Posts Tagged Prog-Rock
The eponymous debut album by British prog-rockers Yes is considered to be the first progressive rock album. And Yes the band (for their playlist, click here) is considered to be the most venerable and commercially successful prog-rock band. Their debut album was released on October 15, 1969 in the waning days of psychedelic rock, and just ahead of the big splintering of rock music into a multitude of sounds and genres that made the 70s the best decade for rock music. With their next three albums, Yes became a major and defining force on the progressive side of rock music. But the debut LP didn’t fare well, even though it’s a decent collection of early Yes songs. The biggest reason: Yes was released within a few weeks of several notable late-1969 rock albums by the heavy hitters of the time, including Tommy by The Who, Led Zeppelin II, and the Stones’ Let It Bleed. By 1973, that would all change.
By the way, Yes includes two very ambitious and interesting covers of songs by the Beatles (“Every Little Thing”) and the Byrds (“I See You”). To download Yes from iTunes or for a CD from Amazon, click here.
Pink Floyd’s second outing, A Saucerful Of Secrets was one of the top psychedelic albums of the 60s. Released on June 29, 1968, it began the transition from the shorter, more concise psych-pop songs written by co-founder Syd Barrett on their debut album (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, August 1967) to the deeper, lengthier and stylistically progressive explorations of their next five LPs.
A Saucerful… also marked the end for Barrett as a member, chief songwriter, lead guitarist and de facto leader of the band. Barrett’s mental affairs were unraveling rapidly in late 1967, smack in the early stages of the recording sessions at EMI Studios on Abbey Road in London. In January 1968, David Gilmour was recruited to provide stability at lead guitar as Barrett faded away. Syd was out forever in March and his only written credit on A Saucerful… was the trippy, upbeat “Jugband Blues.” Taking control of the proceedings and the band’s direction, Roger Waters and Richard Wright (with obvious support from Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason), delivered lighter pop-psychedelic classics (“See Saw” and “Remember A Day” are baroque-poppers with a pastoral bend) and contrasting longer space-psych forays in “Let There Be More Light,” the title track and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” (widely considered the aboriginal space-rock track).
With A Saucerful… Pink Floyd began the progressive art-rock voyage that would culminate in the massive hit album, The Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973. Casual Floyd fans, especially those who caught the bug with Dark Side, are advised to give an ear to A Saucerful Of Secrets. It’s a true gem and you’ll find it as a CD and mp3 tracks on Amazon and as iPod tracks on iTunes. My take on Pink Floyd’s Top 25 is in the Playlist Vault.
Not just the first supergroup in progressive rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (aka ELP) was also the earliest prog-rock band to truly master the heady mix of classical, hard rock and pop music that became a significant and commercially viable force in the 70s. Formed in very late 1969, the trio issued their eponymous debut LP in 1970 and followed with the prog-rock seminal Tarkus on June 14, 1971.
Keyboardist Keith Emerson and bassist Greg Lake met in 1969 while on tour with The Nice and King Crimson, their respective artsy hard rock bands of the time. Realizing the opportunity to form a new venture and deciding on a trio, they convinced drummer Carl Palmer to jump over from his group Atomic Rooster. (There is much truth to the rumor that they also courted Jimi Hendrix to join them and form “HELP”, but Hendrix declined and was dead a few months later, anyway). With the super-trio in place, ELP set about crafting their signature organ-dominated, pop-goes-cathedral sound for the self-titled first LP. For album #2, Tarkus, the band expanded the theme, gloomy at times and explosive at others, sharing compositions and instrumentation in a mostly glorious, thundering cannonade of early but now classic progressive rock.
Tarkus features the epic, 21 minute conceptual title track that consumed Side 1 of the original LP and taught everyone that such self-centered indulgences were acceptable (but only when they were credible and listenable!). On Side 2, ELP bookends a Bach-based hymn (“The Only Way”) and three more spirited rockers (“Bitches Crystal,” “Infinite Space (Conclusion)” and “A Time And A Place”) with two curious but acceptable matings of countrified rock ‘n’ roll with Emerson’s classical-turned-dancehall piano, “Jeremy Bender” and “Are You Ready, Eddy?” The whole is as good as the sum, although “Tarkus” the composition is the best of the album.
The album climbed as far as #9 in North America and opened the door for a broad range of successful 70s art/prog/avant-garde rockers, from Ambrosia to early Moody Blues to Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Yes (ELP’s chief competitors in the mid70s). My Top 25 ELP tracks will be up on DrRock.com shortly, and Tarkus is available as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon and as iPod downloads on iTunes.
A good number of people – critics and die-hard Genesis fans especially – accused the progressive rock band of selling-out when they released their tenth studio album, the pop-oriented Duke, on March 31, 1980. Truth is, the seeds of change on Duke were sewn years before. Anyone who failed to hear the drift toward pop-rock wasn’t paying attention to all the signals, foul-crying critics and fans especially. Check out and comment on my Genesis playlist here).
