Progressive Rock / Progressive Thought, Part 3

Mark S. Tucker demonstrates impressive wordsmith skills and a deep knowledge of music. Here are some excerpts from part 3 of his essays on Progressive Rock / Progressive Thought from

Source: Progressive Rock / Progressive Thought – Part 3


1967 was the seminal year, the Moody Blues were the great Fathers of progrock (now the Godfathers), and it was already time to move on. The Moodies would do so on their very next LP, In Search of the Lost Chord, but it’s worthwhile to remain in the year a moment more and see what surrounded the founders.

As noted last installment, Pink Floyd issued their debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which started archly the moment it opened, in a song exceedingly durable, “Astronomy Domine”, featuring the peripatetic Syd Barrett, a small genius who staggered to the top of the pile for a moment or two before going under, an acid-damage case destined to be mythologized out of all proportion to the body of work left behind (especially when considering his wretched later solo LPs). With this release, the Floyd established space rock, soon to be a sub-division of Prog Inc., and contributed seminally to paisley pop, a mainstream offshoot heavily infused with psychedelic overtones, something The Soft Machine would add to next year.

Jimi Hendrix and the Experience cut their imperishable Are You Experienced, one of rock’s dozen most influential discs. Hendrix instantly became a superstar, setting the sky on fire with his unbelievably unorthodox guitar playing, backed by Noel Redding’s bass and Mitch Mitchell’s superb drumming. Jimi took the bluesrock formula and turned it inside out, drug impregnated and glowing like an unquenchable conflagration. “Third Stone from the Sun” would prove to be as essential to space rock as Pink Floyd’s most galactic, while the rest of the LP established several other milestones. The tormented ubermaestro would not live long but his very short catalogue of records set a marker by which the entire genre paid attention. Once safely dead, the effect would prove itself, as his corpus of work would be vampirized to a staggering degree: Hendrix saw three LPs published while alive; at last count, the post mortem flood (label releases, bootlegs, anthologies, etc. – up to but not including Janey Hendrix’s overwhelmingly providential wresting of the estate from greedheads) was over 350, or so some have averred. Like as not, they’re right.

The Rolling Stones put out Their Satanic Majesties’ Request, more than just psychedelic and without doubt the most experimental mode that hoary combo would muster. In a group infamous for it, drugs were fueling new visions and they, as all who took them, became swept up in the forward psychological motion to one degree or another. Chartburning dyed-in-the-wool bluesrockers to the side, Jagger & Richards’ expanded elastically on this disc. “2000 Light Years from Home” started out atonally, a cop from Blomdahl, hooked in a mellotron (the archetypal progrock instrument, thanks to the Moodies’ Mike Pinder, the best player, bar none, ever to man that singular machine), then plugged away at a tale about a spaceship headed off into the deep unknown, sparse, spooky, and wistful. Like the Beatles, though, the Stones never intended to stay long and would follow this with their magnum opus, Beggar’s Banquet, decidedly non-prog.

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour was a miasma of psychedelic and prog music-making, by far the furthest out on the limb they’d ever venture, passing up Sargeant Pepper’s by a country mile. The entire thing became a narcotic daydream with strong prog inflections, semi-orchestral touches, moody dreariness, glow-in-the-dark spangles, and no end of the paraphenalia studio engineering allowed. Overall, it wasn’t all that dissimilar to what Pepper’s was achieving but much more in a quicksand mode: once the listener peeled an ear, he was dragged in fully, drowning happily in waves of Impressionist and hash-laden visions, voices and instruments blissing out in Dionysian abandon. The good Sargeant would re-introduce discipline (Mystery Tour had been, after all, created for a very bad self-indugent home movie: though its excesses were moderate in comparison, it’s excellences were Olympian but decidedly non-commercial) and score a huge success, offering up immortal tunes.