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Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture

Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture
Author: Edward Macan
ISBN 13: 9780195098884
ISBN 10: 195098889
Edition: 1
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1997-01-09
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
List Price: $49.99

Few styles of popular music have generated as much controversy as progressive rock, a musical genre best remembered today for its gargantuan stage shows, its fascination with epic subject matter drawn from science fiction, mythology, and fantasy literature, and above all for its attempts to combine classical music's sense of space and monumental scope with rock's raw power and energy. Its dazzling virtuosity and spectacular live concerts made it hugely popular with fans during the 1970s, who saw bands such as King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull bring a new level of depth and sophistication to rock. On the other hand, critics branded the elaborate concerts of these bands as self- indulgent and materialistic. They viewed progressive rock's classical/rock fusion attempts as elitist, a betrayal of rock's populist origins.

In Rocking the Classics, the first comprehensive study of progressive rock history, Edward Macan draws together cultural theory, musicology, and music criticism, illuminating how progressive rock served as a vital expression of the counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s. Beginning with a description of the cultural conditions which gave birth to the progressive rock style, he examines how the hippies' fondness for hallucinogens, their contempt for Establishment-approved pop music, and their fascination with the music, art, and literature of high culture contributed to this exciting new genre. Covering a decade of music, Macan traces progressive rock's development from the mid- to late-sixties, when psychedelic bands such as the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, the Nice, and Pink Floyd laid the foundation of the progressive rock style, and proceeds to the emergence of the mature progressive rock style marked by the 1969 release of King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King. This "golden age" reached its artistic and commercial zenith between 1970 and 1975 in the music of bands such as Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, and Curved Air.

In turn, Macan explores the conventions that govern progressive rock, including the visual dimensions of album cover art and concerts, lyrics and conceptual themes, and the importance of combining music, visual motif, and verbal expression to convey a coherent artistic vision. He examines the cultural history of progressive rock, considering its roots in a bohemian English subculture and its meteoric rise in popularity among a legion of fans in North America and continental Europe. Finally, he addresses issues of critical reception, arguing that the critics' largely negative reaction to progressive rock says far more about their own ambivalence to the legacy of the counterculture than it does about the music itself.

An exciting tour through an era of extravagant, mind-bending, and culturally explosive music, Rocking the Classics sheds new light on the largely misunderstood genre of progressive rock.

Library Journal

The enormous success in 1967 of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band inspired other bands to expand and refine this blending of rock, folk, and classical into a style that came to be known as progressive rock. Throughout the 1970s the form developed into a core element around which colossal light shows, elaborate props, and outlandish costumes were added as bands like Genesis and Yes moved the music into arenas and stadiums. Though hugely popular, many critics considered the music emotionally cold and pompous. By the end of the decade a backlash against progressive rock and disco led to do-it-yourself movements like Punk and New Wave. The music's continued success, however, indicates that this is an important if controversial subgenre of rock music. This extremely detailed and scholarly book offers a unique overview. Its style limits its recommendation to libraries with serious music collections that focus on contemporary forms.Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, Pa.