It often happens that a certain idea that is widespread, after investigating a little, one finds that it doesn’t have a foundation backing it up. I quote two examples. We’re used to see a representation of a Viking wearing a helmet with two horns: the helmets were never like that, that image came out from a painter that wanted Vikings to look more terrorizing. At school they would talk to us about Napoleon Bonaparte and his low height, but in reality he measured five feet with 6.5 inches (1.69 meters), which was superior to the average height of men in France and England in that era. When Napoleon died, he was measured, and the data collected was 5 feet with two inches (1.57 meters). But that measurement was made with French feet and inches which were slightly bigger than the English units: when that number was interpreted as English feet and inches the emperor of France appeared to be shorter than he really was and from that moment on that lie disseminated everywhere.
If I present this as an introduction is because I believe there is an idea about progressive rock that is a fallacy. In reality, I believe there are many lies that have been told about progressive rock but I’ll analyze just one: the affirmation that punk rock finished progressive rock. Morat (2000, p.39) it shows us with a typical example of this idea: “Way back when dinosaurs (Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis et al.) ruled the earth, it was the Pistols who drove them to extinction”. And in a BBC documentary, a so-called expert affirms, “Almost overnight, after The Sex Pistols, prog rock came to a halt”. We find variations of these statements every moment in rock books and documentaries –including those that do not disdain progressive rock.
Let’s say that we accept the above-mentioned statement. If punk finished progressive rock, in what aspects, would that be noticed? The following occurs to me:
- With the punk boom, the sales of prog rock would drastically drop or, plainly the groups of this genre would stop recording albums.
- The concerts of prog rock groups would be almost empty because their fans would want to hear punk bands.
- Punk gets to be so dominant that prog rockers decide to abandon their style to dedicate themselves to play punk.
Let’s review the first point: How many albums do the prog rock groups sold from 1976 forward? I’m using 1976 as a starting point because rock critics mark that moment as the beginning of the referenced influence of punk in the supposed decline of progressive rock. Let’s remember also that’s the year that the Sex Pistols put out their first single and, in the month of December, occurs their polemic apparition on television that brought great media attention. Let’s see these data from Wikipedia.
|Jethro Tull||Songs from the Wood||February 1977||Gold record (U.S.A., Canada)|
|April 1978||Gold record (U.S.A.), Silver record (U.K.)|
|Live – Bursting Out||September 1978||Gold Record (U.S.A., Canada), Silver Record (U.K.)|
|September 1979||Gold Record (U.S.A., Canada)|
|A Trick of the Tail
|February 1976||Gold Record (U.S.A., U.K., France)|
|Wind & Wuthering
|December 1976||Gold Record (U.S.A., U.K., France)|
|…And Then There Were Three…
|March 1978||Gold Record (Germany, U.K., France). Platinum Record (U.S.A.)|
You can consult the discographies of Yes, Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake and Palmer and it will show something similar happening: they get gold, platinum and silver albums. Even “Love Beach” by ELP, which is considered by many a failed album, was a gold record in the United States.
Let’s go to point two: what happened to the concerts of prog rock groups since 1976? The Emerson, Lake and Palmer north American tour of 1977 is as big as the previous ones and includes four dates at Madison Square Garden and two at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium (Forrester, Hanson & Askew, 2001). Also in those years, the number of concerts and the size of venues where Yes and Pink Floyd performed are equally impressive. In such a way that no relation can be established between the emergence of punk and the sales of records and tickets by progressive rock groups because they continued to be as well as before. I will say it again: progressive rock still had a big commercial impact so there is no way of establishing any influence over it by punk rock. As affirmed by Sean Albiez (2003, p. 360) “In fact, punk could not commercially compete with Pink Floyd, Genesis or Yes, pop/rock artists ELO, Abba and David Soul, and disco in the late 1970s and early 1980s”.
Point number three: of course not a single prog rock group changed their style to play punk. Although the simplification of progressive rock is notorious in various elements of its music, one would have to demonstrate that this was due to punk. According to Edward Macan (1997, p. 186-87) this simplification derived from two progressive rock by-products: the “Stadium rock”— Kansas, Boston, Styx, Rush, Toto, Journey, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Foreigner, Heart, etc. — and the “Symphonic British Pop”— Electric Light Orchestra, Supertramp, 10 cc, the Alan Parsons Project, among others. In summary, punk rock didn’t get to have a great influence in those years as many love to say. Dave Laing in “One Chord Wonders” (2015, p.46-7) affirms, “Before the end of 1977 it was clear to the record industry that punk would not become any kind of Big Thing. There had not been ‘the predicted domination by the punks and their associates’ wrote one relieved commentator ” and later he says that “Punk rock, then, had failed to emulate the kind of commercial success of that earