Essential Series - 2021 Progressive Rock Vol 1

dtabachndtabachn Buenos Aires, Argentina
edited April 15 in Essential Series

The opposite of the KISS principle, if it's simple, it isn't Progressive Rock - Welcome to the world of complexity and pushing Rock music's boundaries.

Progressive Rock Vol. 1
ARTICLE: The Essential Series - Progressive Rock (Volume 1)
WRITTEN BY: Dtabachn
YEAR: 2021



Progressive Rock is a subgenre of Rock that gathers influences from Jazz, Western Classical Music, Folk and Psychedelic Rock. Hard Rock and Pop Rock elements are to be found as well.

The terms 'Progressive Rock', 'Symphonic Rock' and, to a certain extent, 'Art Rock', are commonly used as synonyms. As an initial approach, we can say the first two are almost interchangeable although 'Progressive' frequently conveys the use of artistic and technical resources to move forward, flying away from safe grounds while 'Symphonic' is closer to bombastic, pompous and related to Classical Music.

Meanwhile, 'Art Rock' emphasizes avant-garde innovation, new and experimental sonic ideas, and it seems to be more associated to conventional Pop structures than the other two labels while not so concerned with virtuosity, often times embracing minimalism.

The common denominator is the aim at pushing the boundaries of rock music beyond its basic structure or roots from the 1950's and early-to-mid 1960's. There's nothing better to summarize it than the title of Gentle Giant's sophomore album: 'Acquiring The Taste', and the liner notes on the same album that state: 'It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with one thought-that it should be unique, adventurous, and fascinating.'

The most immediate roots of Progressive Rock are the psychedelic pop of The Beatles' 'Rubber Soul' and the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds', the psychedelic rock of the Fab Four's 'Revolver', the art rock of the latter's own 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', The Moody Blues' 'Days Of Future Passed' and Pink Floyd’s 'Piper At The Gates of Dawn', plus the classical leanings of Procol Harum and Keith Emerson's band The Nice.

You might as well consider Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention's experimental rock, Bowie's psychedelic folk/pop leanings up to 'Space Oddity', The Jimi Hendrix Experience and early Led Zeppelin as influential for Prog Rock.

The first truly progressive rock album for this writer is King Crimson's debut 'In The Court Of The Crimson King', in which all of the features we've described found a place altogether for the first time.

The earliest known appearance of the label Progressive Rock is in the liner notes of Caravan's 1968 self-titled debut.

How does it feel listening to Prog Rock? The songs are usually lengthier than your standard three-minute rock track while structures are more complex, including time signature changes that you'll perceive as fast, slow and midtempo instances during the same piece.

You'll feel influences foreign to rock like classical, jazz and folk that often times sound familiar, just like a déjà vu. It can be overwhelming for the first-time listener, but over time, the rewards are fascinating.

A myriad of emotions and moods likely fit into one single song or album. Regularly, the artist's vision is like a journey or storytelling through the entire album, which is the meaning of 'concept album', a prevalent resource for Prog Rock. Medieval, epic or sci-fi themes are conveyed by the music and lyrics as well.

Religion, history, fantasy and abstract concepts are other frequent subjects. Mellotron, flute, Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer often live together with the basic guitar-bass-drums rock instrumentation.

As a logical consequence of the genres and subgenres whose influences converge into Progressive Rock, a number of own subgenres raised from the main one. Add the Progressive root to each one of the following (except for Neo Prog) to have their full names. In parenthesis, a few examples of bands of each kind.

