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    Posted: October 21 2010 at 20:38
To what extent do pre-conceived notions, expectations and external non-musical variables affect our perceptions of, and our subsequent value judgements of - songs, albums, bands, and music in general?
 
I would expect most good prog fans to initially bristle at the implications of such a question.  After all, we are a fiercely independent breed!  We don't shift with every wind of change that comes from the fashion-conscious world of pop music!  We listen for *substance* and there are very legitimate reasons why we like the music that we do.
 
While I'm not disagreeing with any of those statements, please bear with me for just a moment to dig a little bit deeper - to see whether there might be just more to this question than immediately meets the eye - or the ear...
 
Speaking strictly from the viewpoint of my own personal introspection, over the years I've become increasingly convinced that some of my early impressions and perceptions of music can indeed vary - sometimes widely - based upon any number of different variables, some of which are not music related at all!  I must confess that this has been a bit of a surprising, even uncomfortable, personal revelation for me.  I have always considered myself to be a fair, open-minded and rather unpartial person.  (I still do.  Perhaps that is a contributing factor to why I am able to now come to the conclusion that extraneous variables are indeed very capable of coloring my first impressions and general perceptions?)
 
Although it is well documented that pre-conceived expectations do, in fact, affect subjective appraisals in any number of different situations, my feelings about music are experienced so deeply and so personally, that the notion of other variables significantly having affected my overall value judgements about an artist or an album (like whether I had a headache or not the night I first heard it) seemed very counter-intuitive to me.  But I now honestly do believe that to some extent external variables do factor in to the equation. 
 
Furthermore, once a first impressional "imprint" has been firmly planted in my mind, it becomes impossible for me to ever truly "hear" that item 100% free of the influence from that first listening session.  Sure, I can re-evaluate the item, but I will never be a truly "blank slate" for that song, album or artist ever again.
 
Certainly we can all agree that when an artist we've loved dearly for 10+ years comes out with a new album, we listen to it differently than we do to a promotional item from a brand new band? 
 
Or, which of us, if an artist is really nice and personally invites us backstage to their concert, does not then find themselves naturally listening to that artist's promotional album a little more attentively or open-mindedly than we would to the standard unsolicited items that arrive in our mailboxes daily?
 
If these variables do affect our perceptions, what might they be?  To what extent are we able to recognize them?  Or do they even matter? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote thellama73 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 21 2010 at 20:51
I'll admit that I go in for "weird music" a lot, mainly because I like it, but an ultra-limited edition or some really cool cover art/backstory/hipster cache sure don't hurt. A big part of my love of music is simply the "collecting" aspect of it, so having something unusual and interesting really makes me happy. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Slartibartfast Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 21 2010 at 21:20
For me it really is all about the music.  I don't seek the approval of others based on what I like to listen to or play.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Textbook Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 21 2010 at 21:30
I second Slarti. I'm quite cheerful about falling into line with others here about how wonderful Opeth or Jethro Tull or The Who are because they really are, and also railing against someone like Transatlantic that I find vomitous and despicable despite most people loving them. Or quietly championing stuff no one else seems to notice like Mansun's Six. Or perhaps the best example is my continual championing of hip-hop on a forum that is often openly hostile to it. It's all about whether it's good or not, nothing else.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote himtroy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 01:39
I don't really feel like I seek the approval of others in any way.  i listened to prog for a long time before realising I was listening to "prog rock".  So I didn't really have some pre-conceived notion of prog rock or anything when discovering and choosing it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 16:35
Perhaps I should clarify.  Social conformity and peer pressure are not the factors I'm alluding to.  I would not at all expect very many proggers to generally fall into line with others musically. I would not expect them feel a strong desire for the approval of others when it comes to what music they like.  If anything, I would expect them to have a little bit of "maverick" in them.  I would expect them to enjoy and sometimes even take some measure of pride in how they are a little different from others when it comes to music.
 
The tangential factors which I'm alluding to are more like the following one...    How much does an album cover change the way we hear the music on the album (if any)?  There are many others, but here is one example.  Perhaps this is a good place to start:
 
For example, although cover-art is clearly not an element of music, I can honestly say that I have given albums a chance based solely upon their cover art.  Some such (ill advised?) ventures have even resulted in great discoveries! 
 
I remember, however, buying a mid 1970's album based upon cover art which reminded me somewhat of Return to Forever's "Romantic Warrior".  Surprisingly, the album turned out to be more of a folksy / bluegrass musical affair!!  (Often the notes on the back of an album reveal the instrumentation, but even then it can get tricky sometimes...)  Needless to say, I was not particularly pleased with the album.
 
Looking back on it, however, the album was not really quite all "that bad" - if taken as a folksy bluegrass type of effort.  Had I expected a folksy bluegrass record, I may have even been somewhat pleased by it.  But I didn't expect that type record and I really was NOT pleased with it!  To some extent, my expectations had been formed based upon its packaging "set me up" to have a bad listening experience.  
 
What would motivate a record company to advertise a folksy instrumental band with a medieval knight in really decked out shining armor?  Perhaps I'm missing a core element of the folksy crowd as a target market? 
 
Once again, this particular example had nothing to do with me wanting to "fit in" or to "be like" someone else.  It had everything to do with how a "non-music" factor contributed to a pre-conceived expectation for the music, ultimately resulting in me having a *bad* listening experience when - in retrospect - I think the record did have some redeeming qualities.
 
There are many non-music factors that I honestly believe exert at least some measure of sub-concious influence upon how we perceive music.  But I realize that that way we hear and experience music is so personal and often results in such a strong imprint within our psyche, that it is hard for us to objectively entertain the idea of "non-musical" variables having factored into the equation along the way.  The entire notion will, by its very nature, be more than a bit counter-intuitive to many of us, so the thread may not get much immediate traction.
 
Perhaps cover art surprises would be an easier place to start?


Edited by progpositivity - October 22 2010 at 17:06
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dean Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 17:01
I get where you are coming from, and to a degree, I can agree with what you are saying. Mood and emotion determine how we receive a piece of music and mood and emotion can be determined by a myriad of external factors both physical and mental. While music can alter your mood, you have to be receptive to it to begin with, or at least prepared to meet it half-way or it will make you "worse" or (eek!) have no effect at all. Cover art can do that - I've Pure Reasons Revolution's Hammer and Anvil sat on my desk as I type - it's been there all day, unplayed since it arrived in the post. I want to hear it, but I don't like the cover - it's bleak and austere and today was a bright sunny day - the music could be the brightest, sunniest music that could have been the perfect soundtrack to this afternoon, but I don't know that, (I've not read the reviews, if you don't want to know the score, look away now), the cover says not - the cover says wait for a dull rainy day - I can't imagine a million bright ambassadors of morning will be wafting from my speakers when I do finally get to play it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 17:32
Yes, Dean - that is very much in line with where I'm coming from...  I'll be interested in what the CD actually sounds like to you when you do get to it.  (Of course, the Hawthorne Effect comes into play somewhat at this point.  Now that we have talked about it, even this conversation may impact the way in which you approach or experience that CD.  Then again perhaps I'm over-estimating the impact of non-musical variables...)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 17:33

When I was music director at a College FM Rock Radio station (way back in the dark ages before playlists were totally pre-programmed into computers and I could allow the station DJ’s at least some latitude to select a few of the songs they played), one of my responsibilities was – nonetheless - to go through the plethora of promotional records which were sent to us by bands and labels in order to determine which ones might be of interest to our listenership and thus worthy of me issuing the “you must play this” edict, placing it  into what is probably most easily described as either "heavy", "medium" or "light" rotation on the stations schedule.  

On days in which I only had only a couple of albums to check out - and had few other pressing responsibilities to attend to – some of these albums got a very high quality audition. On days in which I had a mountain of discs to review, however, each album received far less "grace". In the extreme, I remember dropping the needle on records by "unknown artists" and if the first song on the first side of the album not make an immediate impression upon me within 15 to 30 seconds, that was "all she wrote" for that album. Sometimes I gave another song on the album a chance.  Often, I moved on to the next disc.

This may sound callous, even appallingly smug or elitist to many independent artists out there but such were the real-life constraints in which I existed.  I also had on-air news responsibilities, DJ’s not showing up for their shifts, promos to cut, etc…  Besides, I can assure you that I probably gave those albums a more attentive “chance” to “wow” me than many other Music Directors.  At some stations, if an artist wasn’t already “hot” on the College Music Journal charts, they didn’t get a chance at all!  At other stations, they were so “free form” that they basically fell into a stack of oblivion, only noticed if one of the DJ’s was particularly motivated and interested in new promos.

