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The Rise and Fall of Progressive Rock

Consider this: there was a time in recent memory where a bunch of old British guys played 30 minute long ruminations with few recognizable pop hooks or lyrics and were the biggest music acts in the world, selling millions of records and packing stadiums across the globe.

David Weigel’s new book, The Show that Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, charts the now-inconceivable dominance of progressive rock music in the early 70s. The book is a loving and unvarnished testament to the genre from an unmistakable fan of the most uncool music in the world. As a fellow fan of British progressive music from the 60s/70s, I found a great deal to appreciate in Weigel’s tome, even if much of its content would be familiar to those steeped in the genre’s history. For readers with little knowledge of prog, where it came from and the backlash that ensued in its wake, this book acts as a fine place to reflect on one of the strangest times in pop music history.

Weigel is clearly well versed in the genre. His detailed descriptions of prog rock’s greatest tracks are written to detail the complexity and incongruity implanted in this style. The fittingly verbose detailing of time signatures and chord progressions may be a bit much for a novice interested in the genre, but this care and detail for the nuts and bolts of prog was something I savored.

David begins his trek through prog history at its anticlimactic end: aboard a Yes themed cruise charting the Caribbean. One can imagine few things as conservative as a cruise ship full of senior aged rockers, meditating on the good old days along side musicians long passed their peak. Perhaps it says more about my current age and place in society, but I wish I could have been on that ship.

Prog, for better or worse, is noted for its experimentation and desire to break out of the confines of popular music established after WWII. This music was “forward thinking” and elitist by nature; Weigel astutely notes that a majority of the genre’s stars were from well-to-do British families, carrying all the trappings of their class. Rather than linking prog’s originators to Louis Jordan or Roy Brown as one might with American Rock and Roll, progressive musicians looked to European classical music as their foundation. Franz Liszt, the Hungarian musician active in the 1840s, earns special attention in Weigel’s account of prog’s beginnings. Liszt was a controversial figure in British music, as his work was made up of highly complicated and challenging compositions. Having said that, he made his name in high society for the response women had to his brash and confident musicianship. Young ladies of his day would collect his hair and cigarette butts (“which they hid in their cleavages”), as doctors pondered this new “female disease,” defining the new social phenomenon as “Lisztomania” (Weigel 3). It is not hard to imagine many of prog’s founders fantasizing of similar romantic outcomes, all without compromising their art.

Weigel acutely observes the cycle of experimentation and reaction throughout music history, something that predates the eventual backlash against prog and the rise of punk. He writes:

Some classical music echoed especially loudly in the progressive era. The decades in which Liszt played and composed were marked by increasingly complex musical forms. The end of the nineteenth century saw a kind of reaction begin. Liszt, inspired by the composer Hector Berlioz, came up with the “tone poem,” a classical-music type that abandoned form to follow an idea within one movement. “In the so-called classical music the return and development of themes is determined by formal rules which are regarded as inviolable,” Liszt wrote in 1855. “In program music, in contrast, the return, change, variation an modulation of the motives is conditioned by their relation to a poetic idea” (Weigel 4).

With lite alterations, the same could be said of the progressive era of the 1970s.

These were men (and yes, they were all men), who frowned on the simplification of music, looking to take rock into a new realm of complexity and social importance. This was music to change the world, not to sell singles and quietly hum along in the background of your local pizza parlor. It was intended for examination with the keen eye of an academic. Even when a backlash against the bloated nature of the music was underway, many of the genre’s leaders pushed back against simplifying their music. Quoting Yes frontman Jon Anderson during the recording of their 4 LP Tales from Topographic Oceans, Weigel writes:

Yes never thought about scaling back. They wanted to reach transcendence, not radio. “We’re close to the edge of spiritual awareness within the framework of the group” (Weigel 112).

Understandably, there was a backlash to this high-minded self-importance. Oddly enough, Yes would go full on pop in the 1980s and score a hit single with Owner of a Lonely Heart just as their competitor Genesis turned into one of the most successful acts of the 1980s under the leadership of Phill Collins.

