Volume 17 of this series brought us through 1979, the last year of prog’s greatest decade. And by that year, things were pretty dismal in Britain as far as prog rock was concerned. Not much of it was being made, and the genre’s critical fortunes were dire, to the point that they have not yet made a full recovery, and may never do so.
The music was flourishing in other parts of the world, and even as the entire house seemed to come crashing down, progressive rock in the UK did maintain some of its commercial power, at least as far as the biggest names were concerned. And in the mid-80s, a funny thing happened: new prog bands, overtly influenced by the classic groups of the 70s began to emerge. They proliferated in the 90s, and in the new century, progressive rock has become, if not exactly hip, a perfectly normal and acceptable point of reference for new bands.
Credit (or blame) Radiohead for some of that re-captured mainstream acceptability, even if the band itself would never admit to trying to make a progressive rock album—intentions aside, that’s exactly what they did in 1997, with OK Computer.
These three volumes are much more loosely organized than what came before them. They cover a huge span of time, from 1982 all the way the 2010, and they don’t cover it evenly or thoroughly. They’re meant mostly as a reflection on how the progressive rock explosion changed popular music in the UK, how it expanded the possibilities, and how it stubbornly persisted in selling records and influencing young musicians long after the music weeklies more or less wrote it out of history.
It takes in new artists, artists I wouldn’t even call rock bands, much less prog rock bands, and some of the late-career exploits of the musicians who played in the most popular prog acts. There’s also a lot to talk about, so I’ve tried to keep it concise.
U.K. Prog, Volume 18: 1982-2001 What Happened Next 1
1. Asia: Heat of the Moment 3:55 (1982
From the Geffen LP Asia
2. Yes: Changes 6:20 (1983)
From the Atco LP 90125
3. Genesis: Tonight, Tonight, Tonight 8:54 (1986)
From the Virgin LP Invisible Touch
I’ll write about these together, because I included them for similar reasons. Each song finds musicians that were integral to the 70s prog boom adapting to the post-prog times, in more or less similar ways.
Asia was the biggest of all the post-prog supergroups. The original lineup, heard here, brought together some of the biggest names in prog, and found them focusing their efforts on producing arena-ready pop rock. Bassist/vocalist John Wetton was well-traveled; his most high-profile gigs were with King Crimson and U.K., but he’d played in more than a half-dozen bands. Keyboardist Geoff Downes had been in Yes and the Buggles, guitarist Steve Howe had helped define the classic sound of Yes, and drummer Carl Palmer was the “P” in ELP (They apparently considered bringing in Roy Wood before going with Steve Howe—I would’ve loved to see how that turned out). Together, they’d already sold millions upon millions of records, and they’d sell millions more playing the kinds of big choruses and simple structures they’d all previously shunned.
Yes and Genesis were in somewhat different positions. They weren’t new bands; rather, they were two of the only groups to survive the late-70s demise of prog with their drawing power intact. For Yes, it had been painful—the band’s lineup had churned for years, and when they came back in 1983, complete with cosmic warrior costumes for their massive world tour, they’d been re-made by new guitarist Trevor Rabin into a weird prog/New Wave chimera that could play in a funky time signature and sell a ton of singles. “Changes” is one of the twistier compositions on 90125.
For Genesis, the path out of the woods had been smoother. They’d become a pop-accessible trio not through tumult, but by a gradual and amicable paring process that left the band as a trio of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks. They evolved from big prog opuses to smash singles gradually, pulling their audience with them as it grew up, and bringing in new fans as well. Still, even on the album that featured “Invisible Touch” and “In Too Deep,” they couldn’t quite help nodding to their origins with a couple of lengthy, suite-like tracks. “Tonight Tonight Tonight” is the old, epic Genesis lifting the curtain of pop songs to reveal the wizards behind it.
4. Marillion: Incubus 8:31 (1984)
From the EMI LP Fugazi
If early 80s trio Genesis sounded quite different from early 70s quintet Genesis, there was an alternative for fans who longed for that old sound. On its first few albums, Marillion sounded almost uncannily like Gabriel-era Genesis, and wrote suite-like songs that often topped eight minutes. By the time of their second album, they even had a drummer, Ian Mosley, who had been a part of the 70s prog scene, playing with Darryl Way’s Wolf, Steve Hackett, and the Dutch band Trace. The band deserves credit for being one of the first new symphonic-style progressive rock acts to emerge in the UK after prog rock’s decline—they were swimming upstream, but were good enough to draw an audience. The band is still going today, though they’ve gradually developed a more mainstream rock sound.
5. Stereolab: Percolator 3:47 (1996)
From the Duophonic LP Emperor Tomato Ketchup
No one really knows what to call Stereolab. The band draws from a crazy range of styles to make something all its own, and as its name suggests, they have a lot of interest in German kosmische rock (commonly called Krautrock), old electronic music, library records and stereo test albums (they were named for a series of these on Vanguard Records). There’s also no denying that their penchant for analog synthesizers and complex rhythms makes them natural heirs to progressive rock, even if they never thought of themselves that way. “Percolator” is prog by any other name.
6. The Verve: She’s a Superstar 5:04 (1992)
From the Hut EP The Verve EP
The Verve are most well-known in the US for “Bittersweet Symphony,” a majestic, lumbering song that got them into legal trouble. But before that, in their earliest days, they were inheritors of a long British psychedelia tradition that they played through the lens of shoegaze, which at the time was one of the dominant trends in U.K. rock. With its towering of reverberant guitar, “She’s a Superstar” is essentially space rock with earthly lyrical concerns.
7. Bark Psychosis: Tooled Up 7:37 (1991)
From the 3rd Stone EP Manman
If there’s a strain of rock in the U.K. that most firmly embodies musical ideals that were first introduced by progressive rock bands, it’s post-rock, and admittedly nebulous but nevertheless useful term. Bark Psychosis were the first band to be tagged “post-rock,” and their music did help sketch out the hallmarks of the genre, with its emphasis on texture, rhythm, tension and release over conventional songwriting. This isn’t the progressive rock of wild solos and multi-part suites, but it as the exploratory spirit of the best prog and espouses the same desire to push rock forms in new directions, away from traditional harmony and structures.
