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Prog Goes Punk

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    Posted: March 05 2013 at 00:56
Hello,
Haven't posted here in years, but I wanted to post an article I wrote for a Music of the '70s class I'm taking. Any comments are welcome. By the way, ProgArchives forum is my first citation.
-A. Noah

Prog Goes Punk

Abstract:
Even before punk broke in New York City in the mid-’70s, certain forward-thinking progressive rock musicians had been taking influence from the punk sound. At the time, things looked bleak for classic prog rock. Punk burst onto the scene with an ideology directly at odds with prog’s: shorter songs, simpler ideas, DIY attitude, and downright hostility towards authority. Prog rock had gone out of style. Many groups disbanded; others went the route of pop rock or album-oriented rock, doing their best to ignore punk altogether. A select few, however, kept on progging, now with a transformed approach to music. Some of these bands, part of progressive scenes outside England, evaded prog’s pretensions, blending a punk attitude with progressive musicality. Other musicians, former members of some of England’s most successful prog groups and early appreciators of punk, created the prototypes of punk-infused prog. Some even relocated to New York City and develop ped a punk-like approach to their composition and production. Those musicians who embraced openness to experimentation created some of the more intriguing and acclaimed progressive rock of mid-to-late-’70s, enabling the spirit of prog to live on into the dreaded ’80s.

Prog Dies a Nasty Death:
There exists a belief, widespread within the progressive rock community, that punk killed prog. Many who have trouble with this statement will at least concede that prog and punk and cannot coexist.1 And it makes sense. At first glance, the styles seem so disparate, the ideologies so incompatible, that one could not possibly draw influence from the other. Musically, prog rock relies on complexity and diversity. Its songs often make literary, historical, or mythological references and meander through a series of musical changes, from classical-influenced instrumental sections to intricate guitar solos to jazzy interludes. Moreover, its sound heavily drew on the psychedelic experimentations of the ’60s and an assortment of other musical styles. Punk, on the other hand, relied on simplicity

and aggression. Its songs were loud, fast, and over before you knew it. Punk music appealed to a different class of music fans, both in Great Britain and the United States. They took comfort in punk’s three-chord song structure and literal lyrics, often expressions of frustration with authority or “the system.” Prog music, for many, represented the bourgeoisie. Its musicians were generally from middle-class, not lower class backgrounds, and its songs about dragons and wizards did not speak to a generation fed up with the financial, social, and political situation. More and more, critics and fans panned progressive rock for its pretension and inaccessibility. By 1975, classic prog was very much on its way out, and the New York punk scene was in full tilt.

Perhaps the style that best exemplified prog in its golden age was symphonic prog. In contrast with the darker, avant-garde brand of progressive rock—epitomized by King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator— symphonic prog used instrumentation and composition techniques influenced by classical music. The three icons to exemplify this style were Genesis, Yes, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (ELP). The bands, despite their influence and mainstream success, all began to decline by the mid-’70s. Peter Gabriel, the flower-wearing visionary of Genesis’ early period, departed from the band in 1975, and guitarist Steve Hackett left two albums later to pursue a solo career—the same year as the releases of The Clash’s seminal debut and The Sex Pistol’s riotous Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’ s the Sex Pistols. Genesis, now a trio now led by drummer-turned-vocalist Phil Collins, took to a simpler, pop rock style, losing touch with their progressive roots. Yes faced a similar fate. Between 1969 and 1974, the band released seven acclaimed albums, after which many members recorded their own solo albums. Yes’ 1978 album, Tormato, released at the apex of Britain’s punk scene, was almost universally knocked by critics. More pop- oriented than any of their previous records, Yes still seemed to many to represent the failings of prog’s excess and pretension. Perhaps the most tragic tale of symphonic prog’s demise was that of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Among the showiest and most obnoxiously virtuosic, the band put out a number of critically acclaimed albums during the ’70s. After a three-year hiatus, the band returned to the studio but suffered from internal conflicts, evident in their ’77 album Works, in which each member took control of a side of the double-LP. Their final album, Love Beach, whose art featured the three members, open-shirted near the shoreline, dismayed even their most loyal fans. Critic John Kelman stated that “in their fall from grace, [ELP] represented everything wrong with progressive rock,”2 and DJ John Peel even described the band as a “waste of talent and electricity.”3

