January 04, 2012

Glimpse of the history and development of Progressive Rock Music

Progressive rock (also referred to as prog rock or prog) is a subgenre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of "a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility." John Covach, in Contemporary Music Review, says that many thought it would not just "succeed the pop of the 1960s as much as take its rightful place beside the modern classical music of Stravinsky and Bartók." Progressive rock bands pushed "rock's technical and compositional boundaries" by going beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus-based song structures. The Oxford Companion to Music states that progressive rock bands "...explored extended musical structures which involved intricate instrumental patterns and textures and often esoteric subject matter." Additionally, the arrangements often incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and later world music.Instrumentals were common, while songs with lyrics were sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy. Progressive rock bands sometimes used "concept albums that made unified statements, usually telling an epic story or tackling a grand overarching theme." Progressive rock developed from late 1960s psychedelic rock, as part of a wide-ranging tendency in rock music of this era to draw inspiration from ever more diverse influences. The term was initially applied to the music of bands such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, reaching its peak of popularity in the mid 1970s.

Brief history
All music cites Bob Dylan's poetry, The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! (1966) and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) as the "earliest rumblings of progressive and art rock", while progressiverock.com cites the latter as its "starting point". The Beach Boys' concept album Pet Sounds (1966) and Jefferson Airplane's second album Surrealistic Pillow (1967) were both big influences for many progressive rock bands.
From the mid-1960s The Left Banke, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys had pioneered the inclusion of harpsichords, wind and string sections on their recordings to produce a form of Baroque rock and can be heard in singles like Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967), with its Bach inspired introduction. Freak Out!, released in 1966, had been a mixture of progressive rock, garage rock and avant-garde layered sounds. In the same year, the band "1-2-3", later renamed Clouds, began experimenting with song structure, improvisation, and multi-layered arrangements. In March of that year, The Byrds released "Eight Miles High", a pioneering psychedelic rock single with lead guitar heavily influenced by the jazz soloing style of John Coltrane. Later that year, The Who released "A Quick One While He's Away", the first example of the rock opera form, and considered by some to have been the first prog epic

In 1967, Jeff Beck released the single "Beck's Bolero", inspired by Maurice Ravel's Bolero, and, later that year, Procol Harum released the Bach-influenced single "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Also in 1967, the Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed, combining classical-inspired orchestral music with traditional rock instrumentation and song structures. Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, contained the nearly ten-minute improvisational psychedelic instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive".
By the late 1960s, many rock bands had begun incorporating instruments from classical and Eastern music, as well as experimenting with improvisation and lengthier compositions. East of Eden, for example, used Eastern harmonics and instruments such as a Sumerian saxophone on the album Mercator Projected in 1969. 

At that year was a culmination period of musical innovation, in what could be seen as the first album to wholly qualify the ideals of the new progressive rock genre, King Crimson's 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. Their dark, poetic music was heavily celebrated, clarifying long songs as the new norm and emphasizing the symphonic qualities that other bands were only beginning to touch upon (thanks to the band's use of the instrument of prog rock, the mellotron). Some, such as the UK's Soft Machine, began to experiment with blends of rock and jazz. By the end of the decade, other bands, such as Deep Purple and The Nice, had also recorded classical-influenced albums with full orchestras: Concerto for Group and Orchestra and Five Bridges. This use of classical music would crystallise in the '70s with Amon Düül's orchestral score on Made in Germany (1975), Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (1970), and several works of Frank Zappa.

Early bands

Bands formed by the end of the 1960s included The Moody Blues (1964), Pink Floyd (1965), Soft Machine (1966), Barclay James Harvest (1966), Gong(1967), Genesis (1967), Jethro Tull (1967), The Nice (1967), Procol Harum (1967), The United States of America (1967), Van Der Generator (1967), Yes (1968), Rush (1968), Caravan (1968), KingCrimson (1969), Supertramp (1969), and Gentle Giant (1969).

Although many of these bands were from the UK, the genre was growing popular elsewhere in continental Europe. Triumvirat led Germany's significant progressive rock movement, while Tangerine Dream, Faust, Can and Neu! led the related Berlin School and Krautrock movements. Italian progressive rockis an important sub-genre led by PFM, Le Orme, and Banco, all of which gained significant international recognition. Other notable Italian bands includeNew Trolls, Area, Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Il Balletto di Bronzo, Maxophone and Locanda Delle Fate.
Focus and Trace formed in the Netherlands, France produced Ange, Gong, and Magma, the Quebec-based Harmonium were one of the first significant North American progressive bands, and Greece saw the debut of Aphrodite's Child led by electronic music pioneer Vangelis. Spain produced numerous prog groups, including Triana. Scandinavia was represented by Norwegian band Popol Vuh, Swedish band Kaipa, and Finnish band Wigwam.