8. Coil: Ostia (the Death of Pasolini) 6:23 (1986)
From the Some Bizarre/Force and Form LP Horse Rotorvator
Coil is one of the defining groups of industrial music, though their output is wide-ranging enough to transcend that label with ease. Originally a duo of John Balance and Peter Christopherson (the latter had been in Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, and also did design work for Hipgnosis in the 70s), Coil had nothing to do with flashy musicianship or classically inspired suites, but their embrace of conceptual frameworks for their music was surprisingly similar to that of a lot of progressive rock bands. They also drew influences from the music of the academy, but rather than adapting Bartok and Dvorak to rock formats, they looked to minimalism for influence.
9. Cardiacs: Ice a Spot and a Dot on the Dog 3:34 (1984)
From the Alphabet Business Concern LP The Seaside
Cardiacs are often referred to as “prog-punk,” which is basically apt. Their hyperactive music keeps the structures simple and the tempos fast, but the band’s spastic music is always tightly controlled, and the musicianship comes through loud and clear in the outbursts of weird melody and complex instrumental interplay. If Fruupp had stuck around long enough to morph into a punk band, it might have sounded something like this.
10. Brian Eno: A Clearing 4:03 (1982)
From the Polydor LP Ambient 4: On Land
Eno was very much a part of the original prog explosion, and in the 80s, he had a lower profile but was no less ubiquitous, producing albums for a wide range of acts and cutting his own idiosyncratic path as a solo artist. He had been an early pioneer of ambient music, and in my view, On Land is the album on which he perfected his approach to the style.
11. Elbow: Bitten by the Tailfly 6:16 (2001)
From the V2 LP Asleep in the Back
At first glance, Elbow sounds a lot like a pretty straightforward post-Radiohead rock band. Except that they’re not really post-Radiohead. They formed in 1990 and simply didn’t get a chance to make an album until 2001. And their music is a lot knottier than the elegant songwriting makes it seem. With its sudden, ragged riffs, thundering drums, and lengthy, horn-laden coda, “Bitten by the Tailfly” suggests that the band have spent their share of hours lying on the floor next to a hi-fi, soaking in sounds from decades past.
12. Simian: Round and Around 4:12 (2001)
From the Source LP Chemistry Is What We Are
Simian outright quoted the main theme from McDonald & Giles’ “Birdman Suite” on the opener to this album, “Drop and Roll.” “Round and Around” isn’t so overt in revealing its influences, but really, listen to it. It’s modern prog rock rock. Those drums could have come off King Crimson’s Lizard—one aspect of prog rock that few have re-embraced in the psot-punk era is the solo, and Simian are no different, as this series has tried to make clear, prog was about more than musicianship.
13. The Moody Blues: Ride My See-Saw 5:27 (1993)
From the Threshold LP A Night at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra
You know what else old prog bands that had managed to hold on to some of their audience did? They reunited for lucrative nostalgia tours. I saw the Moody Blues in 1996 with the World Festival Orchestra playing a set almost identical to the one on this live album. It was a pretty good show! About a month later, I saw ELP and Jethro Tull at the same venue.
U.K. Prog, Volume 19: 1982-2010 What Happened Next 2
1. King Crimson: Neal & Jack & Me 4:23 (1982)
From the E’G LP Beat
When King Crimson split in 1974, Robert Fripp spoke of the band with a concrete finality that could only mean one thing: he was bound to resurrect it one day. When he did, King Crimson was a very different band than any of the lineups he’d helmed in the 70s. For one thing, it was half American, but more importantly, it was heavily influenced by New Wave without actually sounding like New Wave. Fripp and Adrian Belew cultivated a guitar style that relied on complex interplay and advanced picking techniques, while Belew’s leads made heavy use of processing and early guitar synth. Bill Bruford and bassist Tony Levin kept the band rhythmically spry and elastic. This lineup recorded three albums before splitting, but all four members returned for the powerful “double trio” version of the band in the 90s. Fripp ended King Crimson again a few years ago, but who knows if it’s really the final word.
2. Radiohead: Paranoid Android 6:24 (1997)
From the Parlophone LP OK Computer
If there’s a single track that helped put prog back on the mainstream map, it’s “Paranoid Android,” which charted at #3 in the U.K., 7/4 rhythms, suite-like structure and six-and-a-half-minute runtime and all. Not that bands were lining up to sound like Genesis in its wake, but it helped puncture the decades-old veil obscuring prog rock’s memory more than any other single piece of music in the 90s.
3. Breathless: Monkey Talk 7:31 (1986)
From the Tenor Vossa LP The Glass Bead Game
Breathless were led by Dominic Appleton, who’d played with This Mortal Coil, and their music took a lot of direct cues from 70s prog. Compare the structure of this song to King Crimson’s “Starless”—you have the opening song, the harrowing build-up, and the final release. Again, the band approaches musicianship differently from its predecessors—this was probably punk’s truest and most lasting effect.
4. Appliance: Food Music 3:44 (1999)
From the Mute LP Manual
Appliance recorded two albums around the turn of the century, and they were both stuffed with analog synthesizer. German progressive rock—I prefer the term kosmische rock to Krautrock—has long been a far cooler reference point than British prog, mostly because it tended to focus more on electronics and texture than UK prog, and its influence is clear here. Thing is, German prog would have turned out quite differently without the early influence of British proto-prog (especially Pink Floyd), so when a band dips into the kosmische well, it’s absorbing indirect influence from UK prog.
5. Her Name Is Calla: The Union: I Worship a Golden Sun 6:49 (2010)
From the Denovali LP The Quiet Lamb
Her Name Is Calla make what I think of as a sort of post-post-rock, somewhat similar to their American counterparts Shearwater. It has a lot of the tension-release dynamics of post-rock, but it’s also mostly built around verses and choruses and seems to strive for a balance between accessibility and open structure.
6. Camberwell Now: Greenfingers 5:53 (1987)
From the Ink EP Greenfingers
After This Heat split, Charles Hayward established Camberwell Now. This band continued This Heat’s exploration of the intersection between live playing and tape effects, though Maria Lamburn’s saxophone does much to ground the music’s experimentalism is approachable musicality.
7. Muse: Butterflies & Hurricanes 5:02 (2003)
From the Taste Music LP Absolution
Muse get tons of shit for the bald ambition of their music, and I’m not saying they don’t deserve some of it—there are times when they shoot well wide of the mark, and times when they’re simply ridiculous, but I hate that their ambition itself gets called into question. I love that they’re always reaching, even if I don’t always love the results. “Butterflies & Hurricanes” is one of their best proggy opuses, going from stirring orchestral hard rock to neoclassical piano ballad with hardly any warning right in the middle of the song.
8. A Mountain of One: Ride 6:45 (2007)
From the AMO EP A Mountain of One
A Mountain of One is another modern group that nods openly to progressive rock, and “Ride” even goes ahead and displays musicianship with its guitar intro and the subsequent lead part.
9. Porcupine Tree: A Slave Called Shiver 4:41 (1999)
From the Snapper LP Stupid Dream
Porcupine Tree has a good claim to being the pre-eminent prog band in the UK today, though their second decade of music was a lot more pop-accessible than their first was (and recently, Steven Wilson’s association with Opeth has led to an influx of prog-metal influences on their records). Stupid Dream was a transitional LP for the band, marking the point where the band started including a lot more basic rock songs and fewer wiggy Tangerine Dream soundscapes on its albums in the wake of OK Computer. “Slave Called Shiver” doesn’t come across as all that proggy at first, but just wait for the rain of guitar that comes in halfway through.
10. Max Tundra: Labial 6:09 (2002)
From the Domino LP Mastered By Guy at the Exchange
Max Tundra is a studio wizard, and he makes fussy, intricate music that frequently recalls the manic inventiveness and unusual construction of classic prog, albeit with different ingredients.
11. Moonshake: Coward 2:27 (1991)
From the Creation EP First
Moonshake was another of the early post-rock bands, though they tempered their more out-there experiments with short and sweet songs like this that cut their explorations of texture with infectious melody.
12. Iron Maiden: Rime of the Ancient Mariner 13:37 (1984)
From the EMI LP Powerslave
Metal is one of prog’s most prosperous children, and it is essentially a child that prog sired with punk. Iron Maiden, one of the flagship bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, made music on its early albums that attacked with the brevity and ferocity of punk, but also embraced the musicianship of prog. By 1984, they’d dropped the brevity and were making multi-part songs every bit as complicated as anything Yes had done in 1972. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a metal setting of the epic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is progressive rock.
U.K. Prog, Volume 20: 1987-2010 What Happened Next 3
1. Medal: Is Your Soul in Your Head? 6:10 (1999)
From the Polydor LP Drop Your Weapon
Medal is another prime example of the boomlet of mildly proggy British rock bands to emerge on the heels of OK Computer. This song’s slow build and heady subject matter invite the comparison.
2. Talk Talk: Ascension Day 6:00 (1991)
From the Verve LP Laughing Stock
Talk Talk began life as a synth-pop band, but they were never all that poppy, honestly. Their first few albums are full of strange production flourishes, and Mark Hollis was never content with being a pop star, a discontent that influenced his vocal style. By the end of the band’s run, which came with Laughing Stock, Talk Talk had dropped the synthesizers and any pretense of making hit singles. This album deals aggressively in abstraction, texture, and noise-as-music, but winds up as something surprisingly beautiful.
3. Fairport Convention: Spanish Main 4:31 (1998)
From the Woodworm LP Who Knows Where the Time Goes
Fairport Convention was among the many old-guard progressive rock bands to reunite over and over for tours and occasional recordings—even bands that never made much of a splash during their original runs came back and found their cult audiences eager to support them. Fairport sounds especially energized on this track, which rivals anything they did in their heyday for heaviness.
4. These New Puritans: We Want War 7:23 (2010)
From the Angular/Domino LP Hidden
If you want to know the shape of modern prog rock, look no further than “We Want War.” The song is a multi-part opus orchestrated with woodwinds and spiked with sound effects of knives being sharpened to complement the writhing synthesizers. As we’ve heard so far, there are no solos, and musicianship is downplayed in deference to post-punk musical politics, and so the echo of prog is heard in the song’s structure and sense of adventure.
5. Radio Massacre International: Syd 2:47 (2007)
From the Cuneiform LP Rain Falls in Grey
This prolific psychedelic band has been known to release a few albums in a year, and doesn’t shy away from putting more than one side-long epic on a single release. “Syd” is a little more concise, but it does offer a pretty sterling example of the kind of swirling texture that lies at the heart of the band’s music.
6. The Orb: Montagne d’Or (Der Gute Berg) 10:42 (1994)
From the Island LP Orbus Terrarum
The Orb gave away their affection for prog when they referenced Pink Floyd’s Animals on the covers of both Live 93 and The Aubrey Mixes, but it goes deeper than that. They’ve worked with Steve Hillage and David Gilmour, and Pink Floyd’s post-Waters touring bassist, Guy Pratt, is on their debut. And while the pulsing techno of their first two albums bears little direct prog influence in its sound, the same can’t be said for 1994’s Orbus Terrarum, which applies the band’s studio prowess to creating, sprawling, proggy ambient opuses.
7. Mansun: Television 8:22 (1998)
From the Parlophone LP Six
Mansun were already a pretty openly prog-influenced band on their debut, but on this, their second album, they went all the way, creating a long concept piece with operatic interludes, quotes from Tchaikovsky, unabashed guitar solos, multi-part songs, and seamless sequencing.
8. The Pineapple Thief: West Winds 8:54 (2007)
From the Cyclops LP What We Have Sown
The Pineapple Thief are fairly typical of 21st Century British neo-prog bands. They build songs with ambitious structures, but they keep a foot in emotional, melodic rock. I call this “bridging the Radiohead gap,” which is a convenient way of saying that they make prog that still has a chance to reach an audience outside the music’s large cult following.
9. Peter Murphy: Just for Love 6:38 (2002)
From the Metropolis LP Dust
Peter Murphy was the vocalist for Bauhaus, and after that band’s disintegration, he embarked on a fitful solo career. After embracing Sufi philosophy in the 1990s, Murphy moved to Turkey, and the influence of that country’s music has loomed large on his albums ever since.
10. Roger Waters: Four Minutes 4:00 (1987)
From the Columbia LP Radio KAOS
Roger Waters had already charted a one-way course into heavy concept pieces before leaving Pink Floyd, and in his solo career, he’s only gone further down that rabbit hole. Radio KAOS is, loosely, the story of a disabled Welsh man named Billy whose immense intelligence is hidden from the world by the fact that he’s physically unable to communicate. When he relocates to LA, he discovers that he can hear radio waves and use a cordless phone to broadcast his own thoughts and begins to call in to a certain radio station. He uses this ability to fake a nuclear war, bringing about global peace. Or something. “Four Minutes” is the part where people think the missiles are coming, and for all the ridiculous pretense, it’s actually pretty haunting.