Ironically, the musician coming out the best in Weigel’s account is King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Fripp, a guitar virtuoso framed as a musical totalitarian intent on creating something innovative and shocking with each recording, left a wake of collaborators to deliberate on his approach. Gordon Haskell, vocalist for King Crimson for a time being, described his ex-band as “musical fascism, made by fascists, designed by fascists to dehumanize, to strip mankind of his dignity and soul” (Weigel 62). Fripp’s public comments support this account. In 1974, as the critical and social reaction against prog was in full force, Fripp saw an end to civilization afoot. In an interview with Melody Maker, he stated:

“We could see the complete collapse of civilization as we know it and a period of devastation which could last, maybe, 300 years. It will be comparable, perhaps, to the collapse of the Minoan civilization” (Weigel 169).

That stodgy outlook and unwillingness to come to terms with modern trends pushed Fripp into the background of popular music, but he continued to experiment and challenge audience perceptions. Now regarded as benchmarks of ambient music, his collaborations with Brian Eno in the 70s and 80s continue to influence modern purveyors of investigational music. He produced a slew of pop records with notable acts in the 80s, most prominently Daryl Hall, which were shelved by record executives who felt they were too outside the mainstream (Weigel 184). As Emerson, Lake and Palmer collapsed under its own grandiose excesses, Greg Lake pushed Fripp, his old band member, to reunite King Crimson and cash in on fan desire to see the original group live. Fripp famously turned him down. It wasn’t until the reemergence of prog rock, or those inspired by its exploration, in the 1990s that King Crimson was given its place in the rock pantheon.

Weigel’s book ends on a somber note: with the death of Keith Emerson in 2015 by an apparent suicide. Emerson, the quintessential prog keyboard player capable of dazzling musical exploits, had been depressed by his slide into age and his inability to recreate the music his remaining fans demanded. His wife commented, “He was tormented with worry that he wouldn’t be good enough” (Weigel 288). In tribute to Emerson, fans of his music convened on The El Rey in Los Angeles to play a tribute to the man who inspired countless young men to push their musical chops beyond 4/4 time signatures and block chords. Nearly a thousand fans were in attendance.

It is hard to consider a time when music of this nature was popular. A number of concurrent social, music and economic variables crossed paths at just the right moment in Western history to make the financial success of prog a reality. As record labels began to feel financial constraints and became more “business minded,” fewer were willing to invest in bands that were not creating immediately accessible music packaged for the radio. When assessing the negative comments many of prog’s greatest acts had towards the pop bands that followed, one can see there is less a distaste for the competitor’s music and more for a music industry that no longer could finance risk and experimentation. I too lament this development.

Prog will never have a revival like other musical movements of the 20th century. As I sit through the incalculable Summer of Love anniversary celebrations infecting the Bay Area, it is hard to imagine similar nostalgia for the concept records that immediately followed it. Prog is not for everyone, but we have also reached a point in the musical zeitgeist that seems to recognize that nothing is. My middle school students, while not versed in Genesis or Soft Machine, seamlessly move between styles and forms. They jump between lyrics heavy rap songs to bubbly pop music and instrumental electronic beats. These young people are less locked into stylistic identities than I was in my youth. Moreover, there has always been a place for musicians looking for complex music to apply their skills to. It is not surprising that as prog declined in importance, metal ascended and continues to hold a place in the larger musical culture. Dozens of electronic musicians found firm social footing in the era of MTV and Total Request Live. The complexity prog’s early purveyors were looking for continues to be explored by young musicians with little knowledge or recognition of the 1960s and 70s. In that regard, progressive music continues to inform our society, even when the style carries little social edifying cache.

Staff Writer

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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80 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Progressive Rock

  1. This is the second review I’ve seen of this book. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t be sure of this, but the author seems to treat the movement as a failure. How so? If it’s on the basis of objective artistic quality, well, that’s a debate I’d love to have, but I don’t see many people saying that beauty is more than in the eye of the beholder. So is it on the basis of popularity? Were Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin such failures? They’d have to be considered prog rock, or at least heavily influenced by it. Did Yes and Rush not have enough hits? Was Peter Gabriel’s career too short?


