This book is a history of progressive rock. If you're not familiar with the term, "progressive rock" refers to the slew of classically-influenced, mostly British bands that appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like any label, the term "prog rock" isn't easy to define, but it works well enough to be in common usage.
And as you might have guessed, I am a huge fan of several bands in this genre. I grew up listening to groups like Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson, so a lot of this book was old news for me.
Now I could try to encapsulate this book for you in a few paragraphs, but I think any attempt to do so would be self-defeating. Instead I offer the chapter headings, a song discussed in that chapter, and some thoughts on both.
1. What is Prog?
Prog is one of those things that seems easily defined at first, but the harder you try to describe it the more difficult it becomes. What about Uriah Heep? Were they a prog band? Atomic Rooster? Tony Williams Lifetime? The Moody Blues?
Fun Trivia #1: Despite being some people's very definition of prog rock, Procol Harum is not to be found in this book.
Fun Trivia #2: The author considers Hawkwind a "space rock" band, and not a prog rock band.
2. In the Beginning
This might seem obvious to anyone familiar with rock history, but one could say that the Beatles were the first prog band. By virtue of their popularity they were a huge influence on the prog bands that came after.
Fun Trivia #1: The Moody Blues's "Days of Future Past" was quite possibly the first "group and orchestra" album. It might also be the first prog rock album.
Fun Trivia #2: The rock band Cream was also a source of inspiration for many prog bands. Though primarily remembered for their more blues/hard rock offerings, they wrote songs in a number of different styles.
3. Pink Floyd
I like early Pink Floyd. Back when Syd Barrett was part of the band. As for the later stuff, I like bits and pieces of things up until "Dark Side of the Moon," and after that they lost me. I've never quite understood why people are so devoted to this band.
Fun Trivia #1: Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd because of mental illness, LSD, or both.
Fun Trivia #2: Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd's sound engineer, formed the Alan Parsons Project in 1975.
4. King Crimson
Now here's a great band. My favorite Crimson albums are the three with John Wetton, but I like the others that came before that line up.
Fun Trivia #1: Greg Lake, King Crimson's first singer/bassist, would go on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
Fun Trivia #2: John Wetton would go on to join Family and Uriah Heep before forming U.K. in the late 1970s.
5. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
"Tarkus" really blew my mind the first time I heard it. What a great album. I also love the first album and "Pictures at an Exhibition." Not a huge fan of either "Brain Salad Surgery" or "Works."
Fun Trivia #1: Greg Lake hated Tarkus when he first heard it.
Fun Trivia #2: Carl Palmer formed this band with Lake and Emerson after drumming with Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster.
"Close to the Edge" and "Fragile" are amazing. The albums before "Fragile" are also pretty good. They lost me with the "Tales from Topographic Oceans" album, though I thought their 80s stuff was alright.
Fun Trivia #1: Bill Bruford would go on to drum for King Crimson after "Close to the Edge."
Fun Trivia #2: Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was also an in-demand session musician. He can also be heard on David Bowie's "Hunky Dory" and Black Sabbath's "Vol. 4."
Never been a big Genesis fan. The stuff they did with Peter Gabriel is... OK, but I can't stand the albums they did after he left. I despised their 80s hits.
Fun Trivia #1: Drummer (and later vocalist) Phil Collins was not part of the original lineup.
Fun Trivia #2: During a later tour Bill Bruford played drums while Phil Collins concentrated on singing.
8. Jethro Tull
Great band, but they got stuck in a rut. "This Was...," "Benefit," and "Stand Up" are excellent, though I can't get into their concept albums. As much as I like Ian Anderson, I have to admit that he can be annoying.
Fun Trivia #1: Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi was in this band for about a second.
Fun Trivia #2: Original guitar player Mick Abrahams would go on to form Blodwyn Pig.
9. Colosseum and Greenslade
Not a big fan of either band, though Colosseum had their moments. One of my problems with Colosseum, however, is the Chris Farlowe albums. I can't stand Chris Farlowe.
I wasn't familiar with Greenslade until I read this book, and having listened to them a bit, I can't say that I'm all that impressed. Great instrumental tracks, but the singer ruins many of the songs.
Fun Trivia #1: Drummer John Hiseman also played with British R&B legend John Mayall.
Fun Trivia #2: Greenslade had two keyboardists.
10. The Canterbury Scene
What, only one mention of Egg? How could the author pass over Egg like that? Yeah, I'll agree that the Soft Machine and Gong were great bands - but c'mon... Egg!!
Not-So-Fun Trivia #1: After his tenure in Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt was paralyzed after falling from a third-story window.
