Bloated, Bombastic, and Over the Top!
I thought it would be fun to put together a short list of a few of my favorite progressive rock songs, that happen to be over 20 minutes in length. While these tunes have detractors, those in the know can’t get enough.
To us, those hardy souls who crave complexity in their music, along with rambling rhythms, and noodling guitars that never quite get to their destinations, we don’t mind the length at all, the more the better.
With pompous, and completely unnecessary theatrics, more, more, more, we cry out! Until, finally our thirst is quenched.
More synthesizers, more guitars, more experimental world music, and various jazz styles, to give legitimacy to the moniker progressive. The more of these elements the merrier.
Caravan: “Nine Feet Underground”
To be honest, Caravan rarely ever released any music that lacked taste, and “Nine Feet Underground” is no exception. Pye Haystings Vocals are always pleasant and inviting, Richard Sinclair’s Organ always tasteful, yet interesting. I can listen to this track on an endless loop, it’s that good.
In the Land of Gray and Pink is probably the “Quintessential” Canterbury scene progressive rock album, and “Nine Feet Underground” its centerpiece.
Sinclair’s keyboard solos are all over the track, a perfect melding of rock, jazz, psych, and classical folk sounds with just enough of a hard rock edge to delight. If you’re not familiar with this criminally underrated band Caravan, this is your introduction.
Miles Davis: “He Loved Him Madly”
The Inclusion of a Miles Davis track may be a bit of a surprise to you for a progressive rock list, but Miles Davis and his late 60’s albums Bitches Brew and In a Silent way were surely influential to rock musicians and is a valid part of the development of prog.
“He Loved Him Madly” is a track from the album Get Up With It, which is a double album of sessions pulled together from 1970 to 1974 studio time. “He Loved Him Madly” from 1974, is a massive 34 minute progressive rock, jazz, funk and world music mind blower.
Note: This track sort slow boils and takes some time to develop into a white simmer, not exactly a all out assault or anything. This track alone is incredibly important to electronic droning sound-scape style new age music to come.
Not to diminish in any way the advancements in jazz that Miles contributed, but this electric time period is only now starting to be heavily examined. Thanks to hip hop and electronic musicians who have been influenced by the albums On the Corner, Big Fun and Get Up With It, as well as the early jazz rock albums from Miles, finally Miles Electric is getting respect.
“He Loved Him Madly” is a track that is way ahead of its time, Producer Teo Macero uses a cut and paste style to rearrange the music laid to tape, also some ping-pong channel separation effect are used throughout the brooding track.
I have always though “He Loved Him Madly” track had a real Brian Eno type vibe, the mood is laid back and exploratory. David Liebman’s flute adds a significant progressive rock vibe for me, it’s not like he sounds like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson or anything, but the exotic sound of the flute add a little more to its prog-rock credentials.
The music on Get Up with It is all over the map, “Calypso Frelimo,” a 30 plus minute funk jazz work out is also worthy of a prog fan, “Honky tonk” and “Red China Blues” will also be of some interest to a mainstream rock fan.
Genesis: “Supper’s Ready”
“Supper’s Ready” from the 1972 album Foxtrot, might be the definitive progressive rock tune of all time. The tune is long and drawn out, pretentious and completely worth repeated listens.
Vocalist Peter Gabriel clearly was the spiritual leader of Genesis, as his persona is all over the music. One can’t help but marvel at Gabriel’s live theatrics, they are almost as over the top and pretentious as the music its self, and of course, irresistible to die-hard prog fans.
“Supper’s Ready” is divided into 7 sections, and there are clear religious overtones to this music. Gabriel is basically telling the story of God’s triumph over evil, the Antichrist in particular.
Much of the genius lies in the arrangement of the separate sections, and of course the various time signatures, including a 9/8 section. “Apocalypse” could validate in one’s mind that hates progressive rock, all the reasons they need hating prog.
“Supper’s Ready” crazy bombastic theatrics and time signatures, heart on sleeve crooning lyric singing, classical & folk music, literally everything you want is here.
Van Der Graaf Generator: “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”
OK, here is a band that most people don’t know anything about. Van Der Graaf Generator who’s sound is darker, more akin to King Crimson, Crimson’s Robert Fripp guest starred on 2 of their albums.
Vocalist Peter Hamill will be the biggest obstacle to enjoying Van Der Graaf Generator as a whole, his vocal delivery is well, Shakespearean in style, both brash and exclamatory, he may be an acquired taste.
For me the signature sound of Van Der Graaf Generator is David Jackson’s saxophone pared with the Hammond organ. The vibe is darker with this band as well.
“A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”, is a 23 minute opus that features some very strange psychedelic sounds. With all the mood shifts and dark jazz atmosphere that you come to expect from the Generator.
YES: “The Revealing Science of God”
“The Revealing Science of God” is a track from the 1973 Yes epic. Tales From Topographic Oceans, an album that is probably the poster child for the excesses of 70’s prog.
The point where creativity and exploration may have crossed the line into self-indulgent drivel, or as Rolling Stone music critic Gordon Fletcher stated, the albums was “psychedelic noodling”.
That noodling, or exploration is what made bands like Yes so great, sometimes they would fail in their attempts to create great music, and sometimes albums could be uneven. Tales From Topographic Oceans is not a bad album at all, and if you are true progressive rock fan and a Yes fan, you probably already hold the music in high esteem.
Some things have changed on the this album as far as the Yes sound goes, apparently singer Jon Anderson and Guitarist Steve Howe composed almost the entire album with little input from other band members.
Hardly any Rick Wakeman Hammond organ can be found on the album and Chris Squire’s Bass has a new fuzzier tone, not to mention drummer Alan White makes his first appearance with Yes on drums, who to be honest, was no Bill Bruford, who left for King Crimson.
“The Revealing Science of God” is my favorite track, only slightly though, the entire 80 plus minute album should be heard in it’s over the top glory.
Probably the most hated prog rock album in history was Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans, all the things we love and hate about prog are here.
The critics despised the music with a passion, once the prog bands stretched out beyond 15 minutes, that pretty much ended it for any continued mainstream success.
I think a lot of critics couldn’t focus that long on one song to be honest. Hard to fake like you really like the music past 5 minutes. These same critics who complained about the music not being radio friendly, were the first to bash the pseudo prog of Asia and GTR, (which I don’t like either) and even quality music like YES’ 90125.
I guess the bloated prog of the mid 70’s wasn’t all that bad after all.
All photos used with permission, via Amazon.com
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