11. Pink Floyd: High Hopes 8:32 (1994)
From the Columbia LP The Division Bell
While Waters was making high-concept albums, his old bandmates were just making music, music that’s far better than its reputation. “High Hopes” is the song that turned me on to music permanently. It was that bell that did it. The way it interlocks with the piano was so intriguing to me, and I still think it’s one of the most ingenious uses of found sound I’ve ever heard.
I considered titling this volume After the Fall, but that seemed a little melodramatic. Prog didn’t go anywhere after punk erupted from the underground. Its most successful acts kept playing arenas. Some even adapted to the times. What really happened to progressive rock from 1977 to 1979 is that it got broken down into its constituent molecules, and those molecules were absorbed into other things. They became a part of bands and singers who wouldn’t ever have thought of themselves as progressive rock bands.
Kate Bush got some of those molecules. So did David Bowie. People think of Wire as one of the ur-punk bands. But what do you think 154 would have sounded like if the band hadn’t marinated in progressive rock? Nothing Wire did was any less conceptually high-minded than anything a prog band had ever set its musicianship to. These ideas didn’t die. They were repackaged and critics put up a bunch of walls to help us forget where they came from.
This will be the last volume in this series to cover the chronological progression of UK prog. The final three volumes, which will be released all at once in a big blow-out next Monday, deal with the aftermath in a much looser way. I hope people have enjoyed the journey to this point.
1. Peter Gabriel: Moribund the Burgermeister 4:20 (1977)
From the Charisma LP Peter Gabriel
As we already heard on the last volume, Peter Gabriel left Genesis during the demanding tour for their Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album. He took three years to emerge with his first solo statement, and when he did, it was an impressive one. Where Genesis made their transition from all-out prog to FM-ready pop over the course of several albums (1974’s Lamb through 1979’s Duke, really), Gabriel kind of does it all on one album. His debut, nicknamed Car for its striking Hipgnosis cover, includes his breakout pop hit “Solsbury Hill” as well as a clutch of much harsher, more experimental material, a pattern he’d repeat on his other two self-titled records. Album opener “Moribund the Burgermeister” is one of those; with its Banks-ian keyboard fanfares, weird, warbly synth, and complex structure, it sounds a bit like, well, it sounds like Genesis. Gabriel’s old band had its big breakout pop hit just a few months later in 1978, with “Follow You Follow Me,” and from there on, the two grew in popularity in almost eerie tandem, as both embraced pop without giving up their progressive tendencies completely.
2. Anthony Phillips: Which Way the Wind Blows 5:54 (1977)
From the Passport LP The Geese & the Ghost
Long before Peter Gabriel left Genesis, Anthony Phillips left Genesis. He’d been the group’s original guitarist, but left in 1970 after the band made Trespass, citing stage fright as Genesis got bigger. He cut a low profile for most of the 70s, occasionally doing studio work with his old bandmates, and finally went solo in 1977. His first album features big contributions from Genesis’ Mike Rutherford, as well as flute played by John Hackett, the brother of the guitarist who replaced Phillips in Genesis. Phil Collins can be heard singing on this track, and the whole thing sounds very much like it could have been one of the quiet, folk-influenced tracks from an early 70s Genesis album, along the lines of “More Fool Me” (which was Collins’ first lead vocal for Genesis). Collins even sounds a little like Peter Gabriel. Phillips’ initial solo work nearly all has a low-key, pastoral prog vibe, almost as if he was hoping no one would notice he was putting these albums out in a world ruled by disco and New Wave.
3. The Alan Parsons Project: Genesis Ch. 1 V. 32 3:31 (1977)
From the Arista LP I Robot
The Alan Parsons Project never managed to score a big hit in the U.K., but their second album yielded a big one in North America in the form of “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” which wears a big disco influence on its sleeve. The I Robot LP generally sounds pulled in several directions at once, with the band attempting to combine strains of prog, New Wave, disco, and pop into something all its own and nearly succeeding. They attempt to tie it all together with a loose concept (robots, naturally), and this, the album closer is meant to be the exclamation point—there are only 31 verses in Genesis Chapter 1. The implication of referencing a nonexistent verse of Genesis is supposed to be that Man is attempting to create the robot in his own image (hence the new verse), as it helpfully informs us in the liner notes. Mostly, though, it’s a digestible, three-and-a-half-minute love letter to a sound that was itself slowly going extinct, its synthesized choir fading slowly over the last minute of the song.
4. England: Paraffinalea 4:16 (1977)
From the Arista LP Garden Shed
The global popularity of Yes spawned a lot of bands that strove to sound like them, from Starcastle in the USA to Saecula Saeculorum in Brazil to England in… England. It was pretty inevitable that a prog band from somewhere in England would name itself England (there was also a hard rock group called England), and it’s sort of funny that they’d go one further and name their first album after something as thoroughly English as the garden shed (“The Garden Shed” could easily be the title of a Wallace & Gromit short). The style at the time, of course, was to be very angry about the way things were in England—it could be argued that the punkest album released by a British band in 1977 was actually Pink Floyd’s eminently pissed-off Animals—not reverent about gardening as a way of life. England were in a hopeless situation sounding like this in 1977 to begin with, though, so it hardly mattered what they chose to sing about. Stripped of temporal context, though, Garden Shed is charming and accessible, if derivative, symphonic prog that might have fared quite well on the chart four years earlier. The band offers a sort of alternate universe Yes, where that band got friendlier instead of making Relayer.
5. Procol Harum: The Mark of the Claw 4:39 (1977)
From the Chrysalis LP Something Magic
The last time we heard from Procol Harum was a long time ago—they appeared on both Volumes 1 and 2. the band was still around in 1977, but like many of their contemporaries, they found themselves a target for critics and at the lowest ebb of their commercial fortunes. Something Magic was to be the band’s last album prior to a reunion in the early 90s, and they kind of went for it, cutting a 19-minute epic called “The Worm and the Tree” that features a lot of hyperdramatic instrumental passages and some turgid spoken word (lyricist Keith Reid claims the story of the worm and the tree was an allegory for critics trying to sink the band). By all accounts, the band’s relationship with producers Ron and Howie Albert was thorny, which could partly account for how spikey and dissonant the music gets at times. “The Mark of the Claw” is especially nasty, with its heavy guitar and bright, in-your-face synthesizer solo. Something Magic had no magic for the band’s waning fortunes, and they split up following their North American tour in support of the album.
