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Old 01-09-2015, 10:34 AM   #21 (permalink)
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If the Beach Boys were not really the sort of band you would generally expect to see associated with the term progressive rock, Frank Zappa certainly is. A unique, often inscrutable personality, Zappa began his career with The Mothers of Invention, and in one of those pieces of irony fate loves throwing at us, he was asked to take over the already-formed band due to a fight between two bandmembers, one of whom left. Once he was established as band leader, Zappa took total control of the Mothers, insisting they play his own original work and not covers, and becoming more of a control freak than Roger Waters and Brian Wilson put together. But it worked. Previously unknown, the Mothers (then called The Soul Giants) were discovered and soon began to make their presence felt on the underground music scene in LA, and went on to release their debut album, only the second double album in rock history and the first real concept album.


Album title: Freak out!
Artiste: The Mothers of Invention
Nationality: American
Label: Verve
Year: 1966
Grade: B
Previous Experience of this Artiste: I've heard one track which I did not like, and I believe is on this album. I am not anticipating liking this but it must be experienced due to its importance in the overall development of prog rock.
Landmark value: The first real concept album, so that has to count for something. Also one of the first from a new band to allow the artiste almost total creative freedom and provide him with a virtually unlimited budget with which to realise his vision. One of the first, I think, to take direct aim at the established American way of life and to lampoon it in music.
Tracklisting: Hungry freaks, daddy/ I ain't got no heart/ Who are the brain police?/Go cry on somebody else's shoulder/ Motherly love/ How could I be such a fool/ Wowie zowie/ You didn't try to call me/ Any way the wind blows/ I'm not satisfied/ You're probably wondering why I'm here/ Trouble every day/ Help I'm a rock ((i) Okay to tap dance (ii) In memoriam, Edgard Varese (iii) It can't happen here)/ The return of the son of monster magnet ((i) Ritual dance of the child-killer (ii) Nullis pretii (No commercial potential))
Comments: Well initially I'm surprised at how straight rock-and-roll this is, though no doubt it'll get more out there later. But I really did expect something like ten men standing on hills a mile apart and banging dustbin lids while farting. That's probably his third album. Pleasant surprise, very sixties rock with a dash of psychedelia, some great lyrics which he would of course become known and even infamous for. Who are the brain police? is that one Zappa track I mentioned that I have heard, and I can appreciate it more in the context of the album but I still don't like it. In fact, a little way in I find myself getting bored. Help, I'm a rock is where it really starts to get freaky and psychedelic, and by the end it's more or less where I expected it would be. I suppose his music goes on in this weird, experimental (heavy on the mental!) vein. Bah.
Favourite track(s): Hungry freaks, daddy, I ain't got no heart, Go cry on somebody else's shoulder, Trouble every day
Least favourite track(s):Who are the brain police?, You're probably wondering why I'm here, I'm not satisfied, Help I'm a rock, The return of the son of the monster magnet
Overall impression: Started well but fell apart about halfway. Not that I did not expect this, but by the time we were onto the third side I had lost interest and was totally bored.
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Old 01-11-2015, 05:08 PM   #22 (permalink)
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I never expected you to dig this album, especially with songs like "Wowie Zowie" and yer I'm sure it was one of the first real concept albums as well, I know a number came out around this time.

I think you've strictly got to look at this album in the context of its time which is the 1960s. The 60s were getting quite wacky at this time but never quite as wacky as this and btw the beauty of Frank Zappa is when everything starts to fall apart.
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Old 01-14-2015, 02:19 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Although many bands who would go on to impact on the progressive rock scene were formed in or before 1966 --- Soft Machine, Barclay James Harvest, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues --- none had any released material until at least 1967, with the exception of The Moody Blues, who released their first album in 1965. This, however, was primarily a rhythm'n'blues album and seems to have no connection whatever to progressive rock, and their second album is regarded as the first of theirs to embrace or influence that subgenre. So that leaves us with very little to work with in 1966, but to complete the year I am, as I said, going to take a quick spin through the only other album deemed to have had any effect on prog rock, even though it seems like an odd choice, to me at any rate. But as I've said so often before, and it's as true today as it was when I first uttered the words, what do I know?