In the late 60's entered the year 70, the genre was growing fast. Jethro Tull fused blues and folk with progressive rock, and Yes and Genesis developed their ultra-classical styles. With each album that was made, song structures became more and more complex, and elements of straight rock became less and less recognisable. New super-group Emerson, Lake and Palmer continued where the Nice left off, bombarding listeners with virtuosic displays and increasingly costly stage antics. All the while, jazz-rock grew in popularity thanks to Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and some very eclectic music was being made by lesser-known bands such as Gentle Giant and Van der Graaf Generator. Even the underground psychedelic music had morphed into a brand of prog rock known as the 'Canterbury Scene', where jazzy noodling complimented light-hearted, whimsical lyrics, prevalent in the music of Caravan and the Soft Machine. It seemed that no stone was left unturned in this musical exploitation.

(To know the history of the early origins of progressive rock music can be seen on pages) 

Progressive rock reached its peak around 1973. The album charts were dominated by the likes of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Selling England By The Pound by Genesis and Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes; gargantuan works of art focused on deep concepts and challenging musical soundscapes. Prog rock was everywhere, and the bands involved were constantly experimenting with new ways to be progressive, fuelling artistic analysis from their most dedicated fans, university students. Italy had a substantial prog scene at this point, and several bands from North America competed with the (mostly British) circle of prog rock bands, including Rush and Kansas, who were successful in their own right. The particularly experimental French group Magma invented their own subgenre of crazy, operatic jazz-rock, known to fans as 'Zeuhl'. But the media began to grow tired of the weighty, often inaccessible music, and were soon criticising progressive rock, attaching labels such as 'ex
cessive' and 'pretentious' to the genre. This wouldn't have an effect on the prog groups' success for another few years, but their days were now numbered.
The mid-seventies saw many new waves of bands; heavy metal and AOR emerged as prominent genres, each taking their share of rock fans. Progressive elements were still to be found in the music of Supertramp and Queen, but often to a lesser degree, and in compromise with a fresher, more commercial sound. Meanwhile, the older prog bands continued to make aurally demanding music, and their level of popularity decreased proportionally. However, the biggest blow to the genre was undoubtedly the rise of punk rock in the UK.  

Downfall and the Rise of Punk

With bands such as the Sex Pistols focusing on simple three-chord songs, the progressive rock movement was suddenly seen as out-dated, its most significant groups now labeled as 'dinosaurs'. Punk captured the youth's imagination with its highly 'anti-establishment' agenda, and progressive rock was now part of that establishment. Johnny Rotten's t-shirt said it all: "I hate Pink Floyd".

In addition to punk, disco and dance music began to dominate the charts, and prog rock fell duly into obscurity for a substantial period of time. A number of bands continued to record, some even having success with pop hits in the 80s, but the complexity of prog's heyday was largely forgotten.  

Prog Revival

Between 1982 and 1984 however, a small collection of bands revived the ideals of original progressive rock in their own music, which has since been termed 'neo-prog'. Twelfth Night, IQ, Pallas, Pendragon and especially Marillion all released albums that were compositionally similar to those of Genesis and Camel in the previous decade, marked by a cleaner, more up-to-date sound. Following a peak in the mid-eighties, these bands also faded away, though they were never particularly mainstream in the first place.

The 1990s saw progressive elements being incorporated into metal music, a genre that already relied somewhat on technicality. While Dream Theatre and Opeth popularised this combination, other prog bands entered the scene such as Porcupine Tree and the Flower Kings, who gained cult followings among prog fans for having a similar approach to the original groups, yet with an original sound that some people believe neo-prog lacked. Of this new wave of creativity, Radiohead in particular reached a level of success that once again sold prog rock to the masses, albeit in a less recognisable form. Emphasis was no longer on exotic instruments and virtuosity (the synthesizers that revolutionised the 1970s were now as standard as electric guitars) and there was generally a more lyrical, conceptual focus in the music of this era. Since the millennium, progressive rock artists have further increased in popularity, while remaining firmly outside of mainstream music. Muse are possible the one exception to this.

Progressive Rock Today

The internet has allowed many groups to distribute their music, which is often not commercial enough for record companies to fund. The Mars Volta, Pain of Salvation, the Mystery Jets and others have achieved success with their own variations of what is known as 'new-prog'. More recently, MGMT and Arcade Fire have enjoyed a compromise between progressive and radio-friendly music. The genre thrives particularly well today, with older bands reforming and releasing new albums, some of which have been as critically acclaimed as those from prog rock's heyday. In the midst of its fourth major revival, it seems that the progressive rock genre is here to stay.

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