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Progressive rock

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For other uses, see Prog.

Progressive rock (shortened as prog; sometimes known as art rock, classical rock, or symphonic rock) is a diverse subgenre of rock music[4] that originated in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favor of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening, not dancing.

Prog is based on fusions of styles, approaches and genres; involving a continuous move between formalism and eclecticism. Due to its historical reception, prog's scope is sometimes limited to a stereotype of long solos, overlong albums, fantasy lyrics, grandiose stage sets and costumes, and an obsessive dedication to technical skill. While the genre is often cited for its merging of high culture and low culture, few artists incorporated literal classical themes in their work to any great degree, and only a handful of groups purposely emulated or referenced classical music.

The genre saw a high level of popularity throughout the 1970s, especially in the middle of the decade, but faded soon after. Conventional wisdom holds that the rise of punk rock caused this, although in reality a number of factors contributed to the decline.[5] Music critics, who often labeled the concepts as "pretentious" and the sounds as "pompous" and "overblown," tended to be hostile toward the genre or to completely ignore it.[6] Some bands achieved commercial success well into the 1980s, albeit with changed lineups and more compact song structures.

Proto-prog is the advanced music that slightly predates the post-1969 prog era. In 1967, "progressive rock" constituted a a diversity of loosely associated style codes. The Canterbury scene, originating in the late 1960s, denoted a subset of prog bands who emphasized the use of wind instruments, complex chord changes and long improvisations. Rock in Opposition, from the late 1970s, was more avant-garde, and when combined with the Canterbury style, created avant-prog. After the 1970s, the term "progressive rock" came to represent a non-exploratory genre, in other words, a set of conventions to be repeated and imitated, and thus ceased to be "progressive". Post-progressive feeds a more explicit return to prog, drawing upon newer developments in popular music and the avant-garde since the mid 1970s.


For more details on this topic, see Progressive music.

The term "progressive rock" is synonymous with "art rock", "classical rock", and "symphonic rock".[7] Historically, "art rock" has been used to describe at least two related, but distinct, types of rock music.[8] The first is progressive rock, while the second usage refers to groups who rejected psychedelia and the hippie counterculture in favor of a modernist, avant-garde approach.[8] Similarities between the two terms are that they both describe a mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility. However, art rock is more likely to have experimental or avant-garde influences.[9] "Prog" was initially devised as a shorthand term, but later became a transferable adjective, also suggesting a wider palette than that drawn on by the most popular 1970s bands.[10]

Progressive rock is varied and is based on fusions of styles, approaches and genres; tapping into broader cultural resonances that connect to avant-garde art, classical music and folk music, performance and the moving image.[11] Although a unidirectional English "progressive" style emerged in the late 1960s, by 1967, progressive rock had come to constitute a diversity of loosely associated style codes.[12] When the "progressive" label arrived, the music was dubbed "progressive pop" before it was called "progressive rock",[13][nb 1] with the term "progressive" referring to the wide range of attempts to break with standard pop music formula.[15] A number of additional factors contributed to the acquired "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic; technology was harnessed for new sounds; music approached the condition of "art"; some harmonic language was imported from jazz and 19th-century classical music; the album format overtook singles; and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening, not dancing.[16]

One of the best ways to define progressive rock is that it is a heterogeneous and troublesome genre – a formulation that becomes clear the moment we leave behind characterizations based only on the most visible bands of the early to mid-1970s

Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell[11]

Critics of the genre often limit its scope to a stereotype of long solos, overlong albums, fantasy lyrics, grandiose stage sets and costumes, and an obsessive dedication to technical skill.[17] Author Kevin Holm-Hudson believes that "progressive rock is a style far more diverse than what is heard from its mainstream groups and what is implied by unsympathetic critics."[18] According to academics Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Bill Martin and Edward Macan are authors of major books about prog rock who "effectively accept the characterization of progressive rock offered by its critics. ... they each do so largely unconsciously."[17] Academic John S. Cotner contests Macan's view that progressive rock cannot exist without the continuous and overt assimilation of classical music into rock.[12] While progressive rock is often cited for its merging of high culture and low culture, few artists incorporated literal classical themes in their work to any great degree,[19] and only a handful of groups purposely emulated or referenced classical music.[11]