Album title: Fifth dimension
Artiste: The Byrds
Nationality: American
Label: Columbia
Year: 1966
Grade: C
Previous Experience of this Artiste: “Mister Tambourine man”, “Turn, turn, turn”
Landmark value: It's said to have been the album that almost created the subgenre of psychedelic rock. How true that is I don't know, but if so then psychedelia had a real effect on the birth of progressive rock, so it's got to have a decent value.
Tracklisting: 5D (Fifth dimension)/ Wild mountain thyme/ Mr. Spaceman/ I see you/ What's happening?/ I come and stand at every door/ Eight miles high/ Hey Joe/ Captain Soul/ John Riley/ 2-4-2 Foxtrot
Comments: Nice organ work on the opening track, but it sounds quite Country to me and it's followed by a folk traditional song, then I guess Mr. Spaceman can claim to be psychedelic in part, referring as it does to aliens and extraterrestrials, which (maybe) had not been a subject pursued much if at all by bands or singers. It's played in a sort of bluegrass tone though, which I feel robs it of a little of its desired impact. I come and stand at every door, while a cover, sounds like a minstrel's lay or something.

They do a version of Hey Joe and though it's not his song, I think we all identify it with Hendrix by now. This version just sounds wrong to me. Generally I'm becoming less impressed as the album goes on. The harmonica instrumental Captain Soul is pretty good though.
Favourite track(s): Wild mountain thyme, Mr. Spaceman, Captain Soul
Least favourite track(s): Hey Joe, 2-4-2 Foxtrot
Overall impression: Yeah. Don't see it. There's little about this album that says nascent prog rock to me, or even psychedelia, though I'm not that familiar with that sort of music yet. I see it as a folk/rock album and that's pretty much it. Can't argue with history though. Anyway I wasn't impressed personally.
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So that's 1966 done. Before I head on to the following year I think it's perhaps incumbent upon me to take a short trip back to note the bands formed in the two or three years prior, who would later rise to prominence within or contribute to the growth of progressive rock. Although none released any albums --- at least, prog-worthy --- until at least 1967, the mere event of their forming should really be marked, and a short piece perhaps written on who they were/are and what their general effect on and input to the progressive rock movement was. So I'll be doing that in the next entry, then moving on to those other albums I mentioned, all released in 1967.
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Old 01-15-2015, 05:54 AM   #24 (permalink)
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I think the Byrds were one of the best bands from the 1960s and really love that album, but again I wouldn't put it in the influential prog category. Yes it's regarded as one of the first ever psychedelic album, because with the race to get a man on the moon, there was certainly a race between bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys and the Byrds to get the first true psychedelic album out.

I've noticed that you kind of question it as being a true psychedelic album, I think it's like a lot of music in its early days as a genre, that in hindsight it doesn't always sound like how you think it should but it was certainly psychedelic for its time.
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Old 01-15-2015, 12:25 PM   #25 (permalink)
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I think the Byrds were one of the best bands from the 1960s and really love that album, but again I wouldn't put it in the influential prog category. Yes it's regarded as one of the first ever psychedelic album, because with the race to get a man on the moon, there was certainly a race between bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys and the Byrds to get the first true psychedelic album out.

I've noticed that you kind of question it as being a true psychedelic album, I think it's like a lot of music in its early days as a genre, that in hindsight it doesn't always sound like how you think it should but it was certainly psychedelic for its time.
I think I mentioned that I don't really consider myself qualified to comment on what's psychedelic and what's not, as I have heard very little, but the elements I imagine to go into a psych record are long instrumental freak-outs, lyrics about drugs, odd unconventional instruments (sitars, harpsichords etc) and maybe spoken passages. That could of course all be totally wrong, but I don't get any of that from this Byrds album. Nevertheless, as I said, I'm in no position to decide what's psych and what is not.
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Old 01-17-2015, 02:45 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Before the storm...
This is by no means meant to be a definitive biography of any of the bands formed before the proper onset of the progressive rock scene in the late sixties and early seventies. This is merely a few lines pointing to those bands and to how they would later influence the sub-genre. When we get to where they released albums, I will of course go into them in a little more depth.

