It’s hard to define where it all started, but in this article I hope to look at the time it all began to kick off, as well as some of the early influencers pre-progressive rock, to give you a sense of how I think the Genre came about.
Jackson Pollock – Number 18
Terry Riley is an American composer born in 1935 strongly assosciated with the minimalist movement. The deeper into progressive rock you go, the more likely the name is to come up. For me his music is like a Jackson Pollock painting, in that I don’t know why or how it draws me in so well, but it does.
For Who fans, the Organ intro to Baba O Riley was largely influenced by A Rainbow In Curved Air (1967). An album written and performed entirely by Terry Riley
La Monte Young
La Monte Young is hailed as the first ever minimalist composer. I only discovered his music recently, but his influence is undeniable. His music is like nothing I’ve heard before, partly because he can microtonaly, using systems of music he invented himself. He defined Minimalism as “That which is created with a minimum of means”[link]
In a time of rules and serious faux pas in music, Stravinsky stood against the crowd. with harsh, diminished scales, lack of care for meter or pleasantness, Stravinsky wrote a piece so offending to the classical ear that on it’s first performance, The Rite of Spring caused a riot. Many of you may know this as the dinosaur theme from Disney’s Fantasia.
I was born too late for the birth of prog, 20 years too late in fact, so I talked to a much more experienced friend of mine who grew up in and around Progressive music.
RedSheep: Where do you think it all started?
Prog Pro: Probably in the late 60’s ..theme from the film more..by pink floyd, caravans first album, hatfield and the norths first (both bands from the Cambridge scene as well)
RedSheep: would you say prog and prog rock are quite similar
Prog Pro: I think so… at the begining there was nothing between them
RedSheep: I’ve gone as far as Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Stravinsky as some of the early influencers
not easy though
Prog Pro: Bands like Them, early Can (from ’67)
RedSheep: Caravan sound so British!
Prog Pro: Yup most of the cambridge (and Canterbury) bands had that kind of tonal signature
Quintessence..their stuff from 70 onwards
The Canterbury Scene
This is a topic I’m a little hazy on, but it’s worth mentioning that the Canterbury scene refers to a collection of musicians (often around canterbury) that influenced early progressive rock, including bands like Soft Machine, Egg and Caravan. While I’m a big fan of Soft Machine(epecially IV) I had to use Wikipedia to research this, and if Wikipedia is the only good source of information, then there is no good source of information.
The Early Adopters
So from the pools of minimalism, jazz, dissonance, classical, blues, and a little bit of LSD the Gods of Prog surfaced. With organs, mellotrons, guitars, melons and faces they wrote the music now considered to be the most typical Progressive Rock. In 1969 King Crimson came out with their game changer “The Court Of the Crimson King“. The Mothers of Invention, while active and since 1963 was part of the staple diet for a late 60’s Progger. Jethro Tull in 67 brought jazz flute into the Prog rock picture. Though not specifically a prog band, Deep Purple released “In Rock” in 1970, with Child in Time (definately my favourite)
Beyond then progressive rock continues to expand and grow, until a certain amount of hot air began to creep in, new prog began to get pretentious and wear on the skin of the lamen. Eventually the skin began to tighten and lose its strength until one day Punk Popped the Prog balloon. but that’s a story for another time…
So, there it is. For some this post will be a myriad of abstract obfuscated jargon, I mean I never even mentioned Yes (Whoops). For others this will be the most vanilla dumbed down history of Prog they’ve seen. Either way this was a tough article. Progressive Rock covers such a vast range of styles and influences rolled into one that it gets extremely complicated to keep track.
Notice the 2 years before becoming undefinable
It’s astounding to me to think that Progressive rock is now such a niche compared to its former glory. It comes from a time when fame was defined less by money and more by creativity. The strange people who thought “Hey, don’t bicycle spokes look awfully like violin strings to you?” were those who would rise to influence and acclaim. More than any other style of music I hold progressive rock to be the style that held it’s integrity over time, while the rest of the world faded into background noise and novelty.