    • I did not take it that Weigel represented prog as a “failure.” He is very celebratory of the musical accomplishments many of these bands achieved (both financial and artistically). He does note the real backlash that developed against the style and its tropes however.

      As noted in my piece, the more interesting stuff for the average music fan not deep into prog history is the way the changing industry really hurt experimental music. Prog really did ask a lot of its listeners and pushed boundaries with its music. There was a small window of time in the record industry where labels were willing to invest years in bands that lost them money with the belief that they would pay off eventually. Ironically, one of the reasons British labels liked releasing punk rock in the mid-60s was they were very easy and cheap records to make. For all its language of rebellion against the man, a lot of the early punk stuff out of England was sustained by the major record labels.

      This gets us into our conversations about the role middle class white men can play in culture today as well. A lot of the backlash was against the type of people that played and enjoyed prog. Middle-class white guys who take their art seriously (and tended toward the pretentious) were easy to dismiss and lampoon.


    • I’ve read a shorter piece by Dave Weigl on prog where he clarifies why he thinks it was a failure. He describes a concert that Yes gave where Rick Wakeman ordered out for chinese food. During the concert.

      That’s kind of a sign that you haven’t found transcendence, isn’t it?

      But that ambition is an ambition that is both precious and bound to fail. I don’t regret the attempt, and I wish more would make it.


      • That incident is in the book (it was Indian food actually). I actually thought that sounded like an awesome thing to happen at a show; so much is going on you literally also bring in take out.


    • He does call himself an unabashed fan. Prog Rock is a failure in that it has largely been consigned to the dust bin of musical history. Rock/Pop music still has some long songs but in general the 2-5 minute length is considered optimal, elaborate special effects and wardrobes are more of a pop than a rock thing these days. Lady Gaga,, Beyonce and Madonna do wardrobe changes but most rock musicians do not. Even the rockers with long songs or concepts deny that they are influenced by prog rock. Radiohead is adamant in their hatred of prog rock. I imagine the Arcade Fire would be the same.

      I think a lot of prog rock is now considered pretentious and pompous which is largely antithetical to rock music. Rock is something that four people in a garage should be able to do. More modern acts are still fueled by a back to basics.


      • I think Saul has laid out why it is considered a “failure.” It is that the greatest prog acts and bands are still seen as “uncool” even by the people who have clearly been influenced by them.


        • Plus they often failed to do something that rock bands consider essential, they failed to appeal to women.

          The New Yorker article on Wiegel’s book mentions this and do others. Prog Rock was a male sphere with women staying far away. Sometimes Prog Rock bands can make fun of themselves for this. There was a Funny or Die sketch with Rush, Paul Rudd, and Jason Segal. Rush quipped “Three women at a Rush concert! That’s a record!”


          • But there is a special hatred for prog that isn’t applied to other types of music that are also not popular with women. I have never met anyone who loved Aphex Twin that wasn’t a male about my age with an extensive record collection, yet he is still considered “cool” by the larger music community.


            • I don’t know enough about Aphex Twin or that scene to comment. Is Aphex Twin danceable at least?

              I think it is the pompous and pretentious thing. The punks came along and said fuck this shit and that won the battle and the war. Wiegel notes that these guys were able to fill huge stadiums for awhile (those sets cost lots of money) Rush is not exactly playing in small clubs for peanuts these days either.

              Aphex Twin fills a very specific niche too.


              • Some of Aphex Twin is danceable, but a lot of it is pretty jarring (my wife hates when I play it).

                One of the things that always endeared me to Aphex Twin was irreverence. Clearly the guy takes his work seriously but doesn;t have a problem putting in comical/ridiculous elements, taking a piss out of his own prestige in a way.

                Perfect example: take a listen to his track “Milkman”

                The lyrics? “I wish the milkman would deliver my milk in the morning. I wish the milkman would deliver my milk when I’m yawning. I would like some milk from the milkman’s wife’s tits.”


