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Progressive rock

Progressive rock is a style of rock music that arose in the late 1960s, reaching the peak of its popularity in the 1970s, but continuing to this day.

Progressive rock artists sought to move forward, or progress, the rock genre from its simple roots to a higher level. The music is often complex and elaborate, frequently requiring a high level of musicianship from the artists. Elements of progressive rock include:

  • Long pieces, in some cases over 20 minutes. (An extreme example is "Karn Evil 9" by Emerson Lake and Palmer, which was too long to fit on a single LP album side but seems ideally suited to CD).
  • Pieces that are subdivided into sub-pieces, in the manner of a classical symphony. (An example is the four-part song "Close to the Edge" on the three-track album of the same name by Yes).
  • Lyrics that are complex and sometimes impenetrable, but usually carefully crafted, covering such themes as science fiction, fantasy, religion, war, love, madness and history.
  • Melodies and harmonies that are intricate and lengthy, often requiring repeated listening to grasp.
  • Concept albums, where a theme or set of themes is explored throughout an entire album. (Extreme examples are the double concept albums, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes, From Planet Daelthesya To Planet Earth by Master Sound and Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd).
  • Unusual vocal styles and use of multi-part vocal harmonies.
  • Use of both classical and electronic instruments (particularly keyboards), in addition to the usual rock combination of electric guitar, bass and drums.
  • Inclusion of elements from disparate other musical genres, particularly hard rock, classical music and jazz.
  • Use of syncopation, unusual time signatures, scales or tunings. Some pieces use multiple time signatures and/or tempos, sometimes overlaid. King Crimson often combined several of these aspects in the same song.
  • Solo passages of great speed, subtlety, complexity and/or difficulty, demonstrating the virtuosity of the player.
  • Inclusion of classical pieces on albums. For example, Yes start their concerts with a taped extract of Stravinsky's Firebird suite[?], and Emerson Lake and Palmer have included pieces by Copland, Moussorgsky, Parry[?]. Marillion once started concerts with Rossini's La Gazza Ladra, and named their third live album the same.

Progressive rock can be closely identified with the term art rock. Symphonic rock can be considered a significant subset of progressive rock.

Progressive rock's popularity peaked in the mid 1970s, when progressive rock artists regularly topped readers' votes in mainstream popular music magazines. With the advent of punk rock in the late 1970s, and its earlier precursor pub rock, popular and critical opinion moved toward a simpler and more aggressive style of rock, with the words "pretentious", "pompous", and "overblown" often being used to describe progressive rock.

The early 1980s saw something of a revival of the genre, led by groups such as Marillion. Groups that arose during this time are sometimes labelled neo-progressive. At the same time, some progressive rock stalwarts modified themselves to some extent, simplifying their music and including more obviously electronic elements. In 1983, Genesis achieved international success with the song "Mama", with its heavy emphasis on a drum machine riff. In 1984, Yes had a surprise number one hit with the song "Owner of a Lonely Heart", which contained modern (for the time) electronic effects, yet was accessable enough to be played at discos.

The genre received another minor surge of popularity in the 1990s with a wave of new bands, many of which played harder-edged music known as progressive metal. Today, progressive rock continues to be created and admired by a solid core of enthusiasts, but cannot convincingly claim to be progressing rock music in the way it once did. However, the work of contemporary artists such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor could be said to incorporate some of the more experimental elements of progresive rock, combined with the aesthetic sensibilities of punk rock to produce music which many find at once challenging, inovative and imaginative.

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