On "progressive music", Holm-Hudson writes that it "moves continuously between explicit and implicit references to genres and strategies derived not only from European art music, but other cultural domains (such as East Indian, Celtic, folk, and African) and hence involves a continuous aesthetic movement between formalism and eclecticism."[20][nb 2] Cotner also argues that "progressive rock incorporates both formal and eclectic elements. It consists of a combination of factors—some of them intramusical ("within"), others extramusical or social ("without")."[12] One way of conceptualizing rock and roll in relation to "progressive music" is that progressive music pushed the genre into greater complexity while retracing the roots of romantic and classical music.[22] Sociologist Paul Willis believes: "We must never be in doubt that 'progressive' music followed rock 'n' roll, and that it could not have been any other way. We can see rock 'n' roll as a deconstruction and 'progressive' music as a reconstruction."[23] Author Will Romano states that "rock itself can be interpreted as a progressive idea ... Ironically, and quite paradoxically, 'progressive rock', the classic era of the late 1960s through the mid- and late 1970s, introduces not only the explosive and exploratory sounds of technology ... but traditional music forms (classical and European folk) and (often) a pastiche compositional style and artificial constructs (concept albums) which suggests postmodernism."[24]


Further information: Timeline of progressive rock

1966–70: Origins[edit]

Background and roots[edit]

The Beatles working in the studio with their producer George Martin, circa 1965

In 1966, the degree of social and artistic dialogue among rock musicians dramatically accelerated for bands like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Byrds who fused elements of composed (cultivated) music with the oral (vernacular) musical traditions of rock.[25] Rock music started to take itself seriously, paralleling earlier attempts in jazz (as swing gave way to bop, a move which did not succeed with audiences). In this period, the popular song began signaling a new possible means of expression that went beyond the three-minute love song, leading to an intersection between the "underground" and the "establishment" for listening publics.[26][nb 3]

Progressive rock was predicated on the "progressive" pop groups from the 1960s who combined rock and roll with various other music styles such as Indian ragas, oriental melodies, and Gregorian chants, like the Beatles and the Yardbirds.[28] The Beatles' Paul McCartney intimated in 1967: "we [the band] got a bit bored with 12 bars all the time, so we tried to get into something else. Then came [Bob] Dylan, the Who, and the Beach Boys. ... We're all trying to do vaguely the same kind of thing."[29] Hegarty and Halliwell identify the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Pretty Things, the Zombies, the Byrds, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd "not merely as precursors of prog but as essential developments of progressiveness in its early days."[30]

Dylan's poetry, the Mothers of Invention's album Freak Out! (1966), and the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), have all been mentioned[by whom?] as important in progressive rock's development.[9] The productions of Phil Spector were key influences,[31] as they introduced the possibility of using the recording studio to create music that otherwise could never be achieved.[32] The same[vague] is said for the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (1966), which influenced Sgt. Pepper's .[33][34] 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.[35] 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.[36] 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 that of the Beatles.[37] In turn, the Byrds' vocal harmonies inspired those of Yes,[38] and British electric folk bands such Fairport Convention, who emphasized instrumental virtuosity.[39] 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.[40]

Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's[edit]

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[41]

Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, with their lyrical unity, extended structure, complexity, eclecticism, experimentalism, and influences derived from classical music forms, are largely viewed as beginnings in the progressive rock genre[42][43] and as turning points wherein rock, which previously had been considered dance music, became music that was made for listening to.[44][41] Pet Sounds was key to the development of progressive rock specifically for the way it widened the scope of pop music by using complex harmonies, inverted chords, challenging progressions, key changes and alternative instrumental choices, and it advanced rock music by anchoring it with classical sensibilities.[45]

Between Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, the Beach Boys released the single "Good Vibrations" (1966), dubbed a "pocket symphony" by Derek Taylor, who worked as a publicist for both groups. The song contained an eclectic array of exotic instruments and several disjunctive key and modal shifts.[46] Scott Interrante of Popmatters wrote that its influence on progressive rock and the psychedelic movement "can't be overstated".[47] Beatles biographer Jonathon Gould writes that "of the many ambitious pop singles released during the fall of 1966, none had a stronger influence on the Beatles".[48] Martin likened the song to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper's, elaborating that they showcase "the same reasons why much progressive rock is difficult to dance to".[49]

Although Sgt. Pepper's was preceded by several albums that had begun to bridge the line between "disposable" pop and "serious" rock, it successfully gave an established "commercial" voice to an alternative youth culture[50] and 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.[51] Bill Bruford, a veteran of several progressive rock bands, said that Sgt. Pepper's transformed both musicians' ideas of what was possible and audiences' ideas of what was acceptable in music.[52] 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."[53] LP sales first overtook those of singles in 1969.[54]

Proto-prog and psychedelia[edit]

Main articles: Proto-prog and Psychedelic music

According to AllMusic: "Prog-rock began to emerge out of the British psychedelic scene in 1967, specifically a strain of classical/symphonic rock led by the Nice, Procol Harum, and the Moody Blues (Days of Future Passed)."[55] 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.[56][nb 4] Many psychedelic, electric folk and early progressive bands were aided by exposure from BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel.[59] 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.[60] The Scottish band 1-2-3, later renamed Clouds, were formed in 1966 and began performing at London clubs a year later. According to Mojo's George Knemeyer: "some claim [that they] had a vital influence on prog-rockers such as Yes, The Nice and Family."[61]

Symphonic rock artists in the late 1960s had some chart success, including the singles "Nights in White Satin" (The Moody Blues, 1967) and "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (Procol Harum, 1967).[62] 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.[63] 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.[63]

Several bands that included jazz-style horn sections appeared, including Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Of these, Martin highlights Chicago in particular for their experimentation with suites and extended compositions, such as the "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon" on Chicago II.[64] Jazz influences appeared in the music of British bands such as Traffic, Colosseum and If, together with Canterbury scene bands such as Soft Machine and Caravan. Canterbury scene bands emphasized the use of wind instruments, complex chord changes and long improvisations.[65] Martin writes that in 1968, "full-blown progressive rock" was not yet in existence, but three bands released albums who would later come to the forefront of the music: Jethro Tull, Caravan, and Soft Machine.[66]

The term "progressive rock," which appeared in the liner notes of Caravan's 1968 self-titled debut LP, came to be applied to bands that used classical music techniques to expand the styles and concepts available to rock music.[68][69] 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.[70] 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.[67][nb 5] Critics assumed the album to be the logical extension and development of late 1960s proto-progressive rock exemplified by the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles.[71] According to Macan, the album may be the most influential to progressive rock for crystallizing the music of earlier "proto-progressive bands ... into a distinctive, immediately recognizable style".[67]

1971–76: Peak years[edit]

Yes performs in Indianapolis in 1977

Most of the genre's major bands released their most critically acclaimed albums during the years 1971–1976.[72] The genre 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.[73] Tull alone scored 11 gold albums and 5 platinum albums.[74] 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,[75]:34–35 spent more than two years at the top of the charts[75]:4, 38 and remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for fifteen years.[76] Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (1973), an excerpt of which was used as the theme for the film The Exorcist, sold 16 million copies.[77] A number of progressive bands released singles that became pop hits.[citation needed]

North America[edit]

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.[78] 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 limited air-time on official radio stations (as opposed to on pirate radio) until the 1967 launch of BBC Radio 1.[79] 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.[80] Radio stations were averse to progressive rock's longer-form compositions, which hampered advertising sales.[81] 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.[82]

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.[83][84] 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.[83]


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,[85] 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.[86] 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.[87]

