Ian's Guide to Essential Progressive Rock

I'm also one of those sad degenerate people who likes progressive rock, you know that incredibly uncool, overblown, pretentious and impossible to play style of music that emerged from the super groups of the seventies to be later blown off the planet by the Sex Pistols. O.K. I like punk, indie, some dance and all that right on trendy haircut stuff, but I always go back to those dodgey seventies albums I bought from second hand record shops because as a teenager I couldn't afford the CDs of the bands of the day. So if youre still reading heres my essential guide to prog rock.

The Beatles

not speaking to each other

The first prog-rock was probably when one cave man bashed another over the head with a club and discovered it made a musical sound. However, it's widely recognised by disc jockeys like Dave Nice and Mike Smash as beginning with the Beatles, i.e. 'Sargent Pepper'. Personally, I think the only real Beatles prog-rock was on the second side of the 'Abbey-Road' album. The Beatles were an amazing band, being the recognised as brilliant songwriters and very much underated as technical musicians. Sadly they are remembered more for 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Love me Do' than 'Dear Prudence' (White Album) or 'You Never Give Me Your Money' (Abbey Road). I think the Beatles started prog-rock because they'd all began to hate each other and decided to just to throw all their ideas into one big song rather than talk to each other to work out who does the bridge and who does the chorus.

Beatles Links

Led Zeppelin

elves, druids and smashed up hotel rooms

The Seventies is when prog-rock came into it's own. A good place to start is with 'Led Zeppelin' who were a guitarist from 'Yardbirds' (Jimmy Page), an arranger for the Stone's 'His Satanic Majesties' (J.P.Jones) and couple of unknowns from a band playing the Dog and Duck (Robert Plant and John Bonham). Led Zeppelin took some blues and Hendrix influences and added loads of Tolkien and mystical druid shite. The result was brilliant, though very suss. They never released singles, instead concentrating on albums (Zep I,II,III,IV,'Houses of the Holy', 'Physical Graffitti', 'Prescence' and 'In Through the Outdoor'). All the Led Zep albums were great. Aswell as great music you usually got a carboard gimick like a spinning disc, little windows or sleeve that changes colour. Musically speaking my favourite album is 'House of The Holy', very Led Zep and very progressive rock.

Led Zeppelin Links


epic, celestia, fluffy bunnies played by amazing musicians

Another band to come out of the sixties to make amazing prog-rock albums was 'Yes'. Noted for Jon Anderson's castrated vocals and the impossible to play Guitar, Bass, Drum and Keyboard parts from Steve Howe, Chrish Squire, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman. This was the band young musicians would get into because they knew if they can play a few bars of a Yes tune, they were getting somewhere. Most people know of Yes from a naff single they had in the Eighties, though the real Yes made music between 1968 and 1979. Between these times Yes were the gods of prog. All the albums are fantastically over blown, pretentious, inco classical, breath takingly epic and sometimes smoltzy and fluffy bunnies - but always brilliant. (Beyond and Before, Time and the Word, The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales of the Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Going fot the One, Tomato). The best albums for me are 'Close to The Edge' and 'Going for the One' which are Yes at their most epic. Songs like 'And You and I' (Close to the Edge) and 'Awaken' (Goning for the One) are masterpieces with all the breath taking majesty of the best classical symphonies (pretentious or what).
In a perverse way I think 'Going for the One' in 1977 led to the success of punk. 'Anarchy in the U.K.' was the complete opposite of 'Awaken', some musicians decided 'we can't play like that so we'll do it our own way'. I like both tunes, so there.

Yes Links


a dentist, physicist, performing arts graduate and electronics nurd

Another band that were gods of prog-rock were 'Queen', their albums of the seventies (Queen1, Queen2, Sheer Heart Attack, Night at the Opera, Day at the Races, News of the World and Jazz) had all the over blown, super clever stuff of the Yes albums. Strangely though, for this type of music, they managed to really shift some singles, for instance 'Bohiemian Rapsody' from the 'Night at The Opera' album. Who'd of thought the one of the most successful singles of all time was a prog-rock epic. The best Queen album for me is 'Sheer Heart Attack', the first song on the second side 'Lap of the Gods - Part One' is the very definition of progressive rock. Queen were the masters of musical drama and theatrics, from Brian May's guitar fanfares, Mecuries operatics, Roger Taylor's gongs and screams to John Deacons classical restraint. The only problem I have with Queen is that they were too famous. For instance I can't listen to the first two songs of 'News of The World' because they remind me of a smug, foul faker, ginger bearded twat of a footballer called 'Rudi Voller' singing 'Vee Are The Champions' after Germany knocked England out the World Cup. Queen eventually gave up prog-rock for tackier dance and pop stuff, though came back with the odd good tune. Did you know Steve Howe of Yes plays guitar on 'Innuendo' in a duet with 'Brain May'.

vee are the champions

Queen Links


will try anything once

David Bowie kind of flirted with prog-rock, and I dare say Freddie Mercury. Bowie was more a master of the really good pop song though for a while he assembled the likes of Robert Fripp, Adrian Bellow, Tony Levin, Brian Eno and Calos Salamar to do some very daring albums like 'Heroes' and 'Station to Station'. The album 'Station to Station' is a good place to start. Though even his pop oriented tunes like 'Ashes to Ashes' (Scarey Monsters) and China Girl (Lets Dance) have something off the beaten track.

