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History And Characteristics Of Progressive Rock Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1948 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Progressive rock is a form of rock music that evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a new level of artistic form of rock music genre. Progressive rock bands pushed “rock’s technical and compositional boundaries” by going beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus-based song structures. The arrangements collected elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music. Lyrics were sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy. Progressive rock bands sometimes used “concept albums” that depicts a theme or a story.

Progressive rock developed from late 1960s psychedelic rock. The term was applied to the music of bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Soft Machine and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Progressive rock came into most widespread use around the mid-1970s.

Musical characteristics

Progressive rock music displays different attributes like melodic, symphonic and dramatic etc…

Complex arrangements of different instruments like guitar and piano can notice time and tempo changes.

Songs tend to be longer but structured properly. They can approach 7 minutes or longer.

Extended use of keyboard and electrical instruments

Use of classical or eastern theme music just to add up the feeling of the song

Dynamics of the song arrangements keeps changing

The lyrics of the song focus more on classical literature, fantasy, folklore etc… for example: Pink Floyd combined social criticism with personal struggles with greed, madness, and death

Progressive rock introduced concept albums that elaborate theme or story like historical, epic, fantasy etc…


Progressive rock bands adopted new electronic musical instruments and technologies. The Mellotron is an electro mechanical polyphonic keyboard. This instrument became an iconic symbol of 60s and 70s progressive rock music. Pink Floyd used an EMS synthesizer equipped with a sequencer on their track “On the Run” from their album Dark Side of the Moon.

In the early 1970s, some progressive rock bands began incorporating something unusual stage theatrics into their concerts. Genesis lead singer Peter Gabriel wore many different colorful and exotic costumes in one show; the band used different kinds of lasers, and giant mirrors that synchronized with the music.

Artists that influenced others and influenced from

“The Moody Blues fell into the position of being one of the originators of progressive rock by accident. Originally, the studio wanted a rock version of a symphony. The Moody Blues had something different in mind. They wanted to attempt a fusion of classical music and rock. The Beatles had used elements of classical music, but they had yet to try mixing the two. The orchestral portions of this album are orchestra based using themes from the rock portions. The rock portions use a mellotron to infuse a classical element into the rock. The bombastic and beautiful song “Nights in White Satin” is the epitome of this fusion, and has become an example that others have tried to emulate, but no one, including the Moodies themselves, have been able to duplicate.” Inquire was founded in late 96, but all members played Progressive Rock in other bands before Inquire. The music of Inquire is influenced by all the Progressive Bands from the 70`s like Camel, Genesis and King Crimson as well as the so called Kraut Rock Bands like Grobschnitt, Guru Guru etc …

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Pink Floyd help define the progressive rock genre. Van Halen’s first album was released in 1978. There was the pre-Van Halen era, in which rock guitarists all tried to sound different, and the post-Van Halen era, in which far too many guitarists tried to sound like Eddie Van Halen. The solo guitar piece called “Eruption” from Van Halen’s first album shocked the guitar world for his finger tapping techniques.

Many early progressive rock bands influenced by composers like Igor Stravinsky. Bands like The Moody Blues, King Crimson and Soft Machine combined rock music element with different forms of music like classical, blues and jazz that they were influenced from. This led to the creation of progressive music attributes like rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, lyrical and instrumental.

Some of the types of progressive rock music

Crossover Progressive

Eclectic Progressive

Experimental/Post Metal

Heavy Progressive

Jazz Rock/Fusion

Progressive Electronic

Progressive Metal

Psychedelic/Space Rock

The Blues

 The Blues is a style of music that evolved from southern African-American songs usually encompassed of 4/4 rhythm, and a 12-bar structure. Their music spoke of oppression, slavery, human kindness; murder etc. blues was like a conversation between the bluesman and the instrument. These African American lived a life of hard work and subjection. They had enough song to last a lifetime because their whole lives have been filled with pain, sufferings, wrong doing etc.

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Among the first who documented blues is W C Handy in 1909. The music grew in popularity and when the 78-RPM phonograph came in the late 1920’s where record labels recorded some of the famous country blues artists. Alan Lomax grew up alongside his song-hunting father john Lomax, travelled around the country and carrying heavy recording equipment in and out of his car’s back seat recording in plantation areas and prisons. Lomax viewed African American music as essentially conservative, but for Alan, the tradition it preserved was one of protest, conflict, pride, and hope. This is significant because that is how the white folks were introduced to the blues.

