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Progressive Rock Essay

For other uses, see Prog.

Progressive rock (shortened as prog; sometimes called art rock, classical rock or symphonic rock) is a broad subgenre 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, not 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, overlong 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, denoted 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]

Further information: Progressive music

Scope and related terms[edit]

See also: Progressive pop and Art rock

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.[nb 1] 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.[13] "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",[nb 2] 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.

One of the best ways to define progressive rock is that it is a heterogeneous and troublesome genre – a formulation that becomes clear the moment we leave behind characterizations based only on the most visible bands of the early to mid-1970s

– Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell

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. Author Kevin Holm-Hudson believes that "progressive rock is a style far more diverse than what is heard from its mainstream groups and what is implied by unsympathetic critics." 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. 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; that it "had been applied to everyone from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones". Debate about the exact criteria and scope of the genre continues in the 2010s, particularly on Internet forums dedicated to prog.

Relation to art and social theories[edit]

See also: Formalism (music) and Eclecticism in music

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."


Further information: Timeline of progressive rock

1966–70: Origins[edit]

Further information on the origins of progressive rock from the perspective of its early synonyms: Progressive pop § Origins, and Art rock § Origins

Background and roots[edit]

See also: Progressive jazz

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.[nb 4]

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.[13] 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[39] 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.[44] 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]

Main articles: Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

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".[53] 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.[nb 5]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.[60]

Proto-prog and psychedelia[edit]

Main articles: Proto-prog, Psychedelic rock, and Acid rock

See also: Rock opera and Canterbury scene

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)."[61] 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.[nb 6] 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).[68] 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.

"The Court of the Crimson King" (1969)

Macan writes that King Crimson's album "displays every element of the mature progressive rock genre ... [and] exerted a powerful extramusical influence on later progressive rock bands".

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The term "progressive rock", which appeared in the liner notes of Caravan's 1968 self-titled debut LP, came to be applied to bands that used classical music techniques to expand the styles and concepts available to rock music. The Nice, the Moody Blues, Procol Harum and Pink Floyd all contained elements of what is now called progressive rock, but none represented as complete an example of the genre as several bands that formed soon after. Almost all of the genre's major bands, including Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator, ELP, Gentle Giant and Curved Air, released their debut albums during the years 1968–1970. Most of these were folk-rock albums that gave little indication of what the band's mature sound would become, but King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) was a fully formed example of the genre.[nb 7] Critics assumed the album to be the logical extension and development of late 1960s proto-progressive rock exemplified by the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and the Beatles. According to Macan, the album may be the most influential to progressive rock for crystallising the music of earlier "proto-progressive bands ... into a distinctive, immediately recognizable style".


Peak years (1971–76)[edit]

See also: Krautrock and Zeuhl

Most of the genre's major bands released their most critically acclaimed albums during the years 1971–1976. The genre experienced a high degree of commercial success during the early 1970s. Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes and Pink Floyd combined for four albums that reached number one in the US charts, and sixteen of their albums reached the top ten.[nb 8]Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (1973), an excerpt of which was used as the theme for the film The Exorcist, sold 16 million copies.[84][example's importance?]

Progressive rock came to be appreciated overseas, but it mostly remained a European, and especially British, phenomenon. Few American bands engaged in it, and the purest representatives of the genre, such as Starcastle and Happy the Man, remained limited to their own geographic regions. This is at least in part due to music industry differences between the US and Great Britain.[86][nb 9] Cultural factors were also involved, as US musicians tended to come from a blues background, while Europeans tended to have a foundation in classical music. North American progressive rock bands and artists often represented hybrid styles such as the complex arrangements of Rush, the hard rock of Captain Beyond, the Southern rock-tinged prog of Kansas, the jazz fusion of Frank Zappa and Return to Forever, and the eclectic fusion of the all-instrumental Dixie Dregs.[91][92][93][94][text–source integrity?] British progressive rock acts had their greatest US success in the same geographic areas in which British heavy metal bands experienced their greatest popularity. The overlap in audiences led to the success of arena rock bands, such as Boston, Kansas, and Styx, who combined elements of the two styles.

