Searching for depth and sophistication in music along with a story and real musicianship? Here’s an introduction to the world of progressive rock which elevated the genre of rock to great new heights –
The Very Basic
Progressive rock or prog rock or simply prog is a subgenre of rock music which originated in the 1960s and 1970s in the United Kingdom and was further taken up in Italy, France and so on. It developed from psychedelic rock and the term ‘’art rock’’ is often used interchangeably with progressive rock, however, they are not identical. It was basically a part of the British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility. The genre derived inspiration from diverse influences and progressive rock bands usually use ‘’concept albums that make unified statements, usually telling an epic story or tackling a grand overreaching theme’’.
As mentioned earlier, the genre developed from psychedelic rock and the term was applied to music of bands such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Emerson and so on.It can be split into three subgenres namely – Symphonic, Canterbury and Hard Prog. Some people also suggest that The Beatles had a significant role in the prog rock movement. The genre became widespread during the mid-1970s and the aforementioned bands were the most influential bands of this genre but there were many other remarkable bands which experienced a lesser degree of commercial success. Their popularity continued well onto the 1980s and neo-progressive bands have continued playing for faithful audiences in the subsequent decades.
The genre came into existence through the classic rock experiments of band such as the Moody Blues and most of the popular bands fall into the ‘’symphonic prog’’ category which is basically a cross between classical orchestrations and compositional techniques blended with rock music. Progressive rock songs avoid popular music song structures and also have extended instrumental passages, which is a melding of classical solo tradition with the improvisational traditions of jazz and psychedelic rock. All of these lead to lengthy progressive rock songs which may even stretch on for more than twenty minutes. One of the major reasons of incorporating elements from classical music is because of the cultural significance it carries. It is after all, an attempt to give greater credibility and weight to rock music.
Progressive rock bands were very often the first ones to experiment with latest electronic instruments and technologies and the mellotron is a signature sound of early progressive rock bands. Pink Floyd used an EMS Synthi (a synthesizer equipped with a sequencer) in their track ‘’On the Run’’ from their 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon.
Their albums were known as concept albums because every song in a particular album was unified by an elaborate, overarching theme or story very common to progressive rock. As the songs tended to be quite long, they usually resulted in packages which required multiple vinyl discs, cassettes or compact discs in order to present a single album. Concepts have ranged from the historical to the metaphysical and some of them even poke fun at concept albums.
The lyrics just like the music tried to avoid typical rock/pop subjects such as love, dancing and so on. Rather, they focused on issues such as the ones found in classical literature, folklore, fantasy and so on. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd usually combined social struggles with greed, madness, death etc.
Presentation or album art played a huge part of the artistic concept and was an extremely important part in the marketing of progressive rock. Some of the bands became well known for the art direction of their albums and the ‘’look’’ was integrated into the band’s overall musical identity. Some artists like Hipgnosis (Pink Floyd) achieved a lot of fame because of this and their work received a lot of appreciation.
The bands of this genre were also known for their flamboyant stage theatrics and the singers frequently acted out the lyrical narrative of the songs. They used lasers, giant mirrors, massive stage props, complex lighting and the band members often wore colourful and exotic costumes. Pink Floyd used a crashing airplane, Rush incorporated film backdrops in their stage shows and Frank Zappa did improvisational comedy skits.
The popularity of this genre faded in popularity by the time it was the middle half of the 1970s and there was an out and out anti-prog movement in the form of Pub rock. Many also attribute the coming of punk rock as one of the major factors for its decline. Punk rock was basically an outgrowth of Pub rock which ultimately overthrew progressive rock and stood against everything that the prog rock movement had stood for. For example – progressive rock bands preferred long compositions whereas punk rock compositions were extremely short and were very simple songs. The Punks also made their displeasure very public with artists like Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols) wearing T-Shirts on stage which said – ‘’I hate Pink Floyd.’’
Bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer disbanded in 1978 while Peter Gabriel left Genesis. The others like Jethro Tull continued to perform and Pink Floyd never really saw a success which was an equivalent of the Dark Side of the Moon, which for that matter continues to remain one of the top concert grossers in the music business. While there are modern bands like the Smashing Pumpkins which embark on progressive-like ventures there is no ‘’pure’’ prog rock band in the music industry anymore which makes the progressive era very special – there was nothing that sounded like it before, and nothing has sounded like it since.
You can check out some of the songs by various progressive rock bands here –
Hey You by Pink Floyd –
Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues
Closer To The Heart by Rush –
Aqualung by Jethro Tull –
I have been dealing with various subgenres of rock and this article wraps up the entire series. You can find the other ones here – http://edtimes.in/music/
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Written By- Shruti Das