By the mid-to-late-’70s, prog had more or less faded into the underground. The golden age had ended, and besides Yes, Genesis, and ELP’s poppier releases, the best selling prog records were now by the bands that dominated the new FM format, album-oriented rock. In England, there were Electric Light Orchestra and The Alan Parson’s Project, led by the producer of such titles as Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon; in the US, there were Styx and Journey. And let’s not forget Canada’s own Rush. The exception to the rule was Pink Floyd, who had been making weird sounds since prog’s inception. In the latter half of the ’70s, they put out three platinum albums, each with a more ambitious concept than the last, culminating in November 1979’s The Wall. Pink Floyd successfully seemed to evade the allure of pop and AOR. Moreover they gave not a single nod to the punks whose riffs and sneers had all but drowned out prog’s synths, a movement at least in part intended as a metaphorical loogie in the face of every Dark Side fan-boy. During their heyday, Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten was known to sport his Pink Floyd shirt with “I HATE” scrawled above the logo. In his 2004 autobiography, Floyd bassist Nick Mason explained the heavier, darker sound on Floyd’s 1977 Animals as a “subconscious reaction” by the punk genre that Pink Floyd made “dinosaur rock.”4 In a 2010 interview-editorial, Rotten, now John Lydon, told The Quietus that he loves Floyd. “What I didn’t like about them was the pretentiousness. There was an aura of ‘Oh, we’re so great. There’s no room for anybody else...’ [but] they’re not like that at all.”5

Proto-Punk Glory:
Despite the early popularity of the symphonic bands, the one album cited more than any other as that which marked prog’s inception was 1969’s In the Court of the Crimson King by London’s King Crimson. Its album cover featured a grotesque painting of a screaming man composed of reds and blues—no album title, no band name. Its opener, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” was charged and angry, depicting Vietnam imagery and driven by a harsh, mechanical beat. While a far cry from punk, the track anticipated frontman and guitarist Robert Fripp’s tango with the style that would endure throughout the ’70s and beyond. Initial reception was mixed—Robert Christgau called it “ersatz sh*t”6—but a new era of progressive, post-psychedelic music had begun. Fripp brought to the table a dark and edgy brand of prog rock, incorporating elements of heavy metal, folk, and jazz. The band would release seven successful albums through 1974, when Fripp, disillusioned by the music industry and turmoil within the band, announced that King Crimson was “completely over for ever and ever.”7

One month before King Crimson’s debut, Manchester’s Van der Graaf Generator released their own debut. Like Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator employed a harsher sound than many of their contemporaries, in part due to singer and frontman Peter Hammill’s distinctive vocal delivery, similar to the yelling and talk-singing later emblematic of punk. The band excelled within progressive rock circles, admired for their lush instrumentation and unique compositions, though they differed in sound from their symphonic contemporaries. “Part of the drive was just for it to be visceral, immediate, active,” Hammill said in a 2008 interview-editorial with NPR. “And actually, I think we picked up quite a lot of audience at that time who wouldn’t have remotely dreamed of going to see ELP or Yes.”8 After two more acclaimed albums—both of which would feature Robert Fripp—the group disbanded in 1972. Peter Hamill would go on to pursue a solo career, paying close attention to the explosion of new rock music, in particular New York City’s budding punk scene across the pond.

