In Search of the Fourth Chord – The Prog Rock Story

My love of late 1960s and early 1970s Psychedelic Music and Progressive Rock is uncontested by my peers who know me well. In my teens, in Dartmouth NS, a small bunch of us, were dedicated Prog Rockers with abundant LP collections full of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, ELP, Camel, Soft Machine, Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues and countless others. (40+ years later, a last check of my iTunes collection included over 700 Prog Rock albums that breached 55 GBs of HD space…Yikes!)

Also, interestingly enough, each and every Styles & Genres class I have taught, I encounter select students who have a keen interest in 70s Prog Rock and onward. Interestingly, most of those who do have that interest, primarily inherited it from their parents’ or family’s tastes/collection of music.

For those not fortunate enough to attend my class, Prog Rock has its roots from a few genres. Classical music has been a DNA imprint of Prog Rock since its’ beginning, as many British Rock musicians came to the Prog Rock scene with either a classical music trained background or the various boundary-pushing art student circles (where British & US Jazz was also an influence). The roots also lie in the Psychedelic music of the late 1960s, starting with the Beatles 1966 ‘Revolver‘ & 1967’s ‘Sgt. Peppers‘, Pink Floyds’Piper At The Gates of Dawn‘ and the multitude of UK Psychedelic groups/artists and artists, Rock music expanded its’ own boundaries of time, song structure, human psyche and the surrealism of music. This is what set the tone for the more structured and expansive Progressive Rock.

In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

In the summer of 1969, Robert Fripp debuted his band King Crimson with a live gig in London’s Hyde Park (opening for the Rolling Stones farewell concert for Brian Jones). That Fall, the debut album by Yes was released and the following year, 1970, the stunning debut album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Interspersed in-between were numerous albums that bridged the sound between Psychedelic and Progressive Rock. Within a year, 60s culture was dying fast (as was Psychedelic music) and the robust sounds of Progressive Rock were abound. Musicians and groups outside of the UK and USA were joining the ‘Progressive’ flock, such as PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi) of Italy, Ange of France, Amon Duul II of Germany and Flower Travellin’ Band of Japan, were all achieving some degree of success of recognition in the vast world of Progressive Rock.

By 1975, groups like Yes, Genesis, and ELP had all registered Mainstream hits on Billboard, but their music did not necessarily conform to mainstream tastes. In just 5 -6 years, Progressive Rock had radically transformed popular music, most notably, by giving Rock Music the much needed credibility boost. More importantly, though, it proved that popular music needn’t always be of the 3-3:30 minute formula, nor did it musically & lyrically have to adhere to insipid subject matter, as Prog Rock gave the listener more of an intellectual reason to enjoy Rock music.

For your own investigation, I have compiled a list of 20 Key Progressive Rock albums from the 1970s. If Prog is your thing, then hearing these recordings is a must. The 1st 8 are essential listening and the remainder all highly recommended by this old school Prog Rocker. Enjoy…

1.       GenesisThe Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” (1974) – UK

2.       King CrimsonLarks’ Tongue In Aspic‘ (1973) – UK

3.       King CrimsonRed‘ (1974) – UK

4.       Emerson, Lake & PalmerBrain Salad Surgery‘ (1973) – UK

5.       YesClose To The Edge‘ (1972) – UK

6.       Pink FloydAtom Heart Mother‘ (1970) – UK

7.       Chris SquireFish Out Of Water‘ (1975) – UK

8.       Rick WakemanSix Wives Of Henry VIII‘ (1973) – UK

9.       CamelMirage‘ (1974) – UK

10.     Van Der Graaf GeneratorPawn Hearts‘ (1971) – UK

11.     CaravanIf I Could Do It All Over, I’d Do It All Over You‘ (1970) – UK

12.     Amon Düül IIYeti‘ (1970) – Germany

13.     TriumviratIllusion On A Double Dimple‘ (1973) – Germany

14.     Aphrodite’s Child666‘ (1972) – Greece

15.     PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi)Photos Of Ghosts‘ (1973) – Italy

16.     Banco del Mutuo SoccorsaDarwin!‘ (1972) – Italy

17.     Hiro YanagidaMilk Time‘ (1970) – Japan

18.     Flower Travellin’ BandSatori‘ (1971) – Japan

19.     AtollMusiciens-Magiciens‘ (1974) – France

20.     AngeAu-delà du délire‘ (1974) – France