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Progressive rock (also referred to as prog rock or prog) is a subgenre of rock music that evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a "mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility."

Progressive rock bands pushed "rock's technical and compositional boundaries" by going beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus-based song structure. Additionally, the arrangements often incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music. Instrumentals were common, while songs with lyrics were sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy. Progressive rock bands sometimes used "concept albums that made unified statements, usually telling an epic story or tackling a grand overarching theme."

Progressive rock developed from late 1960s psychedelic rock, as part of a wide-ranging tendency in rock music of this era to draw inspiration from ever more diverse influences. The term was applied to the music of bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Soft Machine, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and reached its peak of popularity in the mid 1970s.


Musical characteristics

Form: Progressive rock music either avoids common popular music song structures of verse-chorus-bridge, or blur the formal distinctions by extending sections or inserting musical interludes, often with exaggerated dynamics to heighten contrast between sections. Classical forms are often inserted or substituted, sometimes yielding entire suites, building on the traditional medleys of earlier rock bands. Progressive rock music also often has extended instrumental passages, marrying the classical solo tradition with the improvisational traditions of jazz and psychedelic rock. All of these tend to add length to progressive rock music, which may last longer than twenty minutes and are usually not "songs" per se, but musical works that have a lot more in common with more established musical concepts.

Timbre (instrumentation and tone color): Early progressive rock groups expanded the timbral palette of traditional rock instrumentation of guitar, organ, bass, and drums by adding instruments more typical of jazz or folk music, such as flute, saxophone, and violin, and more often than not used electronic keyboards, synthesizers, and electronic effects units. Some instruments – most notably the Moog synthesizer and the Mellotron – have become closely associated with the genre.

Rhythm: Drawing on their classical, jazz, folk and experimental influences, progressive rock artists are more likely to explore time signatures other than 4/4 and tempo changes. Progressive rock generally tends to be freer in its rhythmic approach than other forms of rock music. The approach taken varies across different works but may range from regular beats to irregular or complex time signatures.

Melody and Harmony: In progressive rock, the blues inflections of mainstream rock are often supplanted by jazz and classical influences. Melodies are more likely to be modal than based on the pentatonic scale, and are more likely to comprise longer, developing passages than short, catchy ones. Chords and chord progressions may be augmented with 6th, 7th, 9th, and compound intervals; and the I-IV-V is much less common. Allusions to, or even direct quotes from, well-known classical themes are common. Some bands (notably King Crimson) have used atonal or dissonant harmonies, and a few, such as Henry Cow, Shub-Niggurath, and 5UUs, have even worked with rudimentary serialism.

Texture and imagery: Ambient soundscapes and theatrical elements may be used to describe scenes, events or other aspects of the concept. For example, leitmotif is used to represent the various characters in Genesis' "Harold the Barrel" (from Nursery Cryme) and "Robbery, Assault and Battery" (from A Trick of the Tail), and more literally, the sounds of clocks and cash registers are used to represent time and money in Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

Other characteristics

Technology: To aid timbral exploration, progressive rock bands were often early adopters of new electronic musical instruments and technologies. The analog synthesizer is the instrument best associated with progressive rock. This included the modular Moog used by ELP, Mini Moog by Yes, ARP Pro Soloist by Genesis, Oberheim by Styx, etc. The mellotron, particularly, was a signature sound of early progressive bands. Pink Floyd utilized an EMS Synthi A synthesizer equipped with a sequencer on their track "On the Run" from their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. In the late 1970s, Robert Fripp, of King Crimson, and Brian Eno developed an analog tape loops effect (Frippertronics). In the 1980s, Frank Zappa used the Synclavier for composing and recording, and King Crimson utilized MIDI-enabled guitars, a Chapman Stick, and electronic percussion.

Concept albums: Collections of songs unified by an elaborate, overarching theme or story are common to progressive rock. As songs by progressive rock acts tend to be quite long, such collections have frequently exceeded the maximum length of recorded media, resulting in packages that require multiple vinyl discs, cassettes, or compact discs in order to present a single album. Concepts have included the historical, fantastical, and metaphysical, and even, in the case of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, poking fun at concept albums.

Lyrical themes: Progressive rock typically has lyrical ambition similar to its musical ambition, tending to avoid typical rock/pop subjects such as love, dancing, etc., rather inclining towards the kinds of themes found in classical literature, fantasy, folklore, social commentary or all of these. Peter Gabriel (Genesis) often wrote surreal stories to base his lyrics around, sometimes including theatrical elements with several characters, while Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) combined social criticism with personal struggles with greed, madness, and death.

Presentation: Album art and packaging is often an important part of the artistic concept. This trend can be seen to have begun with The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and played a major part in the marketing of progressive rock. Some bands became as well known for the art direction of their albums as for their sound, with the "look" integrated into the band's overall musical identity. This led to fame for particular artists and design studios, most notably Roger Dean for his work with Yes, and Hipgnosis for their work with Pink Floyd and several other progressive rock groups.

Stage theatrics: Beginning in the early 1970s, some progressive rock bands began incorporating elaborate and sometimes flamboyant stage theatrics into their concerts. Genesis lead singer Peter Gabriel wore many different colourful and exotic costumes within each show and frequently acted out the lyrical narrative of the songs, Pink Floyd would utilize burning gongs and crashing airplanes and inflatables, Yes incorporated futuristic stage sets designed by Roger Dean, performing 'in-the-round', and one of ELP's many stage antics include Emerson's "flying piano" at the California Jam concert, in which a Steinwaymarker grand piano would be spun from a hoist.



Allmusic cites Bob Dylan's poetry, The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! (1966) and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) as showing the "earliest rumblings of progressive and art rock", while cites the latter as its "starting point", although earlier albums such as Rubber Soul and Revolver had begun incorporating Eastern music and instruments not common in rock music. This would later be followed by progressive-rock acts such as Yes and King Crimson.

Freak Out!, released in 1966, had been a mixture of progressive rock, garage rock and avant-garde layered sounds. In the same year, the band "1-2-3", later renamed Clouds, began experimenting with song structures, improvisation, and multi-layered arrangements. In March of that year, The Byrds released "Eight Miles High", a pioneering psychedelic rock single with lead guitar heavily influenced by the jazz soloing style of John Coltrane. Later that year, The Who released "A Quick One While He's Away", the first example of the rock opera form, and considered by some to have been the first prog epic.

In 1967, Jeff Beck released the single "Beck's Bolero", inspired by Maurice Ravel's Bolero, and, later that year, Procol Harum released the Bach-influenced single "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Also in 1967, the Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed, combining classical-inspired orchestral music with traditional rock instrumentation and song structures. Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, contained the nearly ten-minute improvisational psychedelic instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive".

By the late 1960s, many rock bands had begun incorporating instruments from classical and Eastern music, as well as experimenting with improvisation and lengthier compositions. Some, such as the UK's Soft Machine, began to experiment with blends of rock and jazz. By the end of the decade, other bands, such as Deep Purple and The Nice, had also recorded classical-influenced albums with full orchestras: Concerto for Group and Orchestra and Five Bridges, respectively.

Early bands

Music critic Piero Scaruffi opines that the "bands that nurtured prog-rock through its early stages were Traffic, Jeff Beck, Family, Jethro Tull, and Genesis; while King Crimson, Yes, and Van Der Graaf Generator represent the genre at its apex".

Numerous key bands had formed by the end of the 1960s, including The Moody Blues (1964), Pink Floyd (1965), Soft Machine (1966), Barclay James Harvest (1966), Gong (1967), Genesis (1967), Jethro Tull (1967), The Nice (1967), Yes (1968), Caravan (1968), King Crimson (1969), Supertramp (1969) and Gentle Giant (1969).

Although almost all of these bands were from the UK, the genre was growing popular elsewhere in continental Europe. Triumvirat led Germany's significant progressive rock movement, while Tangerine Dream, Faust, Can and Neu! led the related Berlin School and Krautrock movements. 1979 to 1986 Switzerland's Flame Dream recorded one album on Philips Records ; and five albums on the Vertigo Records , Phonogram Records and three singles on Vertigo Phonogram Records with the help of Steve Hackett producer John Acock.Flame Dream mostly recorded at Patrick Moraz's Aquarius Studios in Geneva,Switzerland along with engineer Jean Ristori.Patrick Moraz Aquarius Studios,which was the first one with 48 tracks facilities in Genevamarker , Switzerland was a creative mega magnetic for recording signed European progressive rock bands,including Eloy, Englishmarker jazz fusion guitarist John McLaughlin.Focus and Trace formed in the Netherlands, France produced Ange, Gong, and Magma, and Greece saw the debut of Aphrodite's Child led by electronic music pioneer Vangelis. Spain produced numerous prog groups, including Canarios and Triana. Scandinavia was represented by: Norwegian band Popol Vuh, Swedish band Kaipa and Finnish band Wigwam. Italian progressive rock is sometimes considered a genre unto itself, highlighted by bands like PFM, Banco, Quella Vecchia Locanda, Metamorfosi, New Trolls, Area, Le Orme, Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Il Balletto di Bronzo, and Locanda Delle Fate.