6. This Heat: 24 Track Loop 5:56 (1979)
From the Piano LP This Heat
We met drummer Charles Hayward in this series playing with Phil Manzanera in Quiet Sun. When that band broke up, Hayward was briefly in Gong, and then worked with several other bands, including Dolphin Logic and Radar Favourites. It was in these two bands that he first worked with Charles Bullen, and in 1976, he and Bullen recruited Gareth Williams to form This Heat. Today, we’d most likely refer to This Heat’s aesthetic as post-punk, but at the time there were few words for what they were doing. They combined live performance with heavy tape editing, a technique that’s right in the title of “24 Track Loop.” The song takes the band’s live studio performances and puts them through the electonic ringer to create something that’s as much soundscape as song. This was never going to be a path to commercial success, but emphasizing experimentation was one way for progressive rock to adjust to a post-punk reality. I’ve mentioned bridges between prog and punk before—Hayward certainly is another. His own groups have often bridged the two worlds stylistically, and in addition to Gong and Quiet Sun he’s also played with Crass and Blurt.
7. Steve Hillage: The Glorious Om Riff 7:47 (1978)
From the Virgin LP Green
On the last volume, we heard Steve Hillage go from ambient psych to future funk. “The Glorious Om Riff” is full-on electronic rock, with keyboards that sound like guitars and guitars that sound like keyboards (some of the credit for this sound has to go to producer Nick Mason—this is probably his most impressive job behind the boards). Hillage had been around Europe a lot, and it seems likely that he was well familiar with the music of continental experimenters like Kraftwerk, Cluster, and Franco Battiato, but none of them quite combined rippling electronic textures with artsy rock the way Hillage did. This music is pretty close to tipping over into New Wave—a lot of similar textures would be employed in the service of pop songs over the next several years. Hillage has remained very active over the years, as a record producer (Simple Minds, Robin Hitchcock, The Charlatans, and many others), and performer. He went fully into ambient music with 1979’s Rainbow Dome Musick; today he and Miquette Giraudy play together in an electronic duo called System Seven.
8. National Health: Borogoves (Part 1) 6:35 (1977)
From the Affinity LP National Health
National Health was, for all intents, the last hurrah of Canterbury prog. Comprised of members and associates who’d played in Arzachel/Uriel, Egg, Matching Mole, Delivery, Hatfield & the North, Caravan, Khan, Gilgamesh, Colosseum II, Gong, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, and Soft Machine, among others (Bill Bruford was the band’s drummer at first, but moved on before they recorded), National Health made intensely complex instrumentals that buzzed with a dual synthesizer attack and had no commercial potential in 1977. “Borogoves (Part One)” exemplifies the band’s melodic and rhythmic approach, but one thing that a relatively short track like this (chosen in part to fit it on this mix) can’t show is how intense their music could get when they really got cooking. If you like the sound of this at all, definitely try to hear the fifteen-minute “Tenemos Roads,” which is the band’s masterwork. In varying lineups, National Health persisted into the early 80s, playing to a cult audience, and all of the members remained in music long after the band wet their separate ways.
9. U.K.: The Only Thing She Needs 7:55 (1979)
From the Polydor LP Danger Money
U.K. was the only type of new prog band that could make decent money in the late 70s: a supergroup. When Robert Fripp disbanded King Crimson in 1975, bassist/vocalist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford moved on to other projects, but found they still wanted to work together. They agreed that each would invite one other musician into the band. Wetton brought in violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson, who’d played with Curved Air, Roxy Music and Frank Zappa, and Bruford invited guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who was fresh off a stint with Gong. After one LP, Jobson and Wetton sacked Holdsworth, and Bruford followed him out the door. The remaining members replaced him with former Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio and hit the studio for a follow-up. “The Only Thing She Needs,” all eight minutes of it, is the closest thing to a radio-ready single on the album. In fact, if one were to make a four-minute edit of the song cutting out the lengthy instrumental jam, it might actually have some airwave potential. Wetton was a very direct vocalist and could sell a song (he’d sell a whole lot of them in the 80s when he co-founded Asia). Shorter songs was actually the route he wanted to pursue with UK, but Jobson didn’t agree, and the band split up. Jobson joined Jethro Tull and Bozzio formed Missing Persons with his wife, Dale.
10. Camel: Summer Lightning 6:10 (1978)
From the Decca LP Breathless
In which Camel goes disco and makes the best song on any of its late 70s LPs. Camel was perhaps the most popular of the second-tier prog bands—their cult has endured in force to this day—but the original quartet never quite broke through. Founding bassist Doug Ferguson left in 1976 and was replaced by former Caravan and Hatfield & the North bassist Richard Sinclair. Caravan fans will recognize Sinclair’s distinctive voice on this song, which perhaps the only song in the band’s whole 70s repertoire you can dance to. Andy Latimer’s guitar solo is one of his grittiest. After Breathless, Camel’s membership, relatively stable to this point, underwent major shifts, with the departure of keyboardist Peter Bardens and Sinclair. The band remained consistently active through the mid-80s and has reunited several times.
11. David Bowie: Blackout 3:49 (1977)
From the RCA LP “Heroes”
Bowie’s glam rock period and androgynous image were important influences on punk and New Wave style in the late 70s, but when punk was breaking, Bowie was in Berlin, working with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. The records he made there are touchstones in part for the way they sit so oddly in the middle of everything that was happening at the time, from late-period prog to the German avant-garde to post-punk and early New Wave. There’s not much on these records I’d call prog outright, but in its searching experimentalism, it has the spirit of early prog without the indulgence that doomed the genre. Bowie’s odd vocal harmonies and completely counterintuitive melodies on “Blackout” are one expression of that quest for something different. The Berlin trilogy ran out of steam after “Heroes,” and Bowie returned to a more overt pop style in the 80s, but for a few albums, the doors were wide open on his music, and you never knew what might happen next.