A third progressive band to employ a heavier, psychedelic sound was London’s Hawkwind. Like Pink Floyd, the band played a trippy, atmospheric brand of prog, known as space rock. They quickly garnered a following in the UK underground and became known for their impressive live performances, complete with extended jams, droning riffs, and a bevy of hallucinogens. Their third studio album, Doremi Fasol Latido (1972), and first live album, The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London (1973), recorded one month later, epitomized this sound, drawing upon a heavy brand of ’60s garage-rock. Indeed, Hawkwind had some intriguing ties to punk. In a 1977 interview with Sounds, ’70s Hawkwind’s singer and frontman, Robert Calvert—whose second solo album was produced by Brian Eno—confessed that Johnny Rotten used to hang out with the band in their early days. He even asserted that the icon “is proving that freedom of speech cannot be taken for granted in this country.” In the same interview, Calvert described Doremi Fasol Latido’s “Urban Guerilla” (track 1 on Companion CD) as “a dangerous piece of work.”9 The track, homage to the horrors of Northern Ireland’s Bloody Sunday, features a heavy riff and raucous vocals with a distinctly punk mentality. In Piero Scaruffi’s, A History of Rock Music: 1951-2000, the critic labels Hawkwind’s “gargantuan sound...[a] liaison between hippy culture and punk culture.”10

Occupying a very different sphere of London’s progressive rock scene was Roxy Music. The band, whose members included Bryan Ferry (frontman and guitarist) and Brian Eno (synthesizer and “treatments”), among others, took influence in equal parts from pop/glam rock and progressive rock. Eno, whose “treatments” added to the band’s experimental, electronic sound, found inspiration in New York’s psychedelic/proto-punk heroes, the Velvet Underground, whose influence on both punk and art rock cannot be overstated. In a 1982 interview with Musician magazine, Eno said of the band: “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years...I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”11 Eno only stuck around with Roxy Music for their first two albums, Roxy Music (1972) and For Your Pleasure (1973), but these records—and the band’s subsequent few records—would have a profound influence not only on later progressive rock but also on punk rock and New Wave. “Re-Make/Re-Model” (track 2 on Companion CD), the opener of their self-titled debut, features a traditional ’50s song structure and punk talk-singing vocals by Ferry. The track, while certainly experimental in nature, demonstrates how early progressive bands were adopting punk-like musicality long before punk’s formal establishment. “Editions of You,” (track 3), from Roxy’s follow-up album, further exemplifies their punk leanings. The song, a short, bouncing rocker again features a very punk-like vocal delivery. Listening to Ferry yelping, “And boys will be boys will be boy-ee-oy-oys,” one cannot help but be reminded of David Byrne. Ultimately, Eno was put off by Ferry’s controlling demeanor so, chock-full of ideas, Eno left the band, embarking on a fruitful solo career whose impact would be felt across a spectrum of musical eras and genres.

In other parts of Europe, progressive rock did not follow the trend of English symphonic prog’s shift in the direction of pop rock. Perhaps the most eclectic and developed movement outside of England was Germany’s Krautrock scene, which included bands like Can, Faust, Neu!, and Kraftwerk. Krautrock, an umbrella term to describe the experimental music coming out of Germany in the ’70s, took influence from a variety of sources, chiefly psychedelic, jazz, and electronic music. The term itself holds few connotations about the style—in an interview in The Wire, Faust stated, “When the English people started talking about Krautrock, we thought they were just taking the piss...and when you hear the so-called ‘Krautrock renaissance,’ it makes me think everything we did was for nothing.”12—yet many of the bands shared musical and production techniques. One such trait was Krautrock’s motorik beat, a term adopted by Anglos to describe the driving, ostinato 4/4 rhythm associated with certain German bands, similar in many ways to rhythms used by New York punk bands and later post-punk bands.

One oft-cited proto-punk album is Faust’s fourth release, aptly titled Faust IV (1973). While no doubt a prog record, full of stylistic and tempo changes, it has a markedly punk feel to it. In addition to the rhythms, its uneven, dark vocal delivery in certain tracks, especially on “The Sad Skinhead” (track 4) is reminiscent of what would later become a staple of post-punk. The song’s backbone, a motorik beat and repetitive, twanging guitar line, is complemented by its consciously obtuse lyrics describing a Neo-Nazi. Likewise, Düsseldorf’s Neu!, an early offshoot of Kraftwerk—“Autobahn,” anyone?—took a similar proto-punk approach, in particular on their 1975 album, Neu! ’75. Its side-two opener, “Hero,” (track 5) despite being seven minutes in length, is pure punk, complete with sneering, unintelligible vocals, motorik beat, and distorted guitar riff. Unlike most prog rock—and like punk rock—Krautrock relies on simpler lyrics with more concrete themes, though in other cases the lyrics are merely placeholders, often incomprehensible, with no definite meaning.

