RockStory - Progressive Rock Roots
The Roots: Progressive Rock: Up until 1967 pop and rock music had been relative simple and straightforward..

Progressive Roots

By Harald Bjervamoen at

That classic composers like Tchaikovsky, Beethoven , Stravinsky and Sibelius played a big role in the emergence of progressive rock is a well known fact and we'll not delve more deeply on that here


Because the most sucessful and influental bands like Yes, ELP , Genesis and some of their biggest influences like The Beatles are British, progressive rock has always been considered a mostly European project but the truth is that a large part of the inspiration came from the American hippie movement.


My definition of "Progressive Roots" is what happened up to and including 1970.

A Pivotal Year, 1967 

Up until 1967 pop and rock music had been relative simple and straightforward but that year music exploded with creativity.

The Beatles released Sgt Pepper and in America the San Franscisco scene procuced bands like Jefferson Airplane.

Beach Boy's album Pet Sounds from 1966 was a big influence for many prog rock bands but compared to this, Jefferson Airplane was far more extreme (and progressive).

Frank Zappa who came from Los Angeles started to make his mark and must be described as very influental .

Another band is Vanilla Fudge who's distinctive and groundbraking use of the Hammond organ inspired many of the big prog-bands. Vanilla Fudge's way of arranging songs with long instrumental passages was very special in the days of the 3 minute pop song.

Back in Britain, Procol Harum scored a huge hit with the release of A Whiter Shade of Pale and the way they used classical influences served as inspiration for many bands and musicians.

Moody Blues are often forgotten or dismissed as being a mediocre pop act but the fact is that some of the band's releases like "Days of Future passed" from 1967, feauturing the classic Nights in White Satin must be considered classics.

If anybody brought Mellotron into rock music it was Moody Blues.


The London Scene

Bands like King Crimson, Yes, The Nice and later ELP played a lot of gigs at clubs like Marquee during the late 60's .

The bands turned up at each others concerts and the inspiration flowed between them.

This led to recording contracts and Yes, who was more like a ambitous and pschyedelic pop band than the progressive heavyweight's we all know and love, released their self titled debut.

It was not until the early 70's after a change of personel, in with Steve Howe (guitar) and Rick Wakeman(keyboards) exit Peter Banks and Tony Kaye, that they showed their full potential.

King Crimson's debut In The Court Of The Crimson King on the other hand is still considered a classic and genre-defining album.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer who's music is best decribed as classic rock (in the true sense of the word) also put out their first album.

Being a 3 piece without guitar , the keyboard played by Keith Emerson, is used as the lead instrument to breathtaking effect.

It's impossible to not to mention Pink Floyd but they were already established as Britans top Psychedelic and "space-rock" band and had released their debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967.


The Canterbury Scene

Soft Machine (also very popular in the London Club scene) is considered as the central foundation in the Canterbury family tree of progressive rock .

The band is perhaps more on the jazzy side than what is considered typical progressive rock, but they certainly were a influtal "underground" band.

Other bands are Gong, Caravan, Kevin Ayers.

Generally speaking, the music can be described as "hippy" or "spaced-out" with a touch of rural England.



"Other" British Roots

Gentle Giant is a hard band to define but a word like medieval is what comes up in my mind.

They released their first album in 1970, but better and more important albums came later in their career.

Genesis is another band that was formed in the late 60's but it was not until the next decade that extraordinary things happened.

Genesis and Gentle Giant can hardly be decribed as being the roots of progressive rock but both bands became very influental later, even if it was on different levels both musically and saleswise.

Bands like Strawbs and Van der Graaf Generator had released albums as early as 1968 and in the case of Strawbs they started out mainly as a folk-rock band but they gradually became a progressive band with a melodic touch when Rick Wakeman of Yes fame joined.
Jethro Tull
was mainly a heavy blues/folk –band in the 60's but they released more prog-freindly stuff like Thick as a Brick later on.



Even though bands like The Greatful DeadThe Doors , Santana, Nazz , United States of America and It's A Beautiful Day aren't considered as progressive rock by the purists, the fact is that what they delivered there and then is progressive in the true sense of the word.