Symphonic: linked to classical music, usually highly complex (Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Camel, early Genesis, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso).
Psychedelic: characterized by mind-bending, surreal guitars/keyboards and sci-fi elements (Pink Floyd, Eloy, Hawkwind, Aphrodite's Child).
Jazz Fusion: fuses prog with jazz music (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever).
Folk: features elements of folk, blues, country and even world music (Jethro Tull).
Metal: the marriage between the experimental elements of prog with heavy metal's aggressive sound (Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Meshuggah, Voivod, Tool, Opeth, Ayreon, Arena, and a large etcetera that includes albums by Porcupine Tree and Iron Maiden among others).
Crossover: accessible, often times radio-friendly, influenced by classic rock and pop (The Moody Blues, Supertramp, Kayak, Radiohead).
Neo Prog: a synthesizer-driven style of prog rock that emerged in the early 1980s in the United Kingdom (Marillion, IQ).
Canterbury Scene/Sound: not a proper subgenre for some critics, Canterbury Scene/Sound is a loose term used to describe a type of music that emerged from (but is not limited to) the city of Canterbury, Kent, England, in the late 1960s, that blended jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and pop hooks (Caravan, Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine).

A separate paragraph on Krautrock. Wider in scope than a Prog Rock subgenre, the German experimental cosmic/space rock movement closely related to electronic music includes seminal progressive bands the likes of Tangerine Dream, Eloy and Nektar, the last one formed in Germany by English musicians.

What about a Progressive AOR subgenre? Perhaps the nightmare of many narrow-minded critics and fans alike.

Remember that the term AOR at first applied to a radio format that played full albums and as such it was closely related to progressive bands and concept albums until Arena Rock took its place and AOR thus became a music subgenre and an adjective that describes musical qualities as well.

In my book, Prog AOR might have started with Genesis' 1978 ‘ ... And Then There Were Three', one of the earliest known instances where the progressive consciously met the melodic.

If such a category exists, I would include Supertramp with 'Breakfast in America', Aviary's 1979 self-titled debut, Styx with 'Paradise Theatre', Asia, the Yes of '90125' and 'Big Generator', much of Canada's Rush and Saga 1980's output, and of course Emerson, Lake & Powell's and GTR's 1986 studio albums. Finally, let's not forget Journey started as a jazz rock-oriented progressive band.

I won't say a word about two 1978 failed attempts at AOR from progressive bands: Emerson, Lake & Palmer's 'Love Beach' and Starclastle's 'Real to Reel', both releases sharing band members wearing unbuttoned shirts in the respective album covers.

While the style mainly developed in the UK during the late 1960's, other countries had a strong Progressive Rock scene. We've just mentioned Germany. Some of the most well-known from Canada are Rush, Gino Vannelli's 1970's albums and Saga.

Italy has Premiata Forneria Marconi, Goblin, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Area and Campo Di Marte. The Netherlands are the home of Kayak, Focus and Ayreon. Omega is considered as Hungary's most successful rock band ever while Vangelis and his project Aphrodite's Child hail from Greece.

From the US, we've mentioned Frank Zappa, Starcastle, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever; plus Kansas, Todd Rundgren's Utopia and early Ambrosia. From Argentina with lyrics written in Spanish, Crucis, Espíritu, Aquelarre, Invisible, Pablo El Enterrador and Banana are all more than worth a listen.

For this first volume, the goal is to feature only bands from the late 1960's, the 1970's and early 1980's, with the only exception being Kayak's comeback album from 2000. Moreover, we won't discuss the progressive metal subgenre, which would require at least an entire volume alone.

Under the title 'On the subs bench' there is one alternative for each one of the ten albums on the main list.

Prog Rock beginners kit:
A suggested list of albums to warm up your ears to the sound of Progressive Rock. Each one a classic in itself and truly belonging to the best of the genre as well, yet more accessible as an entry level to the beauties of Prog Rock. Several songs will ring many a bell for listeners.

Rush ‎- 1981 Moving Pictures
Kansas - 1977 Point Of Know Return
Queen - 1974 Queen II
Mike Oldfield - 1973 Tubular Bells
Vangelis - 1976 Albedo 0.39
Kayak - 2000 Close To The Fire
Magnum - 1982 Chase The Dragon
Starcastle - 1977 Citadel
The Moody Blues - 1968 In Search Of The Lost Chord
Renaissance - 1978 A Song For All Seasons

In Depth - Complex and OTT Prog Rock albums:
Once you are familiar with the subgenre basics and classics, you can try with these challenging albums.