You can't help noticing that, apart from one or two exceptions, all of these bands are British. Progressive Rock seems to have been almost an exclusively British movement, with American prog rock bands only coming much, much later. Like the NWOBHM, the US was well behind the curve when it came to prog rock, still mired I guess in "flower power" and the Vietnam War which gave a focus to more protest/folk-oriented sounds, not to mention the burgeoning soul-to-become-disco scene. Why prog rock developed in Britain almost alone I don't know but I will be looking into.

I guess it has a lot to do with the public school system, as many of these bands met each other in school, and the gentle pastoral English countryside probably played its part too. While students were protesting in US universities and clashing with police, fighting for civil rights and rioting in the streets, you can just hear the English tsk and sigh "Oh, I say!" as they sipped their tea and wrote another song about meadows and rainbows...


The Moody Blues (1964 -)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas Clint Warwick, Denny Laine
First relevant album: “Days of future passed”, 1967

Impact on the progressive rock scene (on a scale of 1 to 10): 7

Formed in 1964, their band name was not, as I had originally thought, anything to do with the Elvis song, but was both a reference to M&B Breweries, with whom they had hoped to win a sponsorship contract (they didn't) and the Duke Ellington song, “Mood indigo.” When they formed the Moody Blues were much different to the band we have come to know, and who contributed so much to the progressive rock arena. Justin Hayward was not on board at this time, nor was John Lodge. Their first album, “The Magnificent Moodies”, would bear no resemblance to what would end up being their first real progressive rock album, and one which would bring them to the notice of the general public, “Days of future passed”. The debut was more an r'n'b effort, and it flopped, though it would later spawn a hit in “Go now” which, ironically, was a cover version of an earlier song.

The Wilde Flowers (1964 – 1967)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Hugh Hopper, Brian Hopper, Robert Wyatt, Richard Sinclair, Kevin Ayers
First relevant album: n/a
Impact: 6
Linked to: Caravan, Soft Machine

Another band forming in 1964, oddly The Wilde Flowers never released any albums, but were one of the first bands active in what would become known as the Canterbury Scene. They are however notable for the bands their former members ended up in, two of the biggest bands in that scene, Soft Machine and Caravan.

Pink Floyd (1965 – 2014)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Richard Wright
First relevant album: “The piper at the gates of dawn”, 1967

Impact: 9

Originally The Pink Floyd, one of the most influential bands in progressive rock music as well as psychedelia, Floyd would redefine how music was created, and performed, and perceived. Mainstay of the band David Gilmour was not part of the early lineup who recorded their first album, and would only be brought in to replace bandleader Syd Barrett, when increasing problems with substance abuse and personality issues made it impossible for Barrett to continue in the band. Under the lineup of Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, Pink Floyd would go on to become a worldwide phenomenon and a true star of the prog rock scene.

The Syn (1965-1967, then 2004-)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Steve Nardelli, Chris Squire, Andrew Pryce Jackman, Matrin Adelman, John Painter
First relevant album: “Original syn”, 2004
Linked with: Yes
Impact: 4

Seen as a precursor to prog rock giants Yes, they lasted from 1965 to 1967, then came back in 2004 as a proper progressive rock band. They are notable for including later Yes bassist Chris Squire in their lineup.

Barclay James Harvest (1966- )
Nationality: British
Original lineup: John Lees, Les Holroyd, Stuart Wolsthenholme, Mel Pritchard
First relevant album: “Barclay James Harvest”, 1970
Linked to: The Enid
Impact: 5

Formed in 1965, they originally included Robert John Godfrey in their lineup, he later leaving to form The Enid. They were successful throughout the seventies but dogged by comparisons to The Moody Blues, leading to their being perhaps unkindly described by critics as “The Poor Man's Moody Blues.”

Soft Machine (1966-1984)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Robert Wyatt, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledge
First relevant album: “The Soft Machine”, 1968

Linked to: The Wilde Flowers, Caravan
Impact: 7

Another band who later dropped the “the” from their name, they were also a big Canterbury band, and included among others Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers in their lineup. Like many Canterbury (and many progressive bands) they are feted for their contribution to the genre but achieved little in the way of commercial success.

