by Patrick Appel
Dave Weigel defends progressive rock:
We’re too hard on the artists who try big things, show off their prowess, and occasionally screw it all up.
The laugh-and-gawk-and-parody approach is fun but doesn’t explain why this music was popular, much less why critics liked it. Progressive rock, in its various forms, evolved out of psychedelia, out of classical music, and out of jazz fusion. In every case, its practitioners became obsessed with sounds and technologies and song structures and took them as far as they could. Pop songs became four- or five-part pop symphonies, with preludes and codas and repeating themes. Wasn’t this where music was supposed to go?
I don’t want to lionize everything that came out of this movement. The DIY, punk, and new wave backlashes wouldn’t have happened if the progressives hadn’t made some music worth lashing. When that backlash started, though, they were in many ways remarkably in the spirit of the prog revolution that had come before. Prog had demoed the electronics, pioneered the found sounds and use of empty space. They’d tweaked the synthesizers and parodied the three-minute pop song. This was the result of a “remarkable explosion of the creative impulse in popular music,” said Robert Fripp in a 2012 interview. Early, experimental progressive rock “came from these young men who didn’t know what they were doing, yet were able to do it.” You could say the same of the punks.