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Progressive Rock

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A subset of rock and roll noteworthy for its intricate arrangements and experimental sound. Originating in the late 1960s, "Prog Rock" often combines stylistic elements from Classical, Jazz, Folk or sometimes electronic implementations, uses non-standard song structures (including complex rhythms and time signatures) and complex instrumental orchestrations, and frequently employ lyrics which are abstract or fantasy-based.


The original idea was to bring some of the sophistication of "legitimate" musical styles to rock, which was still regarded as worthless pop trash. Precursors included the works of Frank Zappa (with and without the Mothers of Invention), especially 1967's Absolutely Free, which consisted of two side-long suites borrowing liberally from classical music (especially the works of Igor Stravinsky) and including a mini-Rock Opera, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" (described as a "condensed two-hour musical"), The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, whose (loose) concept influenced many bands, The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed, whose use of an orchestra would influence many other bands to do the same, and Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, another early case of a rock band collaborating with an orchestra. But the unquestioned Trope Codifier was King Crimson, whose 1969 début album In the Court of the Crimson King proved to be both commercially successful and influential on the genre.


Classically-trained musicians such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman started to be drawn to rock, and they brought their repertoire with them. This is where Prog gets its modern image of classically-influenced songs with many extended solos, but Art Rock could refer to any attempt to elevate rock from its lowbrow image. This could include pop music with experimental elements (10cc and Roxy Music), and bands that used orchestral instruments (Electric Light Orchestra). Some bands fused with other styles: Jethro Tull were based on folk music, and the Canterbury bands leaned toward modern jazz. Prog was largely a British phenomenon, although Kansas and Rush were significant examples from America and Canada, respectively. The most commercially successful progressive rock band was Pink Floyd, whose 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon famously has spent more than over 30 years on the charts and has sold tens of millions of copies, holding the rather impressive distinction of being the third bestselling album in history.


Critics usually dismissed these bands as being "pretentious" (Pink Floyd is the only progressive rock band many rock critics will admit to liking, although even they received their fair share of critical drubbings at the time). Some people just want to have a good time, and prog bands sometimes took themselves far too seriously. Perhaps the most notorious offender was Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans album: it was seen by many as a clear drop in quality from their previous efforts. By stretching a total of four songs over 2 LPs, even most progressive rock listeners found it to be an exhausting experience to listen to.

Thanks to the rise of New Wave and Punk Rock, the genre was mostly exhausted by the early 1980s, with the genre's most popular bands like Yes, Genesis, and Rush shifting towards a more radio-friendly sound and making music videos in The '80s, to great commercial success. The 1982 debut album of the prog supergroup Asia had radio-ready singles that were huge hits and was considered the final nail in the coffin for the genre in The '80s. Pink Floyd was an exception as they continued to sell millions of records and sell out arenas/stadiums while keeping their sound intact, although even they weren't afraid to embrace MTV and all the new recording tech that developed throughout the decade. It didn't hurt that the band had already developed a distinctive visual identity through its Hipgnosis covers and live shows. There was a sub genre that came in the mid-80s called neo-prog, which was basically bands trying to emulate the '70s progressive rock sound with '80s production and a few power ballads here and there. Marillion, IQ, and Spock's Beard were a few examples of neo-prog.

Prog experienced a rebirth around the mid '90s with Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and The Mars Volta being some of the new bands to emerge, and the classic bands that "went pop" in the '80s started to return to what made them famous initially. Yes reunited with the classic "Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, and White" lineup, Genesis tried to go back a more complex sound on the Phil Collins-less Calling All Stations and failed miserably, and many more bands went back to the longer songs, Epic Rocking, and weird lyrics.

Prog Rock was one of the originators, and certainly one of the main motivators, of the Concept Album.

See also Progressive Metal for when prog gets heavy, and Technical Death Metal for when prog gets even heavier. Krautrock is a somewhat more Teutonic variant, which is sometimes considered a subgenre of progressive rock and sometimes its own (albeit related) genre. Also compare Baroque Pop, which has been described as being to pop music what prog is to rock, and Post-Rock and Math Rock, which are sometimes regarded as modern-day successors to the genre. The genre has also had an influence on Electronic Music and Ambient music.