Progressive rock achieved popularity in Continental Europe more quickly than it did in the US. Italy remained generally uninterested in rock music until the strong Italian progressive rock scene developed in the early 1970s.[nb 10] Few of the European groups were successful outside of their own countries, with the exceptions of bands like Focus, who wrote English-language lyrics, and Le Orme and PFM, whose English lyrics were written by Peter Hammill and Peter Sinfield, respectively. Some European bands played in a style derivative of English bands.[verification needed][nb 11] The "Kosmische music" scene in Germany came to be labelled as "krautrock" internationally and is variously seen[weasel words] as part of the progressive rock genre or an entirely distinct phenomenon. Bands such as Can, which included two members who had studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen, tended to be more strongly influenced by 20th century classical music than the British bands, whose musical vocabulary leaned more towards the Romantic era. Many of these groups were very influential even among bands that had little enthusiasm for the symphonic variety of progressive rock.

Decline and fragmentation[edit]

See also: Punk rock and Symphonic pop

Political and social trends of the late 1970s shifted away from the early 1970s hippie attitudes that had led to the genre's development and popularity. The rise in punk cynicism made the utopian ideals expressed in progressive rock lyrics unfashionable. Virtuosity was rejected, as the expense of purchasing quality instruments and the time investment of learning to play them were seen as barriers to rock's energy and immediacy. There were also changes in the music industry, as record companies disappeared and merged into large media conglomerates. Promoting and developing experimental music was not part of the marketing strategy for these large corporations, who focused their attention on identifying and targeting profitable market niches.

Four of progressive rock's most successful bands - King Crimson, Yes, ELP and Genesis - went on hiatus or (in Genesis' case) experienced major personnel changes during the mid-1970s. Macan notes the September 1974 breakup of King Crimson as particularly significant, calling it the point when "all English bands in the genre should have ceased to exist." More of the major bands, including Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant and U.K., dissolved between 1978 and 1980. Many bands had by the mid-1970s reached the limit of how far they could experiment in a rock context, and fans had wearied of the extended, epic compositions. The sounds of the Hammond, Minimoog and Mellotron had been thoroughly explored, and their use became clichéd. Those bands who continued to record often simplified their sound, and the genre fragmented from the late 1970s onwards. In Robert Fripp's opinion, once "progressive rock" ceased to cover new ground – becoming a set of conventions to be repeated and imitated – the genre's premise had ceased to be "progressive".

The era of record labels investing in their artists, giving them freedom to experiment and limited control over their content and marketing, ended with the late 1970s. Corporate artists and repertoire staff exerted an increasing amount of control over the creative process that had previously belonged to the artists, and established acts were pressured to create music with simpler harmony and song structures and fewer changes in meter. A number of symphonic pop bands, such as Supertramp, 10cc, the Alan Parsons Project and the Electric Light Orchestra, brought the orchestral-style arrangements into a context that emphasised pop singles while allowing for occasional instances of exploration. Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and Pink Floyd opted for a harder sound in the style of arena rock.

Few new progressive rock bands formed during this era, and those who did found that record labels were not interested in signing them.[114] The short-lived supergroup U.K. was a notable exception since members had already established reputations, although they tended to carry on in the style of previous bands and did little to advance the genre. Some of the genre's more important development at this time occurred in its influence on other styles, as several guitarists with European ties brought a progressive rock approach to heavy metal and laid the groundwork for the future progressive metal style. Michael Schenker, of UFO, and Uli Jon Roth, who replaced Schenker in Scorpions, expanded the modal vocabulary available to guitarists.[116][further explanation needed] Roth studied classical music with the intent of using the guitar in the way that classical composers used the violin.[117] Finally, the Dutch-born and classically trained Alex and Eddie Van Halen formed Van Halen, featuring ground-breaking whammy-bar, tapping & cross-picking guitar work[118]and influencing "shred" music of the 1980s.[119]


By the early 1980s, progressive rock was thought to be all but dead as a style, an idea reinforced by the fact that some of the principal progressive groups has developed a more commercial sound. ... What went out of the music of these now ex-progressive groups ... was any significant evocation of art music.

