Introduction Progressive Rock or “Prog” as it is known to its fans is a sub genre of rock music that officially begins in 1969 with the release of In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. However, several bands and artists are credited with being the genre’s influences and antecedents. Progressive Rock attempted to extend the range of the rock song through the use of technology and virtuoso musicianship.
Prog Origins Frank Zappa and the The Mothers of Invention. The Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beach Boys due their experiments with studio technology from 1967 onwards. The Byrds due to extended, psychedelic instrumentals.Musically, Progressive Rock is equally influenced byJazz, Classical Music and Rock Music.
Generic Features Complex arrangements and unusual time signatures. Long songs and multi-part compositions. Genesis’ Supper’s Ready clocks in at 27 minutes. Instrumental virtuosity. Many Prog musicians are considered as “the best” in their field. Innovative use of music technology. Diverse influences including Classical, Jazz, Krautrock, Psychedelia and industrial music. Poetic / obscure or whimsical lyrics. Stylised and detailed album artwork Concept albums.
Key Bands 1969 - 1978 King CrimsonFormed by Robert Fripp in 1968, King Crimson was known for its fearsome musical chops and frequent line up changes. The band existed from 1968 until 1974 and then reformed in 1981 and still remains active.
King Crimson Noted for having a different line-up for each album, the only consistent member is Robert Fripp. Fripp is a classically trained guitarist who, bizarrely, was widely criticised for playing sitting down.
Key Bands 1969 - 1978 GenesisFormed in 1967, Genesis in many ways set the standard for Progressive Rock. Known for its lengthy compositions (a typical album would comprise of 6 songs), the band, as a trio, enjoyed commercial success from 1980 to 1997 as one of the biggest selling stadium bands of all time.
Genesis Every member of Genesis is considered to be a virtuoso musician but lead guitarist, Steve Hackett, has been credited with inventing several well known guitar techniques such as tapping and sliding harmonics:
Key Bands 1969 - 1978 Emerson, Lake and PalmerThe world’s first supergroup, ELP comprised of members of already successful bands. Probably the most excessive of all Prog bands with three extremely talented musicians with egos to match. Sold millions of albums world wide. Reunited in 2010 for a 40th anniversary tour.
ELP Keith Emerson has been described as the Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ due to his drug-fuelled and violent solos.
Key Bands 1969 to 1978 RushThis Canadian trio is renowned for its musicianship and having sold more albums than any other Canadian artist. At 2012, Rush’s sales have hit 40 million world wide.
Instruments Most Prog bands utilise a traditional band structure of vocals, keyboard, bass, drums and guitar, the template laid down by Genesis and Yes. However, acoustic instruments such as flute and violin are often used. Trios are often a feature of Prog, notable examples are ELP, Rush and Genesis (from 1977 onwards).
Vocals More often than not, the typical Prog vocalist will sing in his or her own accent. Some Prog vocalists utilise a theatrical approach to performance, incorporating costumes and / or face paint to illustrate the lyrics. Notable vocalists in Prog:Peter Gabriel – Genesis 1967 - 1975 Geddy Lee – Rush 1973 - present Fish – Marillion 1981 - 1989 Peter Nicholls – IQ 1981 - present Dave Longdon – Big Big Train Bruce Soord – The Pineapple Thief
Guitar The Prog guitarist is a virtuoso, able to hold his own with the best. Extended soloing is a must as is the ability to play 12 stringed instruments. Stylistically, the Prog guitarist must be very versatile able to switch between rock and classical styles at the drop of a hat. There is a large emphasis upon sonic exploration and creating different sounds using music technology and unusual tunings. Notable guitarists in Prog:Steve Hackett – Steve Howe – Yes 1969 - presentGenesis 1970 - 1977 Alex Lifeson – Rush 1973 - present David Gilmour – Pink Floyd 1969 - present
Keyboards Equal to the guitarist in the Prog pantheon and an integral part of the Prog sound. Notable instruments used in Prog are Hammond Organ, Mellotron and synthesiser. In days gone by, it was common to see Prog ‘boardists nestled in banks of instruments but with the advent of digital technology, two to three will now suffice. Notable Prog Keyboardists.Keith Emerson – ELP 1970 - present Tony Banks – Genesis 1967 - present Jordan Rudess – Dream Theater 1999 - present
Drums Prog drummers have to be good; they have to be able to play everything from straight rock to jazz. Polyrhythms, awkward and unusual time signatures are the backbone of the music. Each of the drummers below is considered by his peers to be amongst the best in the world. Notable Prog Drummers.Phil Collins – Genesis 1970 - present Neil Peart – Rush 1974 - present Mike Portnoy – Dream Theater 1985 - 2010
Bass Four, six, eight and twelve string basses are a staple of Prog. None of this clunking away at the root note of the chord for these guys, Prog bassists are melodic powerhouses with fingers flying all over the fretboard. Notable Prog bassists:Mike Rutherford – Geddy Lee Rush 1973 - present John Jowitt – various bands Pete Trewavas –Genesis 1967 - present including IQ, *Frost and Arena Marillion 1981 - present
Prog 1978 - present Prog was declared dead in 1978, killed by the Punk Rock movement and consigned to the rubbish bin of history. Surviving bands such as Genesis and Yes began to include radio friendly compositions in their albums and survived to be multi-platinum artists. Prog became a four letter word, apparently reviled and hated by the music press.
