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Commercial successful vs. Accessible

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paganinio View Drop Down
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    Posted: July 08 2017 at 18:15
So I've been thinking about the best-selling prog bands in the 70s, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and others. While a lot of them have a "commercial" or "radio-friendly" sound, a lot of them do not.

I would suspect that there were far more "commercial sounding" and more accessible albums that didn't sell nearly as well.

Recently I just found that Trout Mask Replica was actually Captain Beefheart's  best selling album, with 750,000 copies sold worldwide.

The progressive metal band Tool turned out to be one of the most commercially successful prog acts in the 2000s, and they were certainly not the most radio-friendly ones.

And there are examples outside the prog rock realm, such as Nirvana's In Utero selling 10 million copies, despite the very inaccessible sound on that album.


I'll come to my point: Is it really important at all, to have a "commercial" or "accessible" sound, if you want to be commercially successful? Do people really care about that? I think most of the successful prog bands just redefine what "a commercial sound" means. In the 70s Aqualung was the commercial sound. Today it certainly isn't. Each era's commercial sound is not a given, but shaped by the successful bands of that era.

If any prog band is trying to "cater to the public's taste", instead of making music they really want to make, are they likely to succeed, or fail miserably?  I tend to believe the latter. What do you think?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Atavachron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 08 2017 at 18:20
It's all in the mix.

"Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."   -- John F. Kennedy
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dellinger Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 08 2017 at 21:18
Another thought, many of the best sold albums are groundbreaking ones, which means sounds that had not been heard before, or had not been used that way before, which would by definition not be accesible, or pop, since how can something be popular if it hasn't been heard before? It becomes popular until after it has been released.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote twosteves Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 08 2017 at 22:00
I don't see how you compare Pink Floyd--- very easy to listen to accessible commercial success--- with KC---they are not in the same money making universe---and money means commercial success.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote paganinio Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 09 2017 at 01:03
Originally posted by twosteves twosteves wrote:

I don't see how you compare Pink Floyd--- very easy to listen to accessible commercial success--- with KC---they are not in the same money making universe---and money means commercial success.


Well I found on the internet that In the Court of the King Crimson was the best-selling prog rock album of all-time. Later I realized I misread the article title...


So yeah that makes more sense now.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Manuel Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 09 2017 at 07:59
Originally posted by Dellinger Dellinger wrote:

Another thought, many of the best sold albums are groundbreaking ones, which means sounds that had not been heard before, or had not been used that way before, which would by definition not be accesible, or pop, since how can something be popular if it hasn't been heard before? It becomes popular until after it has been released.
You make a great point here.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 09 2017 at 09:00
Well, the post assumes that people who bought the music actually understood it. 

Not the case. A lot of people bought Yes albums because of Roger Dean's covers. And the fact that everyone else bought it. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote dr wu23 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 09 2017 at 11:43
I would think that the more commercial prog ones would sell better.....when I was in college....69-75 the ones people listened to were the more accessible ones.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Blacksword Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2017 at 03:39
If we are to regard Radiohead as prog rock (which I do) then they are example of how a band can be, at times, almost unlistanable to the mainstream ear, and yet hugely succesfull commercially. I think RH partially created a movement within the music industry and the music press, where to renounce them was close to heresy and an indicator of not understanding music. Hence the BBC fawn over them because they've been led to believe it's the thing to do. Coldplay achieved the same for a while, but people are now waking up to the fact that they are mostly sh*t.

I think it's always been a case of simply getting 'lucky' Historically, the best selling prog has always had a radio friendly edge, at least relatively so with a few exceptions here and there.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote M27Barney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2017 at 05:02
Hm, I have a radiohead CD, played it once - it isn't symphonic/neo prog (or crossover either) I thought it was VERY commercial. no long tracks possibly put me off. probably juts me tho.....i'm a bit picky.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Blacksword Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2017 at 05:08
Originally posted by M27Barney M27Barney wrote:

Hm, I have a radiohead CD, played it once - it isn't symphonic/neo prog (or crossover either) I thought it was VERY commercial. no long tracks possibly put me off. probably juts me tho.....i'm a bit picky.


Which album do you have? Pablo Honey and The Bends are quite commercial, beyond that I think much of their music is really not radio friendly at all. You're probably not picky at all. You just know what you like and what you don't...