Notable Progressive Rock acts include and are labeled with their respective sub-genre according to the ProgArchives, as well as prog albums with their own pages:

Tropes frequently associated with progressive rock include:

  • Artifact Title: One explanation for the genre's name is that it came from the "progressive" FM radio stations it was played on in the U.S. These were so-called because the DJs would, between playing the bands' latest magna opera, spend almost as much time as the songs themselves took to play discussing politics from a progressive (i.e., very leftish) perspective. The name for the subgenre has remained even as the stations became increasingly all about the music and left the politics behind, and even as FM radio of the early 1970s evolved into today's Classic Rock format. This explanation, however, is disputed; another holds that the progressive rock genre and the progressive rock radio format got their names separately, and that the genre was named because it was perceived to be "progressing" rock music. In this explanation the genre got its name from "progressive pop", which was used at the time to describe what today is generally known as Baroque Pop, and it later became a synonym for rock music in general.
  • Bookends: If you're listening to a concept album, odds are at least fifty-fifty that it's going to feature at least one example of this trope. Even if it's not a concept album, the trope may show up anyway.
  • British Rockstar: Most of the bands hailed from the U.K. and helped form the stereotype of British rock stars as drug-addled cloudcuckoolanders. The genre was so popular in the U.K. for awhile that even artists not commonly associated with prog sometimes recorded songs in the style; for example, Led Zeppelin's "Achilles Last Stand" (from Presence) is often considered a progressive rock song, while Elton John recorded "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and much of Madman Across the Water in the style.
  • Concept Album: Developed somewhat in tandem with prog rock. The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa's band, were responsible for many of rock's early concept albums.
  • Conlang: Practically de rigeur in zeuhl. Examples include Magma, Ruins, and Koenjihyakkei.
  • Dead Horse Genre: Critics, who usually believe in Three Chords and the Truth, have tended to hate the genre, even during its heyday in the early '70s. This is probably influenced by Lester Bangs' and Robert Christgau's disdain for prog. The critical darlings of the first half of the '70s were Singer Songwriters like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Proto Punk bands like the New York Dolls and The Stooges, while critics went for Punk Rock, Post-Punk and New Wave in the second half. A prominent exception is Allmusic, which has given several famous prog albums the maximum rating of five stars, as is the Italian writer Piero Scaruffi, who ranks prog albums as two of his top three albums ever made (three of three if you count Beefheart as prog). Pitchfork has been known to give prog records good reviews on occasion as well note , but on the whole it much more frequently lambastes them. And, for that matter, even Christgau has given good reviews to prog records on occasion (Henry Cow, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, etc.). Other than that, the only positive press coverage prog artists usually get is in magazines catering to musicians. Despite this, and no doubt precisely because of its appeal to musicians, the genre still has a number of Spiritual Successors and other lasting influences on modern music; see below.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The genre is famous for its lavish album cover art from artists such as Roger Dean and the Hipgnosis studio.
  • Epic Rocking: Naturally, given the song lengths. Often more focus on "epic" than rocking, obviously.
    • The Jethro Tull albums Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play contained one song each, broken up by an interlude that allowed the listener to flip the record.
    • Mike Oldfield has done this multiple times. Take, for example, Incantations, seventy-three minutes split over four sides, without interludes to let the listener to flip the record. As a result it works very well on CD.
    • Robert Fripp (of King Crimson)'s collaborations with Brian Eno probably bear mentioning here as well; they are typically comprised of a single track split across multiple album sides. However, they are as much an example of the ambient genre as they are of progressive rock.
    • Many other bands similarly record albums that effectively consist of one track, or at least multiple side-length pieces, but divide it into separate movements for ease of CD navigation (or, during the heyday of vinyl, because it resulted in higher royalties). Examples include Magma (around half their output), Camel (The Snow Goose), Hatfield And The North (basically both their official full-length albums, although "Mumps" stands out for being twenty minutes long on its own), Frank Zappa (Absolutely Free), Dream Theater (the second disc of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is a single song divided into eight tracks), and Porcupine Tree (the main suite of The Incident is around an hour long, although it has four additional songs included with it). Pink Floyd could be considered an example as well, although theirs often feel more like several songs stitched together with Fading into the Next Song. Other albums, such as Third by Soft Machine and Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes, as well as much of Tangerine Dream's output, consist of one song per LP side, but they are counted as separate songs.
    • The side-length piece is a staple of progressive rock; particularly acclaimed examples include "Supper's Ready" by Genesis; "Close to the Edge" and "The Gates of Delirium" by Yes; "Nine Feet Underground" by Caravan; "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" by Van Der Graaf Generator; "Lizard" by King Crimson; "2112" and "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" by Rush; "Tarkus" and "Karn Evil 9" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer; "Anesthetize" by Porcupine Tree; "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" by Frank Zappa; "Cassandra Gemini" by The Mars Volta; "A Mind Beside Itself", "Octavarium", and "A Change of Seasons" by Dream Theater; "Grendel" and "Ocean Cloud" by Marillion; "Echoes" by Pink Floyd; and "Autobahn" by Kraftwerk. This is nowhere near a complete list of acclaimed compositions in this vein; feel free to add additional examples.
  • Fading into the Next Song/Siamese Twin Songs: In addition to its liberal use in the genre (Pink Floyd loved it, and other bands such as Marillion and The Mars Volta have used it extensively as well), some of the examples of Epic Rocking can have a similar feeling to this trope. For example, "Supper's Ready" by Genesis was presumably stitched together from multiple sources (in particular, "Willow Farm" is confirmed to have originally been a separate composition before the band decided to incorporate it into the suite). In addition, if a piece that was treated as a single song for the vinyl era is divided into multiple tracks on a CD release for ease of CD navigation, it will inevitably result in this trope.
  • Fandom Rivalry: With Punk Rock, dating back to The '70s. Though there are artists who combine elements of both (The Mars Volta are an excellent example). Johnny Rotten admitted to being a fan of prog, and it obviously influenced Public Image Ltd.. Krautrock, particularly Can and Neu!, was a big influence on Post-Punk. Many punk and new wave acts were also heavily influenced by Roxy Music.
    • In truth, the idea of a rivalry between punk and prog musicians is somewhat a case of historical revisionism. The audiences of the two genres didn't overlap much at the time, but the musicians themselves weren't as invested in the idea as their fanbases and rock critics were. The idea that the early waves of punk featured sloppy musicianship is mostly due to the example of Sid Vicious; the other Sex Pistols were quite competent musicians and simply played Three Chords and the Truth material because that's what they wanted to play at the time. But, as mentioned, John Lydon was a big fan of prog bands like Magma, Can, and Van Der Graaf Generator, and, despite his "I Hate Pink Floyd" shirt, didn't even hate them (he was just using it to troll people).