Bowie Links

King Crimson

musical experiments

Taking about Bowie's musicians Robert Fripp, Adrian Bellow and Tony Levin got together with Bill Bruford (Yes) to reform King Crimson, earlier members included John Wetton (Asia) and Greg Lake (ELP). Robert Fripp is the master of screeching, super sustained, weird guitar sounds. You just have to listen to Bowie's 'Fashion' or Peter Gabriel's 'Games without Frontiers' to hear what a clever chap Fripp is. King Crimson are prog rock in the true experimental, weird sense of the world. Bands like 'Garbage' owe a lot to this band. King Crimson can be amazingly good though also sometimes embarrassingly bad. They're like the Welsh football team with some great strikers (creative musicians) but nobody at the back in defence writing the songs.

King Crimson Links

Pink Floyd

wev'e heard funnier

Talking about weird, Pink Floyd started as acid tab dropping experimentalist eventually coming down to do amazing albums like 'Meddle', 'Dark Side of the Moon', 'Wish You Were Here', 'Animals', and 'The Wall'. These are prog-rock master pieces. Pink Floyd coined the phrase concept album, i.e. all the songs were parts of a bigger whole with running motifs and naratives (now thatís pretentious). Their album 'Dark Side of the Moon' was the worlds best selling album before Thiller. Pink Floyd were masters of the epic fifteen minute narative song / instrumental. Where different bands brought different things to the gendre e.g. Zepp - mysticism, Yes - hippie love and Queen - theatrics, Pink Floyd brought manic depression. If you get into Floyd you find yourself merrily strolling down the street singing 'Just another sad old man dying of a cancer - ahhh'.
Did you know that the 'Dark Side of the Moon' albumn syncs up uncannily well as incidental music to the classic movie 'The Wizzard of Oz'.

Pink Floyd Links


they wern't always m.o.r.

Although now disperate members of the mainstream rock establishment. Genesis (i.e. Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Ruthford, Steve Hacket and Anthony Banks) were once a daring outfit making some of the best prog-rock albums ever. Unlike the some other bands Genesis were well balanced between good tunes and daring, happiness and depression, musicianship and accessibility, technique and feeling. In my opinion their very best was with Peter Gabriel and Steve Hacket i.e. albums like 'Foxtrot', 'Selling England By the Pound' and 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway'. Their best prog-rock examples are 'Firth of Fifth' (Selling England By the Pound), 'Dance of the Volcano' (Trick of the Tail) and Musical Box (Genesis Live Version). Like many artist their Eighties output became more drab and middle of the road with individual members doing breakway albums and other celeb pursuits. However some of the later stuff is worth having (i.e Duke) and the solo albumns of Gabriel and Hacket (i.e Gabriel's I and III and Hacket's 'Defector' and 'Spectral Mornings').

Genesis Links


art as expression not as market campaigns will still sell loads of records

Anyway, if you are still reading this, to the best prog-rock band of them all. This is a band that can make people like me think wow, whilst most others cringe. They can be the definition of prog-rock with all the epic pretensions, amazing musicianship and avant-garde daring of all the above bands. Though unlike the rest theyre not British and even though not many people over here have heard of them they still manage to be one of the most successful album selling bands ever. I'm talking about Rush. A three piece (Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart) that formed in the late sixties to do some fantastic albums in the late seventies and early eighties. If you like prog-rock you haven't lived until you've heard 'A Farewell to Kings', 'Hemispheres', 'Permanent Waves', 'Moving Pictures' and 'Signals'. The Rush sound consists of screechy high vocals, in your face guitars, intriguing melodies, wierd chord progressions, masses of musical imagerey, pretentious lyrics and musicianship that's tighter than a camel's arse in a sand storm. Even these days in their dinosaur stage they can still record some real gems imidst lesser albums, e.g. 'Animate Me' - (Counter Parts) and 'Dog Years' (Test For Echo). Even though they're an odd looking bunch and getting on a bit they still have something special, so much so that bands like Placebo, U2 and Blur cite them as a major influence. Where 'glittering prizes and endless comprises shatter the illusion of integrity' Rush still shine.

Rush Links


no smashed up hotel rooms

As this is a top ten, Ive had to find a suitable band that represents the gendre. Ok there are plenty of obvious candidates such as Deep Purple, ELP, Traffic, Black Sabbath, Focus, Roxy Music, Gong, etc though to be honest I never really liked them as much as the above (though check out seventies Hillage). Many evolved into bashers out of classical favorites or biker metal heads with cheesy sun tans.
The only other seventies band in my opinion that could hold a candle up to the previous nine when it comes to innovation and creative talent is Kraftwerk. This German band were the pioneers of synthesisers, using the new instruments for more than just the odd keyboard solo. Classic albumns such as 'Autobahn', 'Trans Europe Express' and 'The Man Machine' have all the imagery and daring of the best Progrock - though many class them differently. Like Rush they are also a great live band even if a computer does a lot of the work.

Kraftwerk Links

My Top Ten Prog Rock Albums

Abbey Road - The Beatles
Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin
Close to the Edge - Yes
Sheer Heart Attack - Queen
Station to Station - Bowie
Discipline - King Crimson
Meddle - Pink Floyd
Selling England By the Pound - Genesis
Permanent Waves - Rush
Autobahn - Kraftwerk

The Future

By the early eighties progressive rock had lost it's charm and appeal becoming stale and established, just asking to be superceeded by new styles such as punk, dance, and indie - all of which borrowed from the from the gendre. Real progressive music went underground though without the grandure and virtuosity. Eighties bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Cockteau Twins seemed to carry the guantlet or daring and origionality laid down by King Crimson, Yes, Floyd, etc a decade earlier. Others like Marilion, It Bites and later Kula Shaker tried to sound like the seventies originals making some quite listenable music. There is still a huge demand for progressive rock from people who believe that listening to music should be an entertainment in itself rather than a fasion, dance, image or generation thing. There is plenty of origional stuff being made accessible via the internet (though some of the new progrock reminds me of Spinal Tap). Despite the dire state of established charts there will always be new bands worth listening to.

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