Fun Trivia #2: Original Soft Machine guitarist Daevid Allen would go on to form Gong in France.
Camel's alright. I haven't really sought out their other albums, but my daughter loved "The Snow Goose" from the first time I played it.
Fun Trivia #1: Guitarist Andrew Latimer almost joined Roger Waters for a world tour.
Fun Trivia #2: The band were almost endorsed by Camel brand cigarettes prior to the release of their first album.
12. Gentle Giant
Yes, Gentle Giant were an impressive band, but a lot of their music leaves me flat. I'll agree that "Octopus" was their best album.
Fun Trivia #1: Three of the founding members of this band were brothers.
Fun Trivia #2: One of these three brothers went on to become a recording industry bigwig in the 80s, signing several hair metal bands to various record labels.
13. Prog Folk
Pentangle's "Basket of Light." I wore the hell out of that album.
Not-So-Fun Trivia #1: Renaissance founding member Keith Relf was also a member of the Yardbirds. He was electrocuted in a freak accident in 1976.
Fun Trivia #2: Yes member Rick Wakeman rose to prominence as a member of The Strawbs.
14. Progressivo Italiano
I can't remember if Goblin is mentioned in this book or not, but they are definitely my favorite Italian prog band.
Fun Trivia #1: The above-mentioned Goblin did a lot of soundtrack work on the Italian horror movies of that time.
Fun Trivia #2: King Crimson's Peter Sinfield and ELP's Greg Lake signed many of these bands to their respective labels.
15. German Prog and the Krautrockers
There's no end of German prog bands that I'm not familiar with. This is one of them. What do you think?
By the way, many Germans find the terms "krautrock" and "krautrockers" offensive. It's easy to see why. We don't call the British bands "limeyrock," so maybe it's better to discard the term krautrock.
Fun Trivia #1: Tangerine Dream, one of the first bands to pioneer the use of the synthesizer, were originally a German prog band.
Fun Trivia #2: German prog band Eloy took their name from H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine."
16. Song for America
Kansas? No, thank you. Never liked that band. Instead, here's Ronnie James Dio singing "Aqualung!"
Fun Trivia #1: I will never like Kansas.
Fun Trivia #2: I will also never like Styx.
17. Tubular Bells
Tubular Bells is awesome. His other albums? Not so much.
Fun Trivia #1: Mike Oldfield got his start in Kevin Ayer's the Whole world, with Robert Wyatt on drums.
Fun Trivia #2: "Tubular Bells" rose to fame as part of the soundtrack to the film "The Exorcist."
I could bore you to tears with Rush trivia. They were the first band that I really, truly liked. They were definitely a later prog band, and their earliest stuff is more hard rock than prog.
Fun Trivia #1: Singer/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson grew up together.
Fun Trivia #2: Prior to joining Rush, drummer Neil Peart was a member of another band, Hush.
Sort of a proto-Asia, filed somewhere between the great albums Wetton did with King Crimson and his 80s pop hits. I guess if someone tried really hard they could like this music, but even by the late 70s this was sounding tired.
Fun Trivia #1: U.K. were one of the last prog supergroups, consisting of John Wetton, Bill Bruford, Eddie Jobson, and Allan Holdsworth.
Fun Trivia #2: The jazz-oriented Bruford and Holdsworth often argued with the pop-oriented Wetton and Jobson. This quickly led to the dissolution of the original lineup.
20. The Return of the King (Crimson)
Love 'em or hate 'em, you've got to admire their ability to reinvent themselves. They're still filling theaters, and I'm still more than willing to pay far too much to hear Robert Fripp play... anything. Not liking Belew's voice though.
Fun Trivia #1: At the time of writing Crimson has two drummers.
Fun Trivia #2: Adrian Belew also played on David Bowie's "Lodger" album.
21. Throwing It All Away
Listen to the above audio clip at your own risk. It's TERRIBLE. This chapter is about prog bands that "sold out." The above album is a prime example.
Fun Trivia #1: ELP weren't alone. They were just the earliest band to do something like this. Many prog bands and prog players were quite honest about their desire for hit songs.
Fun Trivia #2: After Steve Howe grew tired of Asia and Steve Hackett grew tired of Genesis, the two would go on to form GTR.
24. Progressivity [?] Continues into the Twenty-First Century
Again we arrive at the difficulty in defining what "progressive rock" really is. This difficulty is only compounded by the distance between modern bands and the 70s. Is Tool a prog band? I don't know, but I sure do like their music.
And while we're at it, I should add that there's a sub-genre of metal called "progressive metal." And yes, defining whatever that is poses even more problems.
I leave you with Obscura. Hope you like... LOUD?