– John Covach

Some established bands moved towards music that was simpler and more commercially viable.[verification needed] Echoes of progressive rock complexity could be heard[weasel words] in arena rock bands like Journey, Kansas, Styx, GTR, ELO and Foreigner, all of which either had begun as progressive rock bands or included members with strong ties to the genre. These bands retained some elements of the orchestral-style arrangements, but they moved away from lyrical mysticism in favour of teen-oriented songs about relationships. Genesis transformed into a successful pop act, and a re-formed Yes released the relatively mainstream 90125 (1983), which yielded their only US number-one single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart". These radio-friendly groups have been called "prog lite". One band who experienced great 1980s success while maintaining a progressive approach was Pink Floyd, who released The Wall late in 1979. The album, which brought punk anger into progressive rock, was a huge success and was later filmed as Pink Floyd – The Wall.[citation needed][nb 12]

Post-punk and post-progressive[edit]

Main articles: Post-punk and Post-progressive

See also: New wave

Punk and prog were not necessarily as opposed as is commonly believed. Both genres reject commercialism, and punk bands did see a need for musical advancement.[nb 13] Author Doyle Green says that post-punk emerged as "a kind of 'progressive punk'". Post-punk artists rejected the high cultural references of 1960s rock artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan as well as paradigms that defined rock as "progressive", "art", or "studio perfectionism". In contrast to punk rock, it balances punk's energy and skepticism with a re-engagement with an art school consciousness, Dadaist experimentalism, and atmospheric, ambient soundscapes. It was also majorly influenced from world music, especially African and Asian traditions. Progressive rock's influence was felt in the work of some post-punk bands, although these bands tended not to draw on classical rock or Canterbury bands as influences but rather Roxy Music and krautrock bands, particularly Can. Groups showed some influence of prog along with their more usually recognised punk influences.[139][verification needed][nb 14]

The term "post-progressive" identifies progressive rock that returns to its original principles while dissociating from established 1970s prog styles, and may be located after 1978. Martin credits Roxy Music's Brian Eno as the music's most important catalyst, explaining that his 1973–77 output merged aspects of progressive rock with a prescient notion of punk and new wave.New wave, which surfaced around 1978–79 with some of the same attitudes and aesthetic as punk, was characterised by Martin as "progressive" multiplied by "punk". Bands in the genre tended to be less hostile towards progressive rock than the punks, and there were crossovers, such as Fripp and Eno's involvement with Talking Heads, and Yes' replacement of Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson with the pop duo the Buggles. When King Crimson reformed in 1981, they released an album, Discipline, which Macan says "inaugurated" the new post-progressive style. According to Martin, Talking Heads also created "a kind of new-wave music that was the perfect synthesis of punk urgency and attitude and progressive-rock sophistication and creativity. A good deal of the more interesting rock since that time is clearly 'post-Talking Heads' music, but this means that it is post-progressive rock as well."

Neo-progressive rock[edit]

Main article: Neo-progressive rock

A second wave of progressive rock bands appeared in the early 1980s and have since been categorised as a separate "neo-progressive rock" subgenre.[147] These largely keyboard-based bands played extended compositions with complex musical and lyrical structures. Several of these bands were signed by major record labels, including Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas.[149] Most of the genre's major acts released debut albums between 1983 and 1985 and shared the same manager, Keith Goodwin, a publicist who had been instrumental in promoting progressive rock during the 1970s. The previous decade's bands had the advantage of appearing during a large countercultural movement that provided them with a large potential audience, but the neo-progressive bands were limited to a niche audience and found it difficult to attract a following. Only Marillion and Saga experienced international success.

