“I mostly hated so-called jazz-rock fusion at the time – so many of my fave Prog heroes getting caught up with showing off or whatever, forgetting to actually make interesting, astonishing music. But National Health (straight outa Canterbury) seemed to mostly get it right, keeping it sharp, innovative, fun. And in the case of Squarer For Maud, it even gets epic, particularly once the cello cuts loose toward the end. And then there’s that rap about numinosity (a word I’d never heard before). Of or relating to a numen; supernatural. Filled with or characterized by a sense of a supernatural presence. Now that’s my kind of music.” (Philip Random)
In which we are reminded that it wasn’t Peter Gabriel’s split from Genesis that condemned them (and us) to the various attainments and atrocities that would come to define them through the 1980s – it was Steve Hackett‘s. Look no further than Please Don’t Touch, Hackett’s first post-Genesis solo excursion (he was still in the band for 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte), its epic conclusion in particular. And yes, that is Richie Havens (the hippie folk guy that saved the day at Woodstock) laying down the heavy vocal gravity.
“True, the cover of Captain Beyond‘s self-titled first (and most necessary) album is at least a little silly (featuring as it does some mystical rock GOD entity standing on asteroid out in space), but everything else is pretty much rock solid, with an emphasis on the rawk (which makes sense given the Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple blood deep in the band’s veins) even as the songs have the audacity to shift tempo and time signature, and lyrically wax poetic upon the speaking of the moon. You really must listen when the moon speaks. What was it about 1972?” (Philip Random)
Utopia was initially formed because Todd Rundgren felt a need to rock progressively, some would argue excessively. Which was definitely the case come 1977’s Ra, their third album, with material ranging from an overlong children’s fantasy concerning a glass guitar to a genuine communion with the sun god of ancient Egypt. The singular highlight was Hiroshima, a blistering, metal-infused ode (with guitar and keyboard freakouts) to the worst split second in the history of mankind (also Nagasaki, three days later). Don’t you ever f***ing forget.
The Strawbs started out as a folk band in the 1960s, but somewhere along the line, things started getting so-called progressive, which Rick Wakeman‘s stint on keyboards only accentuated. But even after Yes scooped him up for their nefarious ends, the Strawbs continued with the progressing and expanding, and nowhere so seriously, intensely, psychedelically as The Life Auction, found on 1975’s Ghosts. It’s tea time, the middle of England somewhere (or maybe just some drab Canadian suburb) and the acid you dropped an hour or so back is finally kicking in hard, the truth about everything revealed in the polluted haze of another diluted day.
“If you were there at the time (1976), the first you heard of Klaatu likely came in the form of rumour. They were the Beatles secretly reunited, with the clues all there if you just did a little digging. It was all bullshit, of course, and thank God, because the album really wasn’t that good. Rather like what you would’ve gotten if Paul McCartney had rediscovered LSD and tried to do another Sergeant Pepper’s, but all alone this time, and maybe drinking copious amounts of vodka spiked Cream Soda on the side. But the last track was a keeper, something to do with split atoms, I think, and the wrath of gods thus unleashed.” (Philip Random)
Peter Hammill (aka The Jesus of angst) actually has fun here in a track from his first solo album Pawn Hearts. Dating back to 1971 (the same year that Hammill’s band Van der Graaf Generator officially called it quits, though they would return by mid-decade to further trouble our dreams), Philip Random wouldn’t actually hear Imperial Zeppelin until at least 1979 at which point it quickly became a key part of the soundtrack to his short, albeit rich “tea drinking period”.
Nektar being one of those so-called prog bands that never quite made it over here in the Americas. Maybe because they were from Germany, and how many German bands made it in the 1970s? But they were English actually – they just met in Germany and ended up living there. Maybe it was their live show, a little too ambitious and unwieldly to travel well. Or maybe they were just too musically out there, as they perhaps were with the entirety of Remember The Future a full album concept concerning a blind boy and an alien and everything, really. So we have Philip Random’s abridged version, “… the best parts of side one.”
Jethro Tull main man Ian Anderson was nothing if not level-headed in 1978. While many of his fellow formerly cool rock star types were scrambling (often pathetically) in attempts to reinvent themselves as somehow edgy and relevant in the face of punk rock etc, he just told it like it was. He was more concerned about his farm up in Scotland than the state of the zeitgeist, the big horses in particular. The album in question may have seemed a throwback at the time, but over time, its mix of folk and rock elements has come to feel more timeless than anything.