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Progressive rock

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Progressive rock, also known as prog rock or prog, is a rock music subgenre[2] that originated in the United Kingdom with further developments in Germany, Italy, and France, throughout the mid-to-late 1960s and 1970s. It developed from psychedelic rock, and originated as an attempt to give greater artistic weight and credibility to rock music.[3] Bands abandoned the short pop single in favor of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz or classical music in an effort to give rock music the same level of musical sophistication and critical respect.[4]

Progressive rock sometimes abandons the danceable beat that defines earlier rock styles[5] and is more likely to experiment with compositional structure, instrumentation, harmony, rhythm, and lyrical content.[6] It may demand more effort on the part of the listener than other types of music.[7] Musicians in progressive rock typically display a high degree of instrumental skill.[8][9] Musical forms are blurred through the use of extended sections and of musical interludes that bridge separate sections, which results in classical-style suites. Early progressive rock groups expanded the timbral palette of the then-traditional rock instrumentation by adding instruments more typical of folk, jazz, or music in the classical tradition. A number of bands, especially at the genre's onset, recorded albums in which they performed with full orchestras.[10] Progressive rock artists are more likely to explore complex time signatures such as 5/8 and 7/8.[11] Tempo, key, and time signature changes are common within progressive rock compositions.[12]

Songs were replaced by musical suites that often stretched to 20 or 40 minutes in length and contained symphonic influences, extended musical themes, philosophical, mystical and/or surreal lyrics, and complex orchestrations. The genre was not without criticism, however, as some reviewers found the concepts "pretentious" and the sounds "pompous" and "overblown".[13]

Progressive rock saw a high level of popularity throughout the 1970s, especially in the middle of the decade. Bands such as Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Camel and Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) were the genre's most influential groups and were among the most popular acts of the era, although there were many other, often highly influential, bands who experienced a lesser degree of commercial success. The genre faded in popularity during the second half of the decade. Conventional wisdom holds that the rise of punk rock caused this, although in reality a number of factors contributed to the decline.[14] Progressive rock bands achieved commercial success well into the 1980s, albeit with changed lineups and more compact song structures.

The genre grew out of the 1960s space rock of Pink Floyd and the classical rock experiments of bands such as the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, the Syn and the Nice. Most of the prominent bands from the genre's 1970s heyday fall into the "symphonic prog" category, in which classical orchestrations and compositional techniques are melded with rock music. Other subgenres exist, including the more accessible neo-progressive rock of the 1980s, the jazz-influenced Canterbury sound of the 1960s and 1970s, and the more political and experimental Rock in Opposition movement of the late 1970s and onward.[15] Progressive rock has influenced genres such as krautrock and post-punk, and it has fused with other forms of rock music to create such subgenres as neo-classical metal and progressive metal. A revival, often known as new prog, occurred at the turn of the 21st century and has since enjoyed a cult following.


Progressive rock originally referred to progressive pop[16] or "classical rock" in which a band performed together with an orchestra, but the term's use broadened over time to include Miles Davis-style jazz fusion, some metal and folk rock styles, and experimental German bands.[17] It does not refer to a single style but to an approach that combines elements of diverse styles. Jerry Ewing, editor of Prog Magazine, explains that "Prog is not just a sound, it's a mindset,"[18] and Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci points out that it is defined by its very lack of stylistic boundaries.[19]

The advent of the concept album and the genre's roots in psychedelia led albums and performances to be viewed as combined presentations of music, lyrics, and visuals.[6] Progressive rock abandons the danceable beat that defines earlier rock styles[5] and is more likely than other types of popular music to experiment with compositional structure, instrumentation, harmony and rhythm, and lyrical content.[6] It may demand more effort on the part of the listener than other types of music.[7]

Musicians in progressive rock typically display a high degree of instrumental skill, although this is not always the case.[8] Neither Greg Lake[20] nor Boz Burrell[21] had ever been a bassist prior to filling that role in King Crimson. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond joined Jethro Tull because of his social compatibility with the band rather than musical skills. "Jeffrey didn't get into the group because he was a good guitarist," said bandleader Ian Anderson, "because he could hardly play a note."[22] Pink Floyd[23] and Brian Eno[24] are notable examples of artists who are able to build complex structures out of simple parts[8] and who are virtuosos in the sense that their instrument is the recording studio.[25]

Musical aspects


Progressive rock songs often avoid common popular music song structures of verse/chorus form,[26] and their extended lengths allow complex themes that cannot be fully developed within the span of a three-minute single.[9] Musical forms are blurred through the use of extended sections and of musical interludes that bridge separate sections together, which results in classical-style suites. These large-scale compositions are similar to medleys, but there is typically more thematic unity between the sections. Transitions between electric and acoustic sections provide dynamic contrast.[27] Extended instrumental passages often mix composed, classical-style sections with group improvisation. These sections emphasize group virtuosity rather than individual skill, and they are a break from other pop forms in which a single, dominant singer or soloist is accompanied by a band.[28] Although many progressive rock songs are of three to five minutes in length, and bands such as Kraftwerk did adhere to pop songwriting principles,[29] long-form pieces of twenty minutes or more are not uncommon.

These extended pieces are usually considered to be the result of experimentation with classical music forms, although an alternative viewpoint holds that they are explorations of the complexities possible within the popular music format.[30] Many bands did, however, use compositional techniques borrowed from classical music. Gentle Giant, whose Kerry Minnear held a degree in composition from the Royal Academy of Music,[31] often used counterpoint in their pieces.[32] Kansas songs such as "Miracles out of Nowhere" often contain complex passages in which the violin and one or more keyboards and guitars all play separate contrapuntal parts.[33][34] "Close to the Edge," by Yes, uses a classical compositional technique in which the arrangement is developed by the use of varied repetitions of a theme throughout the piece's structure[35]and has elements of sonata form.[36]

Elements of classical music are sometimes borrowed for the cultural significance they carry. Yes frequently used contrapuntal sections to create the impression of a baroque style, as in a fugue-like section at the eight-minute mark of "Close to the Edge" and in the harpsichord solo of "Siberian Khatru."[37] Gentle Giant created a medieval feel through their use of the madrigal.[38]


Early progressive rock groups expanded the timbral palette of the then-traditional rock instrumentation of guitar, keyboard, bass guitar, and drums by adding instruments more typical of folk music, jazz or music in the classical tradition. A number of bands, especially at the genre's onset, recorded albums in which they performed together with a full orchestra.[10] The Moody Blues, who until then had been a blues-based British invasion band with a single hit to their credit, launched the trend with the huge success of their Days of Future Passed album. Days used arrangements that combined the band and orchestra, and it used orchestral interludes to bridge together the individual songs.

