Progressive rock (shortened as prog; sometimes called art rock, classical rock or symphonic rock) is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid- to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favour of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening rather than dancing.
Prog is based on fusions of styles, approaches and genres, involving a continuous move between formalism and eclecticism. Due to its historical reception, prog's scope is sometimes limited to a stereotype of long solos, long albums, fantasy lyrics, grandiose stage sets and costumes, and an obsessive dedication to technical skill. While the genre is often cited for its merging of high culture and low culture, few artists incorporated literal classical themes in their work to any great degree, and only a handful of groups purposely emulated or referenced classical music.
The genre coincided with the mid 1960s economic boom that allowed record labels to allocate more creative control to their artists, as well as the new journalistic division between "pop" and "rock" that lent generic significance to both terms. Prog saw a high level of popularity in the early-to-mid 1970s, but faded soon after. Conventional wisdom holds that the rise of punk rock caused this, but several more factors contributed to the decline.Music critics, who often labelled the concepts as "pretentious" and the sounds as "pompous" and "overblown", tended to be hostile towards the genre or to completely ignore it. After the late 1970s, progressive rock fragmented in numerous forms. Some bands achieved commercial success well into the 1980s (albeit with changed lineups and more compact song structures) or crossed into symphonic pop, arena rock, or new wave.
Early groups who exhibited progressive features are retroactively described as "proto-prog". The Canterbury scene, originating in the late 1960s, denotes a subset of prog bands who emphasised the use of wind instruments, complex chord changes and long improvisations. Rock in Opposition, from the late 1970s, was more avant-garde, and when combined with the Canterbury style, created avant-prog. In the 1980s, a new subgenre, neo-progressive rock, enjoyed some commercial success, although it was also accused of being derivative and lacking in innovation. Post-progressive draws upon newer developments in popular music and the avant-garde since the mid 1970s.
Definition and characteristics[edit | edit source]
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The term "progressive rock" is synonymous with "art rock", "classical rock" and "symphonic rock". Historically, "art rock" has been used to describe at least two related, but distinct, types of rock music. The first is progressive rock as it is generally understood, while the second usage refers to groups who rejected psychedelia and the hippie counterculture in favour of a modernist, avant-garde approach. Similarities between the two terms are that they both describe a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility. However, art rock is more likely to have experimental or avant-garde influences. "Prog" was devised in the 1990s as a shorthand term, but later became a transferable adjective, also suggesting a wider palette than that drawn on by the most popular 1970s bands.
Progressive rock is varied and is based on fusions of styles, approaches and genres, tapping into broader cultural resonances that connect to avant-garde art, classical music and folk music, performance and the moving image. Although a unidirectional English "progressive" style emerged in the late 1960s, by 1967, progressive rock had come to constitute a diversity of loosely associated style codes. When the "progressive" label arrived, the music was dubbed "progressive pop" before it was called "progressive rock", with the term "progressive" referring to the wide range of attempts to break with standard pop music formula. A number of additional factors contributed to the acquired "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic; technology was harnessed for new sounds; music approached the condition of "art"; some harmonic language was imported from jazz and 19th-century classical music; the album format overtook singles; and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening, not dancing.
Critics of the genre often limit its scope to a stereotype of long solos, overlong albums, fantasy lyrics, grandiose stage sets and costumes, and an obsessive dedication to technical skill. While progressive rock is often cited for its merging of high culture and low culture, few artists incorporated literal classical themes in their work to any great degree, and only a handful of groups purposely emulated or referenced classical music. Writer Emily Robinson says that the narrowed definition of "progressive rock" was a measure against the term's loose application in the late 1960s, when it was "applied to everyone from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones". Debate over the genre's criterion continued to the 2010s, particularly on Internet forums dedicated to prog.
According to musicologists Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Bill Martin and Edward Macan authored major books about prog rock while "effectively accept[ing] the characterization of progressive rock offered by its critics. ... they each do so largely unconsciously."Academic John S. Cotner contests Macan's view that progressive rock cannot exist without the continuous and overt assimilation of classical music into rock. Author Kevin Holm-Hudson agrees that "progressive rock is a style far more diverse than what is heard from its mainstream groups and what is implied by unsympathetic critics."