Stormy Six (1966-1983 (first incarnation), 1990-2010 (second incarnation)
Nationality: Italian
Original lineup: Giovanni Fabbri, Maurizio Masla, Franco Fabbri, Luca Piscicelli, Fausto Martinetti, Alberto Santagostino, Antonio Zanuso
First relevant album: "Guarda giù dalla pianura", 1974
Impact: 4
Linked to: Henry Cow


One of the first Italian prog rock bands, Stormy Six also became involved with, indeed created the idea of Rock In Opposition, (RIO) however they did not really become a true progressive rock band until the middle of the 1970s.

Genesis (1967-1997 (?))
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Anthony Phillips
First relevant album: “Trespass”, 1970

Linked to: Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins solo careers, Mike and the Mechanics
Impact: 10

What can I write about Genesis that I have not yet already? One of the founding members and drivers of the progressive rock movement through the seventies, Genesis eventually fell prey to the bright lights of chart success and turned from their prog rock roots to become just another rock, and then rock/pop band. They disbanded after one album following Phil Collins' departure, but like Yes and ELP were leading lights of the development of progressive rock. Well, to be honest there's some doubt about their breakup, but their last actual album was in 1997 (hence the question mark above) after which they got back together for some tours but have not yet released anything new, and that's over eighteen years now, so you'd have to wonder if they ever will.

Gong (1967 – 1976) (first incarnation) 1991-2001 (second incarnation) 2003-2004 (third incarnation) 2006 – (fourth incarnation)
Nationality: French
Original lineup: Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Ziska Baum, Loren Standlee
First relevant album: “Magick brother”, 1970

Linked to: Soft Machine, The Wilde Flowers
Impact: 8

One of the first French progressive rock acts, Gong began as more a psychedelic band and were kind of a forced situation originally, when Daevid Allen, playing with Soft Machine in France, was unable to get a visa to allow him entry into the UK. He thereafter formed Gong, but had to flee France in '68 during the student riots and went to Majorca, where he found his future saxophonist living in a cave. It says here. Trippy, man! Trippy!

Jethro Tull (1967 – 2011)
Nationality: British
Original members: Ian Amderson, Mick Abrahams, Glenn Cornick, Clive Bunker
First relevant album: “Benefit”, 1970

Linked to: Fairport Convention
Impact: 8

Very much a folk-based band, with bandleader Ian Anderson proficient on the flute, and lyrics often about agriculture, folklore and rural life. They went on to become a very famous and successful band, selling over sixty million albums, despite their strange eccentricities, and even scoring hit singles.

The Nice (1967 – 1970)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Keith Emerson, Lee Jackson, Davy O'List, Ian hague
First relevant album: “The thoughts of Emerlist Davjack”, 1967

Linked to: Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP)
Impact: 7

With their caustic rendition of Leonard Bernstein's “America” and keyboardist Keith Emerson's antics with his keyboard, which would carry through into his association with ELP, The Nice have been credited often with recording the first ever progressive rock album, their debut, “The thoughts of Emerlist Davjack”. This has however been disputed. Whatever the case, what is not disputed is that The Nice was a training ground for one of the world's greatest, and most pompous and arrogant keyboard players, before he joined Carl Palmer and Greg Lake in the immortal prog rock power trio some years later.

Organisation (or, Organisation zur Verwirklichung gemeinsamer Musikkonzepte ) (1969 – 1970)
Nationality: German
Original lineup: Basil Hammoudi, Butch Hauf, Ralf Hütter, Alfred Monics, Florian Schenider-Esleben
First relevant album: “Tone float”, 1969
Impact: 3

With just the one album to their credit, the only real relevance Organisation (I'm not going to write it all out again, but it stands for “organisation for the realisation of common music projects”) have to the progressive rock scene is that they were a Krautrock band which split in 1970 to allow two of the members to form Kraftwerk.

Procol Harum (1967-1977) (first incarnation) 1991 – (second incarnation)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Gary Brooker, Keith Reid, Matthew Fisher, Ray Royer, David Knights
First relevant album: “Procol Harum”, 1967

Impact: 7

Best known of course for their smash hit single “A whiter shade of pale” , and were therefore one of the few progressive rock bands who managed to have a big hit first time out. Unfortunately, though they remained active through the seventies, they were never again to repeat this success.

