In the late sixties, the mighty tree of rock sprouted a new limb. This bough wove its intricate way amongst all other genre of the era, integrating classical, folk, rock, jazz, blues and fusion into a tentacle of peculiar and wonderful notes. No two bands were alike and produced music whose character altered with every new LP. Likewise, every song surprised by radically changing its skin throughout a given track. Categorically dubbed Progressive Rock, Art Rock and/or Acid Rock, it was then as now the most difficult to define branch of music that thrived until the late seventies. As you listen to these three masterpieces that are seldom if ever heard on classic rock radio, headphones are almost mandatory.
Progressive was prismatic in its variety. There were bands like Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) and Yes, whose following and discographies grew to iconic levels. Many more like King Crimson, Jethro Tull, pre-1975 Genesis, Procul Harum and The Moody Blues flourished in a garden of mind and ear bending offerings. Still others, lesser known but delectable groups like Renaissance, Tangerine Dream, The Strawbs, Ambrosia and The Alan Parsons Project enjoyed devoutly loyal congregations. Some will rightfully find this list tragically short and prejudicial, but the genre’s roll call is lengthy. It would be absurd to try to recite all their names. But in the weeks ahead I plan on trying like hell to provide a healthy selection.
Thanks in large part to careful tutoring by siblings of friends two or three years older than myself, Progressive rapidly became my music of choice. While I think it’s a generalization and though I say it with a grin, it seems to me the music particularly appealed to art students, Chess players and more than its share of big-brained Chemistry scholars. Huddled in off campus Victorian boarding rooms and stoned to the wide, we listened to tunes like Ashes Are Burning, Stratosfear and All Good People.
Progressive songwriters and musicians were often classically trained. The majority were out of the UK. These musicians were alchemists and to this day remain a source of unmatched bliss. Their concert audiences were a far cry from the chaotic tribes of Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper. For me, eighteen years old in 1976 and choking on the foul fumes of disco, there was one more vital reason to embrace this fine tapestry of music. You couldn’t dance to it.