                • I think Prog Rockers took themselves very seriously even when they looked very silly. Peter Gabriel looks silly in the Watcher in the Skies video (you can tell he is already going bald but still has long hair) and he looks like he is wearing Kabuki make up and a Bela Lugoisi cape but it is all very serious.

                  The New Yorker article had a great quip on how prog rock proved rock music could be complicated and silly rather than simple and silly. Prog Rockers seemed to not get the joke.


          • They may be more about Rush than prog rock. I only saw yes and king crimson once, but there were women at both shows. I also knew women who were into prog. Maybe the ratio was a bit different than regular rock. I wouldn’t’ want to judge how many women were into punk based on the area near the stage at a show.


            • Yeah, I’d definitely go to a King Crimson show, although I never have (which is more a reflection of circumstance than of intention). On the other hand, there is a kind of guy who comes across as, “Look how smart I am, NO LOOK! See how smart I am. Let me tell you how smart I am. Why aren’t you listening? Can you not see my smartness. I’m SUPERIOR, don’t’cha see it!”

              It can be a bit off-putting.


              • They were great live. I’ve always seen lots of the prog rock acts as weirdo artsy acts that just happened to hit it big. A guy like Robert Fripp would have been noodling away on his guitar obsessively whether he had popular bands or not. He just got lucky. Without the psychedelic late 60’s/ early 70’s cultural niche they always would have been some oddball genre.


          • Its kind of weird that prog rock decided they didn’t need to appeal to women because prog rock would not exist without a band that really appealed to women, the Beatles. The Beatles weren’t prog rock by a long shot but they were one of the first or first bands to really try going beyond dance music and into something more lyrically and musically sophisticated.

            I’m not sure if failing to appeal to women is really that fatal for prog rock though. There are lots of successful rock bands and rock genres with audiences that lean heavily male like death metal or hardcore punk. Prog rock’s failure was being music for music critics rather than something more approachable.


            • I do think the reaction against prog had a lot to do with its members being white, middle-class men that were also very pretentious. It is an easy group to scorn (maybe more so today).


                  • Making a living in the arts is hard and your most likely to make a go at it if your from a relatively affluent family. This way you can get subsidized. Musicians need to investment in instruments, which can be expensive, and need lessons and time to practice, something a middle class or affluent kid is more likely to have.


                  • But there is also Vampire Weekend who well, drip of prep school privilege and they are pretty fun.

                    And looks are deceiving. There are plenty of musicians that we see as being authentic but are privileged if you scratch the surface and just barely.


                  • @leeesq

                    The New Yorker article on prog rock notes that the genre had more white working-class fans in the United States than middle-class fans:

                    When Anderson sang, “I’ll be the roundabout,” most American listeners surely had no idea that he was referring to the kind of intersection known less euphoniously, in the U.S., as a traffic circle. (The song was inspired by the view from a van window.) Why, then, did this music seduce so many Americans? In 1997, a musician and scholar named Edward Macan published “Rocking the Classics,” in which he offered a provocative explanation. Noting that this artsy music seemed to attract “a greater proportion of blue-collar listeners” in the U.S. than it had in Britain, he proposed that the genre’s Britishness “provided a kind of surrogate ethnic identity to its young white audience”: white music for white people, at a time of growing white anxiety. Bill Martin, the quasi-Marxist, found Macan’s argument “troubling.” In his view, the kids in the bleachers were revolutionaries, drawn to the music because its sensibility, based on “radical spiritual traditions,” offered an alternative to “Western politics, economics, religion, and culture.”


                • The Rolling Stones cultivated a working class image well even though at least a few of them came from solidly middle class backgrounds. The Beatles also grew up in more affluent families than most people commonly suppose as Dominic Sandbrook demonstrated. John Lennon’s childhood home was on the large seize for a house of the time and his caretakers could afford servants including a gardener. Paul McCartney was also from an affluent family.


              • The white middle class successful prog rock dudes were often very popular in the 80’s when their styles changes. Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Asia, Yes all had major hits. The new King Crimson in the 80’s did well although they were never a pop band even then. People were fine with them they just didn’t like the “old fashioned” styles.


