Popular Music



‘Living in the Past’?: value discourses in progressive rock fanzines


CHRIS ATTON 

At the height of its success in the first half of the 1970s, progressive rock was perhaps a surprisingly popular genre; surprising since its exponents strove to fuse classical models of composition and arrangement with electric instruments and extend the form of rock music from the single song to the symphonic poem, even the multimovement suite. Album and concert sales were extremely high; even albums that were greeted with less than critical approval (itself a rare occurrence) such as Jethro Tull's A Passion Play and Yes's Tales from Topographic Oceans (both 1973) sold well (the latter reached number one in the UK Top 10 album charts upon its release). Today, the dominant critical characterisation of progressive rock is of overblown, pretentious musicians in ridiculous garb surrounded by banks of keyboards playing bombastic, overlong compositions in time signatures that you couldn't dance to: a music as far removed from ‘real’ rock ‘n’ roll as could be imagined; a music that failed both as rock music but also as classical music. (All these negative characteristics are to be found, for instance, in David Thomas's (1998) coverage of Yes's latest UK tour.) This characterisation is only partly unfair. It arose in the wake of punk, which sought to sweep away what its proponents saw as the empty virtuosity of rock dinosaurs. Punk sought to reclaim rock music for `ordinary' people to be played in intimate venues - not stadia - by people who didn't need to be conservatoire trained.