History of Progressive Rock

Progressive rock, also known as prog rock, is a rock music subgenre which originated in the United Kingdom, with further developments in Germany, Italy and France, throughout the mid to late 1960s and 1970s. Developing from psychedelic rock, progressive rock originated, similarly to art rock, as a "British attempt" to give greater artistic weight and credibility to rock music. Progressive rock intended to break the boundaries of traditional rock music by bringing in a greater and more eclectic range of influences, including free-form and experimental compositional methods, as well as new technological innovations. Prog rock saw a high level of popularity throughout the 1970s, especially in the mid-part of the decade, with bands such as Pink Floyd, Golden Earring, The Moody Blues, Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Camel, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Progressive rock started to fade in popularity by the latter part of the decade, with the rawer and more minimalistic punk rock growing in popularity; and also with the rise of disco. Nevertheless, progressive rock bands were able to achieve commercial success well into the 1980s. By the turn of the 21st century, progressive rock witnessed a revival, often known as neo-progressive, and has, ever since, enjoyed a cult following. The genre has influenced several other styles, ranging from Krautrock to neo-classical metal; it has also fused with several other forms of rock music to create subgenres, including progressive metal.


Progressive rock is not crisply delineated from other genres, but is more likely than other types of popular music to feature characteristics such as:
-abrupt changes of tempo, key and time signature
-asymmetric time signatures such as 5/8 and 7/8
-very complicated rhythms
-lyrical themes drawing inspiration from fantasy and science fiction
-concept albums
-unusual musical instruments
-song organization that eschews the typical "verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus" format
-melodies inspired by the complexities of classical music, jazz, and non-western traditions
-odd synthesizer programming, sound effects and other novel additions
-long songs that often reach over the 20 minute mark, often taking up entire album sides

Progressive rock drew inspiration from a wide range of genres and styles, ranging from classical (mostly Symphonies and Baroque) to jazz, and, in later works, world music, as well as a touch of folk. The genre abandoned many of rock's traditional characteristics, including a standard verse-chorus structure, and often replaced the electric guitar with more layered and complex instrumentation to create longer compositions. Its lyrical themes tended to be literary-based, and were often conceptual, poetic or abstract in nature, occasionally drawing inspiration from fantasy and science fiction. Hence, progressive rock bands often created concept albums which told a story or dealt with various themes, while having a "unified" statement. The terms "art rock" and "progressive rock" have often been used interchangeably, though there are differences. While the former is concerned with creating innovative sonic textures and draws more from the avant-garde musical scene, some progressive bands put greater focus on melody and symphonic compositions, while drawing from a wide spectrum of literary and poetic sources. Nevertheless, both genres share similarities when it comes to their sophisticated musical arrangements and album-based formats. Progressive rock has been described as parallel to the classical music of Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók.


The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) is often considered the starting point of progressive and art rock.  The Beach Boys' concept album Pet Sounds (1966) and Jefferson Airplane's second album Surrealistic Pillow (1967) were both big influences for many progressive rock bands. From the mid-1960s a form of Baroque rock it's been produced and can be heard in singles like Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967), with its Bach inspired introduction. In 1967, Jeff Beck released the single "Beck's Bolero", inspired by Maurice Ravel's Bolero. Mothers of Invention's  Freak Out!, released in 1966, had been a mixture of progressive rock, garage rock and avant-garde layered sounds. Also in 1967, The Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed, combining classical-inspired orchestral music with traditional rock instrumentation and song structures. Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, contained the nearly ten-minute improvisational psychedelic instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive". Some, such as the UK's Soft Machine, began to experiment with blends of rock and jazz. By the late 1960s, many rock bands had begun incorporating instruments from classical and Eastern music, as well as experimenting with improvisation and lengthier compositions. This use of classical music would crystallise in the 1970s with Amon Düül II's orchestral score on Made in Germany (1975), Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (1970), and several works of Frank Zappa. 

Pink Floyd-Atom heart mother

Early bands

Bands formed by the end of the 1960s included Golden Earring (1961),The Moody Blues (1964), Pink Floyd (1965), Soft Machine (1966), Barclay James Harvest (1966), Gong (1967), Genesis (1967), Jethro Tull (1967), The Nice (1967), Procol Harum (1967), The United States of America (1967), Traffic (1967), Van der Graaf Generator (1967), Yes (1968), Rush (1968), Caravan (1968), King Crimson (1969), Supertramp (1969), Renaissance (1969), and Gentle Giant (1969). King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, was released in 1969 and it was a major seller everywhere. It was so shockingly different from anything else that was being done at the time. Prog Rock was born! It took other bands, like Yes and Genesis, a couple more albums before they could claim to be in the same league.