Magma - 1973 Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh (It's not a typo, this French band led by drummer Christian Vander lives on the fictional planet Kobaïa and even created their own language called Kobaïan).
Yes - 1973 Tales From Topographic Oceans (a double album with only four songs, one for each vinyl side).
Frank Zappa - 1969 Hot Rats (try also with the two-part song 'The Black Page' off 1978's live album 'Zappa In New York').
Carmen - 1973 Fandangos In Space (a band from Los Angeles relocated to London that blended Progressive with Flamenco and Glam Rock. They became friends with one David Bowie).
The Mahavishnu Orchestra With John McLaughlin - 1971 The Inner Mounting Flame (the Jazz Fusion variant of Progressive Rock does not get more complex than this).

The Albums

King Crimson ‎- 1969 In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation By King Crimson)

King Crimson ‎- 1969 In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation By King Crimson)

Release Date and Style: October 10, 1969. Psychedelic Rock. Jazz-Rock.
On the subs bench: King Crimson - 1974 Red

Heavy, psychedelic and profoundly influenced by jazz at the same time, the band led by Robert Fripp recorded the first album that perfectly fit into the genre. Starting with '21st Century Schizoid Man', a genre-defining song.

Only five highly experimental tracks and an equal amount of mood changes, from the frantic to the soft and fragile, including jazzy jams and heavy use of the Mellotron. Greg Lake vocal performance is moving and then some.


21st Century Schizoid Man (Including 'Mirrors')

Jethro Tull ‎- 1971 Aqualung

Jethro Tull ‎- 1971 Aqualung

Release Date and Style: March 19, 1971. Folk Rock.
On the subs bench: Jethro Tull ‎- 1972 Thick As A Brick

Out of Prog Rock's classic albums, 'Aqualung' is one of the closest to hard rock and classic rock you might find based on the fantastic guitar riffs and solos by Martin Barre. Ian Anderson's humble yet expressive vocals, his flute and the medieval acoustic guitar moments give it the progressive atmosphere.

Mistakenly dubbed as a concept album, the band responded with the following year's 'Thick As A Brick', one of the first parody concept albums. Inspired by a series of pictures of homeless people by the Thames river taken by Anderson's wife, the title track depicts a dirty, dying tramp whose breath sounded as if he was wearing an aqualung. The brilliant guitar solo was recorded while Jimmy Page was incidentally in the studio.

Iron Maiden recorded 'Cross-Eyed Mary' as a B side for 'The Trooper's single while Rabbitt, W.A.S.P., Helloween and Styx, all have covered 'Locomotive Breath'.



Emerson, Lake & Palmer ‎- 1971 Tarkus

Emerson, Lake & Palmer ‎- 1971 Tarkus

Release Date and Style: June 14, 1971. Symphonic Rock.
On the subs bench: Emerson, Lake & Palmer ‎- 1970 Emerson, Lake & Palmer

One of the few supergroups that truly delivered instead of relying on past glories, Emerson came from The Nice while Lake and Palmer had a past with King Crimson and Atomic Rooster, respectively. A rock trio with no guitarist in the lineup, but who needs one when the quality is as high as this.

Much of the fame of Tarkus resides on the title track, a monster 20-minute plus, seven-piece take on the story of the mythological beast Manticore that filled the entire A side of the vinyl and is one of the best of its class along with Genesis' 'Supper's Ready' and Yes' 'And You And I'. Not a dull moment here despite its length, another genre-defining song.

The more conventional side B's highlights are the honky-tonk laden 'Jeremy Bender', the vital piano fest of 'Bitches Crystal' and the rocking 'Are You Ready Eddy?'



