Friday Feature: Prog Rock

The Four Horsemen of the Progalypse: Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer emerged to coincide with the advent of FM Radio

February 20, 2019

Prog Rock Friday Feature

Sgt. Pepper's and Pet Sounds were two of the albums that heralded the elevated possibilities of rock music. These weren’t just collections of pop hits; these were compositions that inspired a description using a dirty 3-letter word. Art. In a few years, fans of Prog-Rock or Art-Rock would repudiate these inspirations as being too simplistic for the album sides of “Supper’s Ready” or “Echoes.”

The Four Horsemen of the Progalypse: Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer emerged to coincide with the advent of FM Radio which allowed the airplay of album cuts and longer songs. In fact when I first applied for a job in commercial radio, I researched my options in a large book that listed all the radio stations in the country by format. I circled the radio stations that listed their format as “Progressive Rock.” This was 1976 and it didn’t mean that these radio stations specialized in Rick Wakeman’s solo albums, it really was a catch-all moniker that comprised FM Radio stations that were eclectic and album-based rather than singles-based. These musicians were often classically trained and some of the music carried grand symphonic productions. Virtuosity was prized above visceral musical attack. And live concerts were multi-media extravaganzas.

Today our tireless music department has tackled the confusion of a term that was used to describe a kind of music, a description that served many FM Radio stations before those formats splintered into a dozen different designations.

For me Progressive Rock meant Pink Floyd’s earliest output. It meant an introduction to Robert Fripp’s In the Court of the Crimson King. It embraced the varied instrumentation and traditional folk influences of Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention.

And for a teenager listening to late night radio in NYC, it meant the intro to ELP’s Endless Enigma, which was the backdrop to DJ Allison Steele’s poetic introduction to her show.

Prog isn't for everyone. In 1978 I saw prog rock stalwarts Gentle Giant in a 2500 seat auditorium. There were 300 people in attendance. But I loved their music which I had discovered as a college DJ in the early 70's. I remember augmenting my vinyl collection with their CD catalog a number of years ago. My wife was driving the family somewhere when I put Gentle Giant's Working All Day in the car CD player.


Now the opening of this song is kind of a hard listen so maybe I should not have been surprised when my wife pulled the car over to the curb and said,

"Who is this?"

"Gentle Giant."

"This car is not moving forward until Gentle Giant is out of the CD player."

My son was in his car seat. He giggled.

I believe this is the only ultimatum my wife has ever issued. I had to respect it.

This Friday let 93XRT take you back to its own roots when nebulous musical boundaries were crossed, when expert players were allowed to over-indulge,

when progressive was an aspiration.