The band known as Jethro Tull blew things wide open in 1972 with a single 43 minute song/concept album that hit #1 everywhere from Denmark to Australia to the Americas, even Vietnam. Which suddenly meant that Ian Anderson and the band could do pretty much anything they wanted career wise, including the release of a double album of (mostly) unreleased stuff from the previous four years and four albums of their career (so far). Living in the Past it was called and full of odd gems it was including a live version of Dharma For One which initially showed up as an instrumental on their first album but come the concert trails of 1970 had picked up some lyrics and otherwise expanded and evolved into a longer, wilder, more progressive beast indeed. The word gobsmacking comes to mind, though the drum solo does go on a bit.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original 1971 studio recording of Yes’s Perpetual Change. It just doesn’t go as far as strong as gobsmackingly wow!!! as the 1972 live recording that showed up on the triple live set Yessongs. Because they really do set the atmosphere on fire here, one of the last tracks ever recorded with drummer Bill Bruford, so yeah, the classic Yes lineup (my version of it anyway), which does need to be raved about if only for that point maybe halfway through Perpetual Change where the band are effectively playing two completely different songs at the same insane time, and it works, finally blowing off into a feedback overload that quickly segues into a Jon Anderson vocal harmony, and then BAM!!! into an extended outro, the tightest band on the planet at the time (seriously, even Led Zeppelin had to be looking over their shoulders in 1972) bouncing back and forth from improvised bits to insanely abrupt changes, on and on, higher and deeper until the only real flaw, which is the overextended drum solo (not bad, just not necessary like pretty much every other 1970s drum solo). As a musician friend once put it, Perpetual Change is the secret to everything that was great about Yes, because they were perpetual change (up until around 1975 anyway), not just evolving from album to album, but within the songs themselves. Everything was possible and they had the smarts (and the chops) to make it so.”
“Manfred Mann’s Earth Band being an example of a darned strong outfit that never bothered much for hype or glory, particularly in their early days, but rather just put everything they had into the music. In the case of Father of Night Father of Day, that meant taking a sub two minute Bob Dylan acoustic throwaway about the glory of God etc and electrifying it, amplifying it glorifying until it was almost ten minutes long, and miles higher. The whole album’s a killer by the way, 1973’s Solar Fire. The Roaring Silence got all the sales and notoriety three years later because of the big deal hit Blinded By The Light, but Solar Fire is superior by orders of magnitude, the definition of a rock that was progressive, and at a time when that still mattered.” (Philip Random)
“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)