Focus - 1971 Moving Waves (aka

Focus - 1971 Moving Waves (aka 'Focus II')

Release Date and Style: During October 1971. Symphonic Rock.
On the subs bench: Van Der Graaf Generator – 1971 Pawn Hearts

An album dominated by the colossal track 'Hocus Pocus', an OTT amalgam of Heavy Metal riffs, pyrotechnic guitar solos by Jan Akkerman, drum impromptus, yodeling and flutes.

This Dutch band's sophomore also features classical Debussy-inspired moments, jazz-like improvisations and the extended suite Eruption (not the Van Halen one), based on the opera Euridice that outlines the ancient myth of Orpheus and his wife Euridice, fitting the whole side B of the vinyl.


Hocus Pocus (live)


Aphrodite's Child - 1972 666

Release Date and Style: June 26, 1972. Psychedelic Rock. Pop Rock
On the subs bench: Nektar - 1972 A Tab In The Ocean

Before Chariots Of Fire and Albedo 0.39, Vangelis Papathanassiou had led an all-Greek band that included future pop star Demis Roussos and actress/singer Irene Papas (Zorba The Greek).

'666', a concept double-album inspired by the final book of the Christian Bible, 'The Apocalypse Of John', is the third and final album by Aphrodite's Child, released when the band had already split up.

Eccentric, psychedelic, folk-oriented and pop laden all in one, there's even an orgasm sung by Irene on the song '∞'(Infinity), which is, basically, five minutes of it. If all that is not enough to pique your interest...


The Four Horsemen

Yes - 1972 Close To The Edge

Yes - 1972 Close To The Edge

Release Date and Style: September 13, 1972. Symphonic Rock.
On the subs bench: Yes ‎- 1971 Fragile

While the previous year's 'Fragile' contained strong singles, Close To The Edge is the crowning achievement of Yes within the progressive framework.

Two multi-piece tracks dominate the recording, namely, the titular track and the marvelous 'And You And I' on sides A and B of the vinyl, respectively. Only one more track completes the album.

Sophistication, ethereal spiritual vocals by Jon Anderson (one of the finest frontmen ever in rock) and a real musical trip conducted by Rick Wakeman's keys and especially Steve Howe's guitar work, the latter's electric lines and twelve-string acoustic performance sublime.

This is also the prelude to another masterpiece, the extended 'Tales From Topographic Oceans'.


And You and I

Pink Floyd - 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd - 1973 The Dark Side Of The Moon

Release Date and Style: March 1, 1973. Art Rock. Psychedelic Rock.
On the subs bench: Pink Floyd ‎- 1975 Wish You Were Here

Little can be said about Dark Side Of The Moon that hasn't been already said. So few is left, that people even forget this is a Prog Rock classic, such is its status within the classic rock sphere. Few is left of Pink Floyd's psychedelic origins as well, in favor of more-concise pieces. Roger Waters was the only lyricist on an album for the first time in Floyd's history.

Songs like singles 'Money', 'Us And Them' and 'Time', plus 'The Great Gig in the Sky' are long ago in the collective unconscious. Alan Parsons job as engineer is remarkable. Dark Side started the Floyd golden trilogy completed by 'Wish You Were Here' and 'Animals' that led to the double concept album 'The Wall', produced by Bob Ezrin.



Genesis ‎- 1973 Selling England By The Pound

Genesis ‎- 1973 Selling England By The Pound

Release Date and Style: October 13, 1973. Art Rock. Album Rock
On the subs bench: Genesis - 1972 Foxtrot

Delicateness, finesse, artsy; adjectives that describe Genesis's performance on this superb album of English-themed stories like the decadence and forgetfulness that local folk had fell into, giving it an overall folk vibe.