By early 1975, Peter Hammill, a solo artist with renewed interest in reforming Van der Graaf Generator, had already released his fifth solo album, Nadir’ s Big Chance. In the liner notes, he referenced his “beefy punk songs” and can therefore lay claim as the first British musician to use the term on an album.13 Nadir’ s Big Chance, unlike its predecessors, assumed a punk-like style. Its punk-inspired title track and opener (track 6) assumes the stance of a young rocker who is fed up with rock’s glam side: “I've been hanging around, waiting for my chance / to tell you what I think about the music that’s gone down / to which you madly danced. / Frankly, you know that it stinks. / I’m gonna’ scream, gonna’ shout, gonna’ play my guitar / until your body’s rigid and you see stars. / Look at all the jerks in their tinsel glitter suits / pansying around; look at all the nerks / in their leather platform boots, making with the heavy sound. / I'm gonna’ stamp on the stardust and scream till I’m ill / if the guitar don't get ya’, the drums will.” It ends with the line, “Smash the system, smash the song!” Rikki Nadir is in fact one of Hammill’s many alter egos; this one a sixteen year old with a strong penchant for disorder and noise.14 Sound familiar? Nadir’ s Big Chance even made an impact on Johnny Rotten, who described Hammill as a “true original” while guest DJ-ing a British radio show in 1977. He selected two tracks by Hammill in his set, including “Nobody’s Business,” (track 7) which Rotten explained as being “about punks. He didn’t mean it to be, but it’s true.”15 In the final line of “Pushing Thirty,” from his 1978 album The Future Now, Hammill declares that “he can still be Nadir.”

Fripp and Eno Take on NYC:
In a 1977 interview-editorial for Musician, Lester Bangs stated:

Everything about [Brian Eno] is a contradiction. He's a Serious Composer who doesn’t know how to read music. A rock star who doesn’t have a band and never tours...A man who (artistically speaking) goes to bed with machines and lets chance processes shape his creations, yet dismisses most other modern experimental composers as lacking heart, ‘dead from the neck down.’ Everybody's favorite synthesizer player, who says he hates the instrument.”16

And that only begins to describe Eno’s contribution. He was a self-proclaimed “non-musician” yet remained at the forefront of musical discovery throughout the 1970s and beyond, immersing himself in and revolutionizing every style from art rock to ambient to electronic to punk. In the late ’70s, graffiti began to appear all over the New York subways, stating: ENO IS GOD.17

Less than a year after parting with Roxy Music and only two months after the release of his first ambient collaboration, (No Pussyfooting) (1973), with his pal Robert Fripp, Eno released his provocatively titled solo debut, Here Come the Warm Jets in January 1974. The album was an ambitious project; it featured John Wetton and Fripp of King Crimson, Simon King of Hawkwind, all the members of Roxy Music minus Ferry, and many others. Eno claimed that he “got them together merely because I wanted to see what happens when you combine different identities like that and allow them to compete...organized with the knowledge that there might be accidents, accidents which will be more interesting than what I had intended.”18 The album was met with almost universal acclaim. Even Robert Christgau, then of Creem, conceded that the album was “actually...quite engaging in a vaguely Velvet Underground kind of way.”19 Eno pays respect to a variety of disparate styles, from the pop/glam rock of Roxy Music to avant-garde to’50s rock ‘n’ roll. The lyrics were formed from nonsense and free-association words and phrases that Eno would sing over the mixed tracks, a style far removed from the “proper” vocal delivery of bands like Genesis and Yes. In the Bo Diddley-inspired “Blank Frank” (track 8), Eno’s Cockney accent and whiny, inexact vocals evoke a certain Johnny Rotten/John Lydon, while in “Baby’s on Fire,” he sings with a nasally sneer, sounding a little too much like Tom Verlaine. Indeed, while in New York later that year, Eno met with Television. Having liked what he saw at CBGB, Eno put together a demo of the band. However, Verlaine disliked the final product,20 and Eno’s label, Island Records, decided not to sign the band, which in part led to Richard Hell’s departure from Television. When asked about the demo in a 2002 interview with Rock’s Backpages, Hell replied, “It was really excruciating going in and doing that. I mean, that has nothing to do with me. I’m just a robot playing bass.”21