Peak in popularity and decline

Progressive rock's popularity peaked in the mid-1970s, when prog artists regularly topped readers' votes in mainstream popular music magazines in Britain and America, and albums like Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells topped the charts. By this time, several North American progressive rock bands had been formed. Kansas, which had actually existed in one form or another since 1971, became one of the most commercially successful of all progressive rock bands.

Likewise, Electric Light Orchestra, who formed in 1970 as a progressive offshoot of "The Beatles sound", saw their greatest success during the mid-1970s. Pop star Todd Rundgren moved into prog with his new band, Utopia. Torontomarker's Rush became a major band, with a string of hit albums extending from the mid-1970s to the present. Also influential, but less commercially successful, were the Dixie Dregs, from Georgiamarker, and Happy the Man, of Washington, D.C.

Music critic Piero Scaruffi opines that Emerson Lake & Palmer "pushed progressive-rock towards technical excesses that, basically, obliterated whatever merit their jazz-classical fusion had." Scaruffi claims that ELP's music, which became "ever more pretentious and magniloquent, was founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of what 'virtuoso' means."Bruce Eder claims that "the rot" in progressive rock "started to set in during 1976, the year ELP released their live album Welcome Back My Friends". Eder claims that this album was "suffering from poor sound and uninspired playing" which "stretched the devotion of fans and critics even thinner." He claims that "the end [of progressive rock] came quickly: by 1977, the new generation of listeners was even more interested in a good time than the audiences of the early 1970s, and they had no patience for 30 minute prog-rock suites or concept albums based on Tolkien-esque stories." He asserts that by the late 1970s and early 1980s, "ELP was barely functioning as a unit, and not producing music with any energy; Genesis was redefining themselves ... as a pop-rock band; and Yes was back to doing songs running four minutes ... and even releasing singles."

In 1974, four of progressive rock's biggest bands – Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Genesis and King Crimson – all went on indefinite hiatus or experienced personnel changes. Members of Yes and ELP left to pursue solo work, as did Genesis lead singer Peter Gabriel, who left his band (though Genesis would continue with Phil Collins as lead vocalist), and Robert Fripp announced the end of King Crimson after the release of their Red album. When, in 1977, Yes and ELP reformed, they had some success, but were unable to capture the dominance they previously had.

The advent of punk rock in the late 1970s, alongside the rise in disco music which emerged about the same time (which had a major effect in the decline in most rock groups' popularity), helped move critical opinion in the UK towards a simpler and more aggressive style of rock, with progressive bands increasingly dismissed as pretentious and overblown, ending progressive rock's reign as one of the leading styles in rock. However, established progressive bands still had a strong fan base; Rush, Genesis, ELP, Yes, Queen, and Pink Floyd all regularly scored Top Ten albums with massive accompanying tours, the largest yet for some of them.

By 1979, by which time punk had mutated into New Wave, Pink Floyd released their rock opera The Wall, one of the best selling albums in history. Many bands which emerged in the aftermath of punk, such as Siouxsie & the Banshees, Cabaret Voltaire, Ultravox, Simple Minds, and Wire, all showed the influence of prog, as well as their more usually recognised punk influences.

1980s revival

The early 1980s saw a revival of the genre, led by artists such as Marillion, UK, Twelfth Night, IQ, Pendragon, Quasar, Mach One and Pallas. The groups that arose during this time are sometimes termed neo-progressive or neo-prog. Bands of this style were influenced by 1970s progressive rock groups like Genesis, Yes and Camel, but incorporated some elements that were reflective of the New Wave and other rock elements found in the 1980s. The digital synthesiser became a prominent instrument in the style. Neo-prog continued to remain viable into the 1990s and beyond with bands like Arena and Jadis.