Some European bands played in a style derivative of English bands.[88][verification needed][nb 6] The "Kosmische music" scene in Germany came to be labeled as "krautrock" internationally[90] and is variously seen[improper synthesis?] as part of the progressive rock genre or an entirely distinct phenomenon.[91][92] Bands such as Can, which included two members who had studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen,[93] 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.[94]

Late 1970s decline[edit]

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.[95] 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.[96] 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.[97]

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[98] and said later that the genre had gone "tragically off course."[99] ELP went on hiatus the following year.[100] Genesis moved in a more mainstream direction after the 1975 departure of Peter Gabriel and especially after the 1977 departure of Steve Hackett.[101] Yes experienced lineup changes throughout the 1970s before fragmenting in 1980.[102] A number of the major bands, including Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant and U.K., dissolved between 1978 and 1980.[103] Some decided that it was time to move on because they, as Caravan leader Pye Hastings admitted, had "got quite stale."[104]

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.[105] Corporate artists and repertoire staff exerted an increasing amount of control over the creative process that had previously belonged to the artists,[106] 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.[1]

Few new progressive rock bands formed during this era, and those who did found that record labels were not interested in signing them.[107] 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.[108] 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.[109] Roth studied classical music with the intent of using the guitar in the way that classical composers used the violin.[110] Finally, the Dutch-born and classically trained Alex and Eddie Van Halen formed Van Halen, who redefined the standard for rock virtuosity[111] and paved the way for the "shred" music of the 1980s.[112]


Main article: Post-progressive

In Fripp's opinion, once "progressive rock" ceased to cover new ground – becoming a set of conventions to be repeated and imitated – the genre's premise had ceased to be "progressive".[113] According to Hegarty and Halliwell: "Post-progressive identifies progressive rock that stems from sources other than progressive rock. This does not spread the net to include all avant-rock from the 1980s and 1990s ... post-progressive rock feeds a more explicit return to prog: in other words, a return that is not one. This trend is best exemplified by two British avant-rock acts of the 1980s and early 1990s: David Sylvian and Talk Talk."[114]



Some established bands moved toward music that was simpler and more commercially viable.[115][verification needed] 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.[116] 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".[117] 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,[118] was a huge success and was later filmed as Pink Floyd – The Wall.[citation needed][nb 7]

Neo-progressive rock[edit]

Main article: Neo-progressive rock

A second wave[126] of progressive rock bands appeared in the early 1980s and have since been categorized as a separate "neo-progressive rock" subgenre.[127] These largely keyboard-based bands played extended compositions with complex musical and lyrical structures.[128] 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.[129] 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[130] and Saga[131] experienced international success.

Neo-prog bands tended to derive their sound and visual style from the symphonic prog bands of a decade earlier.[not in citation given] 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.[132] 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.[133] 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.[134]

Crossover with post-punk styles[edit]

Progressive rock's influence was felt in the work of some 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 showed some influence of prog along with their more usually recognized punk influences.[135][verification needed] Julian Cope of the Teardrop Explodes wrote a history of the krautrock genre, Krautrocksampler.[136] 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.[137]

Punk and prog were not necessarily as opposed as is commonly believed. Both genres reject commercialism,[138] 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.[139] Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten famously wore a T-shirt that read "I hate Pink Floyd,"[107] but he expressed admiration for Van der Graaf Generator,[140] Can,[141] and Pink Floyd themselves.[142] 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.[143]

1990s and 2000s[edit]

Third wave[edit]

Porcupine Tree performs in 2007

A third wave of progressive rock bands, who might more properly be described as a second generation of neo-progressive bands,[126] 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.[144][145] 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.[146] Record stores specializing in progressive rock appeared in large cities.[144]

The shred music of the 1980s was a major influence on the progressive rock groups of the 1990s.[144] 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.[147] 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.[148]

Progressive metal[edit]

Main article: 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.[149] 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.[150]

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.[151] Its guttural vocals are sometimes used by bands who can be classified as progressive, such as Mastodon, Mudvayne and Opeth.[152] Symphonic metal is an extension of the tendency toward orchestral passages in early progressive rock.[153] Progressive rock has also served as a key inspiration for genres such as post-rock,[154] post-metal and avant-garde metal,[155] math rock,[156] power metal, and neo-classical metal.[157]

New prog[edit]

Not to be confused with Neo-progressive rock.

