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Old 01-07-2015, 06:35 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Chapter I: Into the mystic; the Courtship of Progressive Rock

Even for those of us who weren't there, or old enough to appreciate being there at the time if we were, the sixties is acknowledged as one of the pivotal decades of the twentieth century. Long held conventions were being challenged, youth was on the rise and the old order was slowly crumbling. In art, poetry, literature and a rising trend towards what would become known as “mind-expanding” drugs, in sexual relationships and in man (and woman)'s relationship with the Earth, in fashion and fad, in cinemas and theatres, in schools and universities, the entire world was on a collision course. Old stood firm against the tide of young, but knew in its heart it would not be able to hold: age is the downfall of the more mature, and youth's exuberance can push it to undreamt-of heights. So, in the student riots and sit-ins and protests of the sixties, the names of new heroes and heroines coming through --- Mary Quant, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan --- the old guard saw its eventual and inevitable fall, but refused to go down just yet.

Attitudes towards youth by the elders became entrenched in opposition and such buzzwords of the time as “beatniks”, “acid heads” and of course “hippies”. Later, words like “draft-dodgers” would make their way into the vocabulary of both sides, a matter of shame and disgrace for the elders, who had after all done their bit in World War II, so that these idle layabouts could waste their formative years smoking pot and listening to the wrong influences and taking a stand against authority. On the other side of the fence, “draft-dodgers” and “peaceniks” became badges of honour for the young; they hadn't asked for a war in southeast Asia, they had nothing against the Viet Cong: why should they fight and die in another man's war? Their parents may have held fast to certain principles, but that didn't mean they had to. The old guys didn't get it: this was a new era, an age of love and brotherhood and understanding, and war was not on the agenda.

It stood to reason, then, that these “bright young things”, the rising force of youth and the hope for the future would not be content to listen to their parents' music, no more than they shared their outmoded values. They wanted something different, something happening, something now. And if it wasn't available, why then they would create it. How hard could it be? In a kind of reverse echo of the punk movement of the late seventies, everyone suddenly began joining or forming bands, or “groups” as they often preferred to be known. This can be seen in the formation of acts like The Animals, The Birds, Pink Floyd, The Nice, The Moody Blues, Soft Machine, Van der Graaf Generator ... the list goes on. And these bands would speak with their own voice, not that of the establishment. They would challenge the old order, they would bring it down. Not like with punk rock, using anger and aggression and a sense of disenchantment, but with love, understanding, new perceptions and new ideas. These bands would open their minds to the endless possibilities that existed, both in music and the world at large, possibilities their “square” parents (ask your parents. Or grandparents) had closed themselves off from, ignored, refused to see. They would, to quote Jim Morrison, open the doors to perception, and if they needed some help getting there via LSD, marijuana and such, then as the Beatles once wrote, let it be.

But some bands of the sixties were content to play what we would term “normal” rock or pop, with a structured verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus pattern, and to only sing about things like love and girls and maybe cars, and fair play to them. Many of them became huge writing this sort of music and being appreciated for it. But other bands were not happy to be placed in a box, even one of their own devising, and looking at their music notation, or down at their musical instruments, they asked the question that has presaged all of Man's great discoveries: what if?

And so they began experimenting with unconventional song structures. Who says a song can only be three or four minutes long? Here: this one's seventeen! Take that, Government! I don't want to sing about girls and dates: this song's about a dragon's journey of self-awareness, achieved through the use of drugs. In your face, establishment! Guitar, bass, drums? Nah! Let's try a clarinet! A saxophone! A violin! In fact, what are those new machines you invented called again, Mr. Moog? A synth-esiser, eh? I'll have one of them: see what we can do with that! What do you think of me now, family values?

This experimentation of course was not always received with open arms by the audiences, many of whom just “didn't get it”, being too steeped in the traditions of rock and roll or pop music to be able to break through the barrier and reach beyond the boundaries. They probably thought such music only fit for college intelligentsia, dropouts and hippies. And to a degree they were right. Coming from the twin influences of jazz and folk music, via straightahead rock and roll, there was, or would be, a lot to what would become progressive rock music, and it would not be for everyone. Few prog rock bands had hit singles initially (though of course later they would, but still not anywhere as many as the more conventional rock or pop bands) and they didn't really care, concentrating more on developing their themes and ideas into often album-long tracks, sometimes so long they had to be broken up into sections, becoming suites of songs. To a great degree, in form and structure prog rock would mirror classical music, which was often long and convoluted, and went through many changes over the span of the length of a concerto or symphony. Because of this, as well as other factors, prog rock would come to be seen as an elitist form of music, a snobby form only practiced by what we would call today tossers. Real bands didn't play prog rock, that was just wanking around, an accusation Rotten and his army of slavering punks would level at the subgenre ten years later and which, at that point, would be quite true.

