What is Prog? er……

calm

And what do I want to review and write about on this blog? The one word answer is Prog; to be more specific, prog rock music.

And just what is prog? You can ask the experts, the bands themselves, or just Wikipedia the answer I suppose. I’m not a musician, musicologist, or professional music reviewer (cue Frank Zappa’s infamous quote about “rock journalists”) so my opinion is just mine, extending to this blog and no further.

But I won’t take a “pass” at the answer or give a Potter Stewart quip (“I can’t define obscenity but I know it when I see it”). I’ll take a swing.

I think prog music is a very inclusive pool—a large tent, and not at all a constricting and narrow “club.” I think it can, and maybe should, try to actually “progress” music and take it into new and different sonic terrains—some of the time. Something always moving head, and too fast, is hard to grab on to and actually hear. Prog is not restricted to any one genre, time, or set of instruments. Charlie Christian’s guitar was progressive in the late 1930s and the axe work of Les Paul, Dick Dale and Link Wray was progressive in the 1950s…Jimi Hendrix in ’68, etc. Progarchy, (Carl E. Olson) persuasively argued that Frank Sinatra himself was progressive when he was cutting some of the albums for Capitol in the late 50s. http://progarchy.com/?s=Frank+Sinatra

Prog is an aesthetic and a vibe but it has characteristics which I think set it apart from mainstream popular music. Prog songs eschew being strait-jacketed into a radio friendly 3 minute duration. Prog albums lend themselves to thematic sides or entire whole concept discs. One will hear everything (hopefully not all at once) from dark dystopian instrumental soundtracks and scores to experimental music, loops, electronic noises, virtuoso playing, intricate compositional writing, and instrumentation that goes beyond the “three-piece” of guitar and rhythm section. Prog welcomes a heavy dose of keyboards from the Grand Piano, Mellotron, Hammond B-3, and Moog, all the way to digital synths and the most modern computer generated sounds. A good saxophone fits prog almost as much as Jazz. And speaking of Jazz, prog also appreciates improvisational jamming and riffing.

Popular music and Top Forty bands can either be prog or have legitimate prog elements in their music. Ambrosia, Styx, and Supertramp can be as welcome in the prog camp as the so-called “Big 5” (Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, ELP, and King Crimson). Prog can be acoustic, metal, Celtic, folk, Jazz-fusion, and of course Rock in its many shapes and flavors.

Prog can embrace symphonic and orchestral sounds and structure (ELO, Renaissance, Barclay James Harvest, and Cailyn) as well as individual virtuoso solo-projects.

Prog can be popular but many times, maybe most times, it’s not. While no artist, musician, or band seeks intentionally to make music that no one will like (not Captain Beefheart, not the Residents, not Sun Ra), what makes Prog, Prog, is that the chief concern is not sales, market share, and air-play, but the integrity and vision of the music itself. Prog is art. It will sell if we buy it!

Okay, I guess this definition doesn’t really define much…but, oh well, “I know prog when I hear it.”

 

Mellotron On!

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One Response to “What is Prog? er……”

  1. bradbirzer Says:

    Reblogged this on Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla.

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