Electronic keyboards

It was impractical to work together with an orchestra on a regular basis, so the Moody Blues turned to the Mellotron as a substitute. The Mellotron is a keyboard instrument that contains tape-recordings of individual notes of various instruments and voices, and plays back their sounds as the keyboard is pressed. Its sounds included woodwinds, choirs, brass and, perhaps most famously, strings. The technology available meant that its sounds were not exact reproductions of the instruments, but instead had a haunting quality that many bands prized.[39] This instrument became the signature sound of the Moody Blues[4] and was closely associated with many later progressive rock acts including Genesis,[40] Strawbs,[41] Pink Floyd[39] and King Crimson.[42]

Keith Emerson performs with a complex synthesizer system that is barely visible through a mass of cables that connect its various modules
The synthesizer became a viable instrument when modular synthesizers, such as this one played by Keith Emerson, were replaced by smaller, simpler versions

The Hammond organ is another instrument closely associated with progressive rock. It is a versatile instrument that can function like a pipe organ, can be played through a guitar amplifier for a distorted tone, is capable of sustained notes and rapid melodic runs, and can make percussive sounds.[43] The ability to adjust its timbre while a note is held and its capabilities of vibrato and, when a rotating Leslie speaker is used, tremolo, make it a very expressive lead instrument.[44] The use of organs and choirs reflects the background in Anglican church music shared by many of the genre's founders.[45]

Various other electronic and electro-mechanical keyboard instruments were in common use. The RMI Electra-Piano was favored by Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks used its organ sounds to supplement those of the Hammond.[46] RMI pianos could also substitute for harpsichords, as could the Clavinet.[47] The Wurlitzer electric piano was a signature of Supertramp's sound.[48] Some bands, notably Genesis, used Yamaha's electric grand piano, and string synthesizers were sometimes employed.[49]


The birth of progressive rock roughly coincided with the commercial availability of synthesizers. Early modular synthesizers were large instruments that used patch cords to route the signal flow. Programming the instruments meant placing the patch cords to connect the individual modules. The Minimoog, a smaller, simplified synthesizer that needed no patch cords, began production in 1971 and provided keyboardists with a more-easily programmed instrument that could imitate other instruments, could create new sounds of its own, and was highly portable and affordable. Progressive rock was the genre in which the synthesizer first became established as a common part of popular music.[50] Synthesizers could be used to play the rapid, virtuosic lines that changed the perception of keyboard instruments.[51]

The reliance on the use of multiple keyboard sounds meant that keyboardists such as Rick Wakeman appeared onstage surrounded by ten or more keyboards.[52] Modern digital synthesizers and samplers have reduced the need for huge keyboard stacks, as they typically allow sounds to be layered[52] or for one keyboard to trigger another's sounds through a MIDI connection. They also provide a reliable alternative to instruments such as Mellotrons, whose delicate mechanical apparatus is prone to breakdowns, and are much more portable than bulky instruments such as the Hammond organ. Digital synthesizers are also suitable chordal instruments, unlike early analog synthesizers such as the Minimoog, Moog Taurus and ARP Odyssey, which could play only one note at a time and so were mainly suitable for drones, basslines and lead playing.[53]

Electronic effects

The concept of the studio as an instrument led certain audio effects units to become identified with progressive rock. Pink Floyd, especially in their early days, were noted for their heavy use of vocal delay.[54] Robert Fripp and Brian Eno employed a tape-delay system using two 1/4" tape-recorders, and later dubbed "Frippertronics," that allowed self-accompaniment and the creation of textural, evolving soundscapes. Frippertronics debuted on Fripp & Eno's 1973 No Pussyfooting album, and was later incorporated into Fripp solo albums and mainstream works such as Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall's 1977 Sacred Songs.[55] Progressive rock guitarists showed a distinct preference for Hiwatt amplifiers, with the exception of Yes guitarist Steve Howe,[4] who used Fender Dual Showmans.[56][57] Rush's transition from their early metal albums into their progressive rock phase was accompanied by guitarist Alex Lifeson's switch of amplification from Marshall to Hiwatt.[58]

Rick Wakeman, surrounded by several keyboard instruments and wearing his customary robe, plays a keyboard with one hand and programs a Minimoog synthesizer with the other
Modern synthesizer technology has reduced the need for huge setups of bulky equipment. Here Rick Wakeman plays a digital synthesizer with one hand and programs a Minimoog with the other

Advancements in recording technology were key in enabling the production of progressive rock albums. The Moody Blues were given access to an orchestra for the recording of Days of Future Passed because Deram Records wanted to showcase their production technology.[59] As multitrack recording with as many as 64 separate tracks became available, bands took advantage of the additional tracks and created increasingly dense arrangements.[60] Some artists, such as Yes and Brian Eno, later saw this as having been taken to excess and either simplified their arrangements[60] or distanced themselves from the genre altogether.[61]

Traditional instruments

Progressive rock bands often use instruments in ways different from their traditional roles. The role of the bass may be expanded from its traditional rhythm section function into that of a lead instrument. Bassists often play contrapuntal lines that are more independent and melodic than conventional bass lines, which emphasize the chord root.[62] This is often accompanied by the use of an instrument such as a Rickenbacker bass, whose sound contains an unusually large amount of treble frequencies.[63] Some bassists use the Chapman Stick, which is operated with both hands on the fretboard and allows polyrhythmic and chordal playing.[64] Treble may be emphasized by the choice of strings, by playing with a pick, and by use of the instrument's higher registers.[65] Drum kits are frequently expanded with orchestral percussion such as timpani and gongs. Acoustic guitar becomes more prominent and often appears as interludes played in the classical style of Andrés Segovia.[66] Piano is played in a style derived from the classical piano repertoire rather than from the blues or boogie-woogie styles previously in use. Guitar may be dispensed with altogether, and traditional rhythm guitar is almost never used, as chordal backgrounds are typically played on a keyboard instrument such as the Hammond organ.[67] Genesis built huge, orchestral textures by blurring the lines between the roles of the keyboard and the guitar.[68]


Virtuoso instrumental skills are so closely associated with progressive rock that authors such as Bill Martin consider it as a defining element and exclude bands such as Pink Floyd from consideration.[69] Keith Emerson was acclaimed as "the Hendrix of the keyboard."[70] Yes bassist Chris Squire helped to redefine his instrument's role in rock music and influenced bassists across a range of genres.[71]

Canadian band Rush perform in 2004. (left to right Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart)

It is not uncommon for musicians to have received a higher-than-average level of formal training. Rick Wakeman studied at the Royal College of Music for a time, but left due to increasing demand for his services as a session musician.[72] The Dixie Dregs were music students at the University of Miami, where their guitarist Steve Morse studied under Pat Metheny,[73] and Dream Theater was formed by a group of Berklee School of Music students. Carl Palmer, of ELP, studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.[74] Annie Haslam, of Renaissance, was a classically trained soprano with a vocal range of five octaves.[75] Genesis drummer (and later singer) Phil Collins and Curved Air vocalist Sonja Kristina performed in the London stage productions of Oliver![76] and Hair,[77] respectively.

Players from the genre frequently appear in readers' polls of publications that cater to musicians. The US magazine Guitar Player lists Yes guitarist Steve Howe, Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin, Rush bassist Geddy Lee, Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, onetime Soft Machine guitarist Andy Summers, and Frank Zappa in its "Gallery of the Greats," awarded for repeated wins in a readers' poll category.[78] Modern Drummer magazine lists drummers Phil Collins; Stewart Copeland, formerly of Curved Air; Terry Bozzio, of Frank Zappa and U.K.; Vinnie Colaiuta, of Frank Zappa; Bill Bruford, of Yes and King Crimson; Carl Palmer, and Neil Peart of Rush in its reader-selected Hall of Fame.[79] Editors of the US Keyboard magazine chose Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess[80] and Jon Lord,[81] the Deep Purple keyboardist who composed their Concerto for Group and Orchestra, as founding members of their Keyboard Hall of Fame. Chris Squire was a frequent Melody Maker poll winner.[82]

Rhythm, melody and harmony

There is a tendency towards greater freedom of rhythm than exists in other forms of rock music. Progressive rock artists are more likely to explore complex time signatures such as 5/8 and 7/8.[11] Tempo, key and time signature changes are common within progressive rock compositions.[12] John Wetton, a veteran of several prominent progressive rock groups, later described frequent meter changes as an immature behavior that one grows out of.[83] Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman explained their use as necessary for matching the music to Jon Anderson's lyrics.[84]

Complex time signatures are sometimes used to create a polyrhythmic effect, as in "The Journey," from Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. An ostinato, played on a Clavinet in a 9
meter subdivided as an unusual 2+2+2+3 pattern, is overlaid by a 6
choral pattern in a 9
time signature with the standard 3+3+3 subdivision.[85] Robert Fripp has spoken of meters based on 5, 7 and 11 as "vital and energetic."[86]

Progressive rock often discards the blues inflections and pentatonic scale-based melodies of mainstream rock in favor of modal melodies. Compositions draw inspiration from a wide range of genres including classical, jazz, folk music and world music. Melodies are more likely to comprise longer, developing passages than short, catchy ones.