      The same goes for a lot of other punk bands - The Clash didn't learn to play their instruments with their first album, as is often claimed, and albums like London Calling and Sandinista! demonstrated what truly sophisticated musicians they were. Some punk bands' music, such as Dead Kennedys', almost bordered on prog themselves (listen to "MTV - Get Off the Air" or "Stars and Stripes of Corruption", both of which feature a very prog-like tripartite structure), and it goes without saying that the Kennedys were very skilled musicians. (The prog influence is even more obvious on some of Jello Biafra's solo work, in which he really delves into Epic Rocking.) Critics to a certain extent seem to have taken The Ramones' Three Chords and the Truth style and run with it a bit more than was merited.

      And it's probably worth mentioning that the genres even have a lot of their roots in common - The Doors, The Who, and the Velvet Underground in particular exerted unmistakable influence on both genres. For that matter, some performers somewhat straddled the two genres, such as David Bowie, who produced records by Lou Reed, The Stooges, and Iggy Pop but also collaborated with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp and made decidedly prog-tinged albums like Station to Station, Low, and Blackstar. (John Cale is another good example as a classically-trained member of the Velvet Underground who flirted with both art-rock and punk rock as a performer and Record Producer.)

      Going the other way, some prog musicians embraced New Wave Music, and many incorporated influence from punk (such as Yes on Drama and Pink Floyd on Animalsnote ; Floyd's Nick Mason also produced an album by The Damned). Robert Fripp collaborated with Talking Heads and even hired Adrien Belew, who had played on Remain in Light and its supporting tour, to front the revived King Crimson. Missing Persons was founded by members who, like Belew, were veterans of Frank Zappa's backing band. Peter Gabriel embraced the style in the early '80s. Before that, he had Television open up for him on his debut solo tour in 1977. (And Television themselves, despite usually being classed as a punk band, performed complex enough music that if they'd featured keyboards or performed five years earlier, they might've been grouped in with progressive rock.) Rush also drew influence from new wave, particularly on the Moving Pictures and Signals albums.

