Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Prog-Rock Underground (But Were Afraid to Ask)


By Jim DeRogatis


"What really makes ELP a dinosaur potentate is the sheer scale of the noise they emit.... This is robot music mixmastered by human modules who deserve purple hearts for managing to keep the gadgets reined at all. I went, I saw, I drowned.... Three egos exploding tight as a rapacious cyclotron and slick as Gorgo’s dildo."

Lester Bangs on Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 1972


"Jon Pareles argues that if we honor high school punks we should also honor high school poets. I say we stick to high school punk poets."

Robert Christgau on Van Der Graaf Generator, 1974


"Why British bands feel compelled to quote the classics, however tongue-in-cheek, leads into the murky waters of class and nation analysis.... The class divisions and the crushing weight of high culture flourish essentially untrammeled. Rockers seem far more eager to ‘dignify’ their work, to make it acceptable for upper-class approbation."

John Rockwell on progressive rock

The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 1978



More than any other genre in the music’s history, progressive rock has gotten a bum rap. "Pompous," "self-indulgent," "bloated," and "pretentious" were just a few of the critics’ favorite adjectives during the genre’s original heyday, generally acknowledged as 1968 to 1978. But today, the self-appointed arbiters of taste are perpetrating a slight that’s even more offensive than hurling insults: They’re ignoring it entirely.

Contrary to popular belief, the sounds that fans call "prog" did not end with the beginning of the punk era—even if the likes of the Clash did regularly mock Yes and its ilk, and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten was fond of wearing a homemade "I Hate Pink Floyd" T-shirt. Much like the so-called third wave of ska or the ever-active subterranean death-metal scene, prog continues to thrive as a vital underground music, in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, fans are not only prompting a critical reassessment of many of the originators who’ve long been dissed as dinosaurs. They’re bringing the music forward into the new millennium.

"In modern music circles, prog is still overwhelmingly identified with the old-school ‘dinosaurs’ like Genesis, ELP, Yes and Jethro Tull," says Sean Meistro, the host of an underground prog show at the University of Vermont’s radio station. "New-school prog bands face the problem of being compared to the dinosaurs. They can’t get signed—no majors are interested in prog, not since the ’76 revolution—but they still get the animosity of the indie rock world for being progressive and ‘uncool.’ The underground prog scene is somewhat isolated from the rest of the indie-rock world, but the loyalty and fanaticism of prog enthusiasts is amazing."

Because Meistro’s show can be accessed from the Internet, he says he gets phone calls and e-mail from people worldwide who are hungry for prog and unable to hear the music in their areas. A typical play list will include obscure prog veterans such as Happy the Man, Gong, and M.U. as well as relatively new ’90s groups such as Present and Spock’s Beard.

"When we started the band, we were completely unaware that there even was a prog underground," says Spock’s Beard guitarist Neal Morse. The group was formed in 1992 by several friends in Los Angeles who yearned to hear new music along the lines of the complicated but rewarding sounds once made by their heroes in Yes and Genesis. Taking their name from Leonard Nimoy’s ultra-rare facial hair (it lasted one episode on the original Star Trek), they released two independent discs that each sold about 2,000 copies.

Now Spock’s Beard has been signed to Metal Blade for its new album, The Kindness of Strangers. "In the beginning, we thought we were the only ones who still liked this music," Morse says. "Then we discovered that there’s actually a burgeoning scene out there, and we just hadn’t been aware of it. A lot of people aren’t, but we feel we’ve been really lucky to be embraced by it."

* * *

Unlike many rock genres, prog is well aware of its history.

Prog progenitors such as King Crimson, the Moody Blues, the Nice (featuring Keith Emerson on keyboards), and Procul Harum ("A Whiter Shade of Pale") emerged in England in 1968 shortly after the fabled Summer of Love. They were a direct outgrowth of the psychedelic explosion: The doors of perception that were thrown open by psychedelic rockers such as the Pink Floyd, the Creation, and the Beatles of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s—not to mention the plentiful drugs—encouraged wide-ranging stylistic exploration.

Suddenly rock was incorporating elements of classical music, jazz, the avant garde, world beat, and ancient Celtic folk music. This paved the way for the "symphonic" bands of 1970—probably the most famous names in prog. "Yes couldn’t have played the kind of music it made without having the experience of developing the freedom and total nonconformist approach that came from the psychedelic bands," Steve Howe has said.