Chords are typically standard triads,[87] although many keyboardists would alter these triads by playing a nonchord tone in the bass.[88] Quartal harmony, which uses chords built on intervals of fourths rather than thirds and was used heavily in the 1960s by John Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner, is a key feature of Keith Emerson's style.[89] ELP also use bitonality, or the use of two keys simultaneously, in "Infinite Space" and "The Endless Enigma."[88] Some bands, such as King Crimson, incorporated atonality and free improvisation into their works.[32] "Red" and "Fracture," two King Crimson pieces built on [respectively] the octatonic scale and the whole tone scale, are two examples.[88]

Chord changes are typically based on modes, as is typical of rock music, and deviate significantly from the tonality of music from the classical era.[90] Unexpected chord changes in the style of impressionist composers like Claude Debussy are common.[91] Jazz harmonies appear in the music of Canterbury groups such as Soft Machine.[92]

Lyrical themes

Progressive rock lyrics tend to avoid common rock and pop subjects such as love and dancing. Bands also avoid such youth-oriented themes as violence, nihilism, rebellion, and the macabre. Sex is not a common subject, although the occasionally leering lyrics of Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa are an exception.[93] Themes found in classical literature, fantasy and folklore occur frequently, and intellectual topics such as psychological theories may be addressed.[94] Romantic poetry and J. R. R. Tolkien are frequent sources of inspiration.[95]

Medievalism and science fiction themes are common and often appear as metaphors for spiritual transformation and the quest for an ideal society.[96] Magma's 1970s output is a single science fiction narrative spread out over several albums and written in the Kobaian language, which was invented for the purpose.[97] Dystopian and apocalyptic themes drawn from science fiction criticize totalitarianism and the dehumanizing effects of society. These occur in Van der Graaf Generator's "Lemmings,"[98] Roger Waters' Pink Floyd lyrics in the mid-to-late 1970s[99] and Rush's "2112".[100] Bill Martin, author of several books on progressive rock, has noted that King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" anticipates cyberpunk by several years[101] and carries a theme of technology run amok that is also found in ELP's Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery albums.[102]

Many early lyrics express utopian themes that reflect the genre's origins in psychedelic rock[103] and address the subject of spiritual transformation.[104] Spiritual and religious themes are common, as in Yes' "Close to the Edge", which is based on Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha,[105] and Aphrodite's Child's 666, an apocalyptic album with imagery drawn from the Biblical Book of Revelation.[106]

Monty Python and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band-influenced humour appears in some progressive rock lyrics. This is especially pronounced in the more eccentric, Dadaistic approach adopted by some of the Canterbury bands.[107] Song titles such as Hatfield and the North's "Big Jobs (Poo Poo Extract)" reflect this. Puns are common, as in the Caravan album title Cunning Stunts.[108] The more serious symphonic prog bands occasionally recorded such comical tracks as "Jeremy Bender" by ELP, "Harold the Barrel" by Genesis, and "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", an interlude from Jethro Tull's album-length A Passion Play.[109]

Several groups valued lyrics so strongly as to employ a lyricist as a full-time band member. These include Peter Sinfield with King Crimson and Keith Reid with Procol Harum. Renaissance maintained a longtime relationship with lyricist Betty Thatcher.[110] Hawkwind for a time featured lyrics by science fiction author Michael Moorcock.[111]

Social commentary

Social commentary is frequently present.[112] The British class system is criticized in Genesis' Selling England by the Pound, Gentle Giant's Three Friends and Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick,[102] which also functions as a satire of the concept album. Breakfast in America, by British expatriates Supertramp, questioned the American Dream.[113] The Nice's instrumental "America" is considered to have made a similar point musically through a series of dissonant variations on the song's melody.[114] Organized religion is criticized in Jethro Tull's Aqualung, ELP's "The Only Way (Hymn)" and King Crimson's "The Great Deceiver."[115]

Rush lyricist Neil Peart describes himself as a libertarian, and his political viewpoints are reflected in songs such as "The Trees."[116] Frank Zappa, a self-described conservative,[117] used his concept album Joe's Garage to address themes such as individualism, sexuality, the danger of large government, and "the foolishness of white males".[118]:149

Italian progressive rock bands, such as Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM),[119] had a greater tendency toward politicized lyrics.[120] Bands and festivals in Italy were sometimes sponsored by the Italian Communist Party, and it was not uncommon for bands to hint, through either their lyrics or their actions, at support for armed revolutionary groups such as the Red Army Faction[121] and the Palestine Liberation Organization.[119] The very act of forming a band could be seen as politically subversive in Communist Eastern Europe, and acts such as Omega, in Hungary, and Aquarium, in the Soviet Union, initially existed as underground groups. Various members of the Czech band the Plastic People of the Universe endured prison sentences.[122]

Henry Cow, an especially avant-garde British band with Marxist leanings, took the viewpoint that the major record labels were using their economic power to dictate which styles of music ever got heard by the public.[123] The band organized a "Rock in Opposition" (RIO) festival to unite bands who similarly opposed music business practices.[124] Italy's Stormy Six and Belgium's Univers Zero aligned themselves with the RIO movement,[125] as did later bands such as the 5uu's and Thinking Plague.[126]

Pastoralism and ecology

Many progressive rock bands were strongly rooted in British folk music, and this resulted in a tendency toward pastoralism in the lyrics. Genesis, especially when Anthony Phillips was a member of the band, used mythological figures and fairytale worlds to create this effect in songs. After his departure the band did continue to explore these fantasy elements, yet often in a more diverse approach as songs began to combine fantasy with more dark and bizarrely surreal themes such as "The Musical Box" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed."[127] As social and economic problems increased in Britain within the 1970s, many artists gravitated away from pastoralism and ecology at varying degrees, with temporary to near-permanent shifts towards modernism, contemporary political satire, and realism. Jethro Tull, however, increasingly retreated into albums such as Songs From the Wood, Heavy Horses and Stormwatch, whose lyrics emphasized nature.[128]

Awareness of nature sometimes combined with social criticism to produce lyrics that expressed concern over the ecology. This appears on the major Yes albums of the early 1970s[9] and their later "Don't Kill the Whale."[129] Ecology also figures heavily in Magma's lyrical concept.[130] Manfred Mann's Earth Band's 1974 album The Good Earth carried an ecological theme and included a coupon that entitled its purchasers to a square foot of mountain property in Wales.[131] Ecological themes were sometimes carried out to an extent that even genre fans found embarrassing,[132] and they were frequently satirized by Frank Zappa as naive.[133]

Concept albums

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a general trend among rock and pop artists toward albums in which many or all of the songs shared a common theme. This tendency was especially pronounced in progressive rock.[134] Experimentation with expanded musical forms contributed to this, as songs that were more or less thematically related were often combined into suites made up of several movements.[135] This occurred as early as the 1966 album Freak Out!, by the Mothers of Invention, in which the multi-part "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" occupied the entire fourth side of the album. Two influential examples followed in 1968: the title track of Ars Longa Vita Brevis, by the Nice, and "In Held 'Twas in I," from Procol Harum's Shine On Brightly, both of which used sonata-type forms.[136]

Peter Gabriel, of Genesis, performs in costume
Peter Gabriel used costume changes to add an operatic element to Genesis performances

