's McGee, Porcupine Tree, Dredg, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Kayo Dot, and Opeth.

Progressive Rock Festivals

Renewed interest in progressive rock in the 90s eventually led to the beginnings of musical events and festivals that centered around progressive rock acts. The first ProgFest was held on May 29th, 1993, in UCLA's Royce Hall and featured Sweden's Anglagard, England's IQ, Quill, and Citadel. Interest in the festival was large enough for others in the U.S.A. to start similar events. ProgDay, held at Storybook Farm near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, first emerged during Labor Day weekend in 1995 and is planning its 12th festival in 2006.

The most successful of these festivals to date is NEARfest, which held its first event on June 26th & 27th, 1999 in Bethlehem, PA to approximately 400 fans. With a diverse lineup and an ability to get big name talent, the festival eventually grew in popularity to fill a 1,000 seat venue, and later relocated to Trenton, NJ in 2002 to a venue which seated over 1,850. The festival relocated back to Bethlehem, PA in 2004 and is still active.

Other current festivals of note include Rosfest in Phoenixville, PA, Baja Prog in Mexicali, Mexico, CalProg in Whittier, CA, Prog In The Park in Rochester, NY, Gouveia Art Rock in Portugal and Rio Art Rock Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

See also

External links

Reviews

Further reading

  • Lucky, Jerry. The Progressive Rock Files Burlington, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing, Inc (1998), 304 pages, ISBN 1896522106 (paperback). Gives an overview of progressive rock's history as well as histories of the major and underground bands in the genre.
  • Macan, Edward. Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1997), 290 pages, ISBN 00195098870 (hardcover), ISBN 00195098889 (paperback). Analyzes progressive rock using classical musicology and also sociology.
  • Martin, Bill. Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock. Peru, Ill.: Carus Publishing Company (1998), 356 pages, ISBN 081269368X (paperback). An enthusiastic analysis of progressive rock, intermixed with the author's Marxist political views.
  • Stump, Paul. The Music's All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. London: Quartet Books Limited (1997), 384 pages, ISBN 0704380366 (paperback). Smart telling of the history of progressive rock focusing on English bands with some discussion of American and European groups. Takes you from the beginning to the early 1990s.
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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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