Progressive Rock Returns


Image Source: caseymongoven.

Just as 1990s' grunge is back, so is a pocket in pop music which reached its high point roughly from the 1970s to early 1980s - progressive rock. The Independent reported on 30 June 2013:
Clubbers who have made "Get Lucky" this summer's dance-floor anthem will be shocked to hear that Daft Punk aren't the robot-friendly sound of the future – but revivalists of Seventies progressive rock, once the most derided of genres.

Prog, a bombastic mutation of rock and classical genres typically performed by highly skilled musicians in outrageous capes, could once be heard echoing from student halls and stadiums across the land. Supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer sold 40 million copies of their symphonic rock while Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes and Rush became prog's most commercially savvy flag-bearers.

In the end it was punk that swept away those highly designed concept albums with their epic or medieval themes and ostentatious, lengthy, and, some would say, self-indulgent displays of musical proficiency.
Long dismissed as laughably self-important and pretentious by critics, progressive rock combined classic rock and hard rock with more complex classical and jazz musical styles. It also amalgamated some of the wild lyrical images from Psychedelic rock and the Canterbury scene. Wiki notes that it was "an attempt to give greater artistic weight and credibility to rock music." Progressive rock was rooted in no-nonsense electric guitars, but it embroidered upon classic riffs with gorgeous, elaborate layers and florid lyrics with loaded metaphors. Using a bigger and bigger sound, it overlapped with the big sound and themes of stadium rock favoured by groups such as Queen, Journey, Foreigner and Styx. This style also influenced power ballads produced by hard rock groups.

Progressive rock was a style conceived as high thinking for the masses, for the isolated or downtrodden, for the little man. It took everyday, depressing, banal situations and blew them up to epic levels, to the realms of myth, karma, mystery and eternity. Moments of individual alienation (being unpopular in high school, romantic break-ups, losing a job) were gnostic triggers, doorways to more profound and exalted levels of thinking. This probably made prog the most conceptually complex form of rock music.

This is Spinal Tap Stonehenge sequence. Image Source: This Blog Goes to Eleven.

This style was mainly a British, European and Canadian phenomenon. Kansas became the most famous American progressive rock band. The Genesis News forum lists newer American prog bands: "Djam Karet, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Glass Hammer, Timothy Pure, Echolyn (very Genesis influenced), Discipline, Enchant, Spock's Beard." There is a longer list of American progressive rock groups here. A global list of prog bands is here.

Aspects of prog were parodied in the Druids-and-Stonehenge sequence in the film, This is Spinal Tap (1984) as progressive rock became commercialized. By the 1980s, progressive rock was swept aside by punk, and the anti-punk, glitzy, synthesized New Romanticism. But new prog music was revived around the turn of the Millennium. Subsequent progressive rock genres are progressive metalneo-prog, and new prog, also known as nu prog or post-prog music.

Below the jump, some famous progressive rock pieces from the early 1970s to the mid-to-late 1980s. Several of these videos are not pure examples of the genre, but they all contain prog aspects.
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