But in 1966 and 1967, the dream was being born. Bands such as The Nice, Van der Grraf Generator and The Moody Blues, Zappa and Floyd, a nascent Genesis and Procul Harum were all about to stop dancing to the standard music of the day and begin writing sheet music for a whole new kind of waltz, one which would take its dancers to strange new places, open their minds and allow thier spirits to soar, give birth to the idea of the concept album --- and album listening in general, where people had more or less just picked tracks from them before, or bought singles --- nod back to the progenitors of music and point the way forward to the next progression (!) of the form. It would be a wild and crazy, often drug-fuelled ride, but if you had the imagination, the sense of adventure and the idea that the current music was stale and boring, and the desire to look beyond the obvious, break the rules and write new ones, you were going to find yourself in a wonderful new place.

Generally accepted as the first progressive rock album, or at least the first to point the way, I always find it odd that a surf rock band like The Beach Boys get such credit, but I guess up until then nobody had really thought of messing with reverb, voice tracks and trying out strange new instruments. The use of the theremin would become part of the signature sound of these California boys, and lead to others adopting it, as well as weirder, more unconventional instruments, into their sound. Impressed with The Beatles' Rubber Soul, composer Brian Wilson was amazed that t he album sounded like, well, an album, not just a collection of hit singles destined for the charts, surrounded by a bunch of other sub-standard songs, which was generally how albums were recorded up to that point. Utilising the latest recording techniques in vocal harmonies and instrumentation, Wilson set out to produce a rival to the English band's masterpiece, enthusing to his wife that he was about to write “the greatest rock album ever made”.

The general consensus is that he did just that.

Album title: Pet Sounds
Artiste: The Beach Boys
Nationality: American
Label: CBS Columbia
Year: 1966
Grade: B
Previous Experience of this Artiste: I have heard this album before, but only listened to it briefly. Like everyone else, I've heard (and pretty much loathed) their hit singles.
Landmark value*: Seen as one of, if not the first progressive rock albums, the first to really embrace the multi-layered sound and utilise the then-cutting edge recording techniques, and the first American album to be written as other than a collection of singles and filler tracks. Influenced bands from Pink Floyd to Paul McCartney (the latter of which is ironic, given that Wilson was spurred to make this album after listening to a Beatles record) and from Sonic Youth to Fleet Foxes.
Tracklisting: Wouldn't it be nice/You still believe in me/That's not me/Don't talk (Put your head on my shoulder)/I'm waiting for the day/Let's go away for a while/Sloop John B/God only knows/I know there's an answer/Here today/I just wasn't made for these times/Pet sounds/Caroline, no
Comments: You certainly have to give them points for the most instruments used on an album. Prior to Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells this has to be in the running: I count over thirty separate instruments! Despite that though, there's often not the “wall of sound” you might expect. I've never been able to justify this album's position in the pantheon of progressive rock luminaries, although in fairness I've only listened to it twice now, but people better qualified than me to make that judgement have made it, so who am I to disagree? Still, to me it's just a pop/rock album with a lot of interesting sounds and vocal harmonies, but nothing more than that. I don't see my stance on this ever changing.
Favourite track(s): Wouldn't it be nice, Don't talk (Put your head on my shoulder), I'm waiting for the day, Let's go away for awhile, Sloop John B, God only knows
Least favourite track(s): Here today, Pet Sounds
Overall impression: Don't get me wrong: I don't hate this album. In fact I'm starting to quite enjoy it. I just don't see it as being a precursor to progressive rock. Sorry, can't see it. Decent album, ground breaking maybe but not the grandaddy of prog, not for me. Probably doesn't help that I don't like the Beachies.
(A word on Rating: as I may not particularly like an album but it may be deserving of a higher rating due to its place in prog rock history, I will rate albums both on a Personal and a Legacy Rating, then use the average of those two to get a Final Rating).
Personal Rating:
Legacy Rating:
Final Rating:


* (Landmark Value is exactly what it says it is: how critical, formative or important was this album --- despite my liking it or hating it, or even being ambivalent towards it ---- to the development of progressive rock, and how much did it have an influence on, or drive the subgenre?)
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Old 01-07-2015, 08:57 AM   #12 (permalink)
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As for The Byrds, here's what the Big W has to say:

Upon release, Fifth Dimension was widely regarded as the band's most experimental album to date and is today considered influential in originating the musical genre of psychedelic rock

So if it's important to psych rock then I guess it qualifies. I'll probably only skim over it though.
Just wondering, when people talk about skimming in a musical context, what exactly do they mean?
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Old 01-07-2015, 09:53 AM   #13 (permalink)
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* (Landmark Value is exactly what it says it is: how critical, formative or important was this album --- despite my liking it or hating it, or even being ambivalent towards it ---- to the development of progressive rock, and how much did it have an influence on, or drive the subgenre?)
Then why include it?
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Old 01-07-2015, 11:50 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Then why include it?
I have no idea what your question means, Urban my man.
I explained above that I will be reviewing, or looking at at any rate, all important albums that are considered intrinsic to the genre, but that I may not necessarily like them. If I just did the ones I like, this would not be a history of prog rock, just a history of what I like in prog rock. The Landmark Value is there to denote how important an album is/was to prog rock.

What was your question again?

Oh and Briks, by skimming I mean just lightly checking them out, no deep review or anything; just having a quick glance through and mentioning them. I believe it also means to skip a stone over water, and to illegally siphon off funds for your own personal use...
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Old 01-07-2015, 02:42 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Great intro for the sixties there and I like the way you're doing this, by not only listening to the albums that have been recommended, but also questioning the validity of whether these albums should actually be there.

Most albums that were slightly complex and with a psychedelic angle were all deemed important for the development of prog and I've no real problem with that. But where things get debatable is when an album is experimental through its sound, use of instruments or left-of-field for the mid 1960s and its albums like this that are the most demanding on whether they should be included or not and at a squeeze I'd probably say they should, but not all of course ....

But then you get an album like Pet Sounds which falls into the two areas I've mentioned above but more dominant with the experimental side of things and like you I really can't see it as being of any real intrinsic value to prog. But on the other hand you get Frank Zappa style experimental which is a whole different ball game and I can see the instrinsic value to prog there straight away due to his melange of styles and his progression through his early albums.

I've noticed you're not listening to Absolutely Free, you should as it's a pair with Freak Out! and I'm sure you'll prefer both of those over Lumpy Gravy.

Totally agree with you about the books, a lot of literature on the subject goes round in circles without ever getting to the meat, when doing something like this you need a book that you can quickly relate to, if not it's a waste of time.

Finally of all the albums you've got there, I'd say the Moody Blues album will be the one most relavant to the British prog scene just around the corner.
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Old 01-07-2015, 05:51 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Thanks man. Your seal of approval means a whole lot, as I'm kind of cutting in on your "Pounding Decibels" idea here, though trying to keep it as different to yours as possible.

It will be a little tough to decide what albums to listen to and what ones to discount. I personally would have left out "Pet Sounds" but the weight of public opinion and history is against me, so I had to go with it. Zappa, I don't know. Maybe I'll end up looking at all three, maybe not. I want to make sure not to avoid any albums just due to personal preference, at the same time I don't want to listen to everything just to say I did. I also don't want this to take forever, though it is fun so far anyway.

The book (one of them anyway) was a big disappointment, but it may help later on. I'm hoping the one on Prog Metal will be better, but I won't be looking at that till I guess we hit the 80s or close to that. Glad you're enjoying it this far anyway.
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Old 01-07-2015, 06:45 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Thanks man. Your seal of approval means a whole lot, as I'm kind of cutting in on your "Pounding Decibels" idea here, though trying to keep it as different to yours as possible.
This sounds familiar.
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Old 01-07-2015, 08:05 PM   #18 (permalink)
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I know virtually nothing about the Canterbury Scene, have an abiding hatred for ELP and am not crazy about early Yes, though I've heard little. I doubt I've ever heard any [German] rock and King Crimson remain a mystery to me.
I love Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and early Yes when it comes time to write about them can I be your ghost writer?
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Old 01-07-2015, 08:40 PM   #19 (permalink)
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This sounds familiar.
Can somebody get him out of here? Lure him away with a pair of boobs or something? Go on: get it boy! Go get it!
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Old 01-09-2015, 06:01 AM   #20 (permalink)
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I love Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and early Yes when it comes time to write about them can I be your ghost writer?
Missed this post Neo, sorry.
I won't be inviting guest reviewers, as this is my personal history of prog, but I'd certainly be happy to collaborate with you, brainstorm ideas and get your take on those bands, as they are not ones I am all that familiar with. I will certainly give you credit for any input though.
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