Progressive rock  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Andy Votel's Prog Is Not a Four Letter Word (2006)

Progressive rock is a style of rock music that arose in the late 1960s, reaching the peak of its popularity in the 1970s, but continuing to this day.

Progressive rock artists sought to move forward, or progress, the rock genre from its simple roots to a higher level. The music is often complex and elaborate, frequently requiring a high level of musicianship from the artists. Elements of progressive rock include:

  • Long pieces, in some cases over 20 minutes. (An extreme example is "Karn Evil 9" by Emerson Lake and Palmer, which was too long to fit on a single LP album side).
  • Pieces that are subdivided into sub-pieces, in the manner of a classical symphony. (An example is the four-part song "Close to the Edge" on the three-track album of the same name by Yes).
  • Lyrics that are complex and sometimes impenetrable, but usually carefully crafted, covering such themes as science fiction, fantasy, religion, war, love, madness and history.
  • Melodies and harmonies that are intricate and lengthy, often requiring repeated listening to grasp.
  • Concept albums, where a theme or set of themes is explored throughout an entire album. (Extreme examples are the double concept albums, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes), and "From Planet Daelthesya To Planet Earth" by Master Sound.
  • Unusual vocal styles and use of multi-part vocal harmonies.
  • Use of both classical and electronic instruments (particularly keyboards), in addition to the usual rock combination of electric guitar, bass and drums.
  • Inclusion of elements from disparate other musical genres, particularly hard rock, classical music and jazz.
  • Use of syncopation, unusual time signatures, scales or tunings. Some pieces use multiple time signatures and/or tempos, sometimes overlaid.
  • Solo passages of great speed, subtlety, complexity and/or difficulty, demonstrating the virtuosity of the player.
  • Inclusion of classical pieces on albums. For example, Yes start their concerts with a taped extract of Stravinsky's Firebird suite, and Emerson Lake and Palmer have included pieces by Copland, Moussorgsky, Parry. Marillion once started concerts with Rossini's La Gazza Ladra, and named their first live album the same.

Progressive rock can be closely identified with the term art rock. Symphonic rock can be considered a significant subset of progressive rock.

Progressive rock's popularity peaked in the mid 1970s, when progressive rock artists regularly topped readers' votes in mainstream popular music magazines. With the advent of punk rock in the late 1970s, and its earlier precursor pub rock, popular and critical opinion moved toward a simpler and more aggressive style of rock, with the words "pretentious", "pompous", and "overblown" often being used to describe progressive rock.

The early 1980s saw something of a revival of the genre, led by groups such as Marillion. Groups that arose during this time are sometimes labelled neo-progressive. At the same time, some progressive rock stalwarts modified themselves to some extent, simplifying their music and including more obviously electronic elements. 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 modern (for the time) electronic effects, yet was simple enough to be played at discos.

The genre received another minor surge of popularity in the 1990s with a wave of new bands, many of which played harder-edged music known as progressive metal. Today, progressive rock continues to be created and admired by a solid core of enthusiasts, but cannot convincingly claim to be progressing rock music in the way it once did. However, the work of contemporary artists such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor could be said to incorporate some of the more experimental elements of progresive rock, combined with the aesthetic sensibilities of punk rock to produce music which is at once challenging, inovative and imaginative.

Early bands

Music critic Piero Scaruffi opines that the "bands that nurtured prog-rock through its early stages were Traffic, Jeff Beck, Family, Jethro Tull, and Genesis; while King Crimson, Yes, and Van Der Graaf Generator represent the genre at its apex".

Numerous key bands had formed by the end of the 1960s, including The Moody Blues (1964), Pink Floyd (1965), Soft Machine (1966), Barclay James Harvest (1966), Gong (1967), Genesis (1967), Jethro Tull (1967), The Nice (1967), Yes (1968), Caravan (1968), King Crimson (1969), Supertramp (1969) and Gentle Giant (1969).

Although almost all 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.

Focus and Trace formed in the Netherlands, France produced Ange, Gong, and Magma, and Greece saw the debut of Aphrodite's Child led by electronic music pioneer Vangelis. Spain produced numerous prog groups, including Canarios and Triana. Scandinavia was represented by: Norwegian band Popol Vuh, Swedish band Kaipa and Finnish band Wigwam. Italian progressive rock is sometimes considered a genre unto itself, highlighted by bands like PFM, Banco, Quella Vecchia Locanda, Metamorfosi, New Trolls, Area, Le Orme, Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Il Balletto di Bronzo, and Locanda Delle Fate.

Artists whose works include at least some progressive rock elements

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Progressive rock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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