These extended pieces carry on in the Romantic-era tradition of program music,[137] which is intended to tell a story, and they often are inspired by works of literature. Pink Floyd's Animals is a concept album based on George Orwell's Animal Farm.[138] Genesis' Selling England by the Pound was influenced by T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land.[139] Rush's "2112" was inspired by Ayn Rand's Anthem.[140] Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End inspired both Pink Floyd's Obscured by Clouds and Genesis' "Watcher of the Skies."[141]

Darwin!, by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, is a concept album based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.[142] Gentle Giant's The Power and the Glory addressed current events, primarily the Watergate scandal.[38] Story arcs are sometimes spread out over several albums, as was done with the "Chapters" on the first four Saga albums,[143] Rush's Cygnus X-1[19] and Fear series, Magma's mythology[144] and, more recently, the ongoing science fiction narrative of the Coheed and Cambria albums.[145]

The advent of multi-part suites that occupy an entire LP side roughly coincided with the rise of FM radio and its practice of playing albums, or album sides, in their entirety.[146] These extended works are at best, as with "Close to the Edge"[147] and "2112," considered to be among the bands' greatest works. Some bands stretched the format beyond their audiences' capacity to tolerate. This was the case with Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans,[148] a two-LP set that contained a single 20-minute song on each side. The album caused disagreements that led to keyboardist Rick Wakeman's departure from the band, as he compared the new material to a "padded bra"[149] and protested the new songs by eating onstage instead of playing.[150] In the punk era, Tales became a symbol of progressive rock self-indulgence.[151]

Visual aspects

Stage presentation

Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson, wearing a codpiece and tights, stands on one leg as he plays a soprano saxophone
Ian Anderson, of Jethro Tull, was among the more flamboyant progressive rock personalities

Pink Floyd pioneered the concept of concerts as multimedia events, and they used sophisticated light shows meant to suggest or enhance the use of LSD.[152] Their laser show was later replaced by even more sophisticated props such as aeroplane crashes, flying animals, and a giant wall that was constructed behind them and then torn down.[153][154] Genesis took an operatic approach, as frontman Peter Gabriel used multiple costume changes to accent the theatrical nature of his lyrics.[155] Their The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour reinforced this with a slideshow of as many as 1500 images.[156]

Pink Floyd's interest in multimedia performances later led to soundtrack work on several films[157] and ultimately expressed itself in the film Pink Floyd – The Wall.[158] Other progressive rock bands dabbled in film. Peter Gabriel collaborated with surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in an attempt to write a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway screenplay, and the Italian band Goblin was noted for their soundtrack work on Dawn of the Dead, Profondo rosso and Suspiria.[158]

Some acts indulged in pure showmanship. Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson was noted for his Pan-like persona and energetic performances in which he played the flute while standing on one leg.[159][160] Grobschnitt displayed a cabaret-style show with pyrotechnics and slapstick acts.[161] Rick Wakeman concerts in support of his The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table album featured ice skaters in Arthurian costumes.[162] Keith Emerson, while with the Nice, was noted for holding organ notes by stabbing his keyboard with a pair of Hitler youth daggers provided by road crew member Lemmy.[163] With ELP, he is known to have played his Moog modular synthesizer using his buttocks.[164] ELP frequently used dangerous props and gimmicks such as flying pianos and exploding synthesizers in their stage act, and drummer Carl Palmer once cracked several ribs when he jumped over his drum set and landed on a trap door.[165][166]

Progressive rock visual styles sometimes extended to the stage sets. Roger Dean designed stage sets for Yes that continued the visual themes used his album cover designs. Props included giant mushrooms and a drum set encased in a seashell, which nearly suffocated drummer Alan White when it failed to open during one performance.[167] Tangerine Dream had a preference for performing in Gothic cathedrals[168] and used light shows ranging from the minimal to full laser shows. Jean-Michel Jarre integrated projections and fireworks into his performances.[158]

This enthusiasm for showmanship was not shared by all progressive rock bands. King Crimson initially employed a dramatic light show, but guitarist Robert Fripp became concerned that it distracted from the music. Fripp and Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett notably engaged in no stage movement at all and, instead, stayed seated throughout performances.[169]

Album art

File:Relayer front cover.jpg
The dreamscapes depicted in album covers designed by Roger Dean set an otherworldly tone and are an identifiable part of the genre's visual style. The warriors on horseback reflect the album's lyrical themes of war.[170]

Album covers prior to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band usually consisted of a photograph of the group, but the trend toward concept albums was accompanied by a move toward artwork that depicted the album's concept. This artwork often contains science fiction and fantasy motifs executed in a surrealist style. Fragile, by Yes, has cover art that depicts the Earth splitting into pieces, which reflects the ecological focus of their lyrics.[171] Tarkus, by ELP, has a William Neal-designed LP gatefold that symbolically illustrates the titular suite's concept through a series of drawings of fantastic, cybernetic creatures who battle one another.[172]

A number of artists became closely associated with the genre. Roger Dean, who designed album jackets for numerous bands and worked extensively with Yes, created imaginary worlds with a sense of imagination and grandeur that matched the music.[173] Paul Whitehead illustrated early Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator albums with nightmarish art based on the songs' lyrics,[174] and he encouraged the bands to develop a visual identity.[175] Hipgnosis, a London design firm with close personal ties to members of Pink Floyd, used the music as inspiration for surrealistic designs that incorporated photographs and visual puns.[176] Dean and Hipgnosis have influenced later visual artists[177] and advertising designers.[176]

Artwork was sometimes commissioned from artists who were famous in their own right, such as the H. R. Giger design for ELP's Brain Salad Surgery[178] and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe's illustrations for Pink Floyd's The Wall.[179] This combination of music and artwork is intended to function as a total work of art, which is a further use of concepts borrowed from high culture.[180] The practice of connecting an album's artwork to its concept still exists, but its effectiveness is limited by the smaller display area used by compact discs[181] and mobile devices.[182]



Bob Dylan's poetry, the 1966 album Freak Out!, by the Mothers of Invention, and the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles, have all been mentioned as important in the genre's development.[183] The productions of Phil Spector were key influences,[184] as they introduced the possibility of using the recording studio to create music that otherwise could never be achieved.[185] In the same respect, the Beach Boys' concept album Pet Sounds (1966), which itself influenced Sgt. Pepper's,[186] and Jefferson Airplane's second album, Surrealistic Pillow (1967), was also influential.[187]

Psychedelic pop and folk rock

Many groups and musicians played important roles in this development process, but none more than the Beach Boys and the Beatles ... [They] brought expansions in harmony, instrumentation (and therefore timbre), duration, rhythm, and the use of recording technology. Of these elements, the first and last were the most important in clearing a pathway toward the development of progressive rock.