Through the mid-’70s, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and dozens of lesser-known bands crystallized the sound that fans came to know and love, and which critics roundly reviled. In his book Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978, Bill Martin pinpoints five traits that define the genre.

1) It is visionary and experimental.

2) It is played, at least in significant part, on instruments typically associated with rock music.

3) It is played, in significant part, by musicians who have consummate instrumental and compositional skills.

4) It is a phenomenon, in its core, of English culture.

5) It is expressive of romantic and prophetic aspects of that culture.

Point one is pretty much up to the ears of the listener; one man’s breakthrough or innovation might be another’s failed experiment. Point three is where many critics had problems: It seemed to eliminate any rocker who didn’t have the chops to keep up. But just because it became obvious in the wake of punk that you didn’t really have to know how to play your instrument in order to make great rock ’n’ roll, that didn’t make the converse false. Who said you couldn’t make great rock if you did know how to play?

What’s more, the business of pretensions is misleading. Without them, no one would ever make any music worth a damn. Who doesn’t aspire to accomplish something when picking up a guitar to write a song?

Martin further argues that critics seemed to be daunted by the vision of the prog bands, which brings us to traits number four and five. He maintains that what some dismissed as drug-addled sci-fi ramblings—all those tales of topographic oceans and the talk of brain salad surgery—was in fact a utopian vision, a glimpse of a perfect world based on the primarily English tradition of romantic poetry and myth. ("In and around the lake, mountains come out of the sky and they stand there," etc.)

Well, why not celebrate the sunny possibilities of the imagination? Aren’t there enough bad trips in life? Where would you rather frolic: In the dull and depressing world portrayed on the cover of Korn’s Follow the Leader, or in the outer-space paradise airbrushed by Roger Dean on the cover of Yessongs? (Here’s a trait Bill Martin forgot: prog bands have to have fantastic album cover art for fans to ponder while listening on head phones, and they rue the day when gatefold LP covers disappeared—it’s so hard to roll a bone on a CD jacket.)

The version of history presented in most rock encyclopedias has the punk explosion of 1976 killing off prog for good, but that never really happened. Forget about the fact that the key bands continued on and still keep going to this day, like Alien Ever Ready Bunnies from Aldebaran. The truth is the music kept evolving in the mid- to late-’70s and through the ’80s.

One branch included the "pomp/pop prog" of Styx and Kansas. Another could be called "prog metal," starting with Rush and flourishing today in Dream Theatre. There was the jazzy "Canterbury sound" that began with the Soft Machine, Caravan, and Gentle Giant and led to groups like Happy the Man. And then there’s the so-called "neo-prog."

"Neo-prog pretty much started with Marillion, who brought a lot of new fans to the genre and got a lot of the old fans excited all over again," says John Collinge, editor of the ambitious Massachusetts-based fanzine, Progression. "Some older prog fans don’t like neo. Some neo fans don’t like the old stuff. But it’s all a matter of taste."

Strongly influenced by early Genesis (though detractors would say it has more in common with the much later poppy Phil Collins stuff), neo-prog basically strips things down a bit for a slightly more song-oriented approach. It’s one of the most active styles in the current underground, with bands such as Cast and Glass Hammer carrying high the torch. Marillion continues, too, though without its flamboyant lead singer Fish, who cut out several years back to pursue a solo career.

In addition to the styles I’ve already mentioned, there are also the "Dutch-rock" bands (which take off from Focus of "Hocus Pocus" fame), the "Euro-rock" bands (Nektar, Message, Analogy), the "French-theatrical" bands (Mona Lisa, Angipatch), the Italians (Nuova Era, Semiramis, Il Balleto Di Bronzo), the Japanese (don’t even ask), the "rock in opposition" groups (avant-gardists such as Henry Cow, the Art Bears, and Thinking Plague), "space-rock" (which may or may not be prog, depending on how much you like Hawkwind), "Zeuhl" music (bizarro jazz fusion a la France’s Magma), and I don’t know how many other weird permutations, many of which make my head hurt.

If your brain is starting to ache as well and the words on this page seem to be turning into Sanskrit, HOLD ON! A reality check is in order. All this cataloging and sub-genre-splitting isn’t necessary to enjoy any of this music, and in fact it might be detrimental. The original spirit of prog was about getting beyond silly and arbitrary genre confines. In embracing all sorts of musics in the pursuit of creative freedom, the goal was to not get pigeonholed or stereotyped in any way.