Some progressive rock stalwarts changed musical direction, simplifying their music and making it more commercially viable. In 1981, King Crimson made a comeback that incorporated a more techno-rhythmic sound and Asia released a pop-oriented debut album. This demonstrated a market for more commercialised British progressive rock – a style very similar to that played by North American Top 40 stalwarts such as Styx and Journey. Genesis changed to a more commercial direction during the 1980s, and Yes had a comeback with 90125, featuring their only US number one single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart". Likewise, Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987 was a departure from their former concept albums, featuring much shorter songs and a more electronic sound.

1990s and 2000s

The progressive rock genre enjoyed another revival in the 1990s. A notable kickoff to this revival was the foundation of the Swedish Art Rock Society (1991) with Pär Lindh as chairman, an association created to rescue the values of classic Progressive Rock. This society was an impulse for new Swedish bands as Anekdoten, Änglagård, Landberk and Pär Lindh Project, who hit the scene between 1992 and 1994. Later came the so-called "Third Wave", spearheaded by such bands as Sweden's The Flower Kings, the UK's Porcupine Tree, Italy's Finisterre, and from the United States, Dream Theater, Death, Spock's Beard, Echolyn, Ten Jinn, Proto-Kaw (a reincarnation of an early lineup of Kansas), Glass Hammer and Norway's White Willow and Wobbler. Arjen Anthony Lucassen, with the backing of an array of talent from the progressive rock genre, produced a series of innovative prog-metal concept albums (Ayreon) starting from 1995.

Several of the bands in the prog-metal genre – Dream Theater (U.S.marker), Ayreon (Netherlandsmarker), Opeth (Swedenmarker), Fates Warning (U.S.), and Queensrÿche (U.S.) – cite pioneer progressive hard-rockers Rush as a primary influence, although their music exhibits influences from more traditional metal bands such as Black Sabbath or Deep Purple as well. Tool (U.S.) have cited pioneers King Crimson as an influence on their work. King Crimson opened for Tool on their 2001 tour and expressed admiration for the group while continuing to deny the "prog" label.

Progressive rock has also served as a key inspiration for genres such as post-rock, avant-garde metal, power metal, neo-classical metal and symphonic metal. Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy has acknowledged that the prominent use of progressive elements and qualities in metal is not confined to bands conventionally classified as "progressive metal". Many underground metal styles (especially extreme metal styles, which are characterised by extremely fast or slow speed, high levels of distortion, a technical or atmospheric, epic orientation and often highly unusual melodies, scales, vocal styles, song structures and, especially in death metal, abrupt tempo, key and time signature changes; folk metal is known for often employing uncommon instruments and other unusual elements) and some seminal bands such as Watchtower, Celtic Frost (a highly innovative band having pioneered several styles) or The 3rd and the Mortal remain poorly known even to genre fans.

Former members of the pioneering post-hardcore band At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez went on to form The Mars Volta, a successful progressive band that incorporates jazz, funk, punk rock, Latin music, and ambient noise into songs that range in length from a few minutes to more than thirty. They have achieved some crossover success, with their 2005 album Frances the Mute reaching #4 on the Billboard 200 chart after the single "The Widow" became a hit on modern rock radio. Coheed and Cambria are another band known for their lengthy solos and off-the-beaten-path direction with regard to songwriting, in which each song corresponds to an important event in the graphic novel series, "The Amory Wars", which was written by lead singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez.

The first decade of the 2000s were also the years when progressive rock gained more popularity in eastern Europe, especially in Russiamarker, where the InProg festival gained popularity and bands like Little Tragedies, EXIT project, Kostarev Group and Disen Gage reached relative success in the Russian rock scene and were noted outside Russiamarker. Other north and eastern European bands worth mentioning are the Latvianmarker band Olive Mess and the Polish band Riverside.

In the late 2000s the genre was revitalised by the sub-genre Prog Pop which emerged from the Folktronica scene in the UK. Typified by the British band The Yellow Moon Band and their debut album Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World this movement rejected the lengthy form factor of earlier progressive movement in favour of the familiar bombastic themes and virtuoso musicianship packaged in a three to four minute form typical of Pop music. This sub-movement is most often credited to Geoffery Dolman the founder of Static Caravan, a record label based in the West Midlands in the UK.