—Bill Martin[188]

Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, with their lyrical unity, extended structure, complexity, eclecticism, experimentalism, and influences derived from classical music forms, is largely viewed as beginnings in the progressive rock genre[189][190] and as turning points wherein rock, which previously had been considered dance music, became music that was made for listening to.[191][188] Bill Bruford, a veteran of several progressive rock bands, said that Sgt. Pepper transformed both musicians' ideas of what was possible and audiences' ideas of what was acceptable in music.[70] He believed that: "Without the Beatles, or someone else who had done what the Beatles did, it is fair to assume that there would have been no progressive rock."[192] It also marked the point at which the LP record emerged as a creative format whose importance was equal to or greater than that of the single,[193] an opinion which Brian Wilson began to share after hearing the US version of the Beatles' Rubber Soul (1965) with its deliberately reconfigured track listing intended to angle the album as a work of the emergent folk rock genre. LP sales first overtook those of singles in 1969.[194]

Bob Dylan introduced a literary element to rock through his fascination with the Surrealists and the French Symbolists and his immersion in the New York City art scene of the early 1960s.[195] The trend of bands with names drawn from literature, such as the Doors, Steppenwolf and the Ides of March, were a further sign of rock music aligning itself with high culture.[196] Literary concepts such as Nietzsche and the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy were referenced by Doors singer Jim Morrison.[197] Dylan also led the way in blending rock with folk music styles. This was followed by folk rock groups such as the Byrds, who based their initial sound on the work of Brian Wilson.[198] In turn, the Byrds' vocal harmonies inspired those of Yes,[199] and British electric folk bands such Fairport Convention, who emphasized instrumental virtuosity.[200] Some of these artists, such as the Incredible String Band and Shirley and Dolly Collins, would prove influential through their use of instruments borrowed from world music and early music.[201]

Early experimental rock

Freak Out!, a Dadaist mixture of progressive rock, garage rock and avant-garde layered sounds is often considered to be the first concept album.[202] The band 1-2-3, later renamed Clouds, began to experiment with song structure, improvisation, and multi-layered arrangements that same year.[203] In March 1966, the Byrds released "Eight Miles High", a pioneering psychedelic rock single with a guitar lead inspired by the "sheets of sound" soloing style of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.[204] the Who later that year recorded "A Quick One While He's Away", a miniature rock opera considered to be the first example of the form.[205] The rock opera was more fully realized in S.F. Sorrow, an influential 1968 album by the Pretty Things.[4] The Doors' The End and When the Music's Over, Crosby, Stills & Nash's Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and the Beatles' Abbey Road Medley are other notable early experimentations with rock and roll suites.[according to whom?]

Bob Dylan's six-minute "Like a Rolling Stone" and its parent album Highway 61 Revisited with its numerous lengthy songs (especially 11-min epic "Desolation Row") makes him the first rocker to experiment with song structures.[further explanation needed] He also made the first rock song to occupy an entire LP side, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands".[citation needed] "Going Home" by the Rolling Stones was the first long "jam" recorded expressly for an album with its over 10 minutes length.[206][better source needed] the Mothers' "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet"[not in citation given] and Love's "Revelation" from album Da Capo are other notable early side long rock epics.[207]

Jimi Hendrix, who rose to prominence in the London scene and recorded with a band of English musicians, initiated the trend toward virtuosity in rock music.[208] Later heavier and more experimental bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin would move this trend more forward

The availability of newly affordable recording equipment coincided with the rise of a London underground scene at which LSD was commonly used. Pink Floyd and Soft Machine functioned as house bands at all-night events at locations such as Middle Earth and the UFO Club, where they experimented with sound textures and long-form songs.[209] Beatles member John Lennon is known to have attended at least one such event, a happening called the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream.[210] Paul McCartney was deeply connected to the underground through his involvement with the Indica Gallery.[211] Many psychedelic, electric folk and early progressive bands were aided by exposure from BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel.[212]

Classical and jazz influences

Harpsichords, orchestral wind instruments and string sections were used in mid-1960s recordings by groups such as the Beach Boys within their album Today! (1965).[213] This created the form of Baroque rock heard in the Bach-inspired "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967), by Procol Harum.[214] The use of instruments traditionally associated with classical music in rock music is difficult to trace in its beginnings, although it is evident in the early 1960s work of Burt Bacharach[215] and Phil Spector.[216] The Beach Boys October 1966 single "Good Vibrations" was dubbed a "pocket symphony" by publicist Derek Taylor, containing an eclectic array of classical, rock, and exotic instruments structured around a cut-up mosaic of musical sections represented by several discordant key and modal shifts.[217] The Moody Blues established the popularity of symphonic rock when they recorded Days of Future Passed together with the London Festival Orchestra, and Procol Harum began to use a greater variety of acoustic instruments, particularly on their 1969 A Salty Dog album.[218] Classical influences sometimes took the form of pieces adapted from or inspired by classical works, such as Jeff Beck's "Beck's Bolero" and parts of the Nice's Ars Longa Vita Brevis. The latter, along with such Nice tracks as "Rondo" and "America", reflect a greater interest in music that is entirely instrumental. Sgt. Pepper's and Days both represent a growing tendency toward song cycles and suites made up of multiple movements.[218]

Several bands that included jazz-style horn sections appeared, including Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Of these, Chicago in particular experimented with suites and extended compositions, such as the "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" on Chicago II.[219] Jazz influences appeared in the music of British bands such as Traffic, Colosseum and Canterbury scene bands such as Soft Machine. Canterbury scene bands emphasized the use of wind instruments, complex chord changes and long improvisations.[220] Jethro Tull began as a heavy blues band fronted by Ian Anderson, a flautist deeply influenced by jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk.[221]

Early 1970s classic era

Yes performs in Indianapolis in 1977

The Nice, the Moody Blues, Procol Harum and Pink Floyd all contained elements of what is now called progressive rock, but none represented as complete an example of the genre as several bands that formed soon after.[222] Almost all of the genre's major bands, including Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator, ELP, Gentle Giant and Curved Air, released their debut albums during the years 1968–1970. Most of these were folk-rock albums that gave little indication of what the band's mature sound would become, but King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) was a fully formed example of the genre.[223] The term "progressive rock," which appeared in the liner notes of Caravan's 1968 self-titled debut LP, came to be applied to these bands that used classical music techniques to expand the styles and concepts available to rock music.[224][112]

Most of the genre's major bands released their most critically acclaimed albums during the years 1971–1976.[225] These include Pawn Hearts, by Van der Graaf Generator;[226] Selling England by the Pound[227] and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, by Genesis;[4] Yes' The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge;[228] Aqualung[229] and Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull,[230] Gentle Giant's Free Hand,[231] ELP's Brain Salad Surgery,[232] Rush's 2112,[233] and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.[234]

Progressive rock experienced a high degree of commercial success during the early 1970s. Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes and Pink Floyd combined for four albums that reached number one in the US charts, and sixteen of their albums reached the top ten.[235] Tull alone scored 11 gold albums and 5 platinum albums.[4] Pink Floyd's 1970 album Atom Heart Mother reached the top spot on the UK charts. Their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, which united their extended compositions with the more structured kind of composing employed when Syd Barrett was their songwriter,[236]:34–35 spent more than two years at the top of the charts[236]:4, 38 and remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for fifteen years.[154] Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, an excerpt of which was used as the theme for the film The Exorcist, sold 16 million copies.[237] A number of progressive bands released singles that became pop hits, including Kraftwerk ("Autobahn"),[29] Yes ("Roundabout"),[238] Jethro Tull ("Living in the Past"),[239] Focus ("Hocus Pocus"), Curved Air ("Back Street Luv"), Strawbs ("Part of the Union"),[240] and Genesis ("I Know What I Like").[241]

The genre has always had its greatest appeal for white males.[112] Most of the musicians involved were male, as was the case for most rock music of the time,[242] although Curved Air vocalist Sonja Kristina[243] and Renaissance singer Annie Haslam were prominent exceptions. Renaissance's lyricist also was female, and their feminine storytelling perspective is particularly prominent in their album art and in the songs "Ocean Gypsy" and "The Song of Scheherazade," both from Scheherazade and Other Stories.[77] Female singers were better represented in the progressive folk bands,[244] who displayed a broader range of vocal styles than the progressive rock bands[245] with whom they frequently toured and shared band members.[246]

British and European audiences typically followed concert hall behavior protocols associated with classical music performances, and they were more reserved in their behavior than were audiences of other forms of rock. This confused musicians during US tours, as they found that American audiences were less attentive and more prone to outbursts during quiet passages.[247]