Prog 1978 - present Despite being dead, several bands began to form in the late seventies whose sound, insistence on long songs and musical proficiency recalled the Prog greats such as Genesis and Yes. Amongst these bands were IQ, Twelfth Night, Pallas, Marillion and Pendragon. With a harder edge, these bands found a following amongst metal fans and received exposure through the magazine Kerrang! Interest in Prog was on the up.
Prog is not dead 1981: Marillion’s debut album sells 1,000,000 copies with no mainstream media promotion. 1980: Genesis begins a string of top ten hits and number one albums that will end in 2002. 1985: Marillion earn two number two singles with “Kayleigh” and “Lavender”; the subsequent album, Misplaced Childhood becomes a double platinum seller. 1984: IQ headlines Monsters of Rock (now known as The Download Festival). Radiohead and Muse declare that they are Prog. 2010: Porcupine Tree sell out New York’s prestigious Radio City Hall for five consecutive nights
New Prog The genre is alive and kicking with the classic bands of the 70s, 80s and 90s being joined by:MuseRadioheadBiffy ClyroCoheed and CambriaPain of SalvationOpethMastadon30 Seconds to MarsBig Big TrainPorcupine TreeElbowTransatlanticTooland many more …
Supergroups Prog is full of these. Typically, a supergroup consists of members who are already in famous or successful bands. Examples are:Transatlantic (members of The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Marillion and Dream Theater).Kino (members of IQ, Marillion and It Bites).Arena (members of IQ, Pendragon and *Frost).
Albums Prog bands are generally album bands as opposed to singles bands. Many Prog albums are either Concept Albums (the songs link together to tell a story) or Conceptual Albums (the songs link together to form a theme or explore an idea). Key Prog Albums: Nursey Cryme – Genesis (1971) In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson (1969) Tales of Topographic Oceans – Yes (1974) Brain Salad Surgery - ELP(1973)Script for a Jester’s Tear – Pepper’s Ghost – Arena (2005) The Underfall Yard – Dark Matter – IQ (2001)Marillion (1981) Big Big Train (2007)
New Technology Prog was the first genre of music to use:o The ebow (Robert Fripp).o The Mellotron (Tony Banks).o The Moog Synthesiser (Keith Emerson).o Guitar synthesisers (Steve Hackett).o Electronic percussion (Bill Bruford).o Digital synthesisers, including sequencers (Tony Banks).o Samples (Peter Gabriel).o Ambient sounds (Genesis).o Back projections and other multi media sources in concert (Pink Floyd).
New Technology Prog was one of the first genres to fully exploit the internet. Without much mainstream media exposure, bands reached out to their fan bases using the World Wide Web.o Finding themselves without a record deal, in 2001 Marillion emailed 1500 fans and asked them to pre-order their next, unrecorded album, raising £15,000.o One of the first widely available podcasts was the Silhobbit Progressive Progressive Podcast.o Fish (former singer with Marillion) was one of the first internet bloggers, keeping his fan base in the loop with regard to new releases and tours.o Radiohead distributed its album, In Rainbows via the official website, asking fans to pay what they thought it was worth.o Using Myspace, IQ encouraged its fan base to buy its new single. In one week it had sold 30,000 copies, propelling it into the top 40 and forcing Radio 1 to play it. The single eventually reached Number 3.
Odd Facts Prog has been responsible for introducing two christian names in to the English Language. Rush bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee’s real name is Gary Lee Weinrib however, he was known at school as Geddy due to his mother’s strongly Hungarian accented pronunciation of Gary. There are now said to be around 500,000 Geddys alive today but no instance of the name before 1980, coinciding with Rush’s first major singles chart success, The Spirit of Radio. Marillion’s 1985 number two hit single, Kayleigh was about Fish’s ex girlfriend who was called Kay Lee. The name change came about when EMI became worried about Lee’s potential to sue the band. Fish invented the name Kayleigh to avoid rewriting the song’s lyrics. There are said to be 5 million Kayleighs world wide but none born before 1985.
Odd Facts Have a Progging Merry Christmas.Many Prog bands and artists related to Prog have produced or been involved in classic Christmas hits that you probably know: Greg Lake (ELP): I Believe in Father Christmas (They said there’d be snow this Christmas, they said there’d be peace on earth). Wizzard: I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day (Roy Wood - singer- was a founder member of The Electric Light Orchestra). Paul McCartney: Wonderful Christmas Time (the Beatles influenced Prog). Band Aid: Do they know it’s Christmas? Phil Collins drums on that song. Frankie Goes to Hollywood: The Power of Love (produced by Trevor Horn, one time member of Yes). In Dulce Jubilo: Mike Oldfield (Prog God). Ring out Solstice Bells: Jethro Tull (no history of Prog is complete without this band).
Prog Facts Prog is good for you. Music with unusual time signatures and frequent changes in style stimulates alpha waves in the brain, which aids concentration. Jimi Hendrix almost joined Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which would have made them HELP. Pat Mastellotto (current King Crimson drummer) plays drums on the theme song of Friends. The 2010 High Voltage Festival’s Prog Stage sold out before any other stage, demonstrating the genre’s continued popularity.