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As the 1960s drew to a close, pioneering bands in Britain (and followed eventually by every developed country in the world) evolved rock from a simple music form valuing base emotions and attitude, into an elaborate form capable of incorporating involved compositional structures and sophisticated melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic elements. These were musicians whod been exposed to classical music, art, and literature. Classical, jazz, folk, and electronic music elements were integrated; musicianship was emphasized, and instrumental content was no longer secondary to vocals and lyrics. This genre came to be known as progressive or art-rock. Genesis, Yes, ELP, and King Crimson were probably the best-known and arguably most accomplished progressive rock bands, but there were myriad others. Before the end of the 1970s, these bands had written themselves out of the market by making music over the head of the average pop listener (not to mention the rock media).

I. Introduction

One of the first genres to spring forth from the uber-creative psychedelia movement, and one of the few to truly capture the 'alternate reality' feel of psychedelia, progressive rock attempted to marry rock with classical, jazz, avant garde, or just plain complicated masterwork. Prog/Art is steeped in sci-fi/fantasy imagery, highly cerebral, and usually very reliant on the chops (and chutzpah) of the performers. Art Rock can be separated from Prog because it is slightly older, less virtuoistic, quiter and calmer in nature, and keeps closer to its psychedelic roots. But here I'm combining them into one huge pretentious stew for the sake of convenience and ease of storytelling.

II. A Short History

Art rock was born as a combination of bands began to split from mere psychedelia, and move in a more serious direction. After the somewhat 'deconstructive' and dumbed-down tendencies of psychedelia, many folks lusted for an elevation of rock music into more respectable spheres...rock less for the booty and more for the mind, if you will. By taking trappings from classical music, The Beatles (as if there was any doubt) and The Beach Boys (on their 1966 Pet Sounds album) were the first high-profile attempts to complicate rock music, but The Moody Blues must take the cake as the first wholly Art Rock band. The Moody's 1967 Days of Future Passed album, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, was Art Rock in full bloom, full of lush arrangements and pretentious poetry asides. But the Moodys were, at heart, just a melodic pop band with a penchant for highfalootin' concepts and a full orchestra in tow. The Nice were close to marrying classical with rock, but in a dirty, chaotic package that left a lot of melody to be desired. With the loss of figurehead Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd slowly morphed from Psychedelic to Art Rock over the course of the late 60's, and remained its most popular figurehead throughout the 70's, but they also had not yet (in 1969) grapsed the imaginations of the world with their spacey yet accessible sonic exploration. What was needed next was a synthesis of the technically daunting jamming of a Hendrix with the wacky difficulty of a Stravinsky composition. What was needed was Progression.

With the release of King Crimson's 1969 masterwork In The Court Of The Crimson King, the sound of prog was was loud and harsh, but also alternatingly beautiful and poetic. Lyrically? A pretentious mess of fantasy and philosophy that, to be told, fit the apocalyptic sounds perfectly. The world opened for Prog and the number of its artists blossomed over the next 2 years. The most popular of these first wave proggers were Yes, optimistic yet rocking, and ELP, virtosos to the core. Genesis was another notable, quite a bit more lyrically and thematically advanced than the pack, mostly due to the leadership of singer Peter Gabriel. Prog artists seemingly sprang up from everywhere, and in 1972 the form was at its lofty peak. Bands stretched the imaginations of audience members with their sprawling concept records as well as stretching the boundaries of record making. The bestselling double album became a standard, and even the triple live album was breached. Jethro Tull released a favorite of the genre, Thick As A Brick, that had one single song on it. It seemed that nothing could stop prog's popularity except for itself.

III. What Happened Next?

As we should expect, prog became too big for its britches. Never concerned about the limits of audience tolerance for sprawl and indulgence, proggers pushed way beyond them and quickly lost their more mainstream fans. Core fans still loved albums like Yes' 1973 Tales From Topographic Oceans and Jethro Tull's A Passion Play, but most average Joes responded with a resounding yawn. The second generation pure prog bands, like Camel, and hard rock/prog crossovers like Rush failed to regain the lost critical momentum. Truly derivative hard-rockers-in-prog-clothing like Kansas and Styx diluted the talent pool (and people's perceptions) even further. And, of course, the punk movement was designed singly to deflate such puffed up dinosaurs as they perceived the proggers to be. Though many fans remained true to prog throughout the end of the 70's, developments were slow during this time and many of the more popular prog bands underwent times of struggle and internal conflict (like Yes), retreated from prog rock (like Jethro Tull), or dropped off the radar screen completely (like King Crimson and ELP). The beginning of the 1980's proved to be the death knell for most of the original prog bands, who found themselves unable to compete with changes in fashion and technology. Art Rock died an altogether less-spectacular death than Prog, more fading into the mainstream than imploding in mid-flight. Pink Floyd scored some of the biggest sales of all time with their 70's albums, and continue to sell their slick brand of art rock to young potheads who have just earned their bongs.