One month after the release of the Eno-produced Fear by Velvet Underground veteran John Cale, Eno released his second solo effort, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), also from 1974. On it, he picked up where he left off with Here Come the Warm Jets, further honing his musical experimentation, electronic treatments, and production techniques. To stimulate the creative process in the studio—again, Eno elicited the help of many guest musicians—he and fellow artist Peter Schmidt developed Oblique Strategies, a set of cards (still published today) containing phrases or cryptic remarks intended to provide artistic inspiration, such as “What would your closest friend do?” or “Ask your body.” The album demonstrates Eno’s ambient leanings, featuring more instrumentals than its predecessor, but also hints at punk, especially with his fantastic proto-punk track “Third Uncle,” (track 9) the side-two opener. It begins with rapid, repetitive bass guitar interplay, and after 80 seconds, the snotty vocals come in: “There are tins. / There was pork. / There are legs. / There are sharks. /There was john. / There are cliffs. / There was mother. / There’s a poker. / There was you. / Then there was you.” The track sounds like something that would come out of the post-punk era five years later, yet it fell right in the middle of an album by a glam-rocker-turned- ambient-wizard. On “The True Wheel,” Eno chants, “We saw The Lovers / The Modern Lovers / And they looked very good. / They looked as if they could.” In hindsight, it’s obvious to which city Eno would soon turn his attention.

After another solo release, September 1975’s Another Green World, October’s ambient Discreet Music— released on Eno’s own label, Obscure Records—and December’s new collaboration with Robert Fripp, Evening Star, Eno traveled in late 1976 to Germany to aid David Bowie in what would later be known as his Berlin Trilogy. The trilogy would explore Bowie’s most avant-garde side with extensive contributions from Eno, who helped out with both composition and production. Low (1977), the first in the trilogy, was influenced both by Krautrock acts like Kraftwerk and art punk acts like London’s Wire. The album was a favorite of many post-punk groups, like Joy Division, who initially called themselves Warsaw in tribute to Bowie’s track “Warszawa.” Similarly, the next Eno/Bowie record in his series, “Heroes,” was a nod to Neu!’s 1975 rocker, “Hero.” Robert Fripp—whom Eno flew in for a single day to record—performs prominently on guitar, especially on the famed title track. After recording, “Heroes,” Eno moved to New York for good.

Eno quickly immersed himself in New York City’s rich musical culture. In Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, Will Hermes asserts, “Eno would stroll Lower Manhattan like a native New York flaneur: he might see Philip Glass eating fries at Phebe’s, chat a bit, then drag him to CBGB. There, he might run into David Byrne, and head off with him for a nightcap. He liked this town.”22 He and Fripp even took Bowie to see the unsigned art punk/New Wave band, Devo; Eno would later produce their 1978 debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Around this time, Eno released his fourth vocal solo album, Before and After Science (1977), two years in the making. It featured a number of Krautrock musicians, including the group Cluster, with whom Eno had released Cluster & Eno the previous year. The album, overall smoother and more sterile than Eno’s previous vocal albums, still demonstrated a punk influence. In his 1978 review for Village Voice, Lester Bangs described “King’s Lead Hat” (track 10)—an anagram for “Talking Heads”—as a song that embodied “Eno's affinities with New Wave in its rushed mechanical rhythms.”23 The most boisterous and dynamic of any on the album and featuring a blistering solo courtesy of Fripp, the track is very reminiscent of the Heads. Indeed, it had been originally intended for the Talking Heads to play on, though this never worked out due to scheduling conflicts.24 Unruffled, Eno pursued the next best option.