12. Skywhale: Hydraulic Fever 7:20 (1977)
From the Firebrand LP The World at Mind’s End
These days, Bristol is known for trip-hop, but long before the city had a signature sound, it gave us Skywhale, which has to be one of the most amusing names of any band to come out of the UK’s prog and fusion scene in the 70s. Led by multi-instrumentalist Steve Robshaw, the band definitely leaned toward the fusion side of things, though passages of “Hydraulic Fever” where the meter changes just about every bar show their debt to prog, as do the Zappa-with-less-fuss horn themes of the song’s second half. Skywhale’s debut album is strong and tuneful, but the band toiled in obscurity, and never made another record.
13. Kate Bush: Hammer Horror 4:40 (1978)
From the EMI LP Lionheart
Kate Bush wasn’t a progressive rock artist, per se, but she would have been basically impossible without the precedent of prog. Thing is, the fashion shifted in favor of punk and New Wave, but people’s appetites didn’t necessarily change—people simply sought new ways to get what they wanted, and her theatrical, complex music, packaged into concise, memorable songs, was a perfect surrogate for the prog no one was making anymore. I really do think that a large portion of the UK’s record-buying public missed what it had gotten from prog at its best, and here was someone making boldly ambitious, big-budget music, who was also willing to wear the lion costume when the situation called for it. “Hammer Horror,” which takes its title from a film subgenre associated with London-based production company Hammer Film Productions, concerns the story of an actor haunted by the man he replaced in a production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which wasn’t atypical of Bush’s lyrical concerns (her breakthrough hit had been “Wuthering Heights,” after all), and its orchestral arrangement and sharp lead guitar behaved as though punk hadn’t even happened. Bush went on to become one of Britain’s most successful female solo artists, and she still makes thoughtful, ambitious pop music today.
14. Art Bears: Moeris, Dancing 5:06 (1978)
From the Rē LP Hopes and Fears
In 1978, Henry Cow launched the Rock in Opposition movement with a concert that also included four continental European bands, Sweden’s Samla Mammas Manna, Belgium’s Univers Zero, Italy’s Stormy Six, and France’s Etron Fou Leloublan. The term, abbreviated to RiO, is today often used as a genre tag, but it was a real organization at the time, with a membership. Even they started the RiO organization, though, Henry Cow’s members were growing apart, and the band disintegrated not long after the concert. Guitarist Fred Frith and drummer Chris Cutler got together with ex-Slapp Happy vocalist Dagmar Krause to form Art Bears, which along with France’s Art Zoyd and Belgium’s Aksak Maboul, also joined the RiO organization. The folly of using RiO as a genre tag is that there really is no definitive RiO sound. These were bands that were united more by attitude than musical content, and more than anything, the term has come to refer to complex music with a heavy emphasis on dissonance and non-American harmony, as well as a generally experimental, non-commercial structure. Art Bears’ music certainly fits that description, as “Moeris, Dancing” attests. This was weird music made by musicians who didn’t particularly care how many people bought the records. Which, come to think of it, is pretty punk. RiO as an organization ended after a second collective concert in 1979, but the bands and their members stayed involved in music, and the vocabulary they developed, both musical and polemical, has endured and proliferated.
15. The Walker Brothers: The Electrician 6:08 (1978)
From the GTO LP Nite Flights
The Walker Brothers had been a hugely successful pop act in the 1960s. Comprised of three American ex-pats (none of whom were actually named Walker), they’d made run after run at the charts during their original run from 1964 to 1968. They broke up to go solo, but only Scott Walker managed to produce a large and substantial body of solo work (it’s worth checking out the singles made by Gary Walker & the Rain, though), and in the 70s, they reconvened to make a couple albums of bland, if well-performed, pop. And then they did this. Nite Flights is a weird album, divided into sections where each member writes and sings. Scott Walker’s four songs, which dominate side one, were sharply different from anything the group had attempted before, delving into strange, avant-garde arrangements and textures that laid groundwork for his sporadic solo career in the decades that followed. “The Electrician” may be the oddest of all for the way it inserts an orchestrated instrumental interlude that sounds very much like the kind of easy listening the group’s fans might have hoped for, smack in between droning and disquieting verses that have no interest in pop accessibility. This is another selection that can’t really be described as prog rock in the most commonly understood sense, but it clearly owes debts to Eno and Roxy Music, among others—the band even paid Hipgnosis to do the cover Nite Flights cover art.
16. Illusion: The Revolutionary 6:15 (1978)
From the Island LP Illusion
Nearly a decade earlier, a couple of former Yardbirds had pieced together a foundational progressive rock band they called Renaissance. The band recorded two albums, the second one titled Illusion, and slowly broke up as members moved on to other projects. A funny thing happened, though. New people kept rotating into the band, and ultimately, a new lineup solidified that had nothing in common with the original lineup. We’ve heard from all these versions of Renaissance over the course of this project (the original on Volume 4, the transitional lineup on Volume 9, and the classic quintet on Volume 14). In 1976, the original Renaissance guitarist, former Yardbird Keith Relf, contacted the other four original Renaissance members about reuniting. Relf was electrocuted in his home during an equipment malfunction in his practice space and died before the group could go into the studio, but the remaining four members took the name Illusion (after the second Renaissance album) and carried on without him. The reconstituted band made two albums very much in the same symphonic style they’d played in the late 60s, but found that the atmosphere of the music world had changed considerably and wasn’t nearly so welcoming as it had been so many years earlier. This band also titled its second album Illusion, and though it didn’t stand a chance on the charts when it was released, it’s an LP I think any fan of symphnic prog could enjoy. The inspiration was still there even if the commercial reception wasn’t. Not everyone was so beholden to the old sounds—the same year, Renaissance itself had a Top Ten UK hit with their New Wave-y single “Northern Lights.”
From the late 70s onward, prog rock spent a lot of time in the critical wilderness, completely unfashionable even as its cult remained strong and some of its biggest acts continued to draw as they transitioned from vital creative enterprieses to nostalgia acts, and even grew as the descendants of 70s prog bands gathered audiences for themselves.
That long banishment began here, in 1976. This was the year that punk and New Wave caught the imagination of British youth and the magazines and fanzines that served them. Initially interchangeable, the two terms quickly came to represent separate camps, with punk on the aggressive and rough end of the spectrum, and New Wave occupying space closer to pop and pub rock.