While the lyrics of blues songs seem soulful and sad, the music itself is quite powerful and emotional filled with rhythm and celebrating the life of black Americans. This kind of music shows ones reflection of their daily lives, talking about sex, drinking, poverty, love lost, hard labor .

Dancing was another form of expressing ones blues. Dancing seemed like an appropriate way to feel the blues and lighten ones spirits. The dancers surround the musicians and improvise just like the African culture. These are inherited form West Africa through their traditions and culture. In the Northern Mississippi countryside, there were fife and drum bands. These Mississippi bands danced and paid respect to the earth. It seems as if they could better express themselves through singing, dancing, and making music rather than just speaking. This music is a way of bringing them together with happiness, joy and pleasure. This makes them strong mentally and emotionally during the hardships of slavery.

African American culture

The history of African-American music was originated as rich from the African Americans themselves. The element of African-American music lies in its expression of the human experience like slavery, lost love, depression, poverty etc. Although the different styles vary widely in their tone, topic and the tools used to produce them. African-American music has the ability to cross all color and culture lines. Styles such as the blues, jazz, gospel etc have spread their influence to different genres of music in the whole world.

Although music in ancient Africa changes widely depending on its native location, it was an important part of African culture. Africans who came to the Americas during the slave trade brought much of their African heritage with them. This included their musical traditions and culture. In many parts of West Africa from which many slaves were taken, their music was very rhythmic and used heavy drums. In America, most slave owners did not permit slaves on their plantations to use drums. They were afraid that the slaves would use the drums as a means of communication in order to plan rebellions. Therefore, this made a huge problem for the African American slaves. As a result, slaves had to adopt European instruments such as the fiddle. Nevertheless, African American slaves used music to help them make it through the horrors of slavery. Slaves while doing hard labour in the fields sang “Work songs and field hollers”. They sang about their hard labour, poverty, human kindness, god etc.

“Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help.”

By Mahalia Jackson

Musical characteristics

Blues music is known for its repetitious verses i.e. 12 bar structure, which is usually repeated 3, or four times in the song

Walking bass lines and shuffling grooves usually found in blues music.

Blues lyrics are based on humankind, lost love, hard luck, poverty, difficult and oppressive work.

Uses of Call and response patterns are used in blues music and lyrics. This was highly prominent in the field shouts during slavery. It is a style common to western Africa or traditional work songs for the black people. It is as a singer sings a line; it is either repeated again or responded an answer.

Artists that influenced from blues

In 1920, Mamie Smith’s recording of “Crazy Blues” became popular and opened the doors to other classic blues singers. This was at the time of classic blues era where female singers were dominating in the market. The market for the recorded blues was almost entirely black during the 1920s and 1930s, and the records became known as “race records.” In this era, record companies advertised only to blacks and only black stores sold the records.

Since the sixties, rock has undergone several blues revivals. Some rock guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen used the blues as a foundation for offshoot styles. Their song structure is based on 12 bar songwriting constructs of Robert Johnson and other famous blues players. Both Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan found their musical influences among African American traditional musicians. This musical genre has influenced the development of country, rhythm and blues, rock-a-Billy, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Main types of blue music

Delta blues

Chicago blues

Texas blues

Blues rock


In researching both the genres, I understood that Blues is about tradition and personal expression. It has remained the same since the beginning of classic blues era. Blues is an inspiration to other music genres. Nevertheless, African American slaves who brought their tradition and culture in the form of music style like blues, jazz, gospel etc influenced many artists in different genres. Today, some of the grandfather of the genre are still out there King Crimson returned to his roots and is creating epic works. Rock bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have embraced progressive elements in an effort to extend their music. Both the lyrics of progressive rock and blues have same topic. In the blues, you hear the singers talking about their struggle for freedom, poverty, hard labour, depression whereas in the progressive rock singers talk about real issues or real stories of different people. Both the genres are influential to different artists. In the sense, pink Floyds Dark side of the moon was the best selling progressive rock of all time. Artists developed new genres for our generation to strengthen its core and texture. We should never forget the fathers of blues and creator of progressive rock…


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