Some of the smaller record labels would hire what sounded like college age girls to call Music Directors at radio stations so they could attempt to talk us into playing certain new albums from new bands. (Perhaps they were actually 62 years of age and weighted 370 pounds but they sounded cute and even managed to sound like they thought the Music Director was such a hip and cool guy…). Anyway, I'm proud to report that despite how cute the caller sounded and no matter how flirty or funny she was, she did not talk me into adding a band which I had already determined not to play to our rotation...

Even so, if the stack was 40 high on my desk and she was on the phone asking me what I thought about it, I would put it at the top of the stack...  It would get a more attentive audition.  And – there are no two ways about it in my mind.  A more attentive listen gives music a much better chance to make an impression. 

So I guess the non-music factors affecting my perception in this example were:  1) How busy or stressed out I was, 2) The quantity of competing albums in my ‘queue’, and 3) the probably overweight chick who sounded really cute over the telephone trying to leverage my oversized DJ ego to (sometimes successfully) get me to pay more attention to the small label’s promo.



Edited by progpositivity - October 22 2010 at 17:41
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Catcher10 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 17:54
I too get where you are coming from......for me visual was/still is huge for me. I so rermember back in the day at Tower Records, flipping thru vinyl bins for HOURS....then bingo something on an album cover or the title just struc me and I would buy it, not ever hearing a review. Actually when I was younger I don't think I even cared or knew what reviews were. Sure I bought the metal mags and rock mags and read them cover to cover, but I didn't feel like I was reading a "review".
There are so many albums I bought and had never heard one track, of course most of it was obscure but a lot of it was just new releases that had never been played on FM radio yet.
 
I am one who pays very little attention to the reviews here, not from a bad way, but just because I still feel like I want the new experience of a fresh listen.
 
I guess to me this is my non-musical variable......hope this makes sense, cause I get what you are trying to say.
 


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ExittheLemming Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 18:26
It's an interesting idea certainly but I suspect that the heart of the matter is our fear of feeling dissolving into fact (a potted description of our schizoid construction) and a realisation that never sits comfortably with the humanoid critter i.e. that complete 'objectivity' is our pet delusion

I've been saying this for a long time (so stop me if you've heard this one beforeEmbarrassed) but when we describe any phenomenon we learn more about the observer than the observed. Read any review for an album on this site and you will learn more about the listener than the heard.

Some replies have stated that visual stimulus is important in colouring our perceptions and I think this is very true e.g. is there some element in say, a PA member's avatar that very subtly fashions our responses?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 19:03
Thanks Catcher10.  It is probably "just as well" that you didn't pay any attention to those reviews.  I think I paid "too much" attention to them. I really let them bother me when I was a teenager. The rock press especially seemed to disdain Rush during their proggier phase in the 1970's. 

Edited by progpositivity - October 22 2010 at 19:06
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 22 2010 at 19:14
More "non-musical" factors that have affected my perceptions of music:
 
Looking back on my teenage years, I went to a ton of concerts.  At many of them I heard new bands warming up.  I didn't always buy an album by the back-up band but I often did.  Clearly the musical performance of the backup band was a factor.  After all, I didn't blindly rush out to automatically buy albums by every single back-up band I saw in concert. 
 
Even so, looking back on it, I think the mere act of seeing them perform "live" made me much more likely to go out and buy their album.  As much as I love music, if I really try to look at it objectively, this was not entirely a musical matter.  A lot of my tendency to go buy that bands album - even to become a "fan" of that band - had to do with the fun atmosphere, the great light show, etc.  Buying the album helped me more vividly remember not only their musical performance - but also the entire package of having attended their show. 
 
Beyond that, sometimes I even developed a sympathetic kind of (illusory of course) affiliation with this younger new backup band.  I felt like I kind of "knew" them just from having attended their concert and ended up wanted to support many of them.  (These were large venues before my days of actually meeting and interviewing bands - so there really was not any personal connection with the musicians - just a subjective affinity from having seen them perform...)
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 24 2010 at 00:31
Growing up on music that was in substance, viz, in terms of the quality of vocal melodies or chord progressions or instrumentation in general, great but accompanied by cliched 'romantic' lyrics and awkward visuals (I am talking about Indian film music), I have been conditioned out of paying much attention to either the visual aspect or lyrics.  It's not that I won't appreciate good lyrics or good artwork but if the music speaks to me, I don't care about these things.  It is very difficult to explain why this works for me unless you are in the same boat but when there are a million things going on musically like in a good Gentle Giant album Wink, it is difficult for me to stop focusing on that and pay attention to the lyrics. 