"To tell you the truth, I feel funny sometimes when we’re labeled as a prog band," says Shawn Persinger, guitarist with the Virginia quartet Boud Deun (pronounced "nude peeing," according to the band). With influences ranging from King Crimson and the Mahavishnu Orchestra to the Minutemen and Minor Threat, the band is all over the musical map. Fans who admire the Dave Matthews Band owe it to themselves to listen to Boud Deun’s new album, The Stole Bicycle, and have their minds well and truly blown.

"I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because a lot of our fans come from the prog scene, and that world has been good to us," Persinger says. "But I don’t really like a lot of the neo-prog bands. We just played a festival called Progday, and I couldn’t really relate to a lot of the other bands. But aside from that, the prog fans and most of the people in these bands are some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, just the greatest."

Indeed, there is definitely a prototypical prog-rock fan: He (and they’re almost all men) is well-educated, extremely well-read, intensely curious about lots of different kinds of music, opinionated, always up for a good argument, most likely a musician himself, and probably a computer buff (the Internet is the primary lifeline keeping the far-flung outposts of progdom connected in lieu of mainstream media interest).

Some people say all the fans seem to be on the far side of 40, but I’ve met plenty in their early 20s. Alas, there is no empirical data about how many ever played Dungeons and Dragons, read Frank Herbert, or wear pocket pencil protectors, but those are topics best left for another day.

"I think the most encouraging thing about the prog underground is that this is an audience that’s willing to be challenged," says John Covach, a musicology professor and prog fan who is working on a book about the genre. "Let’s face it, a lot of this stuff requires a commitment: You really have to spend some time listening to it in order to appreciate it. I think if you want to generalize, you’ll find that people who are willing to make that commitment are probably pretty open-minded."

What’s more, they’re in it for the right reason: love, not money. The grassroots enthusiasts run prog labels such as Cuneiform and Magna Carta, publications such as Progression and Expos¾ , and concerts such as Progday ’98 (which took place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in early September) or the annual Progfests in Los Angeles and Quebec. They are making much less money from the scene—if they’re even breaking even—than the punk entrepreneurs whose D.I.Y. ethics are always being lauded in the music mags.

"I’m just a fan who realized that if I didn’t step forward to help bring some of this music to town, it wasn’t going to happen at all, and I was going to miss out," says budding promoter Michael Eisenberg. He put up his own hard-earned money to bring prog acts such as Boud Deun and Present to the Chicago club Martyr’s. "I could have lost my shirt, but so far I’ve just about broken even. I’m happy to do it, with the hope that maybe I can get some sort of prog scene happening here."

With this kind of belief in the music, you just have to applaud the current prog underground, even if you get hopelessly lost trying to count in 7/8 time, or if pondering the meaning of complex concept albums gives you nasty flashbacks to sophomore English.

"I think the scene is really pretty healthy regardless of its size because it’s about the music," says Progression editor Collinge. "It’s growing, and interest is spreading. The fact that you’re calling is evidence of that right there."


Close to the Edge: Ten of the Best from the Current Prog Underground


Wanna know what’s happening in prog in the ’90s? Here’s a quick overview of some of the best recent releases.

1. The Flower Kings, Scanning the Greenhouse (Riverside)

Led by Roine Stolt, this Swedish group has produced four albums of guitar-driven symphonic rock since 1995, including Back in the World of Adventures, Retropolis, and Stardust We Are. This eight-track English compilation rounds up the best of those earlier discs and stands as a prime introduction to the group that headlined the 1997 Progfests in Los Angeles and Quebec. (http://www.users.globalmet.co.uk/~riversyd)

2. Spock’s Beard, The Kindness of Strangers (Metal Blade)

The band’s debut concept album The Light is probably the fans’ favorite, but album number three is the first with serious national distribution. It’ll be easier to find, and it doesn’t disappoint. Songwriter Neal Morse understands that prog’s progenitors succeeded in part because they never neglected the melodies as they crafted their intricate arrangements. While he borrows liberally from the prog canon—incorporating bits that are clearly traceable to Genesis, King Crimson, and Yes—songs such as "In the Mouth of Madness" and "Harm’s Way" ultimately stand on their own merits.