As the plastic-y 'forward looking' 80's turned to the fondly 70's nostalgic 1990's, many of the former prog giants found themselves with fresh popularity and returned to their signature sounds. Of course, the true force of the old days was gone, but old virtuosos die hard, so many fans find a lot to love about modern era prog. New-prog bands like Marillion and Dream Theater have also appeared, trying to move prog into a new generation of performers...but honestly, the magic remains with all those old British dudes with tweaky voices and bad teeth.

IV. Purchase Tips

Prog and Art Rock were the absolute state-of-the-art of the early 70's, so you'll have no worries about technical issues like sound quality or mastering on such discs. Even old vinyl can sound positively amazing because of the care taken during production over 30 years ago. Packaging is also often as creative and interesting as the music contained within, so maybe some old vinyl is just what you need to preserve a tripped out Roger Dean cover painting. But most prog fans are also closet audiophiles, so nothing less than a pristine remastered CD is acceptable to most. Some of your more obscure artists (like Van Der Graaf Generator or Renaissance) can be almost impossible to find in the US through non-special order channels, but try fan sites on the internet. They'll be sure to point you in the right direction for mail ordering. In more prog-friendly countries like Russia, however, you'll have no problem completing your collections.

V. Who are the best artists to start off with?

First class: For Art Rock, Pink Floyd is the obvious favorite, but many folks like the sweeter sounds of the Moody Blues or Procul Harum as well.

For Prog, Yes is the obvious king of public and critical opinion due to a highly consistent and accessible body of work. Genesis is also known (at least in their Peter Gabriel-era peak) for their gorgeous melodic ability rarely matched in the prog world. King Crimson is more advanced and original, yet also more inconsistent. Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant also have extremely fanatical core audiences and have some great releases. Gong, though only peripherally a prog band (they're too weird to be called 100% prog, but no other description fits any better) is really, really cool as well, if you can locate their albums.

Second class: ELP has to be down here, in my opinion, due to their inability to make anything approaching a melody or a consistently great album in their entire career, though they did have some kickass moments. Rick Wakeman's solo career is down here as well. Many of the later prog groups, like Camel or Manfred Mann's Earth Band, are too derivative and unoriginal despite their decent quality. Prog/Metal and Prog/Hard Rock hybrids like Rush were okay-ish doing prog but made their real names after they'd quit the quirky stuff. For Art Rock, Supertramp and Alan Parsons 's gotta be placed here, too.

Low class: One rule I've found is that prog bands don't stink.

VI. Recommended Records

Probably the highest point of Art Rock was Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, but their other 70's albums are nearly as good. The Moody Blues and Procul Harum are probably best served by a best-of collection, but I've also never heard any of their studio records so I could be missing out on something big.

For Prog, the originator is still the best, and King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King is a huge ball of great stuff. Yes' 1971 Fragile and 1972 Close To The Edge are frequently listed as fan favorites, as well as Genesis' Selling England By The Pound and Jethro Tull's Aqualung and Thick as a Brick.

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

Most Important Albums:

Moody Blues - Days Of Future Passed
The Moody Blues -
Days Of Future Passed

In The Court Of The Crimson King
King Crimson -
In the Court of the Crimson King

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Genesis -
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

Yes - Fragile
Yes -

ELP - Brain Salad Surgery
Emerson, Lake & Palmer -
Brain Salad Surgery

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon
Pink Floyd -
The Dark Side of the Moon

Asia -

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield -
Tubular Bells

Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygen
Jean Michel Jarre -

Pendragon - The Masquerade Overture
Pendragon -
The Masquerade Overture

Arena - The Visitor
Arena -
The Visitor

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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 ELPs 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 1960s, 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 60s. In 1966, the Moody Blues came out with their third album, the first with Justin Hayward 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 60s, 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 Fripps former band, Giles, Giles and Fripp: Ian MacDonald on wind instruments and keyboards and Peter Giles on drums.

Fripp figured the band didnt 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 couldnt make heads or tails of what this band was trying to do. Lake stepped in to the producers shoes 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 theyd done. Another factor that came into the picture was Keith Emerson whod gotten to know Lake during the tour.

Lake eventually left and formed the first supergroup of the 1970s, 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.


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 its 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 theyre 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 Jarres 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 Bachs Toccata can still be heard today.

Whats interesting about these instrumentalists is that they dont need to advertise their new albums. The dont 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. 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 didnt please everybody. Especially musicians who didnt 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 couldnt go on forever. By the 80s 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 bands 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 its a spinoff of what Neil Young was doing, its 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 Spocks 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 its 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 theyre 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.