progressive rock

progressive rock
   Progressive rock emerged from psychedelia and refers to the trend towards increased technical and textural presentational complexity while retaining thematic links with the ‘counterculture’ of the 1960s. Progressive rock’s ascendant period therefore runs roughly from 1969 to late 1976 when punk rock emerged to challenge its hegemonic position. As a cultural and musical phenomenon, progressive rock was dominated by British bands who, after the Beatles, were more prepared to experiment with diverse musical forms. Enormous success followed this willingness to combine diverse elements, and bands such as Yes, Genesis, ELO, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd where transformed into ‘stadium bands’ with international audiences numbering millions. Musically, the term covers an eclectic range. While bands such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull turned to classical and other forms of music to enhance the texture of their own, they nonetheless remained musically diverse as a result of other non-shared influences (such as Pink Floyd’s use of soul elements and Jethro Tulle’s concern with folk music forms). Again, Led Zeppelin (and others such as Uriah Heep) retained more of the form of rock but experimented with more complex instrumentation including the use of mandolins, acoustic and electric guitars and synthesizers. During the 1970s the popularity of these groups, orchestrated by sophisticated marketing and promotional techniques, placed them at the top of the rock hierarchy. At the same time they retained enough of the values (towards personal freedom) of the counterculture of the 1960s to appeal to a generation (in its non-aspirational form sometimes identified as Generation X) which was itself increasingly diverse. As a result, the audience remained loyal despite the difference in wealth and lifestyles. Permissiveness and the liberty to experiment (with lifestyles, soft and hard drugs, sexuality, sex and so on) remained central themes of the progressive rock lyric, while at the same time adopting a more accepting stance towards the commercialization and materialism of society helped to define the seventies as a period of individualized experiment accommodated within the ‘system’. The rock lyric also, with its continued experimental and subversive use of language, maintained the sense of shared values without limiting itself to precise definition. Often (notably with Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa) a more pessimistic and satiric note was struck, but largely the ‘system’ was seen as too powerful to challenge, thus allowing newer bands to foreground hedonism rather than commentary or critique. As success raised the most gifted of the bands to the status of ‘supergroup’, some critics (mainly rock journalists) began to argue that they were too ‘remote’ from the lives and concerns of their audience. This became a fully-fledged onslaught with the appearance of punk, which defined itself by its opposition to the supergroups, who were now flaccid ‘dinosaurs’ bloated by the corrupting influence of success and the corporate values of the music industry. Similarly, their audiences were written off as ‘boring old farts’. During the 1980s, the most popular bands retained a large audience including increased popularity among the working class and underclass. In the 1990s, their status has to an extent been reappraised with the arrival of ‘retro-bands’ such as Oasis and others and the reemergence of the rock festival, although as yet there has been little to match the technical and formal complexity of the music.
   Further reading
    Heylin, C. (ed.) (1993) The Penguin Book of Rock & Roll Writing, London: Penguin.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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