3. Boud Deun, The Stolen Bicycle (Cuneiform)

While many modern prog bands are easily pigeonholed by their influences, thus negating the original meaning of the label "progressive," the Virginia quartet Boud Deun veers wildly from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson to the Minutemen and the Dead Kennedys, attacking its complex arrangements with a snarling intensity. Some devotees thought the band’s first two studio albums lacked the power of the live shows (which is documented on the E.H.P. concert disc A General Observation), but the group’s third effort The Stolen Bicycle is by far its strongest to date. (http://www.artist-shop.com/cuniform)

4. Present, Certitudes (Cuneiform)

One of the hardest-rocking bands on the scene is the Belgian quintet led by guitarist Roger Trigaux, formerly of Univers Zero. Roger and his son Reginald trade off on some shredding solos, prog-style; imagine Robert Fripp and his clone fronting a progressive-rock version of Judas Priest. This disc combines edgy prog a la "21st Century Schizoid Man" with jazz fusion in the style of Weather Report, plus a bit of classical minimalism throw in for good measure.

5. Thinking Plague, In Extremis (Cuneiform)

The album title is Latin for "at the point of death," and composer Mike Johnson’s music is correspondingly spiritual, exploring the enlightenment that comes with facing one’s mortality. The intricate arrangements highlight the female vocals of Deborah Perry, as well as the reeds, keyboards and Johnson’s fluid guitar playing.

6. Cast, Angels and Demons (Cast)

One of the best of the neo-prog bands, Cast originally formed in 1978 in Mexicali, Mexico. Inspired by Genesis and others, it debuted with a concept album based on Gulliver’s Travels. The group has been revitalized in the ’90s by bandleader Alfonso Vidales, releasing numerous recordings including Angels and Demons, one of its best. The band markets its own music through its web site. (http://www2.4dcomm./russrrr/cast)

7. Finneus Gauge, More Once More (Train Records)

The late, lamented Echolyn was one of the most respected bands in the new prog underground, straddling the line between neo-prog and the old-school Canterbury sound with hints of Genesis, Kansas, and Gentle Giant. They actually made it up to the major-label ranks, but unfortunately disbanded after their strongest effort, 1995’s As the World. Based in Pennsylvania, Finneus Gauge is led by former Echolyn keyboardist and Mellotron master Chris Buzby. It features extraordinarily complex tunes, the mind-bending guitar of Scott McGill (whose playing recalls Allan Holdsworth), and the beautiful vocals of Laura Martin.

8. Cairo, Conflict and Dreams (Magna Carta)

The Californians in Cairo start with a strong Yes and ELP influence and depart from there through the keyboard talents of bandleader Mark Robertson. Their sophomore album contains six tracks, four of them clocking in at more than 10 minutes, and all of them heavy on the Hammond organ. They are perhaps the best band on the Magna Carta label, one of the most active in the prog underground. (http://www.magnacarta.net)

9. Liquid Tension Experiment, Liquid Tension Experiment (Magna Carta)

This is another interesting Magna Carta release by an instrumental quartet featuring some familiar names: Dream Theatre guitarist John Petrucci and King Crimson Chapman stick player/bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin. They play with an intensity to rival the most gonzo speed-metal thrashers, but the influences are all prog. And where else besides this genre could you find a tune called "Three Minute Warning" that lasts 29 minutes?

10.Ozric Tentacles, Arborescence (IRS)

These boys are supposedly working up some new material after a brief lay-off, and while some would classify them more as space-rockers a la Hawkwind and Gong, I’ve always heard a strong prog influence in the flute, keyboards, and twisted guitar playing. Whatever camp you put them in, England’s Ozrics are one of the strangest and most ambitious bands out there today, and tunes such as "Astro Cortex," "Yog-Bar-Og," and "Dance of the Loomi" are a suitably warped introduction.



Courting Crimson Kings: Ten Essential Prog-Rock Classics


As I said, prog is well aware of its past, and new fans are expected to know where it all came from. Of course, exactly what you value in the music’s long legacy is a matter of opinion. Here is one critic/fan’s guide to some classic albums that no progger should be without.

1. King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969

In many fans’ views, this album is the one that really got the progressive ball rolling. Symphonic arrangements meet poetic lyrics and the influential guitar playing of Robert Fripp who, depending on your slant, is either the genre’s biggest hero, its most insufferable boor, or both. One thing’s for sure: He never rocked harder than on the metal-edged classic, "21st Century Schizoid Man," an effective evocation of the panic greeting a bad acid trip.

2. Yes, Close to the Edge, 1972

More than any other group, Yes epitomizes progressive rock, and I think the double concept album Close to the Edge is the one that best epitomizes Yes—at least in terms of the space-age hippie vision of Jon Anderson’s lyrics, the absurdly ambitious scope of the music, its cinematic power, and the technical accomplishments of the players, notably guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire. Of course, Fragile and The Yes Album are also right up there....

3. Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Pictures At An Exhibition, 1972

For detractors, this album more than any other lends itself to easy criticism of the "classical pretensions" variety, since it is ELP’s bombastic interpretation of the classical work by Mussorgsky and Ravel. I like it, though, because the beauty of the composition shines through the dazzlingly busy playing of Mssrs. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The same cannot always be said of their original material.

4. Jethro Tull, Thick As A Brick, 1972

Along with the following year’s Passion Play, this was Tull’s most progressive moment: a one-song(!) satirical concept album about the journey from adolescence to manhood. It’s full of medieval melodies, symphonic swells, classical rips, Ian Anderson’s flute, and the sadly under-rated guitar of the ever-tasteful Martin Barre.

5. Mike Oldfield, Ommadawn, 1974

Guitarist Mike Oldfield doesn’t get his due in many quarters of prog fandom, and I’m not sure why. His one-man over-dubbed symphonies are certainly complex enough to qualify, and he’s an impressive virtuoso, despite the fact that he always crafts ultra-hummable melodies. Tubular Bells is the one that made him a household name in 1973, even before parts of it were incorporated on the soundtrack to The Exorcist, but Ommadawn is a more impressive album overall. It still sounds fresh today 24 years after it was recorded (on 16-track, no less!).

6. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, 1975

The long and varied history of this group makes it tough to choose the one album you’d bring to a desert island, forcing you to ask yourself what you value most in prog: Is it sweeping symphonic vision a la Foxtrot, or virtuosity incorporated in relatively catchy pop-rock a la A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering? Do you go with Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins on vocals? And do you choose pre- or post-Steve Hackett on guitar? Me, I vote for the band with Gabriel and Hackett in the transitional period of the sweeping double concept album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. To my ears, the group was never more inventive musically or interesting thematically. Take this one with you and you’ll still be trying to figure it out on that island, even if you aren’t rescued for 10 years.

7. Gentle Giant, Giant for a Day, 1978

The punk/New Wave onslaught prompted a new vitality in several of the first-generation progressive-rock bands—witness Yes’ wonderful Going for the One—but my favorite in this vein was Giant for a Day, in which the mega-cult favorites Gentle Giant honed a mixture of classical/symphonic/Canterbury sounds and more stripped-down pop/rock. Really, though, you’d be well-advised to check out any of their albums if you’re at all interested in modern prog, since Gentle Giant seems to be one of the biggest influences currently coming out in the wash.

8. King Crimson, Discipline, 1981

Crimson maniacs—the sort of people who indulge in 50,000-word debates on the Robert Fripp news group—might place other efforts on the list before this one (say, 1973’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic). I think the debut by the reinvigorated band of Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford is important for illustrating that prog did not die after its first golden age, and that its vocabulary could be expanded to include everything from Talking Heads-style New Wave ("Elephant Talk," with its nifty roaring pachyderm guitar) to polyrhythmic world beats ("Thela Hun Ginjeet"). Crimson, of course, is still cranking ’em out today.

9. Marillion, Misplaced Childhood, 1985

The best of the second-wave progressive or "neo-prog" bands, Marillion had its finest moment with lead singer Fish on this concept album about youthful innocence lost and regained. Taking its cues from Genesis, the quintet stripped down the basic prog sound ever so slightly and scored major English pop hits with "Kayleigh" and "Lavender," tunes that are undeniably effective.

10. Various artists, Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era, Rhino box set

O.K., so I’m cheating a bit with this entry, but the five-disc box that Rhino released last year was the first attempt at a comprehensive overview of progressive rock, so it’s not a bad place for new initiates to start. Though it has some problems—no King Crimson?!?—it does cover a lot of ground, including many groups from the European continent that could have been easily overlooked. Some might say that Roxy Music, the Mothers of Invention, and German minimalists Faust don’t belong here, but the organization of the box and the booklet make the case that they do, and they rub shoulders with everyone from the Nice to Savage Rose, and Focus to Amon Dò ò l II. If these names are new to you, you might consider investing in this box, kids, especially because all the rock critics sold theirs and you can probably find it cheap at a used CD store.



