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Is prog still an underground genre?

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AFlowerKingCrimson View Drop Down
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    Posted: June 02 2018 at 17:41
I got into prog in the eighties when it was very much in hibernation at least as far as commercial visibility is concerned. Towards the end of that decade I gradually discovered more and more lesser known bands culminating in my discovery of the prog underground via newsletters and prog cd catalogs(most notably the fledgling laser's edge which is now one of the most respected online prog vendors). Even before the internet it was evident to me this genre wasn't going anywhere and was still very much alive. Then when the world wide web made prog more visible to maybe those who weren't on newsletter or prog catalog mailing lists it was clear that there was no turning back. I actually took a break from prog in the mid nineties when in college. However, it was there I first heard about newsgroups. This was around 1996. A few years later I joined the most well known for prog which was called r.m.p(recordings music progressive). This soon gave way to the website progressive ears(a sort of sister site to prog archives) which started around 2001 or so(PE actually started out as a yahoo group if I'm not mistaken). 

In the 90's especially it's pretty obvious that although it was growing prog was very much an underground genre much the same way it was in the 80's (especially in the US). In fact as far as the over all general music climate is concerned there is no significant difference in popularity between prog in the eighties and prog in the nineties despite what some prog fans will have you believe. Sure, prog was growing in the nineties in no small part because of the internet but it was still largely(if not entirely) an underground genre with no mainstream exposure and no albums universally labelled prog(other than the seventies icons)to release albums to make the music charts.

In the mid 2000's(around 2005)all of a sudden you had albums by Porcupine Tree and the Mars Volta making the charts as well as fringe bands such as Muse gaining popularity. This along with other factors such as some exposure outside of prog circles led to the an increase in prog's visibility and inevitably it's over all popularity as well. This brings us to where we are now. So because of the many prog fans that now identify themselves as such online(not just on this site but also facebook and other social media sites such as reddit)can we still call prog an underground genre? 

My answer is yes I believe it still is. However, it's not nearly as underground as it was 15,20 or even just ten years ago. It has grown a lot and would not be where it is today if not for the internet and the various enclaves within it. Sure, artists like Steven Wilson or Opeth will ocassionallly pop into the charts and attract a wider audience but for the most part prog is still mostly unknown by the larger music audience. Those really into music and investigate it beyond the well known will inevitably at least know about prog but they do not represent the average music listener. So yes it's still underground but no longer deep underground.


Edited by AFlowerKingCrimson - June 02 2018 at 17:58
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Atavachron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 18:08
It's a good question, probably the most interesting topic we've had around here in a while.  

Because of technology and the cultural shifts that have occurred over the past twenty years or so, nothing is really 'underground' anymore to the extent that everything is accessible and available to anyone who cares.   If enough people decide they like something, it becomes...'popular'(?).   But even the unpopular things can still have a voice and a space, so the context surrounding what is underground vs. overground is less discernible.   Which is a good thing, I think.   In other words, no one really cares anymore what the person next to them enjoys, and that's the way it should be.  

As for prog--  yeah, I can't seeing it being any more overground than it currently is, which is to say demographically it is no more or less underground than it has ever been.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Dark Elf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 18:57
Prog was "underground" for perhaps the first couple of years after the release of In the Court of the Crimson King, but from 1971-1979 you had multi-platinum albums from Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Rush, ELO, Kansas and Supertramp, and gold albums from ELP, Mike Oldfield, Frank Zappa and The Moody Blues. 

In that time period you also had major rock bands who weren't necessarily into "prog" by definition playing decidedly prog compositions: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen and Santana, as well as jazz taking a decided rock sound with the fusion movement led by Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny and Billy Cobham.

Even second-tier bands like Camel, Caravan, PFM, Renaissance, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Strawbs, Nektar, Amon Duul II, Van der Graaf Generator and a long list of Canterbury collectives had decent careers during that era. Not to mention Can, Tangerine Dream, Gong, Faust, Kraftwerk and the Krautrock crowd.

If anything, the golden age passed and the genre has regressed into the back alley. Marillion had platinum albums in Britain during the 80s, Yes and Rush continued to sell well, Tull had a couple gold albums in the 80s, and a couple Dream Theater and Mars Volta albums went gold in the 1990s and early 2000s. Steven Wilson isn't really even a big selling performer in relation to the folks he emulated in the 1970s.