North America

Progressive rock came to be appreciated overseas, but it mostly remained a European, and especially British, phenomenon. Few American bands engaged in it, and the purest representatives of the genre, such as Starcastle and Happy the Man, remained limited to their own geographic regions.[248] This is at least in part due to music industry differences between the US and Great Britain. Radio airplay was less important in the UK, where popular music recordings had never been played on official radio (as opposed to on pirate radio) until the 1967 launch of BBC Radio 1.[249] UK audiences were accustomed to hearing bands in clubs, and British bands could support themselves through touring. US audiences were first exposed to new music on the radio, and bands in the US required radio airplay for success.[250] Radio stations were averse to progressive rock's longer-form compositions, which hampered advertising sales.[251] Cultural factors were also involved, as US musicians tended to come from a blues background, while Europeans tended to have a foundation in classical music.[252]

North American progressive rock bands often represented hybrid styles such as the complex metal of Rush, the psychedelic-driven hard rock of Captain Beyond, the Southern rock-tinged prog of Kansas, the jazz fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, and the eclectic fusion of the all-instrumental Dixie Dregs.[253][254] British progressive rock acts had their greatest US success in the same geographic areas in which British heavy metal bands experienced their greatest popularity. The overlap in audiences led to the success of arena rock bands, such as Boston, Kansas and Styx, who combined elements of the two styles.[253]


Progressive rock achieved popularity in Continental Europe more quickly than it did in the US. Italy remained generally uninterested in rock music until the strong Italian progressive rock scene developed in the early 1970s,[255] and Van der Graaf Generator were much more popular there than in their own country. Genesis were hugely successful in Continental Europe at a time when they were still limited to a cult following in Britain and the US.[256] Few of the European groups were successful outside of their own countries, with the exceptions of bands like Focus, who wrote English-language lyrics, and Le Orme and PFM, whose English lyrics were written by Peter Hammill and Peter Sinfield, respectively.[257]

Some European bands played in a style derivative of English bands. This can be heard in Triumvirat, an organ trio in the style of ELP; Ange and Celeste who have had a strong King Crimson influence.[258] Others brought national elements to their style: Spain's Triana introduced flamenco elements, groups such as the Swedish Samla Mammas Manna drew from the folk music styles of their respective nations, and Italian bands such as Il Balletto di Bronzo, Rustichelli & Bordini, leaned toward an approach that was more overtly emotional than that of their British counterparts.[259]

Some progressive rock subgenres are tied to national scenes. Zeuhl was a name given to the style of the French band Magma. A number of bands were strongly influenced by Magma and are considered to be part of that subgenre. The "Kosmische music" scene in Germany came to be labeled as "krautrock" internationally.[260] Bands such as Can, which included two members who had studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen,[261] tended to be more strongly influenced by 20th century classical music than the British bands, whose musical vocabulary leaned more toward the Romantic era. Many of these groups were very influential even among bands that had little enthusiasm for the symphonic variety of progressive rock.[262]

Late 1970s decline

Political and social trends of the late 1970s shifted away from the early 1970s hippie attitudes that had led to the genre's development and popularity. The rise in punk cynicism made the utopian ideals expressed in progressive rock lyrics unfashionable.[263] Virtuosity was rejected, as the expense of purchasing quality instruments and the time investment of learning to play them were seen as barriers to rock's energy and immediacy.[264] There were also changes in the music industry, as record companies disappeared and merged into large media conglomerates. Promoting and developing experimental music was not part of the marketing strategy for these large corporations, who focused their attention on identifying and targeting profitable market niches.[265]

Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, 3 February 1978

Four of the biggest bands in progressive rock ceased performing or experienced major personnel changes during the mid-1970s. Robert Fripp disbanded King Crimson in 1974[266] and said later that the genre had gone "tragically off course."[267] ELP went on hiatus the following year.[268] Genesis moved in a more mainstream direction after the 1975 departure of Peter Gabriel and especially after the 1977 departure of Steve Hackett.[241] Yes experienced lineup changes throughout the 1970s before fragmenting in 1980.[269] A number of the major bands, including Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant and U.K., dissolved between 1978 and 1980.[270] Some decided that it was time to move on because they, as Caravan leader Pye Hastings admitted, had "got quite stale."[271]

Many bands had by the mid-1970s reached the limit of how far they could experiment in a rock context, and fans had wearied of the extended, epic compositions. The sounds of the Hammond, Minimoog and Mellotron had been thoroughly explored, and their use became clichéd. Those bands who continued to record often simplified their sound, and the genre fragmented from the late 1970s onward.[272] Corporate artists and repertoire staff exerted an increasing amount of control over the creative process that had previously belonged to the artists,[132] and established acts were pressured to create music with simpler harmony and song structures and fewer changes in meter. This simplification can be heard as a softer, pop orientation in such albums as Genesis' ...And Then There Were Three..., Renaissance's A Song for All Seasons, and the Moody Blues' Octave. A number of symphonic pop bands, such as Supertramp, 10cc, the Alan Parsons Project and the Electric Light Orchestra, brought the orchestral-style arrangements into a context that emphasized pop singles while allowing for occasional instances of exploration. Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and Pink Floyd opted for a harder sound in the style of arena rock.[273]

Few new progressive rock bands formed during this era, and those who did found that record labels were not interested in signing them.[274] The short-lived supergroup U.K. was a notable exception, although they tended to carry on in the style of previous bands and did little to advance the genre.[275] Some of the genre's more important development at this time occurred in its influence on other styles, as several guitarists with European ties brought a progressive rock approach to heavy metal and laid the groundwork for the future progressive metal style. Michael Schenker, of UFO, and Uli Jon Roth, who replaced Schenker in Scorpions, expanded the modal vocabulary available to guitarists.[276] Roth studied classical music with the intent of using the guitar in the way that classical composers used the violin.[277] Finally, the Dutch-born and classically trained Alex and Eddie Van Halen formed Van Halen, who redefined the standard for rock virtuosity[278] and paved the way for the "shred" music of the 1980s.[279]


Neo-progressive rock

A second wave[280] of progressive rock bands appeared in the early 1980s and have since been categorized as a separate "neo-progressive rock" subgenre.[281] These largely keyboard-based bands played extended compositions with complex musical and lyrical structures.[282] Most of the genre's major acts released debut albums between 1983 and 1985 and shared the same manager, Keith Goodwin, a publicist who had been instrumental in promoting progressive rock during the 1970s.[283] The previous decade's bands had the advantage of appearing during a large countercultural movement that provided them with a large potential audience, but the neo-progressive bands were limited to a niche audience and found it difficult to attract a following. Only Marillion[284] and Saga[143] experienced international success.

Neo-prog bands tended to derive their sound and visual style from the symphonic prog bands of a decade earlier. The genre's most successful band, Marillion, suffered particularly from accusations of similarity to Genesis, although they used a different vocal style and a sound with more of a hard rock element.[285] Authors Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell have pointed out that the neo-progressive bands were not so much plagiarizing progressive rock as they were creating a new style from progressive rock elements, just as the bands of a decade before had created a new style from jazz and classical elements.[286] Author Edward Macan counters by pointing out that these bands were at least partially motivated by a nostalgic desire to preserve a past style rather than a drive to innovate.[287]

Marillion onstage in 2007

A predecessor to this genre was the Enid, who fused rock with classical but were more heavily influenced by Ralph Vaughan Williams than by more modern composers.[288] The change of approach can be heard in the shift toward shorter compositions and a keyboard-based sound in Rush albums such as Grace Under Pressure.[282] Neo-progressive bands emphasized individual solos instead of group improvisation, and they included more world music elements. Lyrics became more personal and less esoteric. Concept albums were still created, but not as frequently and on a smaller scale.[282] Digital synthesizers took over many of the roles formerly filled by bulkier keyboards such as Mellotrons and organs,[53] and their modern sound tended to minimize the folk influences that had been typical of 1970s progressive rock.[289] Heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Queensrÿche began to explore the mythological themes and extended concepts that had previously been the territory of progressive rock.[290]


