The BB bunker (OK…bedroom) is currently rockin’ to the sweet soul sounds of The Best Prog Rock Album in the World…Ever, a compilation so authentic that it’s a triple album - the horror (look, if you don’t want to read about this then fine, sod off back to the real world). Scabby old punks are doubtless snarling “we fought for our country so that people like you could live free from oppression” already; I hope they choke on their own expectorate. Oh look, one of them did (RIP Joe).
You may be surprised to find me, self-indicted prog fan, needing to buy a bog-standard marketing cash-in like this. Truth is, my prog tastes so far have centred around the Big Three: Genesis, Yes & Crimson (four if you count Floyd as prog), with occasional diversions into - usually followed by rapid retreats from - so-called neo-prog (Porcupine Tree: awesome; Spock’s Beard: acceptable; IQ: ummm…). And, when my Glamorous Research Assistant is in a forgiving mood, a long blast of Aural Moon. I’ve been wary of going deeper (particularly due to some of the scary things I’ve heard about the likes of Gentle Giant - from their own fans) so this compilation is a good opportunity to get a stronger fix (“Like cannabis? You’ll love heroin!”). Plus, if enough people buy it then they might release a follow-up. Don’t all thank me at once.
And mostly, I’d say “Come on in!” Hocus Pocus by Focus (or is it Focus by Hocus Pocus?), Atomic Rooster, Caravan, Man (maaan), Van Der Graaf Generator - lie back and think of a better, older (wiser) England. Plus, probably the only worthwhile Phil Collins appearance on an album this year. (Can Phil play drums with a stick in his mouth? ‘Cos, like, that would stop him singing.)
Now that racism, sexism and ageism are beyond the pale, there are enough people bashing prog for an outlet instead (obviously without looking at their own record collections first, let alone their troubled karmas), so I’m going to say why I like it here. Yes, it’s overblown. Yes, there’s too much showing off (e.g. that comical bit in Heart Of The Sunrise where the whole of Yes stop and then play some fast runs up and down the scale in unison). Yes, it includes Yes. No, most of the lyrics don’t bear close examination. And yes, I love all that about it. It’s probably the closest you’ll come to rock musicians playing Music with no other agenda, aim, intent or A&R sales target than for the sake of Music alone - for the pure thrill of seeing where it ends up, regardless of how many blind alleys have to be explored and abandoned along the way. The journey rather than the destination, with the expected arrival time being pushed ever further into the distance. When Jon Anderson trills: > SHARP! DISTANCE!
How can the wind with so many around me
I feel lost in the cityyyy…yeah-eahh… at the end of the aforementioned HotS…it’s bollocks, it’s a grammatical pile-up; but ghod, it sounds glorious at that moment, as the band reach a mutually satisfying climax before collapsing spent from their exertions. Or take “Winter Wine” by Caravan, from the aforementioned compilation; the lyrics are about “knights of old” or somesuch (I doubt I’ll ever investigate further) but halfway through there’s a great guitar solo and a distinctly novel synth break. When did an instrumental part (as opposed to a lyric) last intrigue you?
However, I can understand other people not liking it (although I have less insight into the arrogance and blind prejudice that often goes along with this pose, as I’ve got my own oedipal complex well in check). It’s hardly turn-on-the-radio-while-revising, poptastic melodiousness. Who has time to sit around Listening to Albums these days? You’d have to turn off the telly and everything.
The mellotrons, the squelchy drum sounds, the squirly guitar (word coined specially to describe Steve Howe’s playing) and the bassist playing more notes in one song than every bassist together has up to 1970 - it’s all so quaint … but it can also be as exciting as music is supposed to be. We should treasure it every bit as much as we do its precursor, psychedelia. It’s a modern lost English folk art and besides, there’s nobody left alive who remembers the original purpose of morris dancing.
Next week: A paean to Goth - I’m beyond help but I’m one of the happy ones.
Other bubbles: * Interview with Kevin Ayers. * The obvious contenders for latter day prog interest: The Beta Band and the late-lamented (by me) Mansun. * Ghostland: a bit fanboy and exhibits the classic symptoms of being too far gone (unable to understand anyone not liking prog, putting it down to mental illness or stunted intellects; puzzled why prog isn’t all over the Top 40 - actually, I like their attitude), but one of the few decent net resources I’ve found. * A personal suggestion: Green by Steve Hillage. He talks to the trees, you know. They listen, too.