It's a fringe niche now, really. Rock in general is fading from the market.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mbzr48 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 20:04
Even second-tier bands like Camel, Caravan, PFM, Renaissance, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Strawbs, Nektar, Amon Duul II, Van der Graaf Generator and a long list of Canterbury collectives had decent careers during that era. Not to mention Can, Tangerine Dream, Gong, Faust, Kraftwerk and the Krautrock crowd". WHAT??? you call those bands "second-tier"Disapprove even if we would argue about it, Camel, Banco, VDGG & Tangerine can't be in this list IMHO
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 20:16
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Just look at Rate Your Music's top 5000 list. Just in the top 100 are 16 albums that are considered prog on PA. This is a site that rates ALL music. True the classics are still the most popular but they are more popular than EVER! So NOOOOOOO prog is mainstream.

2The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd
philosophical, atmospheric, mellow, introspective, existential



27Animals
Pink Floyd
Animals (1977)
political, philosophical, pessimistic, sarcastic, concept album
38Red
King Crimson
Red (1974)
anxious, uncommon time signatures, dark, heavy, technical
62Bitches Brew
Miles Davis
Bitches Brew (1970)
instrumental, psychedelic, complex, improvisation, surreal
64Tago Mago
Can
Tago Mago (1971)
psychedelic, surreal, hypnotic, improvisation, rhythmic
68Close to the Edge
Yes
epic, uplifting, complex, technical, fantasy
76Meddle
Pink Floyd
Meddle (1971)
mellow, psychedelic, atmospheric, mysterious, surreal
80Hot Rats
Frank Zappa
Hot Rats (1969)
complex, playful, energetic, technical, instrumental
86Spirit of Eden
Talk Talk
atmospheric, passionate, religious, peaceful, introspective
89Laughing Stock
Talk Talk
atmospheric, sombre, improvisation, religious, introspective
90Future Days
Can
Future Days (1973)
warm, hypnotic, atmospheric, mellow, rhythmic


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Dark Elf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 20:17
Originally posted by mbzr48 mbzr48 wrote:

Even second-tier bands like Camel, Caravan, PFM, Renaissance, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Strawbs, Nektar, Amon Duul II, Van der Graaf Generator and a long list of Canterbury collectives had decent careers during that era. Not to mention Can, Tangerine Dream, Gong, Faust, Kraftwerk and the Krautrock crowd". WHAT??? you call those bands "second-tier"Disapprove even if we would argue about it, Camel, Banco, VDGG & Tangerine can't be in this list IMHO

The original poster was referring to "prog" as an underground genre. I was pointing out that, at least in the 1970s, prog was not an underground style of music; on the contrary, many bands were major arena/stadium draws and sold gold and platinum albums on both sides of the pond.

The "second tier" designation refers to the simple fact that the bands referenced sold more albums to relatives (likely out of parental or filial guilt) than to the record-buying public. Even so, the bands had nice careers in that time period, even if they often appeared as second on the bill. I should also note that I referred to the krautrock scene in a separate sentence, noting the popularity of different styles of alleged prog.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 20:41
Rate your music is a pretty small niche within the music community(if there is such a thing). There's a lot of prog fans on the Hoffman forums too but it doesn't mean either of them represent the larger music listening audience. I don't believe either of those sites has any more members than are on here and not even all RYM members are even prog fans.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 20:46
Originally posted by The Dark Elf The Dark Elf wrote:

Originally posted by mbzr48 mbzr48 wrote:

Even second-tier bands like Camel, Caravan, PFM, Renaissance, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Strawbs, Nektar, Amon Duul II, Van der Graaf Generator and a long list of Canterbury collectives had decent careers during that era. Not to mention Can, Tangerine Dream, Gong, Faust, Kraftwerk and the Krautrock crowd". WHAT??? you call those bands "second-tier"Disapprove even if we would argue about it, Camel, Banco, VDGG & Tangerine can't be in this list IMHO

The original poster was referring to "prog" as an underground genre. I was pointing out that, at least in the 1970s, prog was not an underground style of music; on the contrary, many bands were major arena/stadium draws and sold gold and platinum albums on both sides of the pond.

The "second tier" designation refers to the simple fact that the bands referenced sold more albums to relatives (likely out of parental or filial guilt) than to the record-buying public. Even so, the bands had nice careers in that time period, even if they often appeared as second on the bill. I should also note that I referred to the krautrock scene in a separate sentence, noting the popularity of different styles of alleged prog.

I would argue that it was even mostly underground in the seventies aside from a few bands(Yes, ELP, JT, Pink Floyd and possibly Genesis(who really weren't that big until the eighties). So even if prog was mainstream from say 71-77, it seems to me that after 78 or so prog became underground and it stayed there for a while. THe million dollar question is is it still underground? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Dark Elf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 21:26
Originally posted by AFlowerKingCrimson AFlowerKingCrimson wrote:

Originally posted by The Dark Elf The Dark Elf wrote:

Originally posted by mbzr48 mbzr48 wrote:

Even second-tier bands like Camel, Caravan, PFM, Renaissance, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Strawbs, Nektar, Amon Duul II, Van der Graaf Generator and a long list of Canterbury collectives had decent careers during that era. Not to mention Can, Tangerine Dream, Gong, Faust, Kraftwerk and the Krautrock crowd". WHAT??? you call those bands "second-tier"Disapprove even if we would argue about it, Camel, Banco, VDGG & Tangerine can't be in this list IMHO

The original poster was referring to "prog" as an underground genre. I was pointing out that, at least in the 1970s, prog was not an underground style of music; on the contrary, many bands were major arena/stadium draws and sold gold and platinum albums on both sides of the pond.