Some established bands moved toward music that was simpler and more commercially viable. Asia, a supergroup composed of veterans of several of the 1970s' major progressive rock acts, debuted in 1982 with an album that featured progressive rock-style Roger Dean artwork, some jazz influence, and advanced vocal arrangements. It however abandoned the complex song structures and interplay between music and vocals that had characterized progressive rock. The songs were based on pop hooks and repetitive choruses, were of a length appropriate for radio airplay, and featured slick production that pushed the vocals and snare drum to the front of the mix.[291]

Echoes of progressive rock complexity could be heard in arena rock bands like Journey, Kansas, Styx, GTR, ELO and Foreigner, all of which either had begun as progressive rock bands or included members with strong ties to the genre. These bands retained some elements of the orchestral-style arrangements, but they moved away from lyrical mysticism in favor of teen-oriented songs about relationships.[292]Genesis transformed into a successful pop act, and a reformed Yes released the relatively mainstream 90125, which yielded their only US number-one single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart". These radio-friendly groups have been called "Prog Lite."[51]

One band who did experience great 1980s success while maintaining a progressive approach was Pink Floyd, who released The Wall late in 1979. The album, which brought punk anger into progressive rock,[293] was a huge success and was later filmed as Pink Floyd – The Wall. Pink Floyd were unable to repeat that combination of commercial and critical success, as their sole follow-up, The Final Cut, was several years in coming[294] and was essentially a Roger Waters solo project[295] that consisted largely of material that had been rejected for The Wall.[296] The band later reunited without Waters and restored many of the progressive elements that had been downplayed in the band's late-1970s work.[297] This version of the band was very popular,[298] but critical opinion of their later albums is less favorable.[299][300] Rush also incorporated new wave influences in their music by 1980, starting with Permanent Waves, which blended progressive rock with a heavy use of synthesizers, and capitalized on more radio-friendly songs like "The Spirit of Radio", "Tom Sawyer", and "Subdivisions".[301] Jethro Tull were able to capitalize on a 1980s interest in sword and sorcery with their 1982 The Broadsword and the Beast, but they drifted toward a more mainstream style later in the decade, as did Rush.[290]

Crossover with post-punk styles

Progressive rock's influence was felt in the form of the post-punk bands, although these bands tended not to draw on classical rock or Canterbury bands as influences but rather Roxy Music and krautrock bands, particularly Can. Groups such as Public Image Ltd,[302] Magazine,[303] Wire,[304] Cardiacs[305] and Simple Minds showed some influence of prog along with their more usually recognized punk influences.[306] Julian Cope of the Teardrop Explodes wrote a history of the krautrock genre, Krautrocksampler.[307] New wave bands tended to be less hostile toward progressive rock than were the punks, and there were crossovers, such as Robert Fripp's and Brian Eno's involvement with Talking Heads, and Yes' replacement of Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson with the pop duo the Buggles.[308] A number of bands in New York's no wave scene were impressed with punk's energy but not with its primitivism. This led to experiments that combined that energy with greater musical sophistication, such as the guitar orchestras of Glenn Branca and the noise experiments of Sonic Youth.[309]

Punk and prog were not necessarily as opposed as is commonly believed. Both genres reject commercialism,[310] and punk bands did see a need for musical advancement, as evidenced by the albums London Calling, by the Clash, and My War, by Black Flag.[311] Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten famously wore a T-shirt that read "I hate Pink Floyd,"[274] but he expressed admiration for Van der Graaf Generator,[312] Can,[313] and Pink Floyd themselves.[314] Brian Eno expressed a preference for the approach of the punk and new wave bands in New York, as he found them to be more experimental and less personality-based than the English bands.[315]

One progressive rock artist who was very supportive of the punk and new wave movements was former King Crimson leader Robert Fripp, who relocated to New York after a three-year retirement and collaborated with the new wave groups Blondie and Talking Heads. He formed a new band that experimented with gamelan music in a similar way to Talking Heads' approach on their Remain in Light album. The band was to be called "Discipline" but instead became a revived King Crimson. This edition featured new instrumentation that included Bill Bruford's electronic drums, Tony Levin's Chapman Stick, and guitar synthesizers played by Fripp and Adrian Belew, who was familiar to Fripp from the Remain in Light sessions.[316] Their sound was highly percussive, featured tightly interconnected minimalist instrumentals with industrial noise influences, and often had a metallic edge. It was a new form of progressive rock that de-emphasized solos and overt virtuosity, but the music was nevertheless very complex and difficult.[317]

Gamelan and minimalism also influenced Brian Eno, who after departing Roxy Music had collaborated with Fripp.[316] Rush borrowed elements from world music and new wave, as on the reggae-tinged "The Spirit of Radio" and "Vital Signs."[318]

1990s and 2000s

Porcupine Tree performs in 2007

Third wave

A third wave of progressive rock bands, who might more properly be described as a second generation of neo-progressive bands,[280] emerged in the 1990s. The use of the term "progressive" to describe groups that follow in the style of bands from ten to twenty years earlier is somewhat controversial, as it has been seen as a contradiction of the spirit of experimentation and progress.[319][320] These new bands were aided in part by the availability of personal computer-based recording studios, which reduced album production expenses, and the Internet, which made it easier for bands outside of the mainstream to reach widely spread audiences.[94] Record stores specializing in progressive rock appeared in large cities.[319]

The shred music of the 1980s was a major influence on the progressive rock groups of the 1990s.[319] Some of the newer bands, such as the Flower Kings, Spock's Beard, and Glass Hammer, played a 1970s-style symphonic prog but with an updated sound.[321] A number of them began to explore the limits of the CD in the way that earlier groups had stretched the limits of the vinyl LP. "The Garden of Dreams," from the Flower Kings' Flower Power album, is nearly 60 minutes in length and is composed of 18 separate sections, and Transatlantic's The Whirlwind consists of a single track of 77 minutes in length.[322]

Folk influences resurface on "The Garden of Dreams," a trend that also appears in Mostly Autumn's 2008 album Glass Shadows.[323] The Decemberists use folk themes and influences as a means of connecting with the past, while Midlake use them to express pastoralism[324] and Shanghai's Cold Fairyland use them for nationalist purposes.[325]

On their 2001 album Origin of Symmetry, Muse included the new prog song "Citizen Erased," a 7-minute track with unusual structure, hard rock, classical, and electronic elements. With their return to space rock in 2006's Black Holes and Revelations, featuring the epic, satirical "Knights of Cydonia," they began to experiment more in the subsequent album; 2009's The Resistance was their most progressive to date, featuring the space rock opera "Exogenesis: Symphony" and progressive arena rock anthem "United States of Eurasia." Frontman Matthew Bellamy confirmed that their 2015 album, Drones, "does indeed include the sequel to fan favourite 'Citizen Erased' – and that the track in question is a crazy, ten minute prog nightmare."[326]

Progressive metal

Progressive rock and heavy metal have similar timelines. Both emerged from late-1960s psychedelia to achieve great early-1970s success despite a lack of radio airplay and support from critics, then faded in the late 1970s and experienced revivals in the early 1980s. Each genre experienced a fragmentation of styles at this time, and many metal bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal onward displayed progressive rock influences.[327] Progressive metal reached a point of maturity with Queensrÿche's 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime and Voivod's 1989 Nothingface, which featured abstract lyrics and a King Crimson-like texture.[328]

Progressive metal drew attention when the US band Dream Theater's 1994 album Awake debuted at #32 on the album charts.[319] King Crimson themselves returned in 1994 with a more metallic sound, as did Van der Graaf Generator in the following decade.[329] Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon project, backed by an array of talent from the progressive rock genre, produced a series of innovative prog-metal concept albums from 1995 onward.[330]