Neo-progressive bands tended to use Gabriel-era Genesis as their "principal model".[153] They were also influenced by funk, hard rock and punk rock.[154] The genre's most successful band, Marillion, suffered particularly from accusations of similarity to Genesis, although they used a different vocal style and a sound with more of a hard rock element. Authors Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell have pointed out that the neo-progressive bands were not so much plagiarising progressive rock as they were creating a new style from progressive rock elements, just as the bands of a decade before had created a new style from jazz and classical elements. Author Edward Macan counters by pointing out that these bands were at least partially motivated by a nostalgic desire to preserve a past style rather than a drive to innovate.


Third wave[edit]

A third wave of progressive rock bands, who might more properly be described as a second generation of neo-progressive bands, emerged in the 1990s. The use of the term "progressive" to describe groups that follow in the style of bands from ten to twenty years earlier is somewhat controversial, as it has been seen as a contradiction of the spirit of experimentation and progress. These new bands were aided in part by the availability of personal computer-based recording studios, which reduced album production expenses, and the Internet, which made it easier for bands outside of the mainstream to reach widely spread audiences. Record stores specialising in progressive rock appeared in large cities.

The shred music of the 1980s was a major influence on the progressive rock groups of the 1990s. Some of the newer bands, such as the Flower Kings, Spock's Beard and Glass Hammer, played a 1970s-style symphonic prog but with an updated sound. A number of them began to explore the limits of the CD in the way that earlier groups had stretched the limits of the vinyl LP.

Progressive metal[edit]

Main article: Progressive metal

King Crimson's Robert Fripp believed that the prog movement had gone "tragically off course".

Prog Rock is a musical genre that almost lives in its own universe. If you ask two people to define the style, you’re likely to get two very different answers. But everybody agrees on who’s Prog and who’s not.

Essentially, the genre draws on many other styles of music: Classical (mostly Symphonies and Baroque) and Jazz. As well as a touch of Folk. It is marked by these long songs which were usually limited to the amount of space on a side of a vinyl album. Although ELP’s Karn Evil 9 begins on side one and uses all of side two. Also, in many cases, the songs will start in one direction and end with something completely unrelated.

It often involves changes in time signatures and has been marked by some of the greatest musicians in the business: Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Steve Morse, Andy Summers, Keith Emerson, Patrick Moraz, John Wetton, Tony Levin, Chris Squire, Carl Palmer, Chester Thompson and too many more to mention here.


Back in the 1960’s, everybody was looking for the new style of music. Innovations in instruments, gear and recording techniques were coming in leaps and bounds. New directions were tried with more or less success. Eventually, though, almost every time, the Beatles were the ones who came up with a new sound, showing that they were well ahead of the game. Until 1969, that is.

Prog Rock finds its sources in the latter half of the 60’s. In 1966, the Moody Blues came out with their third album, the first with Justin Hayward (1) and John Lodge, entitled “Days of Future Passed”, the first Pop or Rock album to be recorded in stereo and the first one to make use of a full orchestra. A very memorable album indeed, spawning two of their greatest hits, “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon“. “Nights” was a number one hit when it came out. It was re-released in 1971 on a compilation album and it once again climbed to number one. It was also re-released in the 80s after being featured in a film. It once again climbed to the number one spot…

Although this was still pop, it was a pioneer of the genre. In more ways than one.

In the late 60’s, Prog giants were born: Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis. They were all part of this new movement, along with bands like Procul Harem, Tangerine Dream and Van Der Graaf Generator. Though Floyd were doing what was called Psychedelic or “Acid Rock”, Genesis’ first album (From Genesis to Revelation) was an album, although it was a far cry from what other pop bands were doing at the time. Yes’ first try was a great album, but which borrowed a little from everyone and everything.

King Crimson

In 69, an obscure, unsigned band called the Gods (which, in a certain form, eventually became Uriah Heep) were having their regular personnel problems. The guitarist and singer, Greg Lake, left and formed a band with an old school friend by the name of Robert Fripp. To the lineup were added a couple of musicians from Fripp’s former band, Giles, Giles and Fripp: Ian MacDonald on wind instruments and keyboards and Peter Giles on drums.