Eno went on to produce the CBGB headliners’ subsequent three albums—their second, third, and fourth— to much critical success. Eno took the band in new, creative directions, enabling experiments in New Wave, post- punk and even afro-beat, inspired by Nigerian musician and composer Fela Kuti. Eno descried his collaboration with the Talking Heads as “the best working relationship I've ever had within rock music.”25 Eno would go on to release two more collaborations with Byrne, the experimental/electronic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) and the gospel-inspired Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008).

Perhaps Eno’s most unique production effort, and certainly the furthest removed from his proggy origins, was the 1978 compilation album, No New York. No New York featured songs by four different bands and is considered the best example of New York’s late-’70s No Wave scene. No Wave, part of the larger post-punk category, drew on a variety of influences—punk, jazz, funk, and avant-garde—to create some of the noisiest and most abrasive punk rock to date. Eno, witnessing the scene unfold, proposed he produce a compilation to document it. Unlike many of Eno’s other collaborations, Eno did not play on the album or attempt to inspire the musicians, and he did very little mixing for the bands. In an interview with Musician, Eno told Bangs that, in No Wave, “things sound really messy, and it’s a kind of mess that I’ve never had on anything before. I like it a lot, it’s a sort of jungle sound, really. And there’s a peculiar perspective to it, so that everything’s upfront but there’s this very wide space behind it: it's a new production technique I’ve discovered.”26 There was truly no end to Eno’s experimentation. Through his method of organized chaos and accidental structure, Eno defied the way musicians typically approached composition and production. In a 1992 interview with Reflex magazine, Robert Fripp stated: “[Eno’s] set of procedures is not as formally defined as a set of procedures which a musician would use. Which is one reason why Eno is very refreshing to work with. Musicians tend to know what they’re doing, and sometimes that’s terrible.”27

Robert Fripp was a bit little later to the punk game than Eno. After disbanding King Crimson and a couple mandatory Eno collaborations, Fripp took a few years away from the music industry. He returned to the studio to play guitar on Peter Gabriel’s post-Genesis, untitled debut (1977). During Gabriel’s tour in support of the album, Fripp, the unassuming eccentric that he was, would remain out of sight, either in the wings or behind the curtain. For the follow-up album, also untitled (1978), Gabriel invited Fripp to play guitar as well as produce. One of its tracks, “Exposure” would become the title of Fripp’s solo debut. At this time, Gabriel was known perform a punk-inspired version of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” but it was likely in jest. It had to be. It was just too bad.28

In 1977, Fripp officially relocated to Hell’s Kitchen and plunged headfirst into its now flourishing punk scene. “...When I came to live in New York in 1977, and there was punk and New Wave, it was alive!” he told Reflex. When asked why a prog musician would embrace punk and New Wave, Fripp responds “It's a question of what nourishes you in music, what is alive. In terms of eclecticism, musical form is secondary.”29 Fripp fell in love with the New York punk bands, even making an unsuccessful attempt to revive Television with himself as lead guitarist in ’78; they had disbanded shortly the release of their poorly selling sophomore effort.30 It seems oddly poetic that Fripp and Eno would bookend Television’s career, both with unsuccessful attempts to vitalize—or revitalize—their sound. Fripp went on to play with CBGB darlings, Blondie, both live and on their 1978 album, Parallel Lines, as well as on the Eno-produced Talking Heads album, Fear of Music (1979).