Important albums

Beach Boys : Pet Sounds
Release : May 16, 1966

This is certainly Beach Boys Best album ever and some would say one of the best from the 1960s. They pioneered the layer upon layer sound and used unconvetional instruments like the Thermin.
The general feeling and sound of the album can be described as symphonic and poppy at the same time topped with upper register male vocals of highest calibre.
Despite the lack of sucess saleswise this album is considered one of the most innovative in rock history.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Wouldn't It Be Nice [2:25]
02. You Still Believe in Me [2:34]
03. That's Not Me [2:30]
04. Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) [2:54]
05. I'm Waiting for the Day [3:06]
06. Let's Go Away for Awhile [2:21]
07. Sloop John B. [3:00]
08. God Only Knows [2:52]
09. I Know There's an Answer [3:11]
10. Here Today [2:55]
11. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times [3:15]
12. Pet Sounds [2:23]
13. Caroline, No [2:54]

Good Vibrations

A milestone in recording history. It was originally planned to be included on the Pet Sound album but due to a tight time schedule it was left off.
Brian Wilson, singer and keyboard player wanted to prove to the world that Beach Boys were the most adventourus band in the world and worked day and night the wole summer of 66. They used a new cut and paste technique and recorded different vocal and musical parts over and over again.
Wilson had as many as 15 versions of the song before it was released. The result was a an extremely catchy song that recieved instant sucecess.
The song in itself is very free form, constantly switching beteen different loosely connected parts and doesn't follow the usual verse, chorous, verse formula.

- By BigRedMachine

Jefferson Airplane : Surrealistic Pillow
Release : Feb, 1967

The second album by Jefferson Airplane was a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. She Has Funny Cars [3:13]
02. Somebody to Love [3:01]
03. My Best Friend [3:04]
04. Today [3:02]
05. Comin' Back to Me [5:24]
06. 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds [3:45]
07. D.C.B.A. 25 [2:39]
08. How Do You Feel [3:34]
09. Embryonic Journey [1:55]
10. White Rabbit [2:33]
11. Plastic Fantastic Lover [2:40]

The Beatles : Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour
Release : Jun 1, 1967

Even if The Beatles had started their breath-taking change from simple pop to experimental rock with their previous effort "Revolver" this must be considered their crown jewel.
Incorperating pop, pschycedelic rock, calssical music and lots of other influences in a way that the totally unheard of in 1967. Despite being regarded as more of a McCartney than Lennon record its a fact that Lennon is the mastermind behind the all-out classics, "Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds" and "A day in the Life". With "Sgt Pepper", The Beatles set new standards musically and the production by George Martin is superb.

- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band [2:02]
02. With a Little Help from My Friends [2:44]
03. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds [3:28]
04. Getting Better [2:47]
05. Fixing a Hole [2:36]
06. She's Leaving Home [3:35]
07. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite [2:37]
08. Within You, Without You [5:05]
09. When I'm Sixty-Four [2:37]
10. Lovely Rita [2:42]
11. Good Morning, Good Morning [2:41]
12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band... [1:18]
13. A Day in the Life [5:33]

Pink Floyd : Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Release : Aug 5, 1967

Pink Floyds debut album "The Piper at the gates of Dawn" is full of melodic folk/pop songs combined with lots of strange avantgarde instumental pieces. "Astronomy Domine" that opens the album is a fine example of when the experimantations turns out as a hallucinogenic pop masterpiece. This track and a large part of the others songs on the album was composed by singer and guitarist Syd Barret.
The second masterpiece on this album is the 16-minute disturbing musical trip into space called "Instellar Overdrive". This instrumental track actually defined the term "space-rock".
Acid trips played a large part in the making of this album and sadly this led to Syd Barret's LSD psychosis.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Astronomy Domine [4:12]
02. Lucifer Sam [3:07]
03. Matilda Mother [3:08]
04. Flaming [2:46]
05. Pow R. Toc H. [4:26]
06. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk [3:05]
07. Interstellar Overdrive [9:41]
08. The Gnome [2:13]
09. Chapter 24 [3:42]
10. The Scarecrow [2:11]
11. Bike [3:21]

Moody Blues : Days of Future Passed
Release : Nov, 1967

On "Days of Future Passed", the group used "The London Festival Orchestra" on every track.
This is considered as one of the first pieces of heavily orchestrated psychedelic rock to orginate from England after The Beatles .
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. The Day Begins[05:50]
02. Dawn: Dawn Is a Feeling [03:50]
03. Morning: Another Morning [03:55]
04. Lunch Break: Peak Hour [05:31]
05. Afternoon: Forever Afternoon... [08:25]
06. Evening: The Sun Set: Twilight Time [06:39]
07. Night: Nights in White Satin [07:41]