I think conditioning, the kind of music you have been exposed to play a very big role in how you perceive music and what kind of emotions you like.  A lot of pop listeners cannot take rock/metal energy and fire, while some rock listeners can be dismissive of 'mellow' music (which these days seems to be anything played on acoustic or even non-distorted electric). For me, whether the band is commercial or not, whether the GENRE is commercial, whether the themes are anti-social or romantic don't matter because none of these things improve or decrease my liking for the music. If the music is not good, how anti social it is or what kind of cultural impact it had/has on society at large will not get me to like it.   I also don't particularly lean to one kind of emotions because I am more interested in how well the artist is able to render the given emotions.  There will be some element of partiality towards spirituality and pathos for me, but some element of partiality or preference is inevitable and even desirable, as long as you don't get obsessive about it. After all, music is listened to to derive pleasure from unless you are working on some academic music research. Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AtomicCrimsonRush Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 24 2010 at 07:06
Music first and foremost
 
 
 
then lyrics
 
 
then conceptual framework
 
then band reputation
 
then album content and covers
 
then overall style and atmoshere
 
 
thats how i judge bands usually
 
 
tho it varies considerably
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rogerthat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 24 2010 at 07:07
Originally posted by AtomicCrimsonRush AtomicCrimsonRush wrote:

 
then overall style and atmoshere


Have I misunderstood you here for I would think overall style is part of 'music'?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote thehallway Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2010 at 12:01
Originally posted by progpositivity progpositivity wrote:

 
The tangential factors which I'm alluding to are more like the following one...    How much does an album cover change the way we hear the music on the album (if any)?  There are many others, but here is one example.  Perhaps this is a good place to start:
 
 
The answer to this question is always always always yes, for anyone, not just myself (unless you haven't actually seen the artwork of course LOL). It's not in our hands either; we can make a concious attempt to ignore the artwork when thinking about and evaluating the music, but any success this generates is likely to be in our mind only. See, the eyes and ears are so closely linked, and it is almost impossible not to have something visual in your brain when listening to music, not necessarily a picture, it could just be a generation of colour or shapes, and it might be so deep that you don't even know it's there. In some cases, I personally see the album cover itself, very clearly ('Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Lark's Tongues in Aspic' being good examples). Sometimes I see general colour schemes (Yes's 'Relayer' has many browny-grey moments, certainly a result of the album cover). Sometimes I see nothing in particular, but if I was asked to repesent a certain song with a colour, could easily do so.
 
So in answer to your question, the artwork plays a big part in your experience of music, although it probably doesn't add or take away from the actual quality. But potentially, certain colours may alter the mood or sound of the songs. I see 'Wish You Were Here' as being very well-produced and clean, but could that be an illusion created by the fact that the artwork is mostly white? And do I dislike 'Love Beach' more than I should, purely because of that cringeworthy front image? Maybe 'Close to the Edge' is so successful because it is a mere block of green, forcing thoughts of a tropical and rich nature (imagine if it was red fading into black, and how different the music would seem).
 
I hope my rambling makes some kind of sense; if this psychological effect had a name I could research it!


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2010 at 18:07
To what extent are we really aware of the variety of factors affecting our responses to the music that we hear? 
 
Is it possible that a perceived negative (or positive) quality about a prog band or artist can color our judgements of other, totally unrelated attributes of that same artist?  If so, how "self-aware" would we tend to be about this phenomenon as it was happening?
 
I suggest that not only is it possible that a perceived negative (or positive) quality about a prog band or artist can color our judgements of other, totally unrelated attributes of that same artist.  It is highly probable.  And we often could be very unaware of the extent to which this happens every day!
 
Example #1
 
If I intensely dislike the maudelin singing style of a band's vocalist, I may become more likely to start perceiving the overall quality of the band's songwriting as inferior.  I may begin to notice little imperfections in the performances that I would not have noticed - or at least would have easily forgiven without a second thought - had they happened on another artist's CD.  As a result, an unintentional measure of inconsistency is introduced into my evaluation process - one which I may not even be aware of. 
 
If, in fact, this is true, it is not until I recognize this tendency in myself, that I can truly begin to make a more objective judgement across the board.
 
