THE ROOTS OF PROGRESSIVE ROCK
How did Progressive Rock’s incorporation of classical traditions and countercultural values help to forge a unique Rock genre in the late 1960s?
Progressive Rock, or simply “Prog,” emerged in Britain during the late 1960s from a specific set of musical, social and technological trends. Early Prog Rock drew on many sources, combining elements of Rock and Roll, Psychedelic Rock, Jazz, Folk, and Classical music. What set Prog apart was its grounding in Western symphonic tradition and its reliance on instrumental virtuosity, which had previously been considered the province of Classical and Jazz players and other "legitimate" musicians. There was nothing light or trivial about early Prog, which demanded to be taken seriously as an art form worthy of the same respect accorded to Classical music and Jazz.
Reflecting the influence of Western Classical music, Prog albums -- and sometimes even songs, such as Yes’s “Starship Trooper” (1971) -- were divided into sections or movements (I. “Life Seeker”; II. “Disillusion”; III. “Würm”). A single Prog track might last 12 or 15 minutes – a far cry from the three-minute song that had long been the Pop music industry standard. Yet at the same time that it mined Classical influences, Prog drew on the 1960s counterculture and its rejection of mainstream values and explorations of alternative conceptions of identity and time.
Progressive Rock was made possible by several important technological and artistic developments. The introduction of the 33 1/3 rpm “Long Play” (LP) record in 1948 allowed for up to 30 minutes of music on each side, considerably more than the 3-5 minutes a 78 rpm disc could hold. The change enabled classical musicians to record an entire symphony on a single record. As the 60s progressed, advancements were made that culminated in growing use of multitrack recording as well as a less complex editing process. Beginning with the Beatles’ watershed 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, many Rock bands began to conceive of albums as extended, conceptual, interconnected works rather than collections of disconnected songs.
At the same time, the rise of free-form FM radio in the United States and related programming styles in the United Kingdom allowed disc jockeys broad latitude to explore and play longer-form Rock music. In turn, advances in instrument technology, such as the invention of the Moog synthesizer, allowed for increased musical experimentation. Both would figure into the rise of Prog Rock.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
Distribute or display Handout 1: Track Listings, which lists the songs on two popular 1960s albums, the Kinks’ self-titled debut album (1964) and King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King (1968). Discuss:
Reconvene the class as a whole and discuss:
Progressive Rock has received both acclaim and criticism from music critics. A popular joke in the 1970s asked, “How do you spell ‘pretentious’? E-L-P,” referring to the Progressive Rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer. For some listeners, Prog’s complexity and virtuosity—the very things that Progressive Rock artists embraced—smack of pretense and bombast. For homework, write a one-page reaction to the joke. Do you find Prog pretentious, or do you appreciate its merits? Be sure to support your answer with specific references to the readings and videos in this lesson.
Why is Progressive Rock called “progressive?" What are its defining features, and what were its originators trying to express? What technological and artistic changes and ideas made Progressive Rock possible?
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
Reading 2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Writing 8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Core Music Standard: Responding
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.