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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)

If it's consideration you're looking for (and I'll be the first to admit that I don't know how restrictive the "prog rock" label is), you can find accomplished bands outside of England and Kansas. Don't Can and Magma rate a mention? There, you've brought continental Europe into the mix. Can was the most trance-rhythmic of the genre, and Magma certainly the most visionary. Isn't it interesting how many gifted drummers played in this genre - B J Wilson/Procol Harum, Bill Bruford/Yes, Christian Vander/Magma, Jaki Liebszeit(sp?)/Can (and, indeed, I deliberately left off what's-his-name)?

April Wine did a fabulous cover of "21st century schizoid Man" which they still play as part of their setlist. It usually brings the house down.

Genesis is merely a token. They will never honor prog rock. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is so clearly biased towards an errant definition predicated by how much Top 40 radio play a group got in the 70's and 80's. Are the Beatles even in there?

Rolling Stone magazine won't give prog rock a passing comment, why should the Hall of Fame?

ABBA gets in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but Yes and Jethro Tull don't. It is a mind boggling loss of credibility on a scale that makes the entire process pathetic. The Hall of Fame has devolved into the Hall of Pop Shamelessness. If we're supposed to get all excited for Madonna and the other "acts" who are far closer to Broadway than Rock and Roll who are being admitted before ACTUAL BANDS THAT MADE A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE AND OCCUPIED A HALLOWED SPACE IN THE GREATEST DECADE OF ROCK (that would be the 70's), then who can care about it anymore. Its merely the extension of Jan Wenner and US Weekly and has about as much to do with Rock as the Jonas Brothers (oh thyast right...they were on the cover of Rolling Stone twice last year). So while Yes and Jethro Tull (you remember them: Benefit, Aqualung, Thick as a Brick...they were bigger than Zeppelein once)get the shaft I can hardly wait for the induction of Britney Spears. Its a joke.

You forgot Herman's Hermits. They haven't been nominated yet. We have been told that they were too light weight, and pop oriented. What does The RRHF consider Madonna? If I am correct, I believe she was inducted yrs ago. Why does The RRHF think she is called The Princess Of Pop? I have been telling people for years, that The RRHF is in bad need of a good house cleaning. They need to start in Jann Wenner's office.

I would be well pleased with the following, never to come induction ceremony. That would include Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Richard Thompson. RT and several members of Fairport could get a double induction as about five members of Fairport, notably Dave Pegg, have served either in Jethro Tull or one of Ian Anderson's individual projects. You are dead right in claiming Tull is not a prog band, I would nominate them as the most individual and disparate performers who have ever sold millions of records. People who consider them prog are people who know 2 or 3 years of their 42 year output. Even Ian Anderson says Thick as a Brick, Tull's most likely prog album, was intended as a send up of prog, in progs flavor of the year year of 1972. Although they remain a sterling live act, their performances of the early to mid seventies were flat out jaw droppers, not to mention quite funny and very very British. I would nominate Ian Anderson as amongst the most magnetic stage performers of the rock era. And no one I have mentioned would embarrass themselves at the slightest, even though most are well past sixty. Thank God for the utterly unswayed by popular opinion, Jethro Tull. And ditto for Richard Thompson, does that guy ever stop getting better?

Two words: Alice Cooper.

Roxy Music is the biggest mistaken omission from the Rock Hall by far. Many critics and bands consider them in the top 5 most influential groups ever -- The Guardian makes a strong case that they are the 2nd most influential after The Beatles. At acclaimedmusic.com they are the most highly rated band not in the Rock Hall yet. They have 4 albums voted into the Rolling Stone top 500 albums. They are also in the RS 100 immortals. Brian Eno alone is the most represented person in the RS500 if one includes Roxy, solo and producer (U2, Talking Heads, etc). The only reason they are not in is because Jann Weener was not a fan and that they only had one platinum CD in the USA.

Agreed Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry were hugely influential on Bowie, Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Smiths, Oasis, Duran Duran, ABC, Lloyd Cole, Matthew Sweet, The Jam, Banshees, Ryan Adams, Franz Ferdinand, Coldplay, The Pretenders, New Order, tons and tons of new wave bands..... just ask them......

Yes before anyone else, as they still going strong, ELP for the days goe by. One greyzone act that could be prog, pop, rock, or simply their own style is Supertramp.

One guy for long true service is the genious Manfred Mann.


I agree wholeheartedly that the Hall of Fame is something of a joke. I also agree that the omission thus far of Procol Harum is a most egregious one. Primarily an R&B outfit often mistakenly categorized as prog because their several symphonic and classically inspired forays, they remain nonetheless one of the tightest and best live rock bands around, still creating new music after 40 years, and today sounding better than ever with Gary Brooker's powerfully distinctive and remarkably preserved voice still leading the charge.

My 2nd posting. Why Mr. Boehm? I had a thought - There’s fantasy baseball and the like. So, why not do an article on a fantasy Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Mainstream influences would not be a factor. The boundaries we have seen that run deep with the bland R&R HOF wouldn’t be an issue. And hey! Have it sponsored by the LA Times! You could start the stable of inductees just from the various wish-list names that have sprung up from this one blog. You already have my two votes. Todd & Al.

The writer of this article clearly shows his bias, as does the RRHoF, which is a joke anyways. Maybe the BubbleGum-Pop Hall of Fame might be a more appropiate name. The band YES and particularly their lead singer, Jon Anderson are rock legends for their ability to create gorgeous music that goes beyond a 3 minute pop song. Their ability to develop music into something more classical and timeless is one of the qualities that sets them far apart from most "bands" of their time and today. YES has withstood the test of time...their music is timeless and relevant.

The idea of a rock hall of fame is absurd on its face, as if you can somehow quantify a subjective artistic pursuit. That's why I fail to understand why people get so worked up about what groups are and aren't in the R&RHoF. Just listen to the music you enjoy and don't worry about whether someone else validates it.

Floyd and Tull not prog? Now that's hilarious. And any discussion of great prog-rock has to include Van Der Graaf Generator.

Genesis had two albums that were prog-gems in Trick of a Tail and Wind and Wuthering AFTER Peter left; both outsold any of Peters previous work...Squonk, Dance on a Volcano/Los Endos...are just as important to prog rock as anything Peter did.

Who is this moron? Pink Floyd & Tull NOT prog?? Wow! I suppose he does not consider Kansas prog either. Even though in their earlier albums they had epic long symphonic masterpieces in multiple time signatures! He's probably one of these guys who uses the term "Rap-singer"!

Very astute appraisal of prog-rock. I saw most of the bands mentioned perform live in their heyday.

A few observations:

I never considered Procol Harum prog-rock. Worthy orchestral pop-rock with a concept album-ish approach maybe, but not true prog-rock in my opinion.

As for US-representation in the genre, I would point to Frank Zappa.

Re. Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I saw their debut album tour (as well as the Brain Salad Surgery tour) where Keith Emerson was strapped to his grand piano and hydraulically lifted far above the stage and spun around as he played-- truly a spectacle that deserves to be mentioned along with Palmer's drum spinner.

Roxy Music came out of the glam-rock movement and happened to be superior musicians to others in glam, which might account for any argument to label them as prog.

Jethro Tull released two straight-up prog-rock albums, one of them a milestone of the genre: Thick as a Brick. (The other was its follow-up, Passion Play.) Before and after those two releases they were more straightforward blues tinged Elizabethan/Gaelic/Celtic rock-- is that a genre for RnRHOF to consider too? (And isn't Ian Anderson a long-time resident of Los Angeles?)

I doubt the Hall is inducting Genesis-based on the Collins-frontman years- I mean, it hasn't considered other popular acts that are considered light/mainstream (i.e.Barry Manilow, Pat Boone, etc.). Heck, look at Chicago- the 80s-on glossy material probably has hurt the group's chances for induction. And if that were the case, wouldn't Foreigner and Journey have been considered/inducted? I also don't see Bon Jovi getting in anytime soon- commercially successful band, draws lots of fans to its shows- but the band hasn't done anything really worthy of any sort of immediate consideration/induction.

So, I wouldn't be too quick to think the Hall isn't familiar with the progressive sounds of Genesis.

The most ridiculous omission is Three Dog Night. Look at all the tons of hits they had with great songs, many of them written by Paul Williams and other great songwriters. Everyone knows their songs and they were a unique band with a great sound. They sold millions for a reason; people liked their music. Why shut out one of the biggest bands of the late 60's and early 70's? It makes no sense and shows how out of whack the selection process is.

Until the Moody Blues get inducted, the Hall of Fame means nothing. "Commercially eager" ?? What does that mean? They are successful? "Intellectually soft" ?? They are one of the most musically innovative groups ever. There is a long list of inductees, starting with Madonna, who pale next to the Moodies' talent. Gimme a break.

"To answer anticipated complaints: No, I don’t consider Hall inductee Pink Floyd and the unfairly excluded Jethro Tull to be prog-rock bands..."

To say nothing about the intent of your article, that sentence, in and of itself, shows how inadequately informed you are on the genre. In what way are Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play not progressive rock? This is of course to say nothing about Minstrel in the Gallery and Aqualung (which are admittedly lighter, but still prog). Really, I'm curious.

Enjoyed your article about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I would love to see you do more reviews of the progressive rock genre. Just so happens that a couple of shows coming up fit the bill. They are...

•Bozzio, Holdsworth, Levin and Mastelotto in Whittier - Jan. 12
•Transatlantic in Downey - April 17

Please come and enjoy the shows. See ...



If there was justice in the world, the term "progressive" would not be used for the myriad bands that were directly influenced by King Crimson and promptly sat back on their laurels while the money rolled in. King Crimson, on the other hand kept moving on through a huge range of musical pastures in the subsequent decades. Their membership has always demanded musicians of the very highest caliber: the music mandates such.

There is another possible reason why the music industry in general shuns King Crimson, despite the riches generated by bands who have copied or even plagiarized them: In the last 20 years or so, Robert Fripp, the band's guitarist and "quality control officer" has taken a very public stand against the corruption and "creative accounting" which is common practice within the music industry (as well as within most corporate and banking circles, as we have recently witnessed in spectacular fashion). Because Fripp has sided with the artist, who traditionally occupies the bottom rung of the totem in the music industry pecking order, he has undoubtedly made himself enemies within the music corporate world.

To win awards in this industry, or get the kind of public acknowledgment that is the subject of this article, one either has to sell a lot of units, or compromise one's art, and/or play the industry game. Robert Fripp, and King Crimson by extension, have never prostituted themselves and are not likely to. As a result of Robert Fripp's stance for the rights of the artist and ethical practices in business, King Crimson are probably not in line to receive any awards, certainly in the near future, despite having been in existence in one form or another, for over 40 years.

It would be very heartening to be proved 100% wrong in this case.

It's obvious you have very superficial knowledge of YES' music. Albeit well-intended... (sic)

Hey Mike
Really well written and I agree! BUT...you obviously need to own a copy of Jethro Tull's THICK AS A BRICK and PASSION PLAY. Both are "one song" long concept ablums...pretty much the definition of prog rock. For that matter MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY, WARCHILD, TOO OLD TO ROCK AND ROLL..., and yes, even AQUALUNG are all concept records. I'm sure those albums contain enough keyboard work to satisfy your definition even though the rock guitar and flute (cmon...flute!...that's proggy as hell) are leading the way.

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