Renewed interest in progressive rock in the 1990s led to the development of festivals. ProgFest began in 1993, in UCLA's Royce Hall and featured Sweden's Änglagård, the UK's IQ, Quill and Citadel. ProgDay, held at Storybook Farm near Chapel Hill, North Carolinamarker began in 1995 and was still being held as of 2009. A Southern California festival called CalProg held every year at Whittier in LA. ([8234]). NEARfest held its first event in 1999 in Bethlehem, PAmarker and has held annual concerts ever since. NEARfest is a gateway for reunions and helping bring international acts back to the US. An international festival called InProg has been held in Moscowmarker, Russiamarker, since 2001. Most of the performers at this festival are from Russiamarker, but there are also bands from other countries.

Gouveia Art Rock ([8235]) in Portugal is one of the most successful of all. Since 2003 historic artists from the progressive scene took part of the lineup: Van der Graaf Generator, Peter Hammill, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Focus , Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), Richard Sinclair, Ange, Amon Düül II, Present, Univers Zero, Daevid Allen, Mike Keneally, Isildurs Bane, California Guitar Trio and Miriodor.

Other festivals include the annual Rites of Spring Festival (RoSfest) in Glenside, PAmarker, Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival (3RP) in Pittsburghmarker, PA, The Rogue Independent Music Festival (or Rogue Fest) in Atlanta, GA, Baja Prog in Mexicali, Mexicomarker, CalProg in Whittier, CA, Prog In The Park in Rochester, NYmarker, Prog Sud in Marseille (France), Tiana in Barcelona (Spain), Peralta in Navarra (Spain), Progfarm in Holland, Rio Art Rock Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilmarker, ProgPower USA in Atlanta, Georgiamarker, BalticProgFest in Lithuaniamarker, Sinfo Prog La Plata near Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Summer's End in the UK.

Progressive Nation was held in 2008 featuring progressive metal bands Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, and Three. Progressive Nation 2009 was held the following year in 2009, featuring Dream Theater, Zappa Plays Zappa, Bigelf, and Scale the Summit touring across America and Canada, as well as an additional international tour..

See also


  1. Listening to the future: the time of progressive rock, 1968-1978, pp. 71-75
  2. Progressive Rock Timeline (
  3. Brian Hogg, The History of Scottish Rock and Pop. (BBC/Guinness Publishing)
  4. '1-2-3 and the Birth of Prog,' Mojo, Nov. 1994
  5. The Who at
  6. Piero Scaruffi
  7. The album had actually been released in 1974
  8. "The Early History of Art-Rock/Prog Rock" by Bruce Eder (All-Music Guide Essay). Available at:
  10. Eyes Wide Open
  11. Mike Portnoy Pledges Alliance to One Nation Under Prog
  12. An Overview of Metal Genres on GEPR
  13. Interview with Christofer Johnsson, leader of symphonic metal pioneers Therion
  14. ProgDay home page
  15. RoSfest home page
  16. 3RP home page


  • Lucky, Jerry. The Progressive Rock Files. Burlington, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing, Inc (1998), 304 pages, ISBN 1-896522-10-6 (paperback). Gives an overview of progressive rock's history as well as histories of the major and underground bands in the genre.
  • Lucky, Jerry. The Progressive Rock Handbook. Burlington, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing, Inc. (2008), 352 pages, ISBN 978-1-894959-76-6 (paperback. Reviews hundreds of progressive rock bands and lists their recordings. Also provides an updated overview, similar to The Progressive Rock Files.
  • Macan, Edward. Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1997), 290 pages, ISBN 0195098870 (hardcover), ISBN 0195098889 (paperback). Analyzes progressive rock using classical musicology and also sociology.
  • Martin, Bill. Listening to the Future: The Time of Progressive Rock. Peru, Ill.: Carus Publishing Company (1998), 356 pages, ISBN 0-8126-9368-X (paperback). An enthusiastic analysis of progressive rock, intermixed with the author's Marxist political views.
  • Snider, Charles. The Strawberry Bricks Guide To Progressive Rock. Chicago, Ill.: Lulu Publishing (2008) 364 pages, ISBN 978-0-6151-7566-9 (paperback). A veritable record guide to progressive rock, with band histories, musical synopses and critical commentary, all presented in the historical context of a timeline.
  • Stump, Paul. The Music's All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. London: Quartet Books Limited (1997), 384 pages, ISBN 0-7043-8036-6 (paperback). Smart telling of the history of progressive rock focusing on English bands with some discussion of American and European groups. Takes you from the beginning to the early 1990s.

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