Prog didn’t die overnight, or really at all. Yes and Genesis and Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull all continued to sell albums in huge quantities and tour ever bigger venues, but that fed into a problem of perception that prog had fallen victim to—what had started in the underground and grown from there had to come to be viewed by a lot of young people as a sort of enemy, a dragon to be slain. Punk was not, it must be said, a reaction to this music. It was a reaction to economic malaise and social pressures in Britain during the mid-1970s, but once it was in the ascent, punk found an easy target in lumbering prog rock bands playing side-long suites about pitched battles between ogres and wizards.
The shift in commercial fortunes had at least one practical effect on prog: no one who started a new band in the last three years of the 70s started a prog band, unless they were already famous from playing in another prog band (see: U.K.) or they were devoted to the music and didn’t mind playing local gigs to tiny audiences with no hope of ever breaking out (see: Dogwatch, whose lone album, recorded live at a tiny club called the Bridge House in 1979, is sadly almost impossible to track down in the US, though it was available on CD for a time in the UK earlier this year).
1. Genesis: Eleventh Earl of Mar 7:44
From the Charisma LP Wind & Wuthering
In 1974, Genesis released an incredibly elaborate double concept album called The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. It was followed by an equally elaborate tour, during which they played the album in its entirety. Making the album had already strained things in the band; the tour was grueling, and the band grew to hate performing certain pieces of music from the album and felt trapped by the rigid setlist, which was partly held hostage to vocalist Peter Gabriel’s complicated and frequent costume changes. Gabriel announced his intention to leave the band at the end of the tour to his bandmates, and they decided to carry on without him, searching for a vocalist before realizing that they already had a pretty good one sitting in the drum chair. Phil Collins took over the lead vocal duties, and the band, which had always written its music and lyrics democratically, made two albums as a quartet. A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering measure up quite well against the band’s Gabriel-era material, and were the band’s last two full-on prog albums before guitarist Steve Hackett departed and the remaining trio of Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks turned in a more pop-oriented direction. “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” perhaps more than any of their other lengthy prog opuses, reveals the pop-friendly band living in the heart of Genesis with its dramatic themes and big, memorable chorus. I’ve written about this song at length before, so if you’re interested in understanding the history behind the song’s lyrics, which are about the Jacobite uprising of 1715, follow the link.
2. The Alan Parsons Project: The Raven 4:03
From the Charisma LP Stories of Mystery & Imagination: Edgar Allen Poe
The Vocoder was originally developed at Bell Labs in 1928 by a man named Homer Dudley, who was seeking a way to transmit voices more clearly over long distances. Dudley was an acoustic engineer, and he based his invention on the idea that speech is a continuous sound produced by the body, which is modified by the tongue, lips, and mouth to create words and tones. By analyzing an incoming voice and splitting it across several frequencies, he could arrive at a sound that would transmit more clearly. His work led him to the refinement of the technology in the 1930s and the earliest experiments with voice synthesis. The Vocoder had been used musically in experimental environments since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the late 60s that Robert Moog’s development of a solid state Vocoder made its use in music practical. Bruce Haack used one of his own design on 1969’s The Electric Lucifer, and Moog helped Wendy Carlos build one in 1970—you can hear the results on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Alan Parsons Project was not the first band to use a Vocoder to process vocals—Kraftwerk had used it in 1974 on Autobahn—but their use was one of the earliest. Parsons had been an engineer at Abbey Road Studios—he helped record Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon, among many, many others—and he formed the Project in 1975 with Glaswegian musician Eric Woolfson, though these two and guitarist Ian Bairnson were the only constant contributors to the band, which was almost entirely a studio project. Naturally, their first record was a concept album. Tales of Mystery and Imagination is not half as dark or moody as one might expect an album inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe to be, but it is very bold musically, featuring lots of futuristic synthesizer from Parsons, and a prominent role for the Vocoder on “The Raven,” where actor Leonard Whiting’s lead vocal is accompanied by parsons himself running his voice through the processor to create an otherworldly effect.
3. Steve Hillage: Hurdy Gurdy Glissando 9:01
From the Virgin LP L
Steve Hillage was the Zelig of the UK’s prog scene in the 1970s. He played in the seminal Canterbury group Arzachel (aka Uriel), led the quartet Khan, briefly joined Kevin Ayers’ Decadence and played with Mike Oldfield, then joined Gong. He launched his solo career in 1975, but still found time to play in National Health. He also collaborated with early punk band Sham 69 and remains active today (more on that in the notes for the next volume). For his second solo album, Hillage left Britain to record with Todd Rundgren, and L features Utopia as the core backing band (with guest spots from jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and Hillage’s girlfriend—and still partner—Miquette Giraudy). Hillage and Giraudy were early explorers of ambient music, and you can catch a bit of that in the intro to “Hurdy Gurdy Glissando,” which they wrote together. Hillage sings a sort of spaced-out hippie verse as the soundscape thickens, and then the song blows wide open at the half-way mark, slipping into a sick groove as the synthesizer solidifies into a lead instrument. We will visit Hillage again on the next volume—his early solo discography is very much worth exploring.
4. 10cc: Art for Art’s Sake 6:02
From the Mercury LP How Dare You!
I’ve talked a lot about how the ideas embodied in prog rock seeped into wider British rock scene as the 70s progressed, and it’s hard to think of a British pop band that wore those influences further out on its sleeve than 10cc. In its original configuration, the band featured two writing teams, Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, and Lol Creme and Kevin Godley; it was the latter pair that lent its ear for experimentation and proggy concept work to the band, while the Stewart/Gouldman team generally wrote more concise, pop-flavored songs. Of course, I’ve now gone and featured a Stewart/Gouldman song on this volume, but it’s fair. “Art for Art’s Sake” is a broadly poppy song, with a very catchy melody and humorous lyrics, but it also features a spacey, abstract intro, several contrasting sections, a weird, Zappa-ish breakdown right in the middle, and a lot of loud lead guitar over its six minutes. It’s essentially the sound of prog folded, stapled and mutilated into the shape of an ambitious pop song. Godley and Creme left the band after How Dare You! to record as a duo under their last names, and Gouldman and Stewart carried it on into the early 80s, by which point their former bandmates had largely put aside music to focus on directing videos for other artists.
5. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: The Road to Babylon 6:53
From the Bronze LP The Roaring Silence
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band was another group that teetered on the border between prog and pop. 1976’s The Roaring Silence featured by far their biggest hit in their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light,” but once you get past that radio-ready track, the rest of the album is littered with musical quotes from Stravinsky and Schubert, liberal use of Mellotron, and lengthy instrumental passages. Guitarist/vocalist Mick Rogers had left the band after its last album, and he was replaced by Chris Hamlet Thompson, whose vocals are perhaps a little grittier, but no more showy than those of his predecessor. “Road to Babylon” gives him a lot of room to show what he can do, vocally and on his guitar, and they skillfully blur the line between actual vocal harmonies and a Mellotron choir. On subsequent albums, the Earth Band largely lost its progressive edge, but it proved to have amazing staying power, touring and releasing albums regularly through the mid-90s.
6. Brân: Hapus Awr
From the Sain LP Hedfan
This is the second time we’ve heard from Welsh prog-folk act Brân, who made no concessions to the dominance of English as the common language of pop music, choosing to sing Welsh. The only unfortunate thing about that decision is that it limited their audience largely to Wales, and they made some music that really deserved a wider airing. “Hapus Awr,” from their second album, is one of their best songs, blending the operatic singing voice of Nest Howells with some mildly psychedelic lead guitar. The song swings back and forth between folky verses and heavier rock passages, but it does it smoothly, without the kind of on-a-dime turns so often associated with prog rock. By the time of their final album, Howells was gone and Brân had largely abandoned their prog leanings. Several members ultimately went on to form a second prog-folk group called Pererin.
7. Neil Ardley: Prologue: Rainbow One 10:27
From the Gull LP Kaliedoscope of Rainbows
Neil Ardley was an author, editor, composer and keyboardist who kept up simultaneous careers writing science books and leading bands—if you ever had one of David MacCauley’s The Way Things Work books, you’ve seen Ardley’s work in publishing. He got his professional start in the early 60s with the John Williams Big Band (where played with a young Jack Bruce), and later became director of the new Jazz Orchestra, which included, among others, Ian Carr of Nucleus, Jon Hiseman, who played in both versions of Colosseum, and Barbara Thompson, who played sax on Manfred Mann’s Roaring Silence LP and had a long, productive jazz career as a leader and sideman. In the 1970s, Ardley began composing classically influenced themes and arranging them in a setting that was about 70% jazz and 30% rock. “Prologue” begins in a rockish vein before gradually growing into a fuller jazz arrangement as the drums loosen up and the solos get wilder. Ardley’s 70s work inhabits that prog/not prog grey zone I’ve talked about so much, but I think fans of prog rock, especially in its more jazz-oriented strains, will find plenty to like on his albums.
8. Brand X: Born Ugly 8:16
From the Charisma LP Unorthodox Behaviour
Brand X was also a jazz band, but rather than a jazz band playing in a prog-informed style, they were prog musicians playing jazz. Phil Collins famously played drums for Brand X, and he was joined by session bassist Percy Jones, former Atomic Rooster guitarist John Goodsall, and keyboardist Robin Lumley, who had played with David Bowie. The group’s early albums are not for fusion newcomers, being full full of solo swapping, tricky time changes and a generslly heady mix of composition and improvisation. This lineup of the abnd recorded only one album before adding percussionist Morris Pert—Pert took over from Collins on drums for the band’s third album, and from there until they split in 1982, those five musicians and several others played in Brand X as a sort of jazz-rock collective. When Brand X reconvened in 1992 after a ten-year break, Collins was a superstar in his own right, and he wasn’t present for any of the albums recorded by the reconstituted band.
9. Queen: White Man 4:59
From the EMI LP A Day at the Races
For a long time, I wasn’t going to include any Queen at all on these sets, and you won’t find too many prog fans who think of them as a prog band. That’s because they really weren’t, but what they were was a band that was able to make a lot of the most outlandish things that prog rock brought to the table—choirs, multi-part suites, weird lyrical concepts, virtuoso performances—appealing and fun for a general rock and pop audience. The ambition of Queen’s flamboyant pomp rock had a lot in common with the work of their prog colleagues, and they stand out to me as a band that wouldn’t have been able to get hugely popular if prog bands hadn’t softened the ground for them in the very early 70s. “White Man” is a deep cut from their smash hit A Day at the Races LP, and it shows a much rawer and heavier rock band than the hits ever did.
10. Van der Graaf Generator: Wondering 6:49
From the Charisma LP World Record
We last heard from Van der Graaf Generator all the way back on Volume 6, and in the interim, the band had split up and reunited. During their time off, they’d barely broken up. Peter Hammill pursued a solo career, and everyone else from VdGG played on his albums, while his bandmates, Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and David Jackson, recorded an album of their own under the name The Long Hello. The band reconvened in 1975, and World Record is the third album of their first reunion the last to feature the classic Jackson/Hammill/Evans/Banton lineup. The band’s sound survived their hiatus intact, but there is a noticeable tonal shift on the reunion material, which is considerably less dark than the band’s early work, and generally more anthemic. “Wondering” presses hard on the anthem button—by the time it ends seven minutes in, one has to wonder how many more ceilings the arrangement could possibly burst through. Jackson and Banton left the band soon after this album, and the group broke up for real in 1978, but the members stayed on good terms and occasionally worked with each other. The classic VdGG reconvened again in 2005 and still tours, though minus Jackson.
11. The Enid: The Last Judgement 8:12
From the Buk LP In the Region of the Summer Stars
Just about any time you hear someone whinging about prog rock, and the excess and the hubris and cold technicality of the music, you’re hearing someone who hasn’t actually listened to a lot of prog rock. But there is a hint of truth to those accusations, as there is with nearly any stereotype. The Enid, led by Robert John Godfrey on and off for the last four decades certainly could be superficially accused of virtually any sin anyone ever claimed for prog. Their early albums are almost comically oversized rock/orchestral suites, overflowing with huge mellotron themes and screaming guitar, and, in the case of “The Last Judgement,” little injections of choir. This song works overtime to live up to its title, and every time you think it’s gone completely over the top, it goes a little further. Godfrey was in on the joke though—he has openly spoken of the overload on his albums as ironic, and he even titled the band’s second album Aerie Faerie Nonsense, pre-empting what he figured critics might call it. Ironic or no, this music had absolutley no commercial prospects in 1976, much less in 1977, when the follow-up was released. But if you’re able to read it as parody, it pretty quickly becomes a much more trenchant comment on prog rock than anything Johnny Rotten ever said at Malcolm McLaren’s urging.