      More recently, beyond the obvious examples of bands that combine prog and punk influences like Cardiacs, The Mars Volta, and basically any band that's ever performed progressive metal, there are a lot of subtler examples, as well. The Pixies' Black Francis confessed to being a major fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Captain Beefheart growing up, and while the band is typically noted for using a Three Chords and the Truth style, they still display subtle influence from prog rock like their frequent use of Uncommon Time and their occasional use of unconventional song structures. Similarly, Pavement also occasionally displays influence from prog rock (mostly in the same aspects, plus the occasional 6+-minute song). Meanwhile, other later alternative/indie bands like Radiohead, Faith No More, and The Smashing Pumpkins are sometimes categorised as prog acts themselves.
  • Gateway Series: A lot of rock fans have gotten into classical and jazz via prog. Also goes the other way. Plenty of classical and jazz snobs have decided that that "jungle music" isn't so bad after all after discovering prog.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The genre is popular in Eastern Europe.
  • Genius Bonus/Viewers Are Geniuses: In addition to the fact that musicians are more likely to appreciate the musicianship there are often all sorts of bizarre subtexts to the lyrics that can't be easily picked up on. Also existent are frequent quotes/covers from the classical and traditional repertoire that might not be familiar to a casual listener, as well as many references to obscure science fiction and fantasy works that will go over the heads of most listeners.
  • Heavy Mithril: While progressive rock bands aren't necessarily heavy, the use of references to science fiction and fantasy works are not only common, but expected. There's a reason that many progressive rock bands have entries on the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction .
  • Instrumentals: Since most songs either featured long instrumental interludes or solos, this was the next logical step. Depending on the listener this is either the best or worst part of prog-rock. Either it shows the musician's true talent as an artist, or it's needless showboating.
  • Large Ham: Prog is pretty much the musical equivalent of this trope, with Progressive Metal taking it Up to Eleven and Technical Death Metal taking it beyond that. This may be part of the reason critics often dislike the genre. Unsurprisingly, the genre has produced a number of highly theatrical and flamboyant performers who are direct examples of the trope. This seems to be particularly common amongst keyboard players (e.g., Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Matt Bellamy [although the latter of these is equally hammy as a guitarist and vocalist]), though other musicians and vocalists can get into it frequently as well (Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins of Genesis, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart of Rush, etc.)
    • Erstwhile Yes vocalist/co-songwriter Jon Anderson, who's often not actually particularly hammy by prog standards (though he has his moments, as on "Heart of the Sunrise"), said in one interview that he felt that a main goal of Yes' music was to express emotions directly and honestly, and speculated that this was a major reason that their music was often critically polarising. They didn't seem to care about the critical reactions, either, because, having already noted that this was a characteristic of their music that polarised audiences and critics, they explicitly wrote "And You and I" with the intention of being as emotionally direct as possible.
  • Lead Bassist: The genre seems to have a disproportionate number of them, including Greg Lake, Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, John Wetton and Roger Waters, to name a few.
  • Lead Drummer: Also a lot of these, including Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, Christian Vander, Tatsuda Yoshida (of Ruins and Koenjihyakkei), etc. The prevalence of these two tropes is likely in no small part due to the technically demanding nature of progressive rock, but even despite this, there seem to be a disproportionate number of bassists and drummers who are lead vocalists or the main creative forces of their respective acts, in contrast to the usual stereotypes about rock rhythm section players.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: Many prog epics have lengthy instrumental breaks, making them examples of this trope.
  • Miniscule Rocking: While the twenty-minute song is a widely noted staple of progressive rock, the two-minute interlude is honestly nearly as ubiquitous. As one example, From Silence to Somewhere by Wobbler has a twenty-one-minute song, a two-minute interlude, a ten-minute song, and a thirteen-minute song. This is a fairly typical progressive rock track list.
  • Modulation: Many progressive rock songs change key signatures several times, which typically goes hand-in-hand with Epic Rocking (it's a good way to hold a listener's attention during a lengthier composition).
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: It's not uncommon for prog bands to incorporate multiple genres in one song, and in many cases, to incorporate them well. Dixie Dregs in particular stand out for this. It's worth pointing out that the genre itself started as an example of this trope since it was an attempt to combine rock music with influences from other genres like classical and jazz, and even today, there is a sizable contingent of prog fans who feel that if you don't incorporate this trope into your music, then you're just not doing prog correctly.
  • Never Live It Down: The Godley & Creme album Consequences caused one. It was a triple-disc Concept Album released in 1977; despite being pretty much the only one of its kind during prog's heyday, the phrase "triple-disc concept album" comes up fairly frequently in criticisms of the genre. In the popular imagination, prog rock is also 20-minute Mellotron solos.
  • Purple Prose: Many bands such as Yes would write songs in a rather flowery fashion. But Tropes Are Not Bad, not to mention that some bands were actually good at it.