                • And Rush. The albums of the late 70s were mostly popular enough, but didn’t kill until the long sales tail kicked in. Big chart success in the early 80s followed “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer”, which followed an explicit move into shorter pieces (albeit with the same influences). I wasn’t there to see it, but I hear that they were more prog in concert even when the records were tighter.


            • All the music I used to listen to had more guy fans. This might be another case where the conversation we’re having now wouldn’t have existed a decade or two ago. Everything’s race/class/sex now.


                • That reminds me of something I noticed on the Linky Friday thread. The article about libertarians and population distributions was written by someone named Karl Smith. You name a kid that, you’re going to get someone who writes articles about libertarians and population distributions.


              • I adopted the “sing along” theory of popularity in the 1970s when a female friend explained to me that to understand pop, you had to have experienced most of a floor in a women’s dorm singing along with a song on the local radio station.


        • “Cool” is both a terrible and a wonderful standard. It’s more terrible than wonderful. It is the province of adolescents.

          I am old enough to have known I’d grow out of certain things.


      • Speaking as someone whose old vinyl collection in the basement has most of the “prog” albums by ELP and Yes, I will say that there are reasons why popular music tends to a simple beat, melodies that the average person can hum along to, and uncomplicated lyrics. Whatever you want to call it, the “sing along” factor is critical to pop. Always has been.


      • At the risk of sparking an unresolvable discussion over definitions, I think prog rock influences live on various metal sub-genres, including the pretentiousness and musical excesses. Dream Theater is one of the better-known examples. Sure, they’re niche, but it’s a healthy niche.


        • Oh god Dream Theater. A few friends like them. I tried to like them. I really tried.

          But yeah, that is soooo obviously “basically prog in a metal suit” that I don’t what. (It seems Wikipedia agrees.)

          On the other hand, I actually rather like The Dillinger Escape Plan, which also seems to have that, “Let’s be waaaay more musically complex than anyone needs,” vibe. But still, I dunno, it works for me.


          • The prog influence is definitely out there in the metal world. You can tell the Swedish melodic death metal pioneers in the 90s were prog fans (or at least sympathizers). The Swedes in turn influenced the new wave of American metal in the early aughts. Now theres an expectation of virtuoso-style guitar playing in quite a few subgenres of hard music.


          • I like them. They are a fun band; they can certainly outplay the prog guys who influenced them. I saw them open for Yes. However, the original proggers are much better simply because their music is better. Better melodies. Better tunes. Etc.


        • I think Prog Rock lives on in influence. Radiohead and Arcade Fire clearly have some prog rock tendencies (full albums with themes, long songs) despite any denial they would issue. Rush is still popular enough to do stadium shows which is something that can’t be said for most modern indie rock.

          But a lot more people know the prog rock album covers from say the 2 dollar bin at local used record store than anything else. More people from my (our?) generation know Phil Collins as a sappy pop singer and Genesis as a more corporate-rock/middle-aged/soft rock band. They don’t know the weird stuff like Watcher of the Skies.

          Though I’d argue that Peter Gabriel learned how to take the theatrical aspects of prog rock and make them fun in videos like Sledgehammer.


    • It wasn’t a failure. It was just unwriteable-about, so journalists scorned it. The suspension of disbelief for the genre was far too specific. You couldn’t listen to it unless you listened to it a lot.

      It was a failure in the sense that radio sort of ended.

      Punk was an artifact of journalism long before it was anything more than that. I have this feeling that, outside of people who saw say, Black Flag live, or somehow found those records, punk barely existed at all – until Nirvana made the word flesh.

      I still think The Sweet invented punk by accident, and they were even more Spinal Tap than Yes.

      Yes sold more records than Rush, and Rush sold a whacking great lot of records. The United States was planted thick with pubescent boys ( and it was always boys ) who owned nothing more than a stereo with a turntable and a FM tuner. Radio stations used the same staging as the Invasion of Normandy to get ticket sales up; record sales would go up; those songs would modestly increase the ad revenue for the station and everybody got to keep their job a little longer.