King Crimson -21st Century schizoid man

Although many of these bands were from the UK, the genre was growing popular elsewhere in continental Europe. Triumvirat led Germany's significant progressive rock movement, while Tangerine Dream, Faust, Can and Neu! led the related Berlin School and Krautrock movements. Italian progressive rock is an important sub-genre led by PFM, Le Orme, and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, all of which gained significant international recognition. Other notable Italian bands include New Trolls, Area, Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Il Balletto di Bronzo, Maxophone and Locanda delle Fate.

PFM-Storia di un minuto

Golden Earring, Focus and Trace formed in the Netherlands, France produced Ange, Gong, and Magma, the Quebec-based Harmonium were one of the first significant North American progressive bands, and Greece saw the debut of Aphrodite's Child led by electronic music pioneer Vangelis. Spain produced numerous prog groups, including Triana. Scandinavia was represented by Norwegian band Popol Vuh, Swedish band Kaipa, and Finnish bands Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti.

Focus-Hocus pocus

Aphrodite's Child-The four horsemen

Popol Vuh-Queen of all queens

The '70s

Progressive rock's popularity peaked in the mid-1970s, when prog artists regularly topped reader polls in mainstream popular music magazines in Britain and America, and albums like Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells topped the charts. The genre was so popular that entire record labels were being built around it. Chrysalis was put together specifically for Prog acts. ELP started Manticore and, with this label, discovered the legendary Italian band PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). Atlantic concentrated their efforts on Prog. New bands were arising everywhere. By this time, several North American progressive rock bands had been formed. Kansas, which had actually existed in one form or another since 1971, became one of the most commercially successful of all progressive rock bands. Toronto's Rush, who formed in 1968, became a major band, with a string of hit albums beginning in the mid-1970s. In Australia, a number of progressive rock bands made their mark in the late 1960s, including Tamam Shud, Tully and Khavas Jute. Back in Britain, Electric Light Orchestra, who formed in 1970, saw their greatest success during the mid-1970s.

Kansas-Can I tell you

In 1974, four of the biggest bands in progressive rock -Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), Genesis and King Crimson- each either ceased performing or changed personnel. Members of Yes and ELP left to pursue solo work, as did Genesis's lead singer Peter Gabriel, who left his band (though Genesis would continue with Phil Collins as lead vocalist). Lead guitarist Robert Fripp announced the end of King Crimson after the Red album was released. When, in 1977, Yes and ELP re-formed, they enjoyed success without retaining their previous popularity.

Genesis-The fountain of Salmacis

In the late 1970s the genre started to lose ground. This was mainly due to the arrival of Punk, a simpler and more aggressive style of rock, and Disco that put emphasis on artifice and superficial glamour. Also due to the fact that, as much as these guys had given in the first half of the decade, they couldn’t go on forever. With its exotic, literary topics and elaborate nature much of progressive rock was dismissed by British youth. However, established progressive bands still had a strong fan base. Audiences were reserved in their behavior tending to sit and intently concentrate on the performance. This contrasted with more overt and emotional reactions of audiences of other rock music genres. Bands such as Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), Supertramp, Yes, and Pink Floyd regularly released albums that attained the top ten and were followed by massive tours.


1980s Neo-progressive rock

The early 1980s saw a revitalization of progressive rock, as established acts renewed themselves and new artists appeared. The period's progressive music has been called neo-progressive rock. Many 1980s progressive bands were influenced by minimalism, world music, and the New Wave. The digital synthesizer became a prominent instrument.

Synclavier II. One of the first digital synths.

In 1981, guitarist Fripp and drummer Bill Bruford re-formed King Crimson with two Americans, the guitarist and singer Adrian Belew and the bassist Tony Levin; Belew had worked with art rockers Frank Zappa and David Bowie, while Levin had worked with Peter Gabriel. Some progressive rock stalwarts changed musical direction, simplifying their music and making it more commercially viable. Containing members of major prog-acts from the 1970s, the supergroup Asia debuted with a mainstream rock-oriented album.  Genesis performed short catchy singles that were heard by and appealed to a larger audience during the 1980s, as did Yes with its comeback album entitled 90125, which featured their only US number-one single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart". A new generation of neo-progressive bands appeared, such as Marillion, UK, Twelfth Night, IQ, Pendragon, Quasar, and Pallas.

Marillion-Garden party


The progressive rock genre enjoyed another revival in the 1990s. A notable impetus to this revival was the 1991 foundation of the Swedish Art Rock Society, an association created to rescue the values of classic progressive rock. Part of progressive rock's "Third Wave" became bands like Sweden's The Flower Kings, the UK's Porcupine Tree, Norway's White Willow, and from the United States, Spock's Beard, Echolyn, Ten Jinn, Proto-Kaw (a reincarnation of an early lineup of Kansas), and Glass Hammer. Several of the bands in the progressive metal genre -U.S. bands Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Dream Theater, as well as Sweden's Opeth- cite pioneer progressive hard-rockers Rush as a primary influence, although their music also exhibits influences from more traditional metal and rock bands such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.

Porcupine Tree-Fear of a blank planet