Van der Graaf Generator (1967 – 1972) (first incarnation) 1975-1978 (second incarnation) 2005 – (third incarnation)
Nationality: British
Original lineup: Peter Hammill, Chris Judge Smith
First relevant album: “The aerosol grey machine”, 1969

Linked to: Peter Hammill solo career
Impact: 8

One of the most influential early progressive rock bands, Van der Graaf Generator would have a huge influence on Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel, as well as much later, Marillion's Fish, as both tried to emulate Peter Hammill's style and vocal delivery. VDGG would be another prog rock band though who never troubled the charts, and never strayed from their prog roots, using jazz and blues as part of their musical palette. They would set the standard for much of what was to follow.

So those are, basically, what I guess you could call the parents or grandparents of progressive rock. They would have many children, some of whom would spread their message far and wide across the world, but at this point even these venerable elders of Prog Rock had yet to even record their first albums, and make their impression on the world of rock music. Some would not even make that impression with their debut, but might take another two or three before they hit the magic formula that put them forever on a course to glory and immortality. But even with all that to come, in a very real sense, the birth of progressive rock began here!
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Old 01-24-2015, 03:31 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Album title: The Velvet Underground and Nico
Artiste: The Velvet Underground and Nico
Nationality: American
Label: Verve
Year: 1967
Grade: B
Previous Experience of this Artiste: “Venus in furs”, that's about it. And some Lou Reed solo material.
Landmark value: Well as I say above it has a very high landmark value, given the contribution it made to the subgenre, but again I feel it's more on the psychedelic side of things than the progressive. Can't be denied it broke down many boundaries though.
Tracklisting: Sunday morning/ I'm waiting for the man/ Femme fatale/ Venus in furs/ Run run run/ All tomorrow's parties/ Heroin/ There she goes again/ I'll be your mirror/ The black angel's death song/ European son
Comments: First track's a bit tame, given what I had expected: bit dreamy, sixties pop really. Things up a little with I'm waiting for the man as Lou Reed takes over vocals solo and the sound crystallises a bit more, harder guitar, edgier lyrics. Beginning to see it now. Distorted, manic piano at the end really adds to the song. Hmm, but then we're back to that dreamy sound again for Femme fatale. Very laidback and seems a little empty. I mentioned I knew Venus in furs, so no surprises here, then we're on to Run run run, the first uptempo song on the album. Kind of like a fast blues with a bit of southern boogie, pretty infectious rhythm really. All tomorrow's parties slows down the tempo again, and it's Nico at the mike again, with a dark psychedelic sort of feel. Sounds like sitar there. Is it? No, it isn't.

As if they haven't made it plain enough that they're singing about drugs on the album, the next one is called Heroin, so there can be no doubt. Another kind of laidback, relaxed sort of song with some nice guitar. It speeds up but then drops back again. Great vocal from Reed, really more like speaking poetry than singing. Lots of feedback guitar; at one point it totally drowns out Reed's voice, which I assume is intended to make a statement. Almost the longest track on the album, just beaten out of that place by the closer. This is balanced out by the three tracks inbetween being no more than three minutes long each.

Don't see anything terribly great about There she goes --- standard sixties rock song, could hear The Kinks or The Animals singing this. Nothing special. Back to dreamy pop then for I'll be your mirror with Nico back on vocals. The Black angel's death song is good though: sort of a bluegrass idea in it, screeching viola from Cale as well as hissing into the microphone all creates a rather unsettling atmosphere. The final track then is European son with a really nice bassline and again it's reasonably uptempo compared to most of the rest of the album. It's also, as mentioned, the longest track, just shy of eight minutes. There are more sound effects here, like things rolling on the floor, barrels maybe, and crashing breaking glass. Actually no: I read now that it's Cale hitting a stack of plates with a metal chair that made the sounds. Of course it is.

Well, it's a weird end to a much less weird album than I had thought it would be. Good enough, but somehow not the powerhouse gamechanger I had expected to hear. I guess, as they say, you had to be there.

