Progressive rock, more commonly known as prog-rock, or sometimes even just prog, is a subgenre of rock. It developed throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, beginning in the United Kingdom. It took its roots from psychedelic rock, wherein the aim was to mimic the effects of mind-altering drugs. This style of music often used innovative recording techniques to achieve a different sound, and would also take influence from Indian music, such as the incorporation of drones. Progressive rock arose as an attempt to create rock with more meaning, and more ‘credibility.’
Progressive rock differs from traditional rock in many ways; one of the most notable ways would be that Prog rock often moves away from having a beat specifically so people can dance to it. Instead, artists would use techniques associated more commonly with classical music and jazz music so as to try to give Prog rock the same weight and recognition. Experimentation with lyrics, rhythms, harmonies, compositional methods was frequent. Often, a very high level of musicianship and instrumental skill is evident within Prog rock, which is generally in contrast to Rock. For example, Rock has been criticised for its singing for example, as it is said that anyone can sing rock because no real singing is actually involved.
However, Prog Rock transcends any of the stereotypes of Rock, serving as a fusion between genres. Due to extended bridges and interludes, results similar to classical suites are achieved. Equally, more challenging time signatures are common, such as 7/8 or 5/8, and changing of time signatures and keys within pieces (more typical in Jazz and Classical music) occurs.
Lyrical content was generally more though-provoking than generic Rock lyrics regarding love or rebellion. Philosophical themes or even completely surreal lyrics were the norm. Sometimes artists would branch out further still; The Alan Parsons Project boldly created a concept album based on the works of the famous poet, Edgar Allen Poe. A concept album is an album with a unified theme, or a ‘concept,’ and each song is used to reflect the concept. ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination,’ by the Alan Parsons Project used quotes from Poe’s works to write songs around, and created deeply brooding, sometimes cascading bass lines, befitting of the ‘fall of the house of Usher.’ Equally, they used lush orchestrations to create eerie ambiances and a sense of peace and resolution in later tracks on the album, such as, ‘To One in Paradise.’
Progressive Rock is a musical genre full of contrasts; it removes itself from the typical three minute long pop-song, and within it has many ‘transitions.’ In ways, it is distinctly similar to medley form, however the different sections usually having a constant theme. Movements from electro to acoustic, and vice versa are common.
A wide range of instruments are used due to the broadness of the genre, however, electronic instruments are probably a focal point, as they create unusual sounds. Guitars, Basses, Pianos, keyboards and vocals are generally used, and on top of that, depending on the style or concept of a band, jazz instruments such a horns may be included, or maybe a whole orchestra will be employed to create a much richer sound.
Overall, Progressive Rock is a very interesting genre that surely deserves a revival. It includes an eclectic mix of other genres and is topped off with intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics, with beautiful composition; as such, we can only hope it will regain its popularity in the future.