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What IS Prog?

Progressive Rock Explained

According to Wikipedia:

What is Progressive Rock?

Progressive rock (prog) is an ambitious, eclectic, and often grandiose style of rock music. Some common, though not universal, elements of progressive rock include:

  •  Long compositions, sometimes running over 20 minutes (epics)

  •  Intricate melodies and harmonies.

  •  Unusual vocal styles and use of multi-part vocal harmonies.

  •  Lyrics that convey intricate and sometimes impenetrable narratives.

  •  Prominent use of electronic instrumentation, particularly keyboard instruments such as:
    - organ
    - piano
    - Mellotron
    - Moog synthesizer

  •  Use of unusual time signatures, scales, or tunings with many pieces incorporating multiple time signatures, sometimes concurrently.

  •  Solo passages for virtually every instrument designed to showcase the virtuosity of the player.

  •  A co-ordination between the bassist and the drummer, often using counter-tempos and other techniques that contrast what the rest of the band is doing.

  •  Concept albums in which a theme or storyline is explored throughout an entire album in a manner similar to a film or a play.

Progressive rock compositions sometimes take the following forms:

  •  A piece that is subdivided into movements in the manner of a classical suite.

  •  A piece that is composed of a patchwork of musical themes that could conceivably stand as individual songs, but together serve to relate a complete narrative through music.

  •  A piece that allows the development of musical ideas via progressions or variations in the manner of a bolero or a canon.

The Roots of Prog

Progressive rock was born from a variety of musical influences in the late 1960s. The later Beatles and many psychedelic bands began to combine traditional rock music with instruments from classical and Eastern music. Psychedelic rock continued this experimental trend and began to compose very long pieces, although usually without any carefully thought-out structure.

Many music historians point to King Crimson as the first "true" progressive rock band; their first appearance was in February 1969. They were quickly followed by other English progressive rock bands, including Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd.

It is worth noting that Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd all began their careers before King Crimson, and all changed their musical styles considerably following the release of "In the Court of the Crimson King".

Progressive rock's popularity peaked in the mid-1970s, when prog artists regularly topped readers' votes in mainstream popular music magazines in England and America. By this time, several New World progressive rock bands had been formed, including Rush (from Canada), Kansas (from Kansas, of course), and the Dixie Dregs (from Georgia).

With the advent of punk rock in the late 1970s, popular and critical opinion in England and America moved toward a simpler and more aggressive style of rock, with progressive rock increasingly dismissed as pretentious and overblown. This attitude has remained common to the present day, though it has begun to diminish since about 2004.

The early 1980s saw something of a revival of the genre, led by artists such as Marillion, IQ, Saga, and Kate Bush. Groups that arose during this time are sometimes termed neo-progressive. Around the same time, some progressive rock stalwarts changed musical direction, simplifying their music and including more obviously electronic elements.

In 1982, the much anticipated supergroup Asia, composed of Steve Howe (Yes), Carl Palmer (ELP), John Wetton (King Crimson), and Geoff Downes (Yes), surprised and disappointed with their pop oriented debut album.

In 1983, Genesis achieved international success with the song "Mama", with its heavy emphasis on a drum machine riff.

In 1984, Yes had a surprise number one hit with the song "Owner of a Lonely Heart", which contained contemporary electronic effects and was accessible enough to be played at discos, and more recently has been remixed into a Trance single. Many progressive rock fans were unhappy with the direction taken by such bands during this time.

It should be noted that the term "progressive" in the early 1970's had been coined to emphasize the newness of these bands, but by the 1980's the term had become the name of a specific musical style. As a result, bands such as King Crimson which continued to update their sound were not always called "progressive", while some newer self-described "prog" bands purchased vintage mellotrons in order to recreate the sound of early 1970's prog.

Fans and hostile critics alike had established "progressive rock" as the permanent name of this genre, and so the connection to the usual meaning of "progressive" became irrelevant.

The progressive rock genre enjoyed another revival in the 1990s with the so-called "Third Wave", spearheaded by such bands as Sweden's The Flower Kings, UK's Porcupine Tree, and Spock's Beard from the United States. One of the most important bands of the alternative rock movement, The Smashing Pumpkins, incorporated progressive rock into their unique, eclectic style, going so far as to release two albums dealing with the same concept.

In recent years, the most commercially viable category of prog has been progressive metal. These bands are usually happy to be known as progressive, although the music bears very little resemblance to the original progressive rock form. They do, however, produce very long pieces and concept albums. Several of the leading bands in the prog-metal genre (particularly Dream Theater from the US and Opeth from Sweden) cite pioneer progressive hard-rockers Rush as a prime influence, although their music shows more influence from bands such as Yes or Metallica. Meanwhile, other heavy metal bands not generally considered prog-metal, such as System of a Down, have nevertheless incorporated prog-influenced elements like bizarre shifts in time signatures and tempo in their music.

The work of contemporary artists such as Ween and post-rock bands like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor could be said to incorporate some of the experimental elements of progressive rock. They sometimes combined prog with the aesthetic sensibilities of punk rock to produce music which many find challenging, innovative and imaginative. A better example of a contemporary post-rock band however is probably The Mars Volta, who are notable for intentionally fusing punk with progressive rock, two elements once polar opposites.

Among more experimental and avant garde musicians, the Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu publicly cites progressive rock bands as a prime influence on his work. There are also a number of contemporary prog bands, such as Mostly Autumn that combine Celtic, and sometimes pagan, influences with earlier prog rock styles.