      They make great fun of this very effectively in the film “SLC Punk”. And it’s largely true.

      Just don’t mention fusion jazz.


      • I think Creedence did the first punk song with “Hey Tonight,” c. ’72.
        The Sweet was a fairly heavy band that wasn’t allowed to play on their own recordings and being marketed as a bubble-gum band at that time.


  2. I think the focus on British acts is fair and gives better focus to a piece like this, and to a book like Weigl’s.

    But I see similar trends in certain American bands, as well. For instance, Chicago II and Chicago III are very prog-like, with the classical influence there, but also filtered through jazz. Even their first album, Chicago Transit Authority, features some very long tracks that are programmatic in nature. Chicago made the transition to more standard pop.

    Kansas shows a lot of prog leanings, too. I’m sure there are more, though it probably doesn’t work the same in the US as in England, because the US is so much bigger, it probably meant the record companies had a firmer grip on the medium.

    After Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, everyone wanted to make an album that told a story.


  3. I find interesting the almost opposite meanings of the word “progressive” when applied to rock vs. electronic music. And I really like both kinds of “progressive” music, for I guess opposite reasons.


      • prog house / techno / trance / psy / etc. tends to be more minimal and pared down, and the changes in sound are more gradual, less sudden. The dancefloor vibe is more of a steady groove you can settle into, less big crowd-pumping “throw your hands in the air” buildups.

        At the festival I was at last weekend, the last two sets of the saturday night were full-on psy followed by prog psy. The second set I thought was better and more musically interesting, but it was a bit of a thankless setup for the second DJ – the reverse order would probably have served both better.


  4. Even though the Beatles were not prog rock, prog rock would most likely not exist without the Beatles. When Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band came out in 1967, it really expanded what rock music was capable of. According to articles I’ve read about it recently, many radio stations would simply play the album start to finish because they didn’t know what to do with it. Music critics that previously wrote off rock as teen dance music started to see the artistic possibility of rock. Other musicians wanted in. Not all of them were up for the task. Most prog rock bands were up for the task but were making serious music for serious people. Music critic rock basically. People listened for awhile but eventually wanted something more basic and fun. Stadium rock, punk, and other modern genres arouse to fill the void.


  5. A lot of the half-formed thoughts in my head are similar to those that we had in the Classical music threads… specifically in the “atonal vs. tonal” subsections.

    Prog is music that rewards multiple listens and has the ability for you to “find something new” every time you listen to it.

    Compared to (a lot of) Pop where the first listen will give you pretty much everything you’re ever going to find in the song… but if everything you’re ever going to find in the song is a lot of fun (or a lot of angst or a lot of melancholy or a lot of whathaveyou), enjoy it the way you enjoy a funnel cake at the fair.

    And then, a few years later, feel kind of silly when you think about just how very many times you listened to “Mmmm Bop”.


    • I love prog rock. I love opera. I love jazz. I love complicated symphonies.

      And I love songs like “Sk8ter Boy” and “Call Me Maybe”.

      I don’t see why I have to choose, actually. Everyone wants me to choose, but I don’t want to.


      • I’m not saying that you shouldn’t love what you love. Hey, I choose Mmmm Bop for a reason.

        I’m not saying that you are obliged to listen to pick between Peter Gabriel Genesis and Phil Collins Genesis.

        But if I were to have to choose between two songs and make a guess as to which one will stand the test of time, my gut feeling is to go with the one that rewards multiple listens.


    • Or the jazz equivalent which is long and heated debates about whether Bebop destroyed Jazz.
      Jazz is currently the least listened form of music in the U.S. from what I’ve read from a Jazz critic acquaintance.

      The original FM stations were dedicated to playing records from start to finish but this was in the early experimental days when it had a kind of pirate radio feel. Now you need to go to community radio to be able to do that.

      But American pop music has always been about being catchy and this was true way before rock. There is a simple beauty in the three minute pop song.


    • I always thought Kansas got short shrift as America’s version of the genre. Speaking of noticing something new, the refrain at 1:58 is in both 4 and 7. I only hear it in 4/4. I had to look at the score to notice this.