“Exposure,” also from 1979, launched Fripp’s solo career a full ten years after King Crimson’s debut; Hammill and Eno waited only two years. The album was an oddball collection of sounds and collaborations, and while perhaps a tad closer to prog than punk, the style truly defies classification. Its opener, “You Burn Me Up I’m a Cigarette” (track 11), is a ’50s-sounding punk rocker, sung by Daryl Hall, of all people. Fripp had produced the ex- Hall and Oates vocalist’s 1980 debut, Sacred Songs (recorded in 1977), and considered Hall to be the best vocalist he had ever worked with. The album, along with Exposure and Gabriel’s sophomore effort, formed a loose trilogy of Fripp-induced madness, featuring his patented system of tape-looping, inspired by minimalist Terry Riley, which came to be known Frippertronics. Other prominent guests on the album were Gabriel, who rerecorded a sparser version of the track “Here Comes the Flood” from his debut, and the lovely Peter Hammill, who is featured on two tracks. The latter, titled “I May Not Have Had Enough Of Me But I've Had Enough Of You” (track 12), a duet with Hammill and Terre Roche (of the Fripp-produced folk act, The Roches) is a raucous and repetitive track with harsh punk-like vocals: “That is / the way it / is because / it is / that way. / It is / that way / in that / it is / the way / it is.” The track “Hååden Two,” among the more experimental on the album, features a spoken-word sample by Fripp himself: “incredibly dismal, pathetic chord sequence.” If anything, the album proved that Fripp did not take himself too seriously, something that had become a serious affliction for many prog musicians.

In 1980, Fripp finally achieved his dream of forming a New Wave band, called The League of Gentlemen, featuring members with ties to post-punk/New Wave bands Gang of Four, The B-52s, and XTC. The act toured extensively but was short-lived, surviving only their self-titled debut (1981). Later that year, Fripp opted to reform King Crimson (which had been previously been “over for ever and ever”), employing a second guitarist, Adrian Belew, previously of David Bowie and Talking Heads fame. The first three albums of Crimson’s new incarnation, while prog to the bone, absorbed some of the New Wave influence Fripp had picked up during his stint in the Big Apple, a city he described as working “three times the speed of London.”31

In a 2004 interview with Peter Hammill, regarding Exposure, Daryl Easlea comments: “You were as cool as anything at that point. There was a certain glamourous coterie with you, Eno, Fripp, Bowie—you could have changed everything?” Hammill replies with great insight:

I suppose it was the last time when there seemed to be a lot of alternate possibilities in music. David Byrne, Eno; there were a lot of people who were trying to do something with the broad church of “rock music”—it encompassed everything from King Crimson to punk. That was probably the last time that that happened, mainly because the music business became the music industry shortly thereafter, and absolute niche marketing began to come in. It was a totally natural thing for me at that point to go to New York...32

Hammill touches on a number of points essential to this essay. First, New York’s punk scene, far more artistic and robust than London’s—and certainly more hip than its waning prog scene—was the clear destination for any musician wanting to embrace the new wave. Secondly, the mid-to-late-’70s, despite the demise of classic prog, were truly an era of unbridled invention. While symphonic prog did not survive the onset of punk, prog had by no means died off. It had indeed manifested into an even more eclectic mix of art rock, experimental, electronic, and even straightforward pop. Brian Eno never slowed for a second; Hammill reformed Van der Graaf Generator in 1975 to release four more successful albums in addition to countless solo efforts. Even Fripp, a little late to the scene, eventually reformed King Crimson. Despite their efforts, as the ’80s rapidly approached, “the music business became the music industry” as Hammill puts it, and more than ever, music-making was synonymous with moneymaking. But even as punk became New Wave and New Wave became synthpop, the spirit of experimentation lived on. If anything, Hammill, Eno, and Fripp proved that to stay contemporary, we must both have an openness to new ideas, mainstream and underground, and a regard for those who came before us. In doing so, these musicians—or non-musicians—created a realm in which prog and punk could not only coexist; they could even thrive.




Edited by anoah - March 05 2013 at 20:42
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bonnek Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 05 2013 at 07:50

A good read, but I do disagree on your position on Rush:

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The golden age had ended, and besides Yes, Genesis, and ELP’s poppier releases, the best selling prog records were now by the bands that dominated the new FM format, album-oriented rock. In England, there were Electric Light Orchestra and The Alan Parson’s Project, led by the producer of such titles as Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon; in the US, there were Styx and Journey. And let’s not forget Canada’s own Rush.


That sounds like you lump them in with the Prog bands that went AOR/pop, while Rush in 1980-1984 stands as one of the greatest examples of a Prog band adapting to the times and producing some of their best work in the process.

Tracks like 'Vital Signs', 'Subdivisions' and the entire 'Grace Under Pressure' are a great mix of new wave and prog.

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