Peter Gabriel’s departure from Genesis in mid-1975 ended the growing clash over musical direction for the band and, more importantly, brought drummer Phil Collins into the lead singer role. Where Gabriel was into high brow, theatrical live shows and heavy-handed concept albums, the remaining three (Collins, bassist Mike Rutherford, guitarist Steve Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks) knew a good pop-rock melody and could pen them easier than Gabriel could design the costumes and deep lyrics for his stage persona. The last Gabriel-era LP, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, gained radio airplay in the U.S. to chip away at their cult status (they were always big in the U.K.). Each successive album grew bolder with pop rhythms, riffs and harmonies, with “Robbery, Assault And Battery” (1976), “Your Own Special Way” (1976) and “Follow You Follow Me” (1978) setting up the two hits from Duke, “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It On Again.”
Duke is usually viewed as the mid-point between the “new” and the “old” Genesis. While I disagree that the distinction is that clear, the fact remains that it became their first #1 record in the U.K. (and #11 in the U.S.). It was followed by four more terrific Genesis albums in the 80s paralleling Collins’ solo career. CD issues and mp3 downloads are available on Amazon (click here). iTunes downloads are available here.
Probably the definitive Rush album, Moving Pictures came out on February 7, 1981, a year after their biggest hit single (“Spirit Of Radio”), from the Permanent Waves album, and spawned two radio-friendly tracks, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” which I won’t bore you by talking about (yay!). But you can check out these and other top Rush tracks in Dr. Rock’s Playlist Vault by clicking here.
Like its predecessor, Moving Pictures had a punning cover (check it out: not only are they [physically] moving pictures, but they are making [films] moving pictures, and the whole thing has people crying, making them [emotionally] moving pictures) and some great songs, and their last stab at a Proggy-concept track “The Camera Eye” with its intriguing intro (a typewriter tapping – do you kids even know what a typewriter is??) and very spacious sound and alternate major/minor backing to the guitar solo, was a graceful salute and farewell to the excesses of the Prog Rock era.
“Red Barchetta” was a brief return to the sci-fi/fantasy song themes of yore, and also a tip to Neil Peart’s individualist social/political thinking, which had drawn Rush so much criticism during the 2112 era. “Witch Hunt” has clear, pro-tolerance, anti-mob lyrics, and the absence of a guitar solo only reinforces the power of the words: “Quick to judge/Quick to anger/Slow to understand”. Nice. “YYZ” with its deliberately odd-rhythm/flattened-fifth intro (you did know “YYZ” was the code for Toronto airport, right? Sorry – just checking) now appears on Guitar Hero, for those of you who find Whack-a-Mole an acceptable substitute for musical ability.
Big “uh-oh” reserved for the final track “Vital Signs”, which was a taster for some of the clunkier tracks with just-plain-stupid lyrics that Rush did in the later 80’s, when they started to sound like a heavy-rock version of the Police (Sting’s old band), or Yes-plays-Bob-Marley or some such.
Moonglum rating: 4.5 gilt picture frames (out of a possible 5)
Review by Moonglum.
Yes released their fourth album, Fragile on January 4, 1972, a scant six months after Rick Wakeman left the Strawbs and joined Yes (click here for my playlist), bringing synthesizers and another strong classical music background to a band on verge of breakthrough. While contractual issues precluded any official credit for his keyboard and co-writing work on the album, Wakeman’s presence solidified the band, their sound and their place in rock history. Fragile quickly rose to #4 on the Billboard 200 and pushed the band to the forefront of the burgeoning prog-rock movement.
The whole affair owes everything to the surprise hit single version of the 8-plus minute “Roundabout,” which became a cross-over AM and heavy FM hit after a shortened version was released as a single. That extremely unusual achievement lifted an otherwise excellent prog-rock album to unheard of heights and began a nearly 40 year reign for Yes as the quintessential and longest-running prog-rock show on Earth.
Surprisingly, Fragile is not on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of all time, but it should be in the first 100. However, it is available as a CD on Amazon (click here) and download tracks on iTunes (click here).
Syd Barrett founded Pink Floyd, played lead guitar and wrote most of the material on the band’s highly regarded first LP, 1967’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. But beneath the melodically playful acid-based pop-rock of his music was a tormented psychotic whose freewheeling LSD use contributed to mental degradation and ouster from the band in 1968.
Barrett recorded two solo albums before he tripped into seclusion for over 30 years until his death from cancer in 2006. Released on January 3, 1970, Barrett’s first solo album, The Madcap Laughs, was engineered at Abbey Road Studios in two disjointed sessions, one in mid-1968 and the other a year later. Barrett’s nonsensical lyrics and acoustic guitar were laid down first, with session musicians and members of prog-rock group Soft Machine forced to provide overdubs based on Barrett’s increasingly whimsical and difficult direction. The result is a grab bag of sunny pop psychedelia and dark acid rock, a bit tough to follow at times but a period gem nonetheless.
Although Roger Waters and David Gilmour fired him from his band, they nonetheless were invited to produce parts of The Madcap Laughs. And they saluted Syd on their 1975 release, Wish You Were Here. The Madcap Laughs available as a CD on Amazon (click here) and download tracks on iTunes (click here).