Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Did the critics kill Prog Rock?

Well, no. I've been reading a lotta prog-rock histories over the past coupla yrs, & sooner or later they all discuss how much impact the negative reviews of mainstream rock critics had on the demise of prog.
Jerry Lucky in his PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES spends sevral pgs defending prog from rock critics who just didn't "get it." Rather late 4 this sorta thing, I think, & defending yr favorite genre from critics doesn't win U new fans -- far better & more productive 2 point-out the Good Stuff, I would think.
Even Bill Bruford in his recent AUTOBIOGRAPHY accuses the rock crits of "chipping away at the edifice" until prog rock simply collapsed.
Hmmm. I agree more w/ Bob Fripp's theory that in the mid-2-late '70s there arose a whole new generation of rock fans who wanted heroes closer 2 their own age 2 cheer 4. These new heroes (Clash, Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc.) hadda lot more in common w/ younger fans than the art-rockers who'd bn performing since the late '60s & were more in2 living well, appearing stylish & mayB stashing away a few bucks.
Of course my own theory at the time was that the demise of prog was due 2 a bunch of REALLY weak albums all released very close 2 1-another over a 2+ yr period. I'll come back 2 this....
& while it's true that critic Dave Marsh never heard a prog band he actually LIKED, he DID include Roxy Music's "Over You" in his HEART OF ROCK AND SOUL book about his choices 4 the 1,001 greatest rock singles of all time.
& while Robert Christgau could B noticeably condescending about most prog bands, he was also a sucker 4 some arty stuff -- Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Mahavishnu Orchestra ... & he gave King Crimson's RED an "A-" rating in a review....
& even Lester Bangs -- champion of all unpolished, informal, loud, noisy & spontaneous music -- gave a grudging rave 2 Emerson, Lake and Palmer's PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION in the pages of ROLLING STONE magazine, where Bangs admitted he played the album twice in 1 nite, pounding his fists on the floor in enjoyment & getting his kicks.
Well, there's no accounting 4 taste....
Tho the criticism could B sneering & vicious in the pages of CREEM, CIRCUS, NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS & MELODY MAKER, prog perhaps got away most EZily in the pages of ROLLING STONE, where many of the mag's critics seemed pretty open-minded about prog, no matter what the perceptions of the past may B.
While RS's Ed Ward slammed the Moody Blues' DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED & IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD, Stu Werbin was pretty positive about the later EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR, calling the Moodies "the Sistine Chapel of Rock and Roll."
RS also boosted the early work of Yes, w/ Richard Cromelin raving about FRAGILE & CLOSE TO THE EDGE.
The RS crits were also open-minded & supportive about out-there work by David Bowie (HUNKY DORY & ZIGGY STARDUST), The Move (MESSAGE FROM THE COUNTRY), some of the Kinks' more Xperimental work (VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, ARTHUR, LOLA VS. POWERMAN AND THE MONEY-GO-ROUND), Procol Harum (LIVE WITH THE EDMONTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA), Jethro Tull (AQUALUNG & THICK AS A BRICK), even the Beach Boys (PET SOUNDS, SUNFLOWER, SURF'S UP).
Later, Charley Walters even gave a mostly-positive review 2 ELP's mostly-awful WORKS VOLUME 1 -- mainly for "Fanfare for the Common Man."
Some of this open-mindedness even continued in2 the mostly cynical & sarcastic 1st ROLLING STONE RECORD GUIDE, where albums like Caravan's WATERLOO LILY, the Moodies' DAYS & SEVENTH SOJOURN, Pink Floyd's MEDDLE & ANIMALS, & King Crimson's COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING all received 4-star ratings. Pink Floyd's DARK SIDE got 5 stars, along w/ Procol Harum's 1st & A SALTY DOG.
I'm probly forgetting a lot, but this recap should at least indicate that the critics weren't as uniformly negative as it sometimes seemed.
Besides, some prog releases deserved 2 get slammed. From about '78 thru '80 or so there were a series of prog albums that were way weaker than they shoulda been. Whether this was due 2 record company meddling -- pushing 4 a more commercial approach in the face of declining sales -- nevertheless, summa these albums deserved 2 bomb: The Moodies' OCTAVE (& some much-later albums that were even worse), Genesis's DUKE (which actually sold a coupla million offa couple hit singles), Yes's TORMATO, U.K.'s DANGER MONEY, Asia's 1st (VERY popular), Gentle Giant's GIANT FOR A DAY, Mike Oldfield's QE2, Renaissance's A SONG FOR ALL SEASONS & AZURE D'OR, others that were so hideous I'm sure I've blocked them out or at least TRIED 2 ... & others I've heard about but never actually HEARD: ELP's LOVE BEACH, Renaissance's 2 albums of the early '80s, the Giant's CIVILIAN....
No wonder music fans preferred 2 listen 2 Punk or New Wave when faced w/ summa this.
& even while all this was happening, Pink Floyd was selling millions of copies of THE WALL. & ROLLING STONE's Kurt Loder called the Floyd's next album, the grim & mostly-weak THE FINAL CUT, something like "the pinnacle of British art-rock."
At the time I thot prog's demise could B blamed Ntirely onna series of really weak albums. Now I think it was that + changing audiences & styles, a contracting economy, record company meddling, & Fripp's theory about fans wanting new heroes 2 cheer 4. I can also back Charles Snider's theory in THE STRAWBERRY BRICKS GUIDE TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK that mayB the style had simply run its course, like other musical styles do.
But I don't think we can just blame the critics on this 1. It's their job 2 criticize.
Your thots?


R Smith said...

I think what killed prog rock was ELP's Love Beach. Piece of shit back then, even worse now ;)

rastronomicals said...

What R Smith said for sure.

Beyond that, prog died because those most able and most inclined to play it decided they didn't want to anymore.

Steve Howe Steve Hackett Terry Bozzio John Wetton Stewart Copeland Steve Hillage Dave Stewart were all prog heroes who for one reason or the other decided sometime between 1977 and 1983 that they just didn't wanna play prog no more.

Some of 'em were sellouts, doin' it for the love of money (like Howe and Hackett); others left the scene for more artistic reasons, but I don't think any of these guys left because of bad reviews.

Simple statement: prog died because it was gutted by defections from its ranks.