Favourite track(s): I'm waiting for the man, Venus in furs, Run run run, The black angel's death song
Least favourite track(s): European son, There she goes, Femme fatale
Overall impression: Not what I was expecting at all. I thought it would be wilder, sort of punkish, more experimental. Pretty pleasant really, all things considered. I'm certainly not denying this album its place in musical history, and I can see the progressive rock tinges in it, but they're tinges only, and if this is one of the ancestors of prog rock, then it's the drunk old uncle with terretts whom everyone tries to avoid at the Christmas dinner, lest he corner you and start going on about how music was in his day.
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Old 01-25-2015, 06:37 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Just a quick question, in the 'Before the Storm' section are you doing reviews of those albums or just skimming them, as I'm having problems thinking how you're approaching this.

By the way this is not me nitpicking at you like I often do, but as I think this will be one of the best and most informative journals on the forum, let's get this stuff cleared up now

BTW I think the influence of that Velvet Underground is largely focused on punk and alternative music and to be fair I've no idea why it gets on a included on pre-prog lists anyway. Also agree that it's less weird than one would expect from the way people rave over it, in fact give me the Doors any day over it and as for Nico's shocking voice...........

I agree that the US bands other than listening to for their experimental focus like Frank Zappa etc, really have nothing much to do with how the formation of prog was taking place in the UK at this time. I mean the Moody Blues, Procul Harum and Pink Floyd all sound distinctly British.
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Old 01-25-2015, 01:12 PM   #29 (permalink)
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Just a quick question, in the 'Before the Storm' section are you doing reviews of those albums or just skimming them, as I'm having problems thinking how you're approaching this.
The "Before the storm" section just focusses on the bands who were being formed at that time but had not yet released albums. It's just there to say, these bands were formed before '66 but were yet to actually release material, but they were important to the formation of prog rock in one way or another. It's just, in the cases of many, acknowledging their contribution, which in some instances was merely being the band that split and formed others who went on to great things. I just didn't want to ignore them, even if they don't all get reviewed.

Whether, when they did release albums, I will review them will depend a lot on what else there is to choose from. I wouldn't for instance have bothered with The Byrds had there not been such a dearth of material to pick from that year, prog-wise. But when most of the bands featured in BTS tended not to put out albums before 1968/69, I think they --- some of them --- may have to fight and plead their case to be included. As I said, I can't review every album recorded by every band in a year, and like your journal there will be those that did not make the cut. If they're worth mentioning I may put them in a little section like that.

As for those who definitely will be reviewed, well Moody Blues, Floyd, Soft Machine, Genesis, Tull, Gong .., all of these will be, though bands like The Wilde Flowers and The Syn probably won't, and I doubt I'll be looking at that Organisation album. TBH I haven't really figured it any further than 1967 at this point. I'm certainly open to suggestions.
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By the way this is not me nitpicking at you like I often do, but as I think this will be one of the best and most informative journals on the forum, let's get this stuff cleared up now
Wow! Talk about praise from Caesar! I don't know if it will reach those heights, but I do plan it to be a proper resource once it's finished, so I'll be making sure I cover as much as I can and trying not to leave anyone significant out.
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BTW I think the influence of that Velvet Underground is largely focused on punk and alternative music and to be fair I've no idea why it gets on a included on pre-prog lists anyway. Also agree that it's less weird than one would expect from the way people rave over it, in fact give me the Doors any day over it and as for Nico's shocking voice...........
Yeah I didn't want to create a backlash or have people saying "You don't know what you're talking about, call yourself a prog head" etc, but I was just pretty underwhelmed with it. Also, a lot of it seemed to be weird for weird's sake, like hitting plates with a chair? Frownland?
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I agree that the US bands other than listening to for their experimental focus like Frank Zappa etc, really have nothing much to do with how the formation of prog was taking place in the UK at this time. I mean the Moody Blues, Procul Harum and Pink Floyd all sound distinctly British.
Like I said in BTS, it's pretty amazing how the lion, lion's share of the bands who basically created the subgenre were all British. Apart from Gong and a few Italian bands, the odd Krautrock one and probably more I don't yet know about, you guys really seem to have been the instigators, flag-carriers and trendsetters for prog rock. Whoever heard of an Irish prog rock band?