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In early references to the music, "progressive" was partly related to progressive politics, but those connotations were lost during the 1970s. On "progressive music", Holm-Hudson writes that it "moves continuously between explicit and implicit references to genres and strategies derived not only from European art music, but other cultural domains (such as East Indian, Celtic, folk, and African) and hence involves a continuous aesthetic movement between formalism and eclecticism".[nb 3] Cotner also says that progressive rock incorporates both formal and eclectic elements, "It consists of a combination of factors – some of them intramusical ("within"), others extramusical or social ("without")."
One way of conceptualising rock and roll in relation to "progressive music" is that progressive music pushed the genre into greater complexity while retracing the roots of romantic and classical music. Sociologist Paul Willis believes: "We must never be in doubt that 'progressive' music followed rock 'n' roll, and that it could not have been any other way. We can see rock 'n' roll as a deconstruction and 'progressive' music as a reconstruction."Author Will Romano states that "rock itself can be interpreted as a progressive idea ... Ironically, and quite paradoxically, 'progressive rock', the classic era of the late 1960s through the mid- and late 1970s, introduces not only the explosive and exploratory sounds of technology ... but traditional music forms (classical and European folk) and (often) a pastiche compositional style and artificial constructs (concept albums) which suggests postmodernism."
History[edit | edit source]
1966–70: Origins[edit | edit source]
Background and roots[edit | edit source]
In 1966, the level of social and artistic correspondence among British and American rock musicians dramatically accelerated for bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds who fused elements of cultivated music with the vernacular traditions of rock Progressive rock was predicated on the "progressive" pop groups from the 1960s who combined rock and roll with various other music styles such as Indian ragas, oriental melodies and Gregorian chants, like the Beatles and the Yardbirds. The Beatles' Paul McCartney said in 1967: "we [the band] got a bit bored with 12 bars all the time, so we tried to get into something else. Then came Dylan, the Who, and the Beach Boys. ... We're all trying to do vaguely the same kind of thing." Rock music started to take itself seriously, paralleling earlier attempts in jazz (as swing gave way to bop, a move which did not succeed with audiences). In this period, the popular song began signalling a new possible means of expression that went beyond the three-minute love song, leading to an intersection between the "underground" and the "establishment" for listening publics.
Hegarty and Halliwell identify the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Pretty Things, the Zombies, the Byrds, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd "not merely as precursors of prog but as essential developments of progressiveness in its early days". According to musicologist Walter Everett, the Beatles' "experimental timbres, rhythms, tonal structures, and poetic texts" on their albums Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966) "encouraged a legion of young bands that were to create progressive rock in the early 1970s". Dylan's poetry, the Mothers of Invention's album Freak Out! (1966) and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) were all important in progressive rock's development. The productions of Phil Spector were key influences,as they introduced the possibility of using the recording studio to create music that otherwise could never be achieved. The same[vague] is said for the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (1966), which Brian Wilson intended as an answer to Rubber Soul and which in turn influenced the Beatles when they made Sgt. Pepper's.
Dylan introduced a literary element to rock through his fascination with the Surrealists and the French Symbolists, and his immersion in the New York City art scene of the early 1960s. The trend of bands with names drawn from literature, such as the Doors, Steppenwolf and the Ides of March, were a further sign of rock music aligning itself with high culture. Dylan also led the way in blending rock with folk music styles. This was followed by folk rock groups such as the Byrds, who based their initial sound on that of the Beatles. In turn, the Byrds' vocal harmonies inspired those of Yes,and British folk rock bands like Fairport Convention, who emphasised instrumental virtuosity. Some of these artists, such as the Incredible String Band and Shirley and Dolly Collins, would prove influential through their use of instruments borrowed from world music and early music.
Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's[edit | edit source]
Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, with their lyrical unity, extended structure, complexity, eclecticism, experimentalism, and influences derived from classical music forms, are largely viewed as beginnings in the progressive rock genre and as turning points wherein rock, which previously had been considered dance music, became music that was made for listening to. Between Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, the Beach Boys released the single "Good Vibrations" (1966), dubbed a "pocket symphony" by Derek Taylor, who worked as a publicist for both groups. The song contained an eclectic array of exotic instruments and several disjunctive key and modal shifts. Scott Interrante of Popmatters wrote that its influence on progressive rock and the psychedelic movement "can't be overstated". Martin likened the song to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper's, in that they showcase "the same reasons why much progressive rock is difficult to dance to".
Although Sgt. Pepper's was preceded by several albums that had begun to bridge the line between "disposable" pop and "serious" rock, it successfully gave an established "commercial" voice to an alternative youth culture and marked the point at which the LP record emerged as a creative format whose importance was equal to or greater than that of the single. Bill Bruford, a veteran of several progressive rock bands, said that Sgt. Pepper's transformed both musicians' ideas of what was possible and audiences' ideas of what was acceptable in music. He believed that: "Without the Beatles, or someone else who had done what the Beatles did, it is fair to assume that there would have been no progressive rock." In the aftermath of Sgt. Pepper, magazines such as Melody Maker drew a sharp line between "pop" and "rock', thus eliminating the "roll" from "rock and roll" (which now refers to the 1950s style). The only artists who remained "rock" would be those who were considered at the vanguard of compositional forms, far from "radio friendly" standards, as Americans increasingly used the adjective "progressive" for groups like Jethro Tull, Family, East of Eden, Van der Graaf Generator, and King Crimson.
Proto-prog and psychedelia[edit | edit source]
According to AllMusic: "Prog-rock began to emerge out of the British psychedelic scene in 1967, specifically a strain of classical/symphonic rock led by the Nice, Procol Harum, and the Moody Blues (Days of Future Passed)."The availability of newly affordable recording equipment coincided with the rise of a London underground scene at which LSD was commonly used. Pink Floyd and Soft Machine functioned as house bands at all-night events at locations such as Middle Earth and the UFO Club, where they experimented with sound textures and long-form songs. Many psychedelic, folk rock and early progressive bands were aided by exposure from BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Jimi Hendrix, who rose to prominence in the London scene and recorded with a band of English musicians, initiated the trend towards virtuosity in rock music. The Scottish band 1-2-3, later renamed Clouds, were formed in 1966 and began performing at London clubs a year later. According to Mojo's George Knemeyer: "some claim [that they] had a vital influence on prog-rockers such as Yes, The Nice and Family."
Symphonic rock artists in the late 1960s had some chart success, including the singles "Nights in White Satin" (the Moody Blues, 1967) and "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (Procol Harum, 1967). The Moody Blues established the popularity of symphonic rock when they recorded Days of Future Passed together with the London Festival Orchestra, and Procol Harum began to use a greater variety of acoustic instruments,[example's importance?] particularly on their 1969 album A Salty Dog. Classical influences sometimes took the form of pieces adapted from or inspired by classical works, such as Jeff Beck's "Beck's Bolero" and parts of the Nice's Ars Longa Vita Brevis. The latter, along with such Nice tracks as "Rondo" and "America", reflect a greater interest in music that is entirely instrumental. Sgt. Pepper's and Days both represent a growing tendency towards song cycles and suites made up of multiple movements.
Several bands that included jazz-style horn sections appeared, including Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Of these, Martin highlights Chicago in particular for their experimentation with suites and extended compositions, such as the "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" on Chicago II. Jazz influences appeared in the music of British bands such as Traffic, Colosseum and If, together with Canterbury scene bands such as Soft Machine and Caravan. Canterbury scene bands emphasised the use of wind instruments, complex chord changes and long improvisations. Martin writes that in 1968, "full-blown progressive rock" was not yet in existence, but three bands released albums who would later come to the forefront of the music: Jethro Tull, Caravan and Soft Machine.