Fripp figured the band didn’t need two guitarists, so Lake obliged by picking up the bass. They shopped around their demo which was immediately picked up by the Moody Blues who had their own label, Threshold. Furthermore, for the recording of the first album, the Moodies lent them their producer, Tony Visconti.

After the first day of recording, Visconti walked out. He couldn’t make heads or tails of what this band was trying to do. Lake stepped in to the producer’s shoes (2) and the sessions went on.

The final product was called “In the Court of the Crimson King”. The band was named after that song: King Crimson. And it took an unsuspecting world by storm.

It was a major seller everywhere. It was so shockingly different from anything else that was being done at the time. It took other bands, like Yes and Genesis, a couple more albums before they could claim to be in the same league.

Prog Rock was born!

But Crimson faced a lot of problems, mainly in their lineup. These guys had given so much of themselves on this album that it was causing personnel dissensions. While they were touring North America with Keith Emerson and the Nice, who were on their farewell tour, the band decided to split up after the tour.

MacDonald and Giles wanted to go their own way, while Lake and Fripp wanted to improve on what they’d done. Another factor that came into the picture was Keith Emerson who’d gotten to know Lake during the tour.

Lake eventually left and formed the first supergroup (3) of the 1970’s, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Originally the band was supposed to feature Mitch Mitchell of Jimi Hendrix fame on drums and Hendrix himself was supposed to audition, although he died a couple of weeks before it was to happen.

Crimson continued reappearing through different lineups and still exist today. The only common member being Robert Fripp. Over the years, the band has counted such people as John Wetton, Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, and Adrian Belew (4).


In the early seventies, Pink Floyd had refined their style, thanks mostly to David Gilmour. They could now be counted in the Prog family. Yes, with the acquisition of guitarist Steve Howe (who had originally agreed to form a band with Keith Emerson) and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, produced The Yes Album, followed by the glorious Fragile.

Genesis’ second album, Trespass, one of their best, can be considered a Prog album, although in a folkier way and with an innocent roughness to it which gives it all its charm. With the arrival of Steve Hackett on guitar, replacing an ailing Anthony Phillips and Phil Collins on drums (the bands fourth drummer), they refined their style with Nursery Crime.

The genre was so popular that entire record labels were being built around it. Chrysalis was put together specifically for Prog acts. ELP started Manticore and, with this label, discovered the legendary Italian band PFM (Premiata Forneira Marconi). Atlantic concentrated their efforts of Prog. New bands were arising everywhere.

Although the style is typically British, it was picked up around the world. Bands like Styx and Kansas in the US and Harmonium, Rush and FM in Canada.

Instrumental Works

In 1972, Virgin records was started. The label wished to enter the scene with a bang. Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, at 18, was looking for a label who would back up his project of a revolutionary album where he would play no less than twenty-two instruments. Virgin loved the idea and signed him right away. Tubular Bells was released. It did get some success, but it’s only two years later when someone on the set of the film The Exorcist played this to Director William Friedkin that it would get its great push. Friedkin loved the music and thought it would be perfect with his film.

And so did most of the world. Tubular Bells has sold over 20 million copies world-wide. But Oldfield was not the only one to play instrumental Prog. Before him had been Tangerine Dream. Through various lineups, always with Edgar Froese at the helm, TaDream have been through various phases and have experimented with just about everything. And they’re still going strong today.

In 1976, the son of musician Maurice Jarre, famous for his numerous soundtracks, came of with his own brand of synthesizer-driven Prog. Jean Michel Jarre’s first album, Oxygen quickly rose through the charts.