      • I suppose a modern American one would be Tool.

        Leteralus is *NUTS*.

        The song is known for its distinct time signatures and corresponding lyrical patterns. The time signatures of the chorus of the song change from 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8; as drummer Danny Carey says, “It was originally titled 9-8-7. For the time signatures. Then it turned out that 987 was the 16th number of the Fibonacci sequence. So that was cool.”


        Counting between pauses, the syllables in Maynard James Keenan’s vocals during the verses form the first few Fibonacci numbers, ascending and descending. For instance, in the first verse: “Black, then, white are, all I see, in my infancy. Red and yellow then came to be.” correspond with the beginning of the sequence: (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8).

        The song’s introduction also ends at the 1 minute and 37 mark, where the first verse then begins. This time is significant as it is a reference to the Golden Ratio. Rounding the Golden Ratio to four places gives 1.618. When converted to minutes and seconds, the Golden Ratio becomes 1 minute + 0.618ths of a minute; which after rounding and conversion is equal to approximately 37 seconds. This also ties it to the Fibonacci sequence as the ratio of one Fibonacci number to its predecessor tends towards the Golden Ratio. In addition, 1:37 can be rearranged into 13:7, which is significant because 13 is the 7th number in the Fibonacci sequence.


    • Mmmmm Bop was a fine little song. Just as the Monkees songs were, and the Partridge Family. It’s commercial facade on very finely honed craftsmanship. Ain’t Shakespeare but what is?

      Bottom line though- you can’t economically play prog in a bar band, so you’ll stop trying after a while. It lacks the ability to procreate itself. Meanwhile, Stones songs, JJ Cale, even Led Zeppilin…


      • A million years ago, when I was being sent out to Maryland for a month every couple of months, I had a favorite dinner place. It had a bar area large enough to hold a small band and they had live music from Thursday-Saturday. (Different groups!)

        The only one I actively remember was the one guy who was there by himself with a six-string and he sang Tom Petty and Talking Heads and the like. I knew the words to every single song he played.

        I couldn’t tell you a single detail about any other band I heard there if you paid me.


  6. Wishbone Ash, Gentle Giant, & U.K. are great English prog bands that don’t get so much attention.
    King Crimson with Adrian Belew totally kicked ass.
    Kansas and early Triumph were also great prog.
    Prog in the US tended toward fusion in the early 80’s, before the reggae fad.
    Dream Theater & Symphony X are both current great prog bands. Prog went metal somewhere in the 90’s. I think Celtic Frost had a lot to do with this, and Coroner to a lesser extent. King Diamond was always about the concept album.

    I find it hard to take anyone seriously who can say with a straight face that prog somehow went away.
    All that tells me is that someone wasn’t paying attention.


    • I think the metal overlap was there from nearly the beginning. Deep Purple and Uriah Heep had prog albums before shifting towards metal.

      Part of the disappearance though is from radio. Prog rock got airplay on early FM stations because the music showcased the improved sound quality over AM, but classic rock (Led Zep, Who, etc.) had higher production qualities, but tighter song formats that allowed for commercials. Plus, prog music sometimes incorporated the sound of “dead air,” so you couldn’t know whether or not the station got blown up or the DJ fell asleep.


      • I think Deep Purple & Uriah Heep both had their moments of prog, e.g., “Child of Time,” “Magician’s Birthday,” and even Hendrix (1983, a merman I should turn to be…).
        Of course, Jethro Tull as well, and Styx.
        Judas Priest was something of a prog band in their early days, but this didn’t show much by the time the signed with Columbia. I believe that’s Glenn Tipton’s influence on the band. Downing was more about 7 to 12 minute songs with several movements.

        I was thinking earlier today that there was a point in the late 70’s where various prog bands, acting independently, though all within a span of a few years, began to write shorter songs.
        Then, there were bands that went the other way, (see “Love is Like Oxygen” by the Sweet), but I think these groups were confined to something else for one reason or another, and stretched out a bit when they were able, i.e., gained enough influence in the recording process.