Example #2
 
I could dislike a band's guitar tone so much that I start perceiving the overall production value of their debut album to be less impressive.  In actuality, the mixing, the recording and the drum tone could all be above average.  But if the guitarist insisted upon having a certain tone that just didn't sit right at all with me, and then if the keyboard patches were some of the cheesiest I'd ever heard in my life, this could place me in a frame of mind to be irritated by other unrelated elements of the music.  For example, I may start to question production choices that I never would have questioned had the guitar tone and keyboard patches been more pleasant to me.
 
What I am suggesting is that there may be any number of factors capable of affecting our judgements, some of which we may not conciously notice without some deeper self reflection.  
 
Sure, we think we know why we like or dislike certain things.  Sometimes we are correct in our self-assessments.  Quite often we are only partially correct.  Oddly enough, sometimes we are even wrong!
 
Before dismissing this notion outright, I encourage you to check out Richard E. Nisbett's interesting (and now classic!) research on "Unconscious Alteration of Judgments".  (I realize that The Halo Effect is well documented - so this is certainly "old news" to some of you.)  Even so, I find this fascinating and think it might be of some interest to others as well.


Edited by progpositivity - October 28 2010 at 18:15
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2010 at 18:28
Here is some information on Nisbett's "Unconscious Alteration of Judgments".   
 
Two groups of college students viewed an interview video of the same college instructor. This college instructor spoke English with a European accent. 

The first group of college studends saw a video in which the instructor behaved in a warm and friendly manner.  The second group saw a video that contained the same in content, however, in their video the instructor behaved in a cold and distant maner.  Both groups (independent of one another of course) were asked to rate the instructor's appearance and his accent.

The first group rated both the instructor's appearance and his accent as appealing
The second group rated both the instructor's appearance and his accent as irritating.
 
Since the instructor's appearance and accent were identical for both groups, it is reasonable to conclude that the instructors "warm and friendly" or "cold and distant" mannerisms were actually what affected the different groups variance in judgement of his appearance and of his speaking accent.  
 
But there is much more to this than the mere fact that, if everything else is equal, whenever we meet someone who behaves in a "cold and distant" manner, we tend to rate other characteristics of that person more harshly than we would otherwise.
 
To me, the most interesting part of the study is that, when asked, group two reported that they did not believe their ratings of the instructors appearance and of his speaking accent had been affected by external variables.  On the contrary, group two asserted that it was because of the instructor's personal appearance and his speaking accent that they tended dislike him overall. 
 
The evidence, of cousre, indicated otherwise.  Group #1 saw the same instructor, with the same appearance, and the same speaking accent.  The only difference was that Group #1 saw the instructor acting "warm and friendly".  They rated the instructor's speaking accent and appearance favorably. 
 
The evidence supports the idea that - in fact - it was group 2's perception of the instructor's cold and distant manner which had influenced them to react differently to both the instructor's appearance and speaking accent. 
 
This implies that Group 2 had, in effect, misunderstood the "cause and effect" of their own value judgement!  
 
Very interesting research IMO.
 
For more info, see:  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1977, Vol 35, No. 4, 250-256.  The Halo Effect: Evidence for Unconscious Alteration of Judgments by Richard E. Nisbett and Timothy DeCamp Wilson - University of Michigan


Edited by progpositivity - October 28 2010 at 18:35
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progpositivity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 28 2010 at 19:20
Thanks for your observations "thehallway"!
 
I too have always considered 'Wish You Were Here' to be very well-produced and clean.  Certainly there is some objective validity to this.  But to what extent does the pristine white color of the album cover also contribute to that perception? 
 
I personally believe that "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman" and "Canario" are not bad pieces of music!  But by the time a prog fan has endured the first 5 tracks, they are understandably a bit incredulous and weary.  And so, not only the cover art and album title conspire against it, so does the running order of the album.
 
What if the title had been...
 
ELP - Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman
 
What if the running order had been...
 
The entirety of Side One = Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman.  Side Two starts with Canario and the rest of the filler was tucked away at the end of side two... Might those songs have more easily been viewed as nothing more than curiously ill-advised dalliances into pop-rock?
 
And finally, what if the band had acted as though they had really believed in the album instead of treating it like the "contractual obligation" that it was?
 
Of course, we will never know - but it is a great question!


Edited by progpositivity - October 28 2010 at 19:24
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