Edited by Blacksword - July 10 2017 at 05:08
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote uduwudu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2017 at 05:22
Originally posted by Atavachron Atavachron wrote:

It's all in the mix.



This is where Pink Floyd worked well with Dark Side. Produced with the idea of achieving an easy on the ear (air?) sound while simultaneously demolishing the foundations of their listener's environment lyrically.

This album was indexed and the tracks not particularly long. In contrast look at Tales; it still dumbfounds people because none of the features are indicated or given bite or song sized identities.

Aqualung was big because, despite a decades long slightly appalling production it did have at least three songs that had terrific hooks. It helped to obfuscate the whole concept album ideal by having a nearly / maybe / yes / no it's (not) a concept conflict to stir up discussion, diatribes and debate.

King Crimson grew to some commercial success (outside of Court) in the 80s because and to KC's occasional detriment they fitted into the more intellectually upper levels of rock without their audience having to be really challenged with 70s era music. Trouble is that pop commercial wise KC are not that beast. Some songs have more easily accessed melodies but with a lot more that are not. For all their rhythmic prowess KC do not have a dance element no matter the extended versions of Sleepless. Far too high brow for the ordinaries.

Genesis did well. Once Phil Collins was bringing his Motown influences and writing songs they became huge. They had a sound that suited the times.

It's really spotting the zeitgest of a time and manouvering an already successful name into capitalizing on that.

Tool might have been a big act in the 70s though the for me, lack of lead guitar might have worked against them a bit.

Imagine acts that were huge at a time, prog or not and inserting them as a new act into a different era. The Beatles now? Maybe in the Brit pop '90s but now? Zeppelin? Porcupine Tree could've been huge but were too close to the Floyd (Sky Moves Sideways) for too many experienced listeners. Those who were not so familiar with the Floyd found this era of P Tree to be brilliant (original). So environmental (zeitgeist) social conditioning is important but so is the pop and rock history.

I've known people who have no idea what rock music is (not just prog  - anything rock). To balance that whenever someone talks about mega country music names I have no idea who they are. Our own little worlds that do not collide.

Most bands have their audience but after a few years don't really get that may new ones if someone's been around a while. Same applies to anyone really. It's the nature of the beast.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SteveG Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2017 at 13:51
Originally posted by dr wu23 dr wu23 wrote:

I would think that the more commercial prog ones would sell better.....when I was in college....69-75 the ones people listened to were the more accessible ones.
Like Fragile by Yes. My God, Roundabout was sooo accessible it isn't funny.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote dr wu23 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2017 at 14:52
Originally posted by SteveG SteveG wrote:

Originally posted by dr wu23 dr wu23 wrote:

I would think that the more commercial prog ones would sell better.....when I was in college....69-75 the ones people listened to were the more accessible ones.
Like Fragile by Yes. My God, Roundabout was sooo accessible it isn't funny.

Yes....I really didn't see anyone listening to the more obscure and wilder stuff...it was mostly YEs, Tull, Elp, etc..
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ExittheLemming Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 11 2017 at 06:54
Contrary to conventional wisdom, people are not the supine malleable puppets they are routinely portrayed as on this website i.e. they buy what they like whether that is based upon 20 seconds of a track they stumble upon while stuck in traffic on their way to work or while eating lunch in a bistro/bar with a colleague etc. Inferior artists do try to 'cater to the public's taste', but consumers seldom do.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote M27Barney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 11 2017 at 07:29
Originally posted by Blacksword Blacksword wrote:

Originally posted by M27Barney M27Barney wrote:

Hm, I have a radiohead CD, played it once - it isn't symphonic/neo prog (or crossover either) I thought it was VERY commercial. no long tracks possibly put me off. probably juts me tho.....i'm a bit picky.


Which album do you have? Pablo Honey and The Bends are quite commercial, beyond that I think much of their music is really not radio friendly at all. You're probably not picky at all. You just know what you like and what you don't...
OK Computer - I think....
Play me my song.....Here it comes again.......
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 11 2017 at 09:00
Originally posted by paganinio paganinio wrote:

So I've been thinking about the best-selling prog bands in the 70s, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and others. While a lot of them have a "commercial" or "radio-friendly" sound, a lot of them do not.

I would suspect that there were far more "commercial sounding" and more accessible albums that didn't sell nearly as well.

Recently I just found that Trout Mask Replica was actually Captain Beefheart's  best selling album, with 750,000 copies sold worldwide.
...