New prog describes the wave of progressive rock bands in the 2000s who revived the genre. According to Entertainment Weekly's Evan Serpick: "Along with recent success stories like System of a Down and up-and-comers like the Dillinger Escape Plan, Lightning Bolt, and Coheed and Cambria, the Mars Volta create incredibly complex and inventive music that sounds like a heavier, more aggressive version of ’70s behemoths such as Led Zeppelin and King Crimson."[158]


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."[159]


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.[160] Emerson, Lake & Palmer debuted at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, at which Supertramp, Family and Jethro Tull also appeared.[161] 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.[162]

Renewed interest in the genre in the 1990s led to the development of progressive rock festivals.[144] ProgFest, organized by Greg Walker and David Overstreet in 1993, was first held in UCLA's Royce Hall,[163] and featured Sweden's Änglagård, the UK's IQ, Quill and Citadel. CalProg was held annually in Whittier, California during the 2000s.[164] The North East Art Rock Festival, or NEARfest,[146] 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.[165] 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)[166] 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.[163] 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.[167] 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.[168] Criticisms over the complexity of their music provoked some bands to create music that was even more complex.[citation needed][nb 8]

The genre has always had its greatest appeal for white males.[69] Most of the musicians involved were male, as was the case for most rock music of the time,[172] Female singers were better represented in the progressive folk bands,[173] who displayed a broader range of vocal styles than the progressive rock bands[174] with whom they frequently toured and shared band members.[175]

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.[176]

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,[177] except in the US, where listeners appreciated the musicians' virtuosity.[178] 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.[179] 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."[180] Bands whose darker lyrics avoided utopianism, such as King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Van der Graaf Generator, experienced less critical disfavor.[181]

List of progressive rock bands[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ From about 1967, "pop music" was increasingly used in opposition to the term "rock music", a division that gave generic significance to both terms.[14]
  2. ^ Formalism refers to a preoccupation with established external compositional systems, structural unity, and the autonomy of individual art works. Electicism, like formalism, connotates a predilection toward style synthesis, or integration. However, contrary to formalist tendencies, eclecticism foregrounds discontinuities between historical and contemporary styles and electronic media, sometimes referring simultaneously to vastly different musical genres, idioms, and cultural codes. Examples include the Beatles' "Within You, Without You" (1967) and Jimi Hendrix's 1969 version of "The Star-Spangled Banner".[21]
  3. ^ Allan Moore writes: "It should be clear by now that, although this history appears to offer a roughly chronological succession of styles, there is no single, linear history to that thing we call popular song. ... Sometimes it appears that there are only peripheries. Sometimes, audiences gravitate towards a centre. The most prominent period when this happened was in the early to mid 1960s when it seems that almost everyone, irrespective of age, class or cultural background, listened to the Beatles. But by 1970 this monolothic position had again broken down. Both the Edgar Broughton Band's 'Apache dropout' and Edison Lighthouse's 'Love grows' were released in 1970 with strong Midlands/London connections, and both were audible on the same radio stations, but were operating according to very different aesthetics.[27]
  4. ^ Beatles member John Lennon is known to have attended at least one such event, a happening called the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream.[57] Paul McCartney was deeply connected to the underground through his involvement with the Indica Gallery.[58]
  5. ^ They are also generally credited as the first global standard-bearers of symphonic rock.[62]
  6. ^ 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.[88] 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.[89]
  7. ^ 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[119] and was essentially a Roger Waters solo project[120] that consisted largely of material that had been rejected for The Wall.[121] The band later reunited without Waters and restored many of the progressive elements that had been downplayed in the band's late-1970s work.[122] This version of the band was very popular,[123] but critical opinion of their later albums is less favorable.[124][125]
  8. ^ Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans[169] and "The Gates of Delirium"[170] 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.[171]


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Further reading[edit]

  • 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.