Thanks for the comments, always appreciated.
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Old 02-02-2015, 10:56 AM   #30 (permalink)
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Up to now, though I’ve tried not to be too dismissive of nor ignore bands who are cited as being influential on the birth of prog rock, I’ve yet to hear anything approaching what I would consider to be the sound of the subgenre. My understanding of what makes progressive rock may be simplistic and basic, but for me, prog rock music has at its heart long and/or complicated keyboard passages, introspective guitar, other instruments like sax, violin, cello or flute, has long songs that are often broken into suites and deals with fantasy or mythological, or at least other than mundane lyrical content. Obviously, that’s not true of every prog band nor indeed every prog song, but I’ve not yet recognised anything that puts me in mind of, say, A plague of lighthouse keepers, 2112 or even Tarkus. The bands and albums I’ve listened to so far do not, to me, speak of a new subgenre straining to be born, and though some of them did experiment with sound and ideas, most seem rooted in blues or jazz tropes, and show no sign or stepping much beyond that. Perhaps that will change as I investigate our next band, jumping off at the next stop along my extremely long journey.

Formed initially as The Paramounts, and having one hit single but getting no further, Gary Brooker and Robin Trower formed Procol Harum and began recording their first, self-titled album in 1967, from which they had their biggest hit single, “A whiter shade of pale”. Oddly enough, this was not on the UK version of the album, though it does appear on the US one. I guess you can only assume the label were trying to push sales of the single further by not allowing those who bought the album to have access to it that way, but it’s a strange thing to do: most people who bought singles would probably then go and get the album if they liked what they heard.

The success of the hit single assured Procol Harum of a place in musical history, and could very well point to them as being one of the first true progressive rock bands, but it did encumber them with the “first hit single syndrome”, and they never really repeated the worldwide success of that song, which is still the one they are associated with, even by those who have never heard a single album of theirs. Like me.


Album title: Procol Harum
Artiste: Procol Harum
Nationality: British
Label: Regal Zonophone
Year: 1967
Grade: A
Previous Experience of this Artiste: “A whiter shade of pale”
Landmark value: With a worldwide smash hit single on it (at least, the US version) this album could be said to have brought the fledgling progressive rock to the mainstream.
Tracklisting: Conquistador/ She wandered through the garden fence/ Something following me/ Mabel/ Cerdes (Outside the gates of)/ A Christmas camel/ Kaleidoscope/ Salad days (are here again)/ Good Captain Clack/ Repent Walpurgis
Comments: Well, I finally hear the organs, Hammonds and keyboard runs that would become part and parcel of prog rock here in songs like the opener and the second track particularly, so perhaps Matthew Fisher can be said to be the first prog rock keyboardist? Meh, probably not, but he’s the first I’ve heard to date that embraces and embodies that style that would be identified with this subgenre. The music definitely seems more keyboard-driven than guitar-centric, which I believe is important. Some nice bluesy piano on Something following me, which has a really nice country feel to it too. Next one’s annoying though: too Yellow submarine Beatles for me. Cerdes (Outside the gates of) brings back the progressive rock though, with some fine guitar from Robin Trower.

This version then has that smash single, and there’s little I can say about it that hasn’t been said already, so on we go and I have to say I pretty much love most of what I’m hearing here. Like I say, the main thing for me, the thing that differentiates this from the other albums I’ve listened to up to now is the dominance of keyboard; Fisher really holds court over the album and brings it all together, which is not to ignore the other members of PH, but his keyboard soundscapes form the background for the music here, and the album would not be the same without it. The closer is just perfect. Love it.

Favourite track(s): She wandered through the garden fence, Something following me, Cerdes (Outside the gates of), A whiter shade of pale, Salad days (are here again), Repent Walpurgis
Least favourite track(s): Mabel, Good Captain Clack
Overall impression: Think I really love this album, and I can finally say that, as far as I’m concerned anyway, and going only on what I’ve listened to up to this point, this, for me, is the first true example of an album that would lead to the subgenre of progressive rock. Superb.
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