John Williams (not the American guy who did the Jaws and Star Wars soundtracks, rather the Australian Classical guitarist) put together his own band. Williams was the first person to teach Classical guitar in a British college. But he also played for Kate Bush and various other Rock artists. He picked up other musicians such as Francis Monkman (Roxy Music) and put together Sky. Their second album, a double one and the first to be released in North America, mixing Classical and Rock was a huge success. Their version of Bach’s “Toccata” can still be heard today.

What’s interesting about these instrumentalists is that they don’t need to advertise their new albums. The don’t play very much on the radio (not today, that is), yet every release sells millions of copies.

These people, with others such as Vangelis, were the pioneers of another style of music: New Age. Yet their own music, usually found in the New Age section of record stores is, in reality, Progressive Rock. It just sells more if you put them in the New Age sections.

The Family Tree

As bands split-up, members joined other bands. It would be next to impossible to draw a chart of who has played with who (5). John Wetton, for example, has played with King Crimson, UK and Asia, among others. Bill Bruford has played with Yes, King Crimson and UK. Steve Howe has played with Yes and Asia. John Wetton played with Steve Hackett and Ian MacDonald. Hackett has played with Genesis and they had Bill Bruford doing the drums a few times. He also played with GTR with Steve Howe. Ian MacDonald has played with King Crimson. And on and on and on ¼

As this was mostly a complex style of music, it didn’t please everybody. Especially musicians who didn’t have the same talent as the Proggers.

The End of an Era

The style started to lose ground during the late seventies. This was due, mainly, to the arrival of Punk and Disco. Also due to the fact that, as much as these guys had given in the first half of the decade, they couldn’t go on forever. By the 80’s the style was all but dead to the general public.

There were, of course, exceptions. Jethro Tull were still making albums with moderate success. Marillion, a new band at the time, were on the rise. Then came Asia.

In 1982, supergroup Asia, consisting of John Wetton (King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Roxy Music) on bass and vocals, Steve Howe (Yes) on guitar, Geoff Downes (Yes) on keyboards and Carl Palmer (ELP) on drums, took the world by storm. Their first hit, Heat of the Moment has become a classic. Everybody was singing that song. They made so much money they had to spend the next year outside of the UK for tax purposes. At the time, theirs was the biggest selling debut album in history.

The band’s history is rather chaotic. They still exist today, yet only Geoff Downes remains of the original lineup. Then it seemed all was over.

Except that through all of this, Pink Floyd consistently released major albums. They are the greatest exception in the genre.


Nevertheless, the style still survived in some form or other. Grunge is a great example. Although it’s a spinoff of what Neil Young was doing, it’s the addition of Prog structures that made the style what it is. Other bands, such as the Smashing Pumpkins who claimed to be “Alternative” were nevertheless nothing but commercial Prog. Everybody loves Tori Amos. And she is extremely talented. But Kate Bush came before her.

Behind the scenes, a lot has been happening. There are bands who have been making careers of Prog while no one was looking. Often referred to as “neo-prog” they are nevertheless in the same leagues as the classic acts.

Independent labels, such as Magna Carta, Galileo, Inside Out and Windstorm, specialize in Prog rock. In fact, there are more Prog acts out today than their were back in the seventies. Bands such as Pendragon, the Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard manage to make a decent living.

Others struggle more, but everyone struggles at some point in every genre. Most struggle all their lives.

The Second Coming

And the genre is selling, all things told, a lot of records. Although concerts are now mostly confined to nightclubs, there are still a lot of them happening. And it’s all more organized today than it was back then.

Tori Amos is huge, as are Radiohead. All the style needs is for artists like these to admit they’re doing Progressive Rock.

With all the attention which is gradually being drawn to it, it is in the process of become a major style again. Sony and other Major labels have started signing Prog acts…


1. Hayward had tried to audition for The Animals, but arrived too late. Eric Burden suggested that he try for The Moody Blues.

2. Although the album production is credited to the whole band, it was Lake who actually produced it.

3. A supergroup is a band formed by people who have all been in successful bands or have had successful solo careers. U2 is not, and never will be a supergroup. The Firm were.

4.King Crimson Chart

5.Family Tree Chart

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