“Procol Harum achieved improbable levels of success with their very first single, 1967’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it was taken rather seriously. Because it was rock meets Johan Sebastien Bach with lyrics obscure enough to almost make you forget that Bob Dylan had taken a vacation, more or less. But then what do you do for an encore? You go further, higher, deeper, longer, you give all of side two of your second album to a single seventeen minute track called In Held Twas In I, which to many ears, ranks as the first genuine prog rock epic. In other words, yeah, it probably goes too far, too high and deep, definitely too long. But what do expect from young men cut loose from the herd, more or less commanded to go climb the highest mountain? Or as the Dalai Lama puts it in the intro. Life is like a beanstalk. Isn’t it?” (Philip Random)
“I remember first hearing In The Light on the radio when Physical Graffiti was brand new and I was maybe sixteen, and immediately thinking, okay, this is serious stuff. This is about something. Because by 1975, the music you found on the radio was less and less about anything. It was just predictable gruel, programmed to fill sloppy gaps between advertising. Not that I was sophisticated enough to voice it as such. I just knew something good was fast slipping away – all that cool significance that had been so prevalent way back when in 1972 and 3. Because when you’re that young, you just don’t know that’s how the world works – that it’s precisely the best, most beautiful, cool, dramatic stuff that THEY consciously destroy, because that’s just the kind of gangsters they are. But you are at least beginning to suspect something. And more to the point, you’re not just waiting for it to come to you anymore, you’re starting to go after it. The Light, that is. Everybody needs some light.” (Philip Random)
Second of two in a row from Gentle Giant’s prolific and dense and rather brilliant early 1970s phase. Inmate’s Lullaby being one of those songs that absolutely succeeds insofar as, even if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, you know what it’s about. It’s about madness, insanity, but in a nice way, like a nice day at the asylum. The inmate looks out his window and smells the flowers and hears the birds and comes to believe he’s in paradise, heaven even. Does heaven have inmates? If it does, you know they have a band, and it likely sounds a lot like Gentle Giant do here, working all manner of archaic and weird (for any kind of rock outfit) instrumentation to evocative effect.
“I first stumbled onto Gentle Giant via late night TV, maybe 1975. My first thought was, these guys are strange. And I’ve never wavered in that estimation. Or more to the point, the stranger the better. And they never got stranger than Knots, from the album called Octopus, and Knots is nothing if not Octopus like – at least eight separate arms all reaching for something beyond their grasp. I’m sure I’ve heard it a thousand times, yet I’m still not entirely clear how it even goes, though lyrically, it does seem very connected to the psychology of RD Laing.” (Philip Random)
The forced marriage in 1980 of prog-rock dinosaurs Yes and earworm popsters The Buggles was a strange thing that should not have worked. And maybe it didn’t, because they only ever released one album (which was credited to Yes, but they should’ve called themselves something else, because any band called Yes without Jon Anderson involved just feels very wrong, like a Beatles without John Lennon). But all that said, Drama (the album) can’t just be dismissed, if only for the possible future it speaks of that never happened – a musical decade that managed to both embrace the cool new synthetic pop options and the recent powerhouse progressive past. Like an odd sci-fi movie that only you remember, seen just once late at night on one of those scrambled Pay TV channels. Maybe Tuesday Weld was in it.
“Peter Gabriel’s first three solo albums were all called Peter Gabriel, so we fans (and I was definitely a fan) tended to refer to them as The Weird Eyes (the first), Nails On The Blackboard (the second), and Melting Face (the third). Melting Face was the one that mattered most, both then and now, the one where Gabriel finally figured out how to refine the best of his so-called prog-rock tendencies, fuse them with punk and new wave’s rawer, sharper edges, and thus kick things way into the future. And it all started with Intruder, a creepy hit of atonal menace that really was like nothing anybody had ever heard. Still is.” (Philip Random)
“It’s true. In 1973, Genesis were the definition of sophisticated, underground cool. Certainly too cool for local Vancouver radio which barely played them. But you heard about them anyway from various cool older brothers and sisters, or saw an occasional photo in something like Creem magazine. It was always about the live show, like Alice Cooper but completely different, not for teeny bops. And then I finally heard them and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. How could it be? It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. So delicate and then not. So powerful and strange. The album was Selling England by the Pound. The first song was Dancing with the Moonlit Knight. Like dropping the needle into a dense and beautiful dream that you probably weren’t ready for, but here it was anyway. Something to do with England being in big trouble. The Pound was falling, the empire was fading, it was the worst of times, it was the very best of music.” (Philip Random)
“I remember hearing Gates of Delirium get played on commercial radio when it was new, all twenty-two minutes of it. I remember my fifteen year old jaw dropping. It would’ve been late 1974, maybe 1975. Little did I realize that an era was fast ending – that very soon the culture would have little use for bands like Yes spreading their vast and cosmic wings, unleashing dense and intense and impossibly beautiful side long epics about mystical warriors in mythical lands busting through great gates of delirium. Or whatever it was actually about. It was definitely about war, burning children’s laughter on to hell. I remember a few years later, a musician friend saying, ‘But it’s really about everything. That’s the problem with Yes. Their songs aren’t really about anything. Just everything. But f***, those guys can play.'” (Philip Random)
The Solid Time of Change has been our overlong yet incomplete history of the so-called Prog Rock era – 661 selections from 1965 through 1979 with which we’ve tried to begin to do justice to a strange and ambitious time indeed, musically speaking.
The final stage of the journey went as follows:
Yes – And You and I
King Crimson – Court of the Crimson King
Genesis – Supper’s Ready
King Crimons – Starless
Beatles – A Day in the Life
Yes – Close to the Edge
If you’re late discovering all of this and wish to start at the beginning …
Randophonic airs pretty much every Saturday night, starting 11 pm (Pacific time) c/o CiTR.FM.101.9, with streaming and download options usually available within twenty-four hours via our Facebook page. We have no clear plan for what shall happen next beyond more superlative noise in some form or other …