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Old 01-12-2006, 12:42 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Prog Education Thread

A Short History Of Progressive Rock

written by Bryan Russell

Progressive rock or prog (As it is commonly known) is a diverse genre of music which can be traced back to the early days of pyschedelic rock and avant garde music, with strong roots from classical music, jazz and other forms of music outside of standard rock n roll music, basiclly a more progressive form of rock music, hence it's name. Prog has many typical characteristics, but rarely are these essential for every prog band...Though styles and forms of progressive rock may vary, the majority of what is considered progressive rock has the following characteristics...

Complex musical arangements, virtuoso musicianship (Though this is not always a requirement, as in the case of Pink Floyd), exotic and precise musical scales, odd time signatures, alternate tunings, prominent use of instruments not common in rock music, solo passages for almost every instrument, unusual vocal styles and complex harmonies, alternatives to the "verse-chorus-verse" format, lengthy compositions and epics with multiple parts, which can sometimes be considered songs in their own right (The Yes hit "Soon" was released as a single even though it was originaly a final section of "The Gates of Delirium") and sometimes these songs can take up a whole album side or in some cases be split into seperate tracks (Pink Floyds "Shine On You Crazy Diamond parts 1 & 2"), obscure and sometimes fantastical lyrics, with complex and often intricate narratives and themes dealing with issues ranging from war, religion, history, literature, human mentality, spirituality and even science fiction and fantasy, concept albums (Sometimes refered to as "Rock Opera") that are often meant to showcase these narratives, linking of music with visual art with the use of surreal album covers and elaberate stage shows, imagery that can sometimes be used to illustrate the stories and themes that are discribed in the music and great dynamic range going from quiet to loud often in the same piece of music. Other common conventions in progressive rock include the inclusions of classical pieces in the music, multi instrumentalism and the use of strange sound effects and samples.

Progressive rock in it's earliest form arose in the 60s around the same time as pyschedelic rock, both genres came from the same era and musical movements at the time, though the psychedelic movement began in both England and America around the same time (Liverpool and San Fransisco were the key locations of the growing movement), while the progressive rock movement was primarly in England and to a lesser extent, other regions of Europe. Early pyschedelic bands included Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Love, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Spirit, United Staes Of America, Iron Butterfly and Country Joe & The Fish from the U.S.A. and Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Animals, Small Faces, and The Zombies from the UK....The earliest progressive rock bands included The Nice, The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, Vanilla Fudge, The Arthur Brown Band and Giles, Giles and Fripp...Some bands like Vanilla Fudge, The Arthur Brown Band and Pink Floyd are often labeled as progressive rock bands as well as psychedelic...Some primary influences on progressive rock included The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Who for their progressive elements and innovations of the concept album, as well as Deep Purple for their use of classical scales and their grand approach....Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention are also considered a very important influence on progressive rock, since they helped popularize many of the characteristics described above.

Prog at first was labeled as a sub-genre to pyschedelic rock, but eventualy outlived the pyschedelic era of the 60s and took on a life of it's own, it was rarely called "progressive rock" at the time but instead was often refered to as "art rock" until the 70s when progressive rock became the official term and art rock became more of a loose term. Unlike pyschedelic rock which already grew popular in America by the mid 60s launching it's own movement in that region, progressive rock didn't gain much popularity in the states until the early 70s, in the early stage, both genres were quite similar, both featured longer songs, unusual approachs to melody and strange lyrics. Only prog was more complex and precise, less acessible and with more influence from jazz and classical music, plus pychedelic rock still relied on catchy hooks and melodies which is one reason psychedelic rock had a wider appeal than prog and was much more mainstream, prog remained behind the spotlight until the 70s. Psychedelic rock was eventualy proven to be little more than a fad as it died out near the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, progressive rock however was just beginning to spread, some of the most important progressive rock bands formed near the end of the 60s, primarly between 68 and 69, these bands included King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and Jethro Tull. Other important bands such as Camel, Gentle Giant and ELP came into the scene later on in the early and mid 70s...Soon north american acts such as Rush became involved. Progressive rocks mainstream popularity began with King Crimson and their debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King, their song 21st Century Schizoid Man became a hit on some british radio stations at that time, soon other bands began taking suit, and bands like Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis and Pink Floyd found overwhelming popularity in the 70s. Progressive rock eventualy became quite popular in the US, and soon more obscure bands around Europe earned modest popularity, such as Focus, Magma and Goblin. Around 1973, prog had become huge worldwide, and was widely accepted as the dominant sub-genre in rock (Remember, this was before Metal and Punk became popular) throughout most of the 70s, however, as the 70s grew closer to it's end, many of the genres superior creative forces were finding themselves in career crossroads, short on material and with very few directions left to take, progressive rock was both losing popularity and was getting a lot of negative feedback from critics as well as the music going public, many of the strongest criticisms these bands received included the accusations that they were pretentious, overblown, self indulgent and pompous, the final blow to prog however, came in the form of the punk rock movement, which was more or less a reaction to prog which most punk bands dispised.

Punk rock was overall the exact opposite of progressive rock... The complex musical arangements replaced with basic and more traditional songs, the long compositions replaced with songs that are less than 2 minutes, the technical and precise musicianship replaced with a primitave and often agressive playing style and the complex narratives replaced with more coherent lyrics. Punk became a growing threat, and eventualy prog was dethroned and punk became the reigning force in rock. Prog almost completely disapeared from the public spotlight as a result. However, prog never died completely, there was somewhat of a prog revival in the 80s thanks to bands like Marillon and IQ, veteran bands like Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Rush and Genesis regained some popularity in the 80s by introducing elements of pop, new wave and worldbeat into their music to gain more mainstream appeal. The 90s saw a new prog movement with bands like Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings, Ozric Tentacles and Porcupine Tree gaining modest popularity. And prog is still very active and popular today, though the days of media exposure and mainstream appeal it once had in the 70s is long gone. Still, many bands that are considered progressive have gotten quite popular, primarly Coheed and Cambria, The Mars Volta, Sigur Ros and Primus. If the good luck streak continues, prog may very well see a great rivival and even the kind of mainstream popularity it once had in the 70s, but only time will tell.

As noted since the beginning of this thread, prog is a very diverse genre, and what is and what isn't prog can often become the matter of debate. Bands like Tool, Radiohead and Queen are considered prog by some, while many others disagree. If you have a clear understanding of progressive rock and what it's all about, wheither or not these bands qualify as prog is really up to you. For example, King Crimson being prog is accepted as factual, Queen being progressive rock is accepted as subjective opinion...This is what seperates bands that are prog from bands that could be prog.

The sub-genres will be listed in the next 2 posts since i can't list them here due to the 10000 character limit.
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