        I can’t think of any really long songs by Primus, but they’re definitely prog.

        I think it goes one way and then the other, a repeating cycle, as to length of compositions.


        • I loved it when Colbert asked Rush: “You’re known for your long songs, have you ever written a song so epic that by the end of the song, you were actually influenced by yourself at the beginning of the song?” That could even actually apply to Cygnus X-1, a 28-1/2 minute saga spanning two albums produced a year apart.


        • The Sweet in specific were under pretty strict contract to use the songs of others, then rebelled and were successful at it. They were about as prog as The Who.

          I dunno; you wanted to be seen as “serious”. IMO, Ron Howard’s first(?) made-for-TV movie, “Cotton Candy”, a “to thine own self be true” sort of thing had something to say about it – if you can watch the horrible dub on YouTube. The band of all the cool kids butcher “I Shot the Sherriff., Our heros play “Cotton Candy” and win the big battle of the bands. Remember kids, there warn’t no video games nor cable back then. No innernet.

          FWIW, I’ve talked to people who were in that mall in Mesquite, Texas while that was being shot. – schools were let out to support the film.


    • “King Crimson with Adrian Belew totally kicked ass.”

      Yep. Absolutely. And that’s *with* Fripp. Zappa’s loss was their gain – they needed a good frontman like that.

      Speakin’ a ‘ which – “Sheik Yerbouti” was close to the end of the prog era and it still holds up – raunchy lyrics and all.

      “Kansas and early Triumph were also great prog.”

      Very much so. And Kansas totally brought it live. Kansas used emphasis and pushes more than time signatures and tempo changes, and when they did have tempo/time changes they were smooth and organic. They made sense.

      There’s a film, “Miracles out of Nowhere” that tells the story of Kansas, and it’s a nice film if you like that sort of thing. Kansas, unlike a lot of prog, is nearly completely listenable today.


        • Arguably, yes.
          I was really impressed by Lynn Meredith’s voice on Early Recordings, and I like that version of “Incomudro” better. It shows that Kansas was, first and foremost, a *ROCK* band, and they did it well. The coda to “Sparks of the Tempest” rocks just as much as anything out there.

          That said, I think Michael Sadler from Saga is probably the best vocalist in rock.
          Aside from Ian Gillan, of course.
          Just that Sadler played with a band that couldn’t consistently produce good material.
          Sad, that.

          And that said, “The Spider” (a Walsh composition) remains one of the most-listened Kansas tracks for this old noggin.


          • Yeah even though Kerry Livgren was the chief writing talent, Walsh could sometimes surprise you with something like The Spider, a tribute to Keith Emerson.


  7. good review. i personally can’t listen to any prog (classics or modern interpretations) but i like reading about music even when i don’t enjoy it. weigel is a solid writer…i just couldn’t bring myself to pay like 27 bucks for the hardcover at books are magic this past week.

    prog as a name might be at the heart of some of the derision (much like, apropos aphex, “idm” being one of the worst joke genre names to become a real genre name ever)…to claim the mantle of progress and progressiveness…i mean, who’s against progress? to claim that for yourself is a ton of chutzpah. maybe roots soul revival types, or jazz archivists…probably some disco purists as well. (yes, there are disco purists. they are special, like all purists)


    • prog, like disco, also launched a thousand ships before being largely consigned to the dustbin of musical history.

      like you get bits of it in mathy metal/post-hardcore, the line of influence from glenn branca in nyc during the late 70s to post-rock (1st wave e.g. gybe, mogwai, and the like), and probably 400 other things i’m not thinking of. of course you also get dream theater/fates warning/queensryche which i mean i suppose there’s someone for everyone out there…but you also get influences on stuff like the early death albums and the neurosis/isis/post-metal continuum and some of the wackier mathy stuff that a little too often exists on that line between “that’s neat” and “dear god would you please end this fricking song already?”.

      or maybe the adult contemporary ambientish post-post-rock thing like explosions in the sky and 4,000,000 other bands with names like “shaping bread with strangers” and “for we lost the moonlight in our breath”.


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