My dad’s love story with progressive rock was nothing like mine with the Ottawa Senators: it was a long and drawn out affair, with much thought and chasing around put into it. When I asked him if he’d help me co-write a piece about prog rock and his love for it, he was very into it; he even sent me this hilarious link. Then we got to talking.
At twelve years old, René, my dad, moved to a small fishing town in New Brunswick from the big city of Montreal. There, he got into his brother’s record crates; Three Dog Night and Chicago were some of the more popular stuff he picked up. In 1970, he tried out Deep Purple in Rock — on it, there’s was a track titled “Child in Time” that ran 10 minutes. That’s when the first spark happened. Then, Radio-Canada went on strike (that’s the french CBC, or, if you’re American, PBS… kinda). To fill up dead air, they used to play movies on loop. One Sunday night, my dad fell on Pink Floyd in Pompeii. He was mesmerized. On a subsequent visit to Montreal, he spent his whole vacation digging through records in various record stores to find some Pink Floyd. He dug up Ummagumma, and on it, found some of the songs that were in the movie. His interest for prog was slowly growing; with the help of his friends’ older sibling, he discovered Yes’ Close to the Edge. He brought it home, but even with these initial forays into the genre, he didn’t really understand what he was listening to. Long songs were divided into subsections; it felt more like consuming a story than music. It took time for him to truly appreciate the music because you have to put effort into it. Not too long after, though, Dark Side of the Moon came out. When I asked him what he felt when he listened to it for the first time, he said that at times it felt like he was floating. From there, prog rock encrusted itself into his life, and refuses to leave his side: in fact, he listens to Aural Moon on a daily basis.
We got into some reasons why people may not want to give prog a shot. It may seem pretentious, with the technical aspect overriding the melodies, or songs that stretch out far too long, with the never ending guitar or drum solos. He came back on the effort that is needed to enjoy some prog-rock bands; it’s not easy-listening music. He also used himself as an example: you may already despise some bands. He’s a little allergic to Rush, Styx and Kansas, with their less prog, more technical rock music.
However, let that not discourage you! My dad believes that a great quality of progressive music is that there is a style for everyone. Consider this diagram:
At first, prog was mostly psychedelic (“hippy music, if you will”), but then, slowly, different schools emerged. Brian Eno and his art rock; the symphonic aspect (Yes); the british school; old Pink Floyd and space rock; jazz rock with Chic Corea. Then, more recently, the prog metal surfaced (and made a lot of teenage boys happy, if I remember high school correctly), headed by bands like Tool and Dream Theatre. According to my dad, whatever you may like, there’s prog around the corner. If you love jazz and classical music, though, prog rock is made especially for you. You will find that the things you look for in jazz or classical music (control, technique, virtuosos) are mirrored in prog; you may appreciate this music faster than others. I confessed at this point that those are the exact reasons why I don’t really like prog; quickly, he asked me: “Do you still listen to Radiohead?” I answered yes. “Because Paranoid Android sounds like prog to me…”, and I had to admit that he was right.
To close this off, here are, according to my dad, five essential bands of progressive rock, of differing styles.
Yes is a lasting group, that learned to transform and adapt with the changing times. They even survived the prog-rock drought of the ‘80s! Very symphonic, they were pretty jazzy at first but adopted a poppy-rock later on. Here is “Roundabout”, a song that defined the era:
My dad described this band as having two phases: the “old” Genesis and the “new” Genesis, mostly defined by its lead singer (the former Peter Gabriel, the latter Phil Collins). Most Genesis fans prefer the “old” band, a very theatrical and imaginative group; Peter Gabriel used to dress up on stage. Check him out here, in “Watcher of the Skies”:
Not everybody liked them, according to my dad; in one album, they could have very melodic, beautiful songs, then turn around and offer up power-prog. They were the first to have that much variety on one single album. My dad says it’s more “cerebral” rock, and Robert Fripp is pretty awesome. Here’s their biggest hit, “21st Century Schizoid Man” (oh, and apparently Kanye sampled it? I’m behind on the times, kids. I only figured out who Lady Gaga was, like, two years ago):
Emerson Lake and Palmer
This band fully embraced the classical and extravagant aspect of prog. Keith Emerson is known for going over the top with his keyboards; he frequently destroyed them on stage. According to my dad, they had an extraordinary drummer, a great singer and good chemistry between bandmates. Here’s their arguably most famous song, that may not be representative of their work as a whole “Lucky Man”:
Finally, here’s Jethro Tull, to represent the more ethereal, fantastical quality of prog. Most famous for using the flute, this band made melodic, lyrical music that enchanted many. Here’s “Aqualung”: