March 2016

Progressive Rock

Understanding what made progressive rock “progressive.”

National Standards: 7, 8, 11

Prepare: Have the class read Progressive Rock (page 32 of the student edition). The article provides a history on the origins and influence of progressive rock.

Listen to a full playlist of progressive rock:

Key points in the article:

  • Progressive rock was named for its spirit of invention. It’s beginnings are traced back to 1968 when English rock bands like Procol Harum and the Moody Blues first incorporated classical influences in their music.
  • The genre characteristically includes long song forms, instrumental interludes, odd time signatures, concept albums, and figurative subject matter.
  • New technology including electric keyboards and the freedom of FM radio allowed bands like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd to achieve commercial success and popularity.
  • Bands like Rush and King Crimson maintained success in the 1980s, and today, a new generation of artists continues to push the genre forward.

Begin: Discuss with the class the concept of experimental approaches to music. Topics may include:

  • How experimenting with art (as in science) can result in both positive and negative results
  • The advantages of music being accessible v. inaccessible to the listener
  • How progressive rock was both experimental and mainstream

Develop: Play the following video of Genesis performing “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” live in 1975:

What elements of the performance and music characterize it as progressive rock?

  • Nonstandard song form
  • Conceptual lyrics
  • Intricate drum patterns and guitar instrumentation and effects

Expand: Play this video of King Crimson performing “Elephant Talk” live in the 1980s:

Compare and contrast this and the earlier prog by Genesis.

  • Similar instrumental and electronic experimentation (use of Chapman stick and Robert Fripp’s guitar synthesizer)
  • Elements of popular new wave style (Adrian Belew’s pink suit, eccentric high-pitched lead vocals)
  • Steady, danceable rhythmic pattern