I'm not sure this is a very good comparison at all.

In the early 70's, if you take Southern California (where I was), as an example, you will find that many of these bands occupied the FM radio band, which was still new, and not corporatized, as it became within the following 10 years.

That new band, and I have many examples from my own roommate (Space Pirate Radio thread on this board), was responsible for many things, up to and including things like DSOTM, that got played by the whole side (first side of LP mostly), and not just one song (like "Money"), and it blew out the other AM radio band in America. Add to it, that it was in STEREO, instead of the single band AM, and the quality was so new and attractive that many folks went to it. As another major example, FM radio also helped bands like The Allman Brothers Band get huge, because they did not play the short stuff that littered the AM band with "hits".

The fact that these early plays helped make gigantic bands of YES, GENESIS, PINK FLOYD, JETHRO TULL and so many others is not a surprise, and it helped usher in a new wave in music, which, sadly, became a sort of standard that we now call "progressive", but in general, was not exactly as progressive as the term would suggest and seem to indicate.

The "commercial" sound, became kinda known later in the 80's here in America, with the music established as "major" and not taking a backseat to the so-called "numbers" that Billboard supposedly was stating were the number one in the country, and obviously weren't, because they did not even allow for any of the large bands in the FM radio on their lists, and only a bit later would DSOTM and other great albums, would start being listed as huge sellers, of which even Michael Jackson was a part.

Captain Beefheart was a major part of the FM band, along with Frank Zappa, specially here in the West Coast. I can't speak for the NY side of things that tend to give you Ramones and Lou Reed, instead, and try to shove them off as progressive and experimental, when in reality they weren't. But, they, too, were a part of the FM set, although I am not sure the Ramones got a whole lot of airplay in Santa Barbara, as the 3 minute song, was one of the things that FM radio in those days was not interested in playing, unless it was satirical and funny to be added in the middle, which was something that many folks at KLOS and KMET (the LA biggies at the time -- RW's Radio Kaos is in a small way about the end of one of these, btw!) used in order to get reactions from their audience. Frank Zappa was in the same loop, until "Overnight Sensation" when he became one of the huge artists in his own right on the FM band.

None of these folks were getting played on the AM band, thus cutting down the effectiveness of the success of many artists in their sales, in both ways, but it meant the separation of the music styles from the 3 minute song to something longer and stronger, which the AM band NEVER has let go, and continues to make you think that those are the "public's choice" when in fact it is all manufactured crap. Witness by comparison the story of Virgin Records who one day decided to have their own top ten, and all of a sudden, their sales are doubled and tripled.

The so-called "public sentiment" is a joke because the minute you think that someone thought this or that, it gets changed and you look silly! The reality is, that most DJ's in the AM band were playing the "stickers" on songs (hits had one color, up and coming another, etc) and they had to play a certain number of songs in the hour, let's say 8 blues (hits), 4 greens (up and coming) and 2 reds (oldies and goodies) and that just left time for the commercials in between and not much DJ jabber. FM radio, was a bit more laid back, and even in Santa Barbara, you could find one hour with just 5 or 6 songs in that same hour, and commercials and some jabber ... which was to become the big thing later to make the FM radio sound and look more important with a much bigger dickie than you or I!

Today, for example, the Internet has taken the music out of the radio bands altogether, and our tastes are not always determined by those or by the media, or by ProgArchives, although it will help you go find music, that otherwise, in those days, you would never even hear in the FM radio band. The best and greatest example of this, was Guy Guden of Space Pirate Radio fame, who within a year already had listed so many different bands, specially from all over Europe, that it made FM radio sound small and picky and very clickish ... too much Led Zeppelin and The Who and Pink Floyd, so to speak!

The greatest fear of mine, is that we are not willing to let go of the top ten thinking and learn to listen to things on our own, not just because someone suggested. This, naturally, takes away your curiosity to find new things, and totally different things in other countries, and makes it all seem like the whole thing HAS TO BE either commercially successful, or simply accessible (sounding familiar to all of us ... how original!!!!! disco/rap all over again!), for you to be able to even give it a listen ... and I sincerely doubt that many of us here at PA are those kind of folks. We're so out there, and listen to so many things, that it is impossible to classify most of us, and in fact, for the past 20 years in "progressive" music, to consider anything "accessible" or "commercial successful", to me, basically means ... one is not listening to music whatsoever ... just looking for hits that sound like all the others!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SteveG Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 11 2017 at 09:37
^On the whole, I would agree with you. Zappa did not get a lot of air time in the east coast compared with the west coast, but that was subject to each different state on the east coast, running from Maine down to Florida, as well as North versus South California.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 11 2017 at 15:53
Originally posted by SteveG SteveG wrote:

^On the whole, I would agree with you. Zappa did not get a lot of air time in the east coast compared with the west coast, but that was subject to each different state on the east coast, running from Maine down to Florida, as well as North versus South California.