The changing opener 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight', the more accessible 'I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)', 'Firth Of Fifth' and the epic 'The Battle Of Epping Forest' are only a taste of an album meant to be listened front to back in its entirety to fully enjoy Peter Gabriel's theatrical performance, Phil Collins' impeccable drumming and Steve Hackett and Tony Banks inspiring instrumentation.

Years before shred, Hackett played tapping and sweep picking techniques on the legendary first song's guitar solo.


I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)

<img src='' width='300' height='300' alt='Camel - 1974 Mirage' title=Camel - 1974 Mirage' />

Camel - 1974 Mirage

Release Date and Style: March 1, 1974. Canterbury Scene.
On the subs bench: Camel - 1976 Moonmadness

Camel's sophomore is a marvelous example of the style's dynamics. Combining some of the best features of ELP, Yes and Genesis, there's also a bit of The Doors to the vocals, shared by guitarist Andrew Latimer (who also plays flute) and the late keyboardist Peter Bardens.

Only five songs of overwhelmingly hard-hitting keyboard and guitar interactions, splendidly crafted shifts in pace and tempos; and a true classic of the genre in the last song, the three-piece 'Lady Fantasy'.

Thirty-eight minutes that are meant to be enjoyed in one sit for not only every song is a winner but also, as the old quote by philosopher Aristotle says, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or, simply, synergy.


Lady Fantasy

Marillion ‎- 1985 Misplaced Childhood

Marillion ‎- 1985 Misplaced Childhood

Release Date and Style: June 17, 1985. Pop Rock. Neo Prog.
On the subs bench: Marillion - 1984 Fugazi

Back in the 1980's, Marillion was the source of heated discussions on whether they were a progressive band, a hard rock one (same as it had happened with Rush before) or simply Genesis wannabes. The last statement utterly false, although certain influences are present.

Truth is Marillion was the only new progressive band of the eighties that reached commercial success based upon a string of four strong albums with frontman Fish from which this concept one is the pick of the bunch, masterfully mixing Prog with Pop sensibilities. 'Kayleigh' and 'Lavender' are the band's biggest singles ever.


Heart Of Lothian

In Summary

We've outlined the distinctive elements of rock's most adventurous, eclectic subgenre. We've also featured some of its best albums from the beginning of the style in the late 1960's up to the mid-1980's, including a suggested starting kit for new listeners plus a handful of more complex albums as well.

Innumerable other bands deserve a mention and a place in future volumes, including but not limited to Caravan, Gentle Giant, Captain Beyond, Barclay James Harvest, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Eloy, ELO, The Alan Parsons Project, Supertramp, U.K., Pendragon, Anglagard, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Spock's Beard, The Neal Morse Band, Transatlantic, and of course the whole Progressive Metal branch.

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    Great article! My introduction to Prog Rock was Genesis , Yes and the Moody Blues.
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    ExplorerExplorer England
    A most enjoyable and informative piece David...nice one.
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    dtabachndtabachn Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Thanks for the comments, really appreciated! My own introduction to Progressive Rock was Tarkus, which I used to have on cassette; and Kayak, through the track 'Ruthless Queen' that had been included on a compilation called '17 Top Hits 1980', even though the song had been released in 1978.
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    edited April 15
    Really enjoyed the article...I have all the high-lighted albums save for Camel and Aphrodite’s Child (areas for investigation on my part).

    Most of my musical bedrock is in the 80s.... but lately I’ve really been focusing on the bands/releases of the 70s; so much to discover. Prog was really a pervasive factor in that decade. As I write this comment I just happen to be listening to the second Lake album and can absolutely hear prog influences.

    (not to mention I think the prog album covers were among the coolest ever released!)

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up, good reading again!
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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    I would even consider the first two Toto albums as progressive. Todd Rundgren and Utopia were a vital part of my prog rock upbringing, so too early Uriah Heep, Styx and Barclay James Harvest.
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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    ELP are releasing a picture disc of 'Tarkus' for Record Store Day.

    Click here.
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    Tarkus - great name for an aftershave :)
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