Essay: Prog in The 70’s

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  • Subject area(s): Music Essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
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  • Published on: January 14, 2019
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Christian Anthony Goldsmith Meares

Intro: Definition of Prog

Progressive Rock was born off the back of the counter culture movement of the 1960’s – if not somewhat ironically, the counter culture of the 60’s created its own counter – counter culture with musicians who were more focussed on making music which required more involved listening. Progressive rock (sometimes referred to as “Art Rock”, although commonly known by its shorter name “Prog”) is rock music stylised by a higher level of complexity – odd time signatures, less diatonic chord structures, long song forms and more abstract lyricism are often defining features of a prog song. (Gibbs, 2018)

King Crimson: Lyricism, Arrangement and the Mellotron

As mentioned above many muscicians begun to seek out more technical music – “The whole idea behind prog was to help heighten the artistic respectability of rock and roll” (Bonamassa, Joe, 2016). Musicians had become incresingly dissapointed by the simple pop music of the time, and musically rebelled against the ideas associated with rock music. As a result, lyricism became much more mystical and had a fantasy feel to them, remnisicent of the psychedelic music of the late 60’s (Prog Archives, n.d.). This can bee seen on the early work of King Crimson, particularly, “In The Court of the Crimson King”, who’s lyrics are drenched in a feeling of morose grandiosity. Songs like “Epitah” reach their climax close to the 7 minute mark, with a repeated lyric of “I feel tomorrow I will be crying” followed by a large guitar solo. This signifies another difference to the rock and roll prior to the prog movement – The arrangements are long with many parts, and there is a heavier emphasis on orchestration; in the case of King Crimson this is primarily due to “[Ian Macdonald’s] incredible knowledge in part writing because of his [time spent] in the army working in a military band. (Song to Soul, 2011) “The Court of the Crimson King” features a symphony of “strings” throughout, and helped define one of the subgenres of prog – Symphonic Prog. The idea that there is a real symphony orcherstra on this album, however, is an illusion, created by one of the large technical revolutions of the time – The Mellotron. The Mellotron was one of the first samplers – with a similar appearance to a keyboard, when a key was pressed tape with recorded audio was played, until the key is released, which is when the tape is pulled back to the starting position. This allowed Ian Mcdonald and Robert Fripp, founding members of King Crimson, to explore different instrumentation. (Ian McDonald Conversations on Mellotrons, 2001)

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