There is No Substitute For Progressive Rock

March 20, 2010

One of the most musically creative eras in history is that of Progressive Rock, or Prog Rock, which reached its peak in the mid-1970s.  It was a “mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility,” oftentimes focusing on complex, layered compositions with a symphonic feel.  Classical instruments were introduced and incorporated into the traditional rock sound, resulting in a new blend of guitar, piano, synthesizer, organ, and other instruments that is far and away some of the most creative, musical music I have ever heard.  Singles existed, but many Prog Rock bands used the album format extensively for their work.  It allowed them to have longer, more crafted songs, and many times to tell a grand, overarching story with their lyrics.

The Progressive Rock scene developed from the Psychadelic Rock movement in the late sixties, which was already expanding and exploring the boundaries of rock during its time.  Pioneering Psychadelic Rock albums included Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Slightly later, in 1969,  King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King helped to lay a solid foundation for Prog Rock to come.  In the early 1970s Prog Rock reached its heyday, with bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer catapulting it into a commercial force.  For a number of years, until the late 1970s, Progressive Rock songs and albums routinely topped the charts; that is, until people began to turn to the newer Punk Rock movement, which developed as a sort of backlash against the elaborate, sometimes seemingly pretentious nature of Progressive Rock compositions.  Many of the bands sadly had to change their sound in order to survive, which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest tragedies to befall the world of music.

I will always be fascinated by and in love with Progressive Rock.  If I could, I would make a bumper sticker that says “There Is No Substitute For Progressive Rock.”  My favorite band of all time is the 1970s-era Genesis, which is so drastically different from its 1980s-era pop-rock incarnation that sometimes I can hardly believe it’s the same musicians playing.  When I listen to their music, or other Prog Rock bands’ music (such as Yes, Rush, some Pink Floyd, and ELP), I feel a certain satisfaction in my soul, a resonance that is unmatched by any other music.  I hear the amazingly creative keyboard solos, the engrossing stories told by the lyrics, or the complex, intricate guitar work done by these musicians and I shake my head in sadness that people can stand to listen to anything of lesser quality these days.  These were real musicians.  They were oftentimes classically trained, such as Genesis’s Tony Banks on the piano.  They knew how to craft lyrics and sound in such a way that pushed “rock’s technical and compositional boundaries.”  They weren’t doing it for the money or superficial fame like today’s artists (well, most of the time) – they were in it to create damn good music.  And they succeeded, at least for a good decade.  As M.C. says, “Probably very few creative persons are motivated by money.”  Can’t agree more on that point.  If you’re in it just to make money and get famous like almost everyone today does, you’re not really creative.

My Favorite Album Ever - Genesis' Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Yet, despite all of the sheer musicality and brilliance I associate with this era of rock, it couldn’t have happened the way it did were it not for the world events which shaped the musicians.  This is very interesting to me.  When I read M.C.’s opinion that “Favorable convergences in time and place open up a brief window of opportunity for the person who, having the proper qualifications, happens to be in the right place at the right time,” (Creativity p. 330) I pondered on it a bit.  Is this really true?  Partially.  I think it is more of a mix of what he said and the intrinsic creativity of the individuals who made the music.  Both Nature and Nurture.  Yet Nurture can be huge, and I’m not disqualifying it in any way.  The Prog Rock movement, ultimately, traces its roots to, you guessed it, WWII.  After the war, rock and roll found a new, booming culture in the U.S. and the UK in which to flourish, or at least flourish in the stupid “bubble-gum” rock sort of way.  This eventually matured in the sixties and, along with new counter-culture ideas, gave way to Psychadelic Rock and then Progressive Rock.  The artistic ideas and boundary-pushing nature of Prog Rock was a sort of reaction to the post-war June and Ward Cleaver mentality, in some ways.  In other ways it was a fueled by a desire to take Rock and make it an art form, to bring it to a higher level than just “rocking out.”  Just some more reasons why I love it so much.

Culture-wise, Prog Rock made a sizeable impact in the U.S. and Europe.  I know that not all of it was good, either (no category of music is perfect), but so much of it was good that a generation of people was given a better appreciation of music.  If I am playing any sort of classic rock at my work (Prog Rock included), a large number of customers comment on how much they like and remember it.  Hopefully they will pass this on to their children, as my mom did to me, and at least some people out there will have the guts to like good music instead of the non-music garbage pop which is popular in this day and age.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Thirteen:  The Making of Culture. In Creativity: Flow and the
Psychology of Discovery and Invention (pp. 317-342). New York, NY:
HarperCollins Publishers.

(Note:  This was one of the discussion board posts from my Psychology of Creativity class in Fall ’09.  I just now decided to post it here for grins.)


2 Responses to “There is No Substitute For Progressive Rock”

  1. kwalker said

    I pleases me so to have you two in this class…I knew immediately we shared something in common. And although you laugh – one day I will sing that “Great Gig in the Sky” and leave you in shock and awe. Thanks for putting a non-related post up for me to read. I’m quite sure that I needed to waste more “time” reading blogs about music.

    Quarter’s over – Now lets go have a beer!

    • 🙂 Yeah, I had saved this as a draft and finally decided to publish the little guy. I know you read it before in Psychology, but I’m happy you re-read it and liked it again here. I only laugh in amusement at “Great Gig in the Sky” since that kind of “woah-aoh-AAAAAOHHH” singing isn’t usually my taste, but I do think it’s good.

      BEER! Mmmmmmm…I’m getting a pint!

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