Surfing Topographic Oceans: Exploring the Prog-Rock Underground


The Internet is the primary resource for exploring the prog underground, and the Progressive Rock Web Ring is the primary place to start searching the Internet. A web ring is a circle of interconnected sites with a common theme, and this one has more than 200 prog sites from around the world. Start surfing at http://www.xs4all.nl/~schudel/progring/.

Another prime stop on the net is the Progressive Rock Website (http://www.ari.net/prog/). It features links to dozens of other sites, including the online Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock, which has entries on most bands in the genre, past and present.

The Progressive Underground is a weekly radio show hosted on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. EST by one Sean Meistro at WRUV (90.1-FM) in Burlington, Vermont. It’s accessible via the web at http://www.Geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/2317/pu.html or http://www.uvm.edu/~wruv.

Progression is a well-written quarterly fanzine edited by John Collinge that covers a wide range of progressive, neo-prog, electronic, and avant-garde musics. It’s generally considered a must-read, especially for the in-depth interviews. A one-year subscription is $19 and there’s a toll-free number: (800) 545-7371. There’s also a web site at http://progressionmagazine.com/.

The other essential prog-rock read is Expos¾ , a California fanzine that tries to cover the progressive waterfront. Subscriptions are $20 for four issues from 6167 Jarvis Ave. #150, Newark, CA 94560. There’s an online newsletter at http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/1831/expo-nl.html.

If there isn’t a good independent record store in your area, Syn-Phonic Music is a mail-order service that stocks more than 3,000 titles from around the world with an online database that’s searchable by country at http://www.execpc.com/~billbish/synphonic. You might also want to check ESP/CD Treasures at www.collect.com/cdtreasures and Resurgence at http://www.rockrelics.co.uk.



Professors of Prog 101: Reading Up


Given the intellectual ambitions of many progressive rockers and the educated fans the music attracts, the recent boom in prog-rock books isn’t surprising. If anything, it’s long overdue, especially considering the short shrift the genre has gotten in most musical histories and rock encyclopedias.

Published last year by Chicago’s Open Court Press, Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock 1968-1978 is the follow-up to Bill Martin’s 1996 tome Music Of Yes: Structure and Vision in Progressive Rock. A professor of philosophy at DePaul University and a red-flag-carrying Marxist, Martin has been criticized for some of the politics and the musical opinions in his books, but that’s to be expected among such a contentious listener/readership. Martin’s biggest assets are that he’s a bass player and a true prog fan. You have to grant that he knows his stuff, even if you disagree with him on some of the specifics.

Listening to the Future makes a convincing case for the best moments in the decade that was prog’s first heyday, but it doesn’t go far beyond that into the current scene. Musicologist Edward Macan had a similar goal when he wrote Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture (Oxford). He also tries to negate the arguments by many rock critics that prog was pompous, pretentious, and boring, but he does it from more of an English perspective (in particular pointing out the influence of the Anglican Church). Taken together, both of these books make for very heady reading—you’re not gonna find ideas like Macan and Martin’s tossed around about Creed or Matchbox 20.

As far as catalog overviews of the genre, two books have recently been published, but both have shortcomings. Bradley Smith’s The Billboard Guide to Progressive Rock Music (Billboard Books) purports to be a definitive guide, but it excludes the likes of Gentle Giant and Van Der Graaf Generator. "One guy’s love letter to his personal record collection," is how Progression magazine described it.

Jerry Lucky’s The Progressive Rock Files (Collector’s Guide Publishing) is more comprehensive though less well-written. More valuable than the opening sections attempting to chart the music’s history and define its parameters is the A-Z listing of prog bands past and present. This includes discographies that, while not absolutely complete, sure come pretty darn close.

Finally, University of North Carolina professor John Covach (a contributor to and Progression and Guitar World) has co-edited a book called Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis (Oxford). While it’s not strictly a collection of writings on prog, it does include discussions of Yes and other heroes, and Covach is currently working on his own progressive-rock history and analysis.

(Originally published in Guitar World, 1998)