Frank Zappa : We're Only in It for the Money
Release : Sep, 1968

The "Sgt pepper" satire of the cover was misunderstood by many. It wasn't aimed at the Beatles, it was middle class America and the West Coast hippies Frank Zappa had in mind.
The album consists of 19 avant-garde pop, doo-woop and psychedelic songs.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Are You Hung Up [1:25]
02. Who Needs the Peace Corps [2:34]
03. Concentration Moon [2:22]
04. Mom and Dad [2:16]
05. Telephone Conversation [0:49]
06. Bow Tie Daddy [0:33]
07. Harry, Youre a Beast [1:21]
08. Whats the Ugliest Part [1:03]
09. Absolutely Free [3:24]
10. Flower Punk [3:03]
11. Hot Poop [0:26]
12. Nasal Retentive Caliope Music [2:02]
13. Lets Make the Water Turn Black [2:01]
14. Idiot Bastard Son [3:18]
15. Lonely Little Girl [1:09]
16. Take Your Clothes off When [1:32]
17. Whats the Ugliest Part of Your Body [1:02]
18. Mother People [2:26]
19. The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny [6:26]

The Nice : Ars Longa Vita Brevis
Release : Dec, 1968

The Nice was the missing link between pop-psychedelia and the more ambitious type of music, known as art rock or progressive rock and this is considered their best album. Bandleader Keith Emerson plays some extremely flashy keyboard solos and the music has both classical and jazz influences.
- By BigRedMachine

01. Daddy Where Did I Come From? [03:42]
02. Little Arabella [04:16]
03. Happy Freuds [03:26]
04. Intermezzo From The Karelia Suite [08:55]
05. Don Edito El Gruva [0:14]
06. Prelude [01:50]
07. 1st Movement: Awakening [01:50]
08. 2nd Movement: Realisation [04:29]
09. 3rd Movement: Acceptance... [04:42]
10. 4th Movement: Denial [03:21]
11. Coda-Extension To The Big Note [0:47]

King Crimson : In the Court of the Crimson King
Release : Oct, 1969

Debut album from one of progressive rock's most influnetal bands. The music is a dark and sharp form of psychedelic rock combined with beautiful ballads like "I Talk To The Wind".
The contrast between the ballads and songs like the heavy and intense "21st Century Schizoid Man " is stunning.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. 21st Century Schizoid Man(Mirrors) [07:20]
02. I Talk to the Wind [06:05]
03. Epitaph(March for No Reason/Tomorrow and Tomorrow) [08:47]
04. Moonchild(The Dream/The Illusion) [12:11]
05. Court of the Crimson King(Return Of The Fire Witch/Dance Of The Puppets...) [09:22]

Frank Zappa : Hot Rats
Release : Oct 10, 1969

Zappas first real solo album and probably his best album ever. It was his first attempt at Jazz Rock and is a classic in that genre few others can match. It's complicated ,sophisticated and with a dirty rock attitude.
Highligts are Peaches en Regalia and Willy The Pimp feauturing Captain Beefheart on vocals.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Peaches en Regalia [03:37]
02. Willie the Pimp [09:16]
03. Son of Mr. Green Genes [08:58]
04. Little Umbrellas [03:04]
05. Gumbo Variations [16:55]
06. It Must Be a Camel [05:15]

Soft Machine : Third
Release : Jun, 1970

Third is considered a very important album for The Soft Machine.
The music is quite jazzy at times and the use of repetitive keyboards patterns and tape loops gives it a sometimes hypnotic feel. One of then songs "Facelift" recalls "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson, although it's slightly more complex.
The music on this album pushed the boundaries of rock into areas previously unexplored.
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Facelift [live] [18:54]
02. Slightly All the Time [18:14]
03. Moon in June [19:18]
04. Out-Bloody-Rageous [19:17]

ELP : Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Release : 1970

On this their debut album , keyboard maestro Keith Emerson, bass player and vocalist Greg Lake together with powerhouse drummer Carl Palmer, show their extreme talent and musicianship immediately.
The music is very keyboard oriented powerful progressive rock of the highest calibre. The heaviness is contrasted with the beautiful ballad "Lucky Man" where Greg Lake shows his talent as a vocalist. Carl Palmer's drumming is very powerful and his performance inspired a lot of aspering drummers but the star of the album is keyboardist Keith Emerson .
- By BigRedMachine

Tracks :
01. Barbarian [04:27]
02. Take a Pebble [12:32]
03. Knife Edge [05:04]
04. Three Fates: Clotho/Lachesis/Atropos [07:46]
05. Tank [06:49]
06. Lucky Man [04:36]