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Definition

progressive rock? – so what is it exactly?

S: (n) progressive rock, art rock (a style of rock music that emerged in the 1970s; associated with attempts to combine rock with jazz and other forms; intended for listening and not dancing)

Progressive rock (shortened to prog, or prog rock when differentiating from other “progressive” genres) is an ambitious, eclectic, and often grandiose style of rock music which arose in the late 1960s, reached the peak of its popularity in the early 1970s, and continues as a musical form to this day. Progressive rock began in England and remained largely a European movement, although there are a few notable American and Canadian progressive rock bands. This music style draws many influences from classical music and jazz fusion, in contrast to American rock, which was more influenced by rhythm & blues and country. Over the years various sub-genres of progressive rock have emerged, such as symphonic rock, art rock, math rock and progressive metal.

Progressive rock artists sought to move away from the limitations of popular rock and pop music formats, and “progress” rock to the point that it could achieve new forms, often but not always alluding to the sophistication of jazz or classical music. It is complexity, not the virtuosity of the musicians, which most distinguishes progressive rock: mainstream rock has some extremely talented musicians who work solely in simple meters and harmonies.

Progressive rock is difficult to define in a single conclusive way, and outspoken King Crimson leader Robert Fripp has voiced his disdain for the term. The major acts that defined the genre in the 1970s (in no particular order, Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rush and King Crimson) do not sound especially alike. Indeed, in some cases the bands themselves and/or well-known commentators such as Bill Martin (author of Listening to the Future – see Further Reading) would question whether one or another of these seven are really progressive rock bands at all. (This article shall assume that they are, or at least, that they were in the 1970s.) There is also debate on whether the musical output of artists and bands as varied as Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, Phish, Radiohead, and Tool belongs to the genre.

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