  • Recurring Riff: Many concept albums reuse melodies at some points to represent a character, an idea, or a story element. Even some albums that aren't concept albums will use melodies multiple times, which often falls under Bookends.
  • Rock Opera: Often goes hand-in-hand with the concept album.
  • Song Style Shift: Very common, particularly with "chapter"-structured songs that many prog bands had. The main reason for these chapters was that they were perceived as separate songs for royalty purposes.
  • Spiritual Successor: Despite critics' overall loathing for the genre, it continues to have substantial influence in a number of contemporary music styles (beyond the straight-up prog classicists who emerge from time to time like Änglagård and Wobbler). A partial explanation for this may be that, due to the complexity of its instrumentation and compositions, it holds particular appeal to other musicians.
    • Post-Rock and Math Rock. While both genres also draw from Alternative Rock and Post-Punk, they keep the weirdness of progressive rock, including the odd time signatures and unusual instrumentation.
    • Some Alternative Hip Hop artists utilize elements of progressive rock as well, such as Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Cage, Caparezza, dälek, Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West (Mainly on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but even before then he had prog elements, e.g. Late Registration's orchestra).
    • Krautrock, to the extent that some sites just consider it a subgenre of prog.
    • Progressive Metal and Progressive Death Metal, obviously, as well as Avant-Garde Metal, the more progressive and experimental strains of Black Metal, and post-metal (bands are listed under Doom Metal, and some are also listed under Post-Rock).
    • Video game composers have been unusually likely to be prog fans. Nobuo Uematsu (best known for Final Fantasy), one of the most influential early VGM composers, was a huge, avowed fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (whom he listed as one of his largest influences after Elton John) and other prog groups, and this seems to have influenced his hiring decisions: Hiroki Kikuta (best known for Secret of Mana) has said he was hired to compose for Square after bonding with him over their love of ELP and other prog groups (Kikuta cites Pink Floyd as his biggest influence and has said ELP first sparked his interest in music). Koji Kondo, probably the most famous and widely heard video game composer in history (best known for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, both of whose main themes he composed), also cites ELP as an influence (as well as Deep Purple). The fact that many early prog groups were early pioneers with synthesizers in popular music probably explains a large part of their influence (and ELP's in particular) on video game soundtracks; video game soundtracks were, after all, also working mostly (or entirely) with synthesizers until relatively recently.
    • Even some Post-Hardcore bands display some substantial prog influence; some, such as The Fall of Troy and The Mars Volta, could essentially be said to combine the two genres (and the Mars Volta are more dominantly prog than post-hardcore, despite splintering out of seminal post-hardcore band At the Drive-In).
    • Critics have noted some progressive rock influence on Janelle Monáe's Genre-Busting sound. The multi-part science-fiction concept albums and orchestral elements may be a tell here.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: Why U.K. critics hated the genre so much.
  • Trope Maker: Where exactly psychedelia and Baroque Pop became Progressive Rock is still debated, but King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King is the album you're most likely to hear cited. Other works sometimes cited are The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed, The Mothers of Invention's Absolutely Free, or Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra. Generally, the first prog band is cited as being the Moody Blues, King Crimson, or the Mothers. One thing everyone agrees upon is that In the Court of the Crimson King was the Trope Codifier, though.
  • True Art: What prog musicians were/are aiming for, with varying degrees of success.
  • Uncommon Time: It would probably take less space to list progressive rock bands that don't use this trope than to list progressive rock bands that do. It's pretty much a requisite of the genre - in fact, it's arguably one of prog's defining characteristics, alongside Epic Rocking and other aspects of the music's instrumental complexity.
  • Up to Eleven: Musicianship and complexity of songwriting for starters.
  • Ur-Example: Some will simply say King Crimson and leave it at that, but it's probably more complicated, because the genre didn't spring forth from a single source but brought together influences from a number of disparate genres previously not commonly associated with rock music, including classical and jazz. Acts frequently retroactively dubbed "proto-prog" include The Beatles, The Who, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, Procol Harum, The Nice, Frank Zappa, The Moody Blues, Soft Machine, The United States of America (the band, not the country), Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, and Spirit. Some of these acts' influence can be felt felt more directly than others', and some of them later became prog if they didn't start out as such. For instance, The Who are not a prog band as a whole, but Quadrophenia is usually considered to be a prog album. Similarly, Soft Machine's early work probably isn't prog, but starting from Third, it is, and cases are sometimes made for the Dead's Blues for Allah and Terrapin Station; That Other Wiki actually categorizes the latter as a prog rock album. The strongest cases for being an Ur-Example probably go to Zappa (though he also may qualify as a Trope Maker), the Moody Blues (ditto), the Beatles, the Who, or Deep Purple. The Beach Boys are a somewhat interesting case in that while the strength of both Pet Sounds and SMiLE have led them to be categorized by some as an early prog rock band, it's accepted that they would've had a stronger claim to starting the genre had SMiLE been finished in 1967.

Alternative Title(s): Prog Rock