The "second tier" designation refers to the simple fact that the bands referenced sold more albums to relatives (likely out of parental or filial guilt) than to the record-buying public. Even so, the bands had nice careers in that time period, even if they often appeared as second on the bill. I should also note that I referred to the krautrock scene in a separate sentence, noting the popularity of different styles of alleged prog.

I would argue that it was even mostly underground in the seventies aside from a few bands(Yes, ELP, JT, Pink Floyd and possibly Genesis(who really weren't that big until the eighties). So even if prog was mainstream from say 71-77, it seems to me that after 78 or so prog became underground and it stayed there for a while. THe million dollar question is is it still underground? 

I rattled off numerous prog bands that had gold and platinum albums in the 70s (and everything Genesis released went gold in the States from Selling England by the Pound onward, and their first platinum was And Then There Were Three -- it's not like they were "underground" in Britain, France or the States from '74 onward), and I also indicated several non-prog bands like The Who and Zeppelin suddenly started coming out with very prog songs. Even Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath got proggy for a minute.

Prog was an actual "thing" at the time, and the difficulty of the songs, requiring elite instrumental mastery, lengthy compositions and at least a passing knowledge of classical or jazz music led to the inevitable backlash of the devolved and simplistic Punk movement by the mid 70s (helped along by the music industry and NY and London t**t critics). But it's not like Prog suddenly disappeared. I went to numerous sold out prog concerts at major venues in the late 70s (Floyd, Tull, Genesis and Yes).

P.S. I guess what I am saying is that "prog" was an acceptable part of the average rock fans diet in the 70s. Experimentation, as evidenced by the rise and popularity of jazz-fusion or the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead playing 10 or 20 minute long improvisations was part of the listening process. 

It's the reason why a Yes album with 3 songs goes multi-platinum, or Tull's Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play can go to #1 in the States, or that Queen can release the 6 minute long "Bohemian Rhapsody" and sell a million singles, or Led Zeppelin had fans drooling over the 7 minute long "No Quarter" or the 8:37 long "Kashmir". Hell, even "Stairway to Heaven" was over 8 minutes long and you'd hear it on the radio nearly every day. I remember even a 12 minute long song like Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" got enough airplay to be voted to a Top 100 songs list by listeners for several years on FM Stations in Detroit.


Edited by The Dark Elf - June 02 2018 at 21:56
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mortte Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 22:44
As Dark Elf has already said in many posts, I think it will be ridiculous to say prog underground specially in the begin of the seventies in UK. It was very popular that time there even all the progbands didn´t became million sellers (I believe there hasn´t been any genre in popular culture where every band become million sellers). Anyway Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, Camel, Jethro Tull, ELP, Moody Blues, Hawkwind and also King Crimson in some albums were top of the charts that time. Also, even Can has one hit in the seventies.

In Finland there was a period from 1995-2002 when prog was more popular than in Finland at the seventies. Some progalbums of made then were in the Finnish charts. But at the moment, in Finland and in the world I think prog is underground. No progalbums has been in the charts in many years as far as I know, really you can´t hear any prog in the radios (except this day when I am going to play it into my show).
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 22:54
Originally posted by AFlowerKingCrimson AFlowerKingCrimson wrote:

Rate your music is a pretty small niche within the music community(if there is such a thing). There's a lot of prog fans on the Hoffman forums too but it doesn't mean either of them represent the larger music listening audience. I don't believe either of those sites has any more members than are on here and not even all RYM members are even prog fans.

RYM is much larger. Just look at the numbers. 

PA's #1 is Close To The Edge with 4104 ratings.

RYM has 13,286 ratings for it. RYM is much more popular and if you scan the entire charts and count the number of prog albums, it's quite large.