In many ways, AMERICA is more than one country, when you compare it to Europe, let's say. And this brings up different tastes all over the place. Today, we kinda look at Memphis, then the SE and then NY, and then Chicago, and then the West Coast, in terms of taste, but the rest of the country, is not even as aware of the different quantities (not quality -- quantities) of music out there that the Internet has brought out in the past 30 years. It's kinda different to hear some things from Memphis these days, and many of them even involve fusion, as well as progressive thinking in their work, and one has to appreciate that these influences do make it around, however, the 'commercial' extent of things is still in evidence, by the so-called choices of music as "Number One", and then the continuing idea that because something gets played, it means it is important, and the rest is NOT ... when in fact, there is probably just as much being played (even in those days) outside the commercial stations, as there was weird stuff in the college radio (great example in America!), and other smaller stations that stood out, but never got the credit they deserved (hint hint KNAC in LA, KTYD/KKOO in Santa Barbara and many others) for the incredibly adventurous ability they possessed, even if it was just one or two folks in the station doing so, and not the rest.

Again, my thoughts tend to lead towards, a lot of different things not being appreciated and heard, because of this "commercial" and "accessible" ideal ... the two things that hurt the ability of new music to enter into the your ears and mine ... all because we are too happy and de-sensitized inside our cuccoons to have the ability to go beyond the garbage that we are being fed as a "hit" ... instead of anything else. That is not to say that all "hits" are bad, but it is to say, that sometimes, people become completely unable to find anything new, because they can not look beyond something that they "recognize", which is a COPY, and not an original.

RADIO, has become, of all the arts, the least progressive of all of them. You can find experiments in painting, in literature, in music, in any of the arts ... but radio? It's dead, and needs to die, at least in the hands of the current generation, and that includes Sirius and the like giving us exactly the same thing, and sometimes even less variation than what could be expected, because it wants to cater to a special group of record companies to help them keep making money!

Even their list of "progressive" plays is a sick list ... that you and I can not listen to anymore after 30 minutes.

As Walt Kelly said once in his wonderful cartoon ... "we's met the enmy. It's us." And this is the case with all of us not fighting for the arts, and force it to cater to more than just the same old crap. Gads, I've even tried to get the Portland Symphony to do some Frank Zappa ... and their take was ... that can't be considered music!

And until we remove that generation and show everyone there is more, nothing will happen to show folks that talent, creativity, and the arts are much more than "commercial" and "accessible" ... two terms that in many way, are very hurtful to the whole of the audience in PA and their amazing and awesome tastes in music!

It's just weird. The further wwe try to develop and progress, the more we regress. Isn't something wrong with that equation?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 11 2017 at 20:19
I think if a prog band these days wants to be commercially successful it's ok for them to be commercial sounding as long as they don't sound like something from the seventies. That's why Porcupine Tree was much more successful than the Flower Kings. PT didn't sound like they were from the seventies when people starting to notice them and get into them in a big way. It was their metal influence that made them more popular. So yeah, a band doesn't have to try to sound commercial to be huge but usually that's the way it happens. 

There are exceptions though. Look at Radiohead. They had moderate success before they became more experimental but it was really their more experimental albums that got them the most attention. However, I don't think they(or other bands)can do more experimental or progressive albums and get away with it as easily if they didn't already build up a fanbase. Somehow Opeth got away with being less metal and more prog and I'd bet a lot of the older metal fans jumped ship. However, they probably got other fans along the way. So you just never really know what is going to tickle someone's fancy. 

I think if a band is doing what they want to do and is good at it usually people will take notice. Sometimes when a band does a more commercial album it flops. A good example of this would be Gentle Giant with Giant for a day. They just weren't very good at the commercial sound where as Genesis were not only able to get away with it but it brought them a much larger audience.


Edited by AFlowerKingCrimson - July 11 2017 at 20:21
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