Dream Theater perform in 2008

Several bands in the prog-metal genre, including the US bands Queensrÿche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater as well as Sweden's Opeth, name Rush as a primary influence. These bands also exhibit influences from more traditional metal and rock bands, such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Tool have toured together with King Crimson and named them as an influence on their work,[331] although Robert Fripp feels that the reverse is true and that there is a strong Tool influence on latter-day King Crimson.[86]

Progressive rock elements appear in other metal subgenres. Black metal is conceptual by definition, due to its prominent theme of questioning the values of Christianity.[332] Its guttural vocals are sometimes used by bands who can be classified as progressive, such as Mastodon, Mudvayne and Opeth, whose In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall DVD featured packaging that referenced vintage progressive rock albums such as Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra.[333] Symphonic metal is an extension of the tendency toward orchestral passages in early progressive rock.[334] Progressive rock has also served as a key inspiration for genres such as post-rock,[335] post-metal and avant-garde metal,[336] math rock,[337] power metal, and neo-classical metal.[338] Stoner metal bands frequently point to Hawkwind as a main influence.[339]

New prog

New prog, also known as nu prog or post-prog,[340] is a term that appeared in the mid-2000s to describe a number of alternative bands who incorporated elements from progressive rock or had an expansive, musically diverse, approach to music played in a contemporary style. These bands often play a harder-edged,[341] speed metal[319] and punk-influenced[342] music that is conducive to moshing.[343] Songs often feature jarring shifts between soft acoustic sections and powerful metallic sections, as on "Blackest Eyes" by Porcupine Tree.[344]

Ozric Tentacles employed a spacy, eclectic sound that became popular with rave audiences.[319] The Mars Volta,[345] who incorporated jazz, funk, punk rock, Latin music, and ambient noise into songs that range in length from a few minutes to over a half-hour, was formed by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, former members of the post-hardcore band At the Drive-In. Their 2005 album Frances the Mute reached number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart[346] after the single "The Widow" became a hit on modern rock radio. Coheed and Cambria are known for lengthy solos and a conceptual approach in which each album corresponds to an installment in lead singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez's graphic novel series, The Amory Wars.[347][145] Mystery Jets is a father-and-son band that combines a modern sensibility with elements of progressive rock music from the 1970s.[348]


Progressive rock continues to appeal to its longtime fans and is also able to attract new audiences. The Progressive Music Awards were launched in 2012 by Prog Magazine to honor the genre's innovators and to promote its newer bands. Honorees, however, are not invited to perform at the awards ceremony, as the promoters want an event "that doesn't last three weeks."[18]


Many prominent progressive rock bands got their initial exposure at large rock festivals that were held in Great Britain during the late 1960s and early 1970s. King Crimson made their first major appearance at the 1969 Hyde Park free concert, before a crowd estimated to be as large as 650,000, in support of the Rolling Stones.[21] Emerson, Lake & Palmer debuted at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, at which Supertramp, Family and Jethro Tull also appeared.[349] Jethro Tull were also present at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, the first year in which that festival invited rock bands to perform. Hawkwind appeared at many British festivals throughout the 1970s, although they sometimes showed up uninvited, set up a stage on the periphery of the event, and played for free.[350]

Renewed interest in the genre in the 1990s led to the development of progressive rock festivals.[319] ProgFest, organized by Greg Walker and David Overstreet in 1993, was first held in UCLA's Royce Hall,[351] and featured Sweden's Änglagård, the UK's IQ, Quill and Citadel. CalProg was held annually in Whittier, California during the 2000s.[352] The North East Art Rock Festival, or NEARfest,[94] held its first event in 1999 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and held annual sold-out concerts until 2012's NEARfest Apocalypse, which featured headliners U.K. and Renaissance.[353] Other festivals include the annual ProgDay (the longest-running and only outdoor prog festival) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the annual Rites of Spring Festival (RoSfest)[354] in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, The Rogue Independent Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, Baja Prog in Mexicali, Mexico, ProgPower USA in Atlanta, Georgia and ProgPower Europe in Baarlo, Netherlands. Progressive Nation tours were held in 2008 and 2009 with Dream Theater as the headline act.


The genre has received both a great amount of critical acclaim and criticism throughout the years. Progressive rock has been described as parallel to the classical music of Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók.[351] This desire to expand the boundaries of rock, combined with some musicians' dismissiveness toward mainstream rock and pop music, insulted critics and led to accusations of elitism. Its intellectual, fantastic and apolitical lyrics and its shunning of rock's blues roots were abandonments of the very things that many critics valued in rock music.[355] Progressive rock also represented the maturation of rock as a genre, but there was an opinion among critics that rock was and should remain fundamentally tied to adolescence, so that rock and maturity were mutually exclusive.[356]

Criticisms over the complexity of their music provoked some bands to create music that was even more complex. Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans[357] and "The Gates of Delirium"[358] were both responses to such criticisms. Jethro Tull's Thick As a Brick, a self-satirising concept album that consisted of a single 45-minute track, arose from the band's disagreement with the labeling of their previous Aqualung as a concept album.[359]

These aspirations toward high culture reflect progressive rock's origins as a music created largely by upper- and middle-class, white-collar, college-educated males from Southern England. The music never reflected the concerns of or was embraced by working-class listeners,[360] except in the US, where listeners appreciated the musicians' virtuosity.[361] Progressive rock's exotic, literary topics were considered particularly irrelevant to British youth during the late 1970s, when the nation suffered from a poor economy and frequent strikes and shortages.[362] Even King Crimson leader Robert Fripp dismissed progressive rock lyrics as "the philosophical meanderings of some English half-wit who is circumnavigating some inessential point of experience in his life."[24] Bands whose darker lyrics avoided utopianism, such as King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Van der Graaf Generator, experienced less critical disfavor.[363] Critics similarly came to regard krautrock as a genre separate from progressive rock.[364] The simplicity of punk was in part a reaction against the elaborate nature of progressive rock.

List of progressive rock bands

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  361. Macan 1997, p. 156.
  362. HegartyHalliwell 2011, p. 163-4.
  363. Macan 1997, p. 78.
  364. HegartyHalliwell 2011, p. 152.


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  • Zak, Albin J. (December 2002), "Progressive Rock Reconsidered", Notes (Book Review), Music Library Association, HighBeam Research., retrieved 6 June 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription required)

Further reading

  • Lucky, Jerry. The Progressive Rock Files. Burlington, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing, Inc (1998), 304 pages, ISBN 1-896522-10-6 (paperback). Gives an overview of progressive rock's history as well as histories of the major and underground bands in the genre.
  • Lucky, Jerry. The Progressive Rock Handbook. Burlington, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing, Inc. (2008), 352 pages, ISBN 978-1-894959-76-6 (paperback). Reviews hundreds of progressive rock bands and lists their recordings. Also provides an updated overview, similar to The Progressive Rock Files.
  • Snider, Charles. The Strawberry Bricks Guide To Progressive Rock. Chicago, Ill.: Lulu Publishing (2008) 364 pages, ISBN 978-0-615-17566-9 (paperback). A veritable record guide to progressive rock, with band histories, musical synopses and critical commentary, all presented in the historical context of a timeline.
  • Stump, Paul. The Music's All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. London: Quartet Books Limited (1997), 384 pages, ISBN 0-7043-8036-6 (paperback). Smart telling of the history of progressive rock focusing on English bands with some discussion of American and European groups. Takes you from the beginning to the early 1990s.
  • Weingarten, Marc. Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales). Barnacle Book/Rare Bird Books (2013), 280 pages, ISBN 978-0-9854902-0-1. Defense of the genre.