Prog is mainstream. Everyone has heard of the biggest bands within it. Have you ever met one person who hasn't heard of Crimson, Floyd, Tull, Yes, etc? I haven't.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mortte Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 02 2018 at 23:03
Most of the mates in my working place haven`t ever heard Crimson, Tull, Yes and not even Genesis (I took Genesis s/t cassette to our working places car and two others in that haven´t ever heard that, well those were born in the nineties & 2000, the older people probably know eighties Genesis). On the other hand everybody seems to know Pink Floyd, but not knowing it as a progband.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 03 2018 at 06:12
Hmmm. I can only talk about my experience. Since prog started out in England perhaps the genre is much more popular in English speaking countries. I have heard people say they love bands like Tull and Yes but didn't even know what the term progressive rock meant. I would still say it's become much more popular due to the internet exposure of bands once forgotten. But i could also apply that statement to all forms of underground music as well :)

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 03 2018 at 07:10
[(and everything Genesis released went gold in the States from Selling England by the Pound onward, and their first platinum was And Then There Were Three -- ]

Actually, technically speaking that's not true. "And then there were three" was their first gold album but it didn't go platinum until 1988. All the albums from Abacab to Invisible Touch went platinum before it. Also, none of their seventies albums except for ATTWT went gold until 1990. I'm not sure when they stopped being a cult band because I'm not old enough to really know for sure(plus it's difficult to measure). However, my guess would be when they started to play arenas and that didn't happen until the late seventies just as Steve Hackett left the band. It seems they didn't get really huge until the eighties though. I would say they surpassed Yes's popularity by the time they  released Abacab. If there's a space between cult and mainstream success I'm sure Genesis occupied it as far as that time period in the seventies right before punk came along. 


Edited by AFlowerKingCrimson - June 03 2018 at 07:25
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 03 2018 at 09:56
[Have you ever met one person who hasn't heard of Crimson, Floyd, Tull, Yes, etc? I haven't.]

Yes, sometime last year I talked to a guy who seemed to be a fan of Yes but never heard of King Crimson. I thought that was odd too especially since he was probably around 55 years old. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Dark Elf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 03 2018 at 20:30
Originally posted by AFlowerKingCrimson AFlowerKingCrimson wrote:

[(and everything Genesis released went gold in the States from Selling England by the Pound onward, and their first platinum was And Then There Were Three -- ]

Actually, technically speaking that's not true. "And then there were three" was their first gold album but it didn't go platinum until 1988. All the albums from Abacab to Invisible Touch went platinum before it. Also, none of their seventies albums except for ATTWT went gold until 1990. I'm not sure when they stopped being a cult band because I'm not old enough to really know for sure(plus it's difficult to measure). However, my guess would be when they started to play arenas and that didn't happen until the late seventies just as Steve Hackett left the band. It seems they didn't get really huge until the eighties though. I would say they surpassed Yes's popularity by the time they  released Abacab. If there's a space between cult and mainstream success I'm sure Genesis occupied it as far as that time period in the seventies right before punk came along. 

All I'll add is that if teenagers in suburban Detroit were buying The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Trick of the Tail as soon as they were released, it's likely they were no longer a cult band.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 03 2018 at 21:15
^Not a good argument. Suburban teens are often the first to buy underground or cult albums. A better argument for those two not being cult is that they both made the top fifty in billboard charts. Even so I would argue they are cult albums but so are relayer, larks tongues in aspic and 2112. However, if Genesis weren't a cult band at that time then neither were Gentle Giant because GG were playing the same sized venues. 

Edited by AFlowerKingCrimson - June 03 2018 at 21:17
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Lewian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 04 2018 at 12:57
From my experience, Pink Floyd is a household name, as is Genesis. KC, Yes, ELP and Tull are known by people who are properly interested in music, which is a minority. Probably not even by all those.
But then I have no idea what constitutes "Underground"; this may not be that helpful a category. Despite what I just wrote, there are loads of complete genres that are even less well known than any of the prog "big 6".
In 2016 Sigur Ros headlined the Citadel festival in London. This was acknowledged as a bold choice, and the festival isn't the biggest there is, but still.
Then I don't even think that the whole of what we call "Prog" qualifies as a single genre, but that's another issue.
I have no idea.

By the way, why is it that threads come up in this forum so often in a random place? How on earth is this a "blog"? Why on the other hand do bands that nobody knows regularly announce their new music in the Lounge, which I'd have thought is for general topics? Etc.


Edited by Lewian - June 04 2018 at 13:14
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 04 2018 at 16:26
[From my experience, Pink Floyd is a household name, as is Genesis. KC, Yes, ELP and Tull are known by people who are properly interested in music, which is a minority. Probably not even by all those. ]

Unless we are counting only pop music fans I don't think Genesis are more of a household name these days than Rush(who you didn't mention). With the possible exception of KC I think most classic rock fans know the others you mentioned. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AFlowerKingCrimson Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 04 2018 at 23:15
[How on earth is this a "blog"?]

It's an editorial rant known in the digital age as a blog. Wink The question is hypothetical since I already have my opinion but wanted to share it and allow others to chime in as well(hence the option to respond). 
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