Exploring Music Genres: Progressive (Prog) Rock Defined


Photo depicting 2022 Spotify Wrapped Photo Courtesy of Sofia Perrine

Image of Spotify Wrapped page depicting amount of new music genres discovered/ listened to throighout 2022
Photo Courtesy of Sofia Perrine

With the recent release of Spotify Wrapped on Nov 30th, many Spotify users feel a slight embarrassment about what their analytics have to say about them. This common sentiment likely develops after seeing that one’s music taste is actually a bit “basic” or “cringy” when laid out on Spotify Wrapped. In preparation for the next Spotify Wrapped 2023, let’s introduce you to different music genres and subgenres to potentially improve your disposition and expand upon your current taste.

It’s important to recognize the importance of music as an expansive, transformative, and universal art form, and that understanding the complexity of music is what gives its artistry beauty. This complexity creates a certain difficulty in completely “defining” genres of music, which inspires different bands and artists to search for new innovative sounds. An example of this strive-to-be novel is Progressive (Prog) Rock, a lesser-known yet incredibly influential genre of music. In this article, I hope to establish a layout of the defining elements of Prog Rock, and its history to introduce you to this lesser-known genre. 

In an episode from the podcast For the Record: The 70’s host Amy Lively identifies the development of Prog Rock in the 60s from bands such as the Beatles and King Crimson. Lively first identifies how Prog Rock was derived from American rock’s Blues influences and European (particularly British) rock elements that strove to incorporate “European heritage” in music through the layered use of complex classical music. 

The presence of both Blues and classic music influences in the formation of Prog Rock helps to establish a new idea of rock and roll within the framework of some of the more progressive social and political ideas of the 70s. These ideas value authenticity within the music industry which Prog Rock established through more album-oriented and conceptually based music that wasn’t focussed on radio or commercial appeal because Prog rock songs were too long to be featured on most radio. This is exemplified by the band Brain Salad Surgery who couldn’t fit many songs on one side of vinyl and had to divide their music into impressions or “movements’ ‘ in reference to the incorporation of classical music.

Much criticism of Prog Rock stems from the aforementioned lack of commercial appeal. Many feel as though the artistic aspects of Prog Rock runs the risk of becoming too pretentious and might kill the enjoyment of listening to rock. However, Prog Rock’s central idea of more conceptual albums avoids the potential for a commodification of the music which would otherwise interfere with their established value of authenticity in creating innovative sound. 

Prog Rock’s defining elements incorporate classical music through the use of odd timing signatures, synthesizer overdubbed guitar, orchestra, and changes in tempo style which satisfies the concept of rock as art. The growing subgenre of rock from the 60s-80s achieved this by defying expectations of what music “was” by adding layers of richness to challenge the idea of art and authenticity in music composition. These techniques and ideas required listeners to actively pay attention and go beyond thinking and listening to understand Prog Rock which redefined rock as an intellectual artform. 

Prog Rock and Other Recommendations: 

  1. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: A 70s progressive rock band featuring experimental elements that pushed the boundaries of Prog Rock in tracks such as their 1971 song Lucky Man. 
  2. King Crimson: Believed to be one of the most genre-defining bands of Prog Rock through the use of classic and jazz elements in King Crimson’s debut album In the Court of the Crimson King particularly more popular songs such as 21st Century Schizoid Man and I talk to the Wind. 

Other more popular Prog Rock-esque Music:

  1. Pink Floyd: Their 1973 album Dark side of the Moon is Prog Rock stylistic choices through stitched together measured pace and distinctive sounds demonstrating psychedelic influence as an important aspect to Prog Rock. 
  2. Elton John: Features Prog Rock characteristics in the album Yellow Brick Road and song Funeral for a Friend in a more mainstream light. 
  3. Beatles: Innovative album Sergeant Peppers and the Lonely Hearts Band incorporates Prog Rock and psychedelic elements.