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Getting progressive: The Rock Hall votes in Genesis. Is Yes or Procol Harum next? *[Updated]

Is the impending induction of Genesis the beginning of progressive rock getting its long-denied due from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? 

Or is this just tokenism, a one-time exception made because of all the pop hits Genesis scored long after it had forsaken the arty, theatrical-rock strangeness and literary-mythic inspirations of the early 1970s, when Peter Gabriel was fronting the band? After soldiering on proggishly but not that successfully for a couple of albums after Gabriel’s departure in 1975, the remaining members cannily transmogrified (uncanny transmogrification having been a core theme of the band’s earlier music) into a cuddlesome, MTV-ready trio led by that endearing, nonthreatening chap Phil Collins.

From where I stand, Genesis earned the Hall with the last three albums of the Gabriel era -- “Foxtrot,” “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” with Collins providing expert drumming and backing vocals, and taking a frontman turn or two. But it’s hardly idle speculation to wonder whether that version of Genesis would have passed muster with Hall voters, without the massively popular, pleasantly disposable hits the band cranked out during the 1980s, including “Follow You Follow Me,” “Misunderstanding” and “Invisible Touch.”

If the Rock Hall’s voters want to put their ears to work in their future deliberations, rather than accepting on faith the commonplace critical disparagement of prog rock as a pompous, pseudo-intellectual perversion of the earthy rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, here are some names and recordings for them to consider.


Mahavishnu Orchestra. While this all-instrumental, Anglo-Irish-Euro-American band is more identified with the jazz-rock fusion movement of the 1970s, I don’t draw much of a distinction between progressive rock and Mahavishnu’s now-hurtling, now-lyrical sound, its master-musician chops and its serious themes. The albums “The Inner Mounting Flame” and “Birds of Fire” are the band’s chief claims on the Hall of Fame. Listen, and you’ll hear white-robed leader “Mahavishnu” John McLaughlin’s fiery, speed-demon guitar, Jan Hammer’s keyboards, Jerry Goodman’s electric violin, Rick Laird’s bass and Billy Cobham’s drums swirling together, as closely attuned and interconnected as birds in a flock. 

Yes. If you want persuasive evidence why critics lampoon prog rock, listen to “Tales From Topographic Oceans” for as long as you’re able, before it puts you to sleep. But the three early '70s albums before that all-time deal breaker are masterpieces, the defining single-band ouevre of the prog rock genre: “The Yes Album,” “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge.” As many have complained, the lyrics are kind of loopy and pointless, albeit well-intended insofar as they seem to be an early manifestation of rock aligning itself with environmentalism. But Jon Anderson’s piping-choirboy vocals are there more to set a mood and carry the main melody line than to occupy the mind, while guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Bill Bruford, bassist Chris Squire and either Rick Wakeman or Tony Kaye on keyboards foment disciplined wildness all around him. Yes in full flight rocks as hard as any band ever.

Procol Harum. Graceful, smart, stylistically wide-ranging, and at their best, on the epic album “A Salty Dog,” deeply moving. The elegantly somber “A Salty Dog” has moments of sweeping, stately, symphonic grandeur alongside elemental blues and even calypso. “Shine on Brightly” and “Home” are other strong releases from the band’s peak period in the late 1960s; then there’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” the one Procol Harum song everybody knows, which predated those albums while ripping off J.S. Bach in a prototypically prog-ish move from 1967. Gary Brooker is the most soulful of prog-rock singers, and the keyboards blend that his piano created with organist-vocalist-producer Matthew Fisher wasn’t far behind the Band’s great combination of Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. The prime Procol albums also feature ace drummer B.J. Wilson and the work of guitarist Robin Trower, playing to support the songs rather than exhibiting the unfettered guitar heroism of his Hendrix-inspired solo career.

King Crimson. The donnish guitarist Robert Fripp kept Crimson evolving and interesting far longer than any of its prog classmates. But the main reason for the Hall to let them in would be their magnificent 1969 debut, “In the Court of the Crimson King,” which is widely considered the first -- and arguably the best --  prog-rock album. I’ve been surprised that a whole decade of the 21st century has gone by without a prominent cover of the kickoff track, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” a song so frantically, manically charged with fear and loathing that it’s practically punk -- which is probably why Bad Religion referenced it on its pre-millennial hit, ”21st Century (Digital Boy).”

*Update: The original post named the King Crimson guitarist as Peter Fripp. The correct name is Robert Fripp.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Virtuosity and sonic and theatrical flash and excess were their trademarks, which made for lots of fun in live performance (Carl Palmer’s spinning drum platform decked in pulsing lights; Keith Emerson pulling out knives to one-up Jimi Hendrix with a ritual disemboweling of his Hammond organ). What band in its right mind would do a marvelous, if utterly ridiculous, sci-fi concept album --  “Tarkus” -- about a post-apocalyptic, metal-plated, bionic armadillo outfitted with enough weaponry to wage perpetual solo warfare (it’s a wonder Hollywood hasn’t swiped the idea)? Along with “Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” “Brain Salad Surgery” and a live, album-length rock adaptation of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” ELP provided ample reason for induction during the early 1970s, after which the band followed Yes and Procol Harum down the path of hanging on far too long, with far too little inspiration.

Other prog bands well worth delving into -- although they haven’t a prayer of making the Hall because they didn’t make enough of a commercial dent -- are the folk-rooted Strawbs (who in their early days collaborated fruitfully with Led Zep’s John Paul Jones and Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny, and with whom Rick Wakeman served a superb two-album hitch before joining Yes), Gentle Giant (probably the brainiest, most adventurous and versatile prog band) and Atomic Rooster (whose best albums, “Death Walks Behind You” and “In Hearing of Atomic Rooster,” might especially appeal to fans of metal and hard rock).

To answer anticipated complaints: No, I don’t consider Hall inductee Pink Floyd and the unfairly excluded Jethro Tull to be prog-rock bands; I’d like to say that Roxy Music and Brian Eno were prog-rock acts, but that would be stretching it a little; and, yes, I do enjoy the Moody Blues, but despite their many memorable tunes and splendid vocal blend, I think they’re a little too commercially eager and intellectually soft for Hall inclusion. Kansas? That’s where the Devil came from in a great Procol Harum song. In theory, Americans should have been able to play good prog rock, but in practice -- unless you want to really stretch definitions and include Spirit’s “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” -- they never proved it, leaving the field to the Brits. 

With all of that said, if I had just one thought to submit for Rock Hall voters’ consideration, it would be: Pick the Monkees, already, for crying out loud. 

And, going for the whole nine yards, considering a few of the lightweights and short-distance runners you’ve let in (The Dave Clark Five??? Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five???) how in the name of Jann S. Wenner can you defend not having admitted Randy Newman, Love, Fairport Convention/Richard Thompson, the Turtles, the Zombies, Peter Gabriel (solo), Los Lobos, Roky Erickson/13th Floor Elevators, Dick Dale, Doug Sahm, Big Star and Nick Drake? 

And if you say ABBA, I say the 5th Dimension

Now, that would be progress.

-- Mike Boehm 

Photo: Top, Phil Collins. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times. Middle: Keith Emerson, left, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times


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Comments () | Archives (67)


After picking the few obvious choices, R&R Hall of Fame voters are about as clueless as Grammy voters. You can bet they voted for Genesis based on their pop-rock songs. I'll bet most don't even know about the Peter Gabriel years.

Who cares, Rock & Roll saw its best days decades ago.

Peter Fripp???? Are you kidding me? You talk about King Crimson's debut album being the best prog-rock album of all time, but at least get ROBERT Fripp's name right! And I agree with all of your analysis. Crimson belongs in the Hall because of how the band was a proving ground for so many other musical projects. Just a partial list: Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Greg Lake was the first vocalist); Foreigner (Ian McDonald played sax for the band); Asia (John Wetton was the vocalist after Greg Lake); Bruford (solo projects); and Peter Gabriel (second album produced by Fripp). Fripp has also collaborated with so many top-rated artists and producers (Brian Eno, Darryl Hall, Peter Gabriel, Andy Summers, David Byrne) and has spawned a generation of Crafty Guitarists. Not to mention the fact taht the band's trio of albums in the early 1980s (Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair) were far ahead of their time in influencing the musical development of New Wave. Listen to "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" or "Change" by Tears for Fears, or even stuff by Thompson Twins to hear the influence of counterpoint and polyrhythms.

And your mention of Gentle Giant brought a smile to my face. Arguably the most versatile lineup of musicians any prog-rock band has ever seen, the brothers Shulman along with Kerry Minnear, John Weathers, and Gary Green made some of the most interesting, rocking stuff I've ever heard. They are still prominently featured in my iPod. If they'd had one good single they'd have been hugely popular. But their "Freehand" and "Octopus" albums were mind-blowers.

And Rush! What is up with that omission?

What about Soft Machine?

Who is this Peter Fripp character? I think Robert needs to be told that he's being replaced ..! I'd say Rush has more chance, though - not that either band really care about the "Hall of Fame" anyway.

As for Yes' "Tales from Topographic Oceans": you don't have to listen to it all in one go, any more than you have to eat a whole box of chocolates in one go. You can pace yourself - if you have an attention span longer than a pigeon's. ;-)

what's the point? now that Abba is in, let them all in, who cares anymore?

The name of the guitarist/leader of King Crimson is not Peter Fripp. His name is Robert Fripp.

Yes, what about Rush?!

They are the only successful, progressive band from that era still around making relevant and original music!

Rush is long overdue for recognition.

What about Van Der Graaf Generator?

The "Rock & Roll" Hall of fame is a joke!

"Yes in full flight rocks as hard as any band ever."

Agreed. Listen to the extended-jam versions of the songs on "Yessongs" - better guitar and bass playing you will never hear.

Who remembers when the top-selling bands also had the best musicians in them?

why Genesis made it in before YES is mind-boggling, though I question if Genesis would have made it weren't for their post-Peter Gabriel hit years (though with PG they were a much better band).

Overall a good list, but since when are Procol Harum and the Strawbs prog bands?? And, what about Rennaisance, Asia, Jan Hammer, Camel ?

How can you omit RUSH from a list of great Prog Rock bands????

How could any LA based music critic not mention that the idiots at the rock and roll fame have never considered Arthur Lee & Love for the hall of fame?.

Their music speaks for itself. Their influence cuts a wide path through punk, alternative, & mainstream rock.

But then again the Hall is a fraud. Full of politically correct selections. It should be renamed the Pop Hall of Fame. Too much influence from Springsteen and James Taylor types.

If you are going to speak about instrumental Progressive Rock, then you are really using a euphemism for Jazz Rock Fusion. If that is the case, then all Instrumental Progressive Rock stopped with Return to Forever's "The Romantic Warrior", which has yet to be eclipsed. While Mahavishnu may have out "outted" RTF, the Wagnerian grandeur of Romantic Warrior, as well as its absolute excess, places it atop the plenum of the genre.

Also, Mr. Boehm, I would consider Procol Harum's "In Held Twas in I" as their signature Progressive Rock moment. I was rather surprised that this was missed.

On a side note, one must also place "Stonehenge" by Spinal Tap, as well as "Art Rock Suite" also by Christopher Guest, in collaboration with David Letterman's own Paul Shaffer, from National Lampoon's "Goodbye Pop" as the most hilarious Progressive Rock parody of all time.

So who was the better keyboard player: Emerson or Wakeman?

Yeah, Gentle Giant is a good call. Also very worthwhile UK prog bands: National Health and Gong.

Don’t forget Todd Rundgren. ‘Something Anything’ is a classic. Todd truly deserves to be in the hall as well. Okay, and where’s Al-stinkin’-Kooper? A man deep, deep in American rock history. From writing ‘This Diamond Ring’, to playing early on with Bob Dylan, then being a major force in B,S, and T’s (which he gets no recognition or financial royalties), and to top it off - discovering and producing a no-name band called Lynard Skynard. These two guys should easily pass the audition into a very bland R&R HOF.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gentle Giant?! YES!!!
This would be like finally paying reparations to past wrongs.

Thank God memories in LA are longer than they are in the UK. When I lived out there in the 80s/90s I was amazed at all the British Prog Rock acts still being played on KLSX and KLOS but to find that us Brits are still remembered there for our finest hour.

Can I suggest that you add the band UK (Bill Bruford, Alan Holdsworth, John Wetton and Eddie Jobson) to your list not just because they were as British as the name suggests but also proggers of the first water, unlike Asia which had all of the pedigree in their members but were far too interested in American hits just like the post-Gabriel Genesis were?

And if anyone wants to hear the spirit of Prog still alive (just) in the UK, please check out my band Fire In The South on Peter Gabriel's we7.com http://www.we7.com/#/artist/Fire-in-the-South!artistId=14725


01. The Beatles
02. The Rolling Stones
03. The Beach Boys
04. Chicago


Why not Rush?

I love how critics always complain about bands "hanging on far too long," as if being in a band wasn't a job that puts food on the table. How long have you been a critic/columnist, Mike? Maybe you've been hanging on too long.

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