Prog Rock FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Most Progressive Music
published: 18 /
In 'Raging Pages', her monthly book column, Lisa Torem examines Will Romano's important and fascinating new book, 'Prog Rock FAQ, All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Most Progressive Music'
Will Romano’s 'Prog Rock FAQ, All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Most Progressive Music' fills an important gap in the fields of rock and popular culture. Included are detailed analyses of work produced by Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson and Yes, but the author also expounds on lesser-known bands and spices up the content with contemporary topics, like 'Gender, Politics and Prog'.
The history here is well documented. Romano explores the peaks and valley of this genre in terms of how it has been regarded by fans, the press and labels throughout its inception, and also sheds light on its renaissance.
In the first chapter, 'Clockwork Soldiers, Romano features a musician whose band was held in limbo. 1-2-3 and Clouds organist, “Billie” Ritchie expressed a conundrum in terms of communication and timing in the mid-‘60s. “Often the downside of being on the cutting edge is experiencing the agony of invention, roaming the wilderness of innovation, and learning painful life lessons, while followers make clearly designed plots to conquer the world.”
Ritchie claimed that some of their records were “two years ahead of their time.” Whilst this may sound intriguing, that timing actually hurt their image because “it sounded as if we were copying everyone else.”
Van der Graaf Generator experienced setbacks, too. They were expected to work non-stop in 1970. By 1976, they had reemerged successfully with World Record, but were financially at an all time low. Saxophonist David Jackson’s in-depth interview explains the band’s perceived pecking order, concept of arranging and more.
In one of the most creative chapters, Romano discusses the technology behind the Mellotron and features “a sampling of ‘Mello’ tracks,” including Jethro Tull’s 'Cross Eyed Mary' and King Crimson’s 'The Court of the Crimson King', To bring the instrument up to date, he cites 'The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)', recorded by Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree.
And then there is the controversy surrounding 'Concept Albums (That Are and Aren’t)'
That chapter begins with a summary about 'The Ancients'. Romano discusses how some of the structures/story songs the Greeks, bards and griots employed are still manifested today. He name checks orchestral insights by Leonard Bernstein and Berlioz along the way, creating a bridge between fables and psychedelia. He looks at Sgt. Pepper and Peter Gabriel’s The Lamb, “Jung punk,” with a fresh pair of ears and eyes, too.
For 'Aqualung' (1971) and Pink Floyd’s 'Dark Side of the Moon', recorded two years later, Romano interviews those most responsible for production and theme. Then he contrasts the latter with Floyd’s 'The Wall'. No stone in that wall is left unturned. Time is allocated for Procol Harum and Asia, too, with albums recorded a decade apart.
'Italian Cult Bands', anyone? 'Prog’s Celluloid Heroes?' It’s here for the asking. If you weren’t aware that prog had universal appeal, you’ll have an opportunity to confirm the factors at play. Chapter 12 may inspire controversy; 'Blinded By The Lite'“ Prog’,s Number-One Song?” I don’t see the relationship, but maybe you will.
Ominously, or was this simply an eerie coincidence, Chapter 13 asks, “What caused the decline of the genre?”'Prog Gets Punk’d' is no mere tongue twister. Romano sets out the political and economic ramifications that packaged the genres together.
There are many compact interviews that get right down to the nitty gritty of the times and the characteristics of the personnel. There’s amazingly even an interview with minimalist Steve Reich and the generations he’s inspired. Who knew?
'Prog Rock FAQ' is an important and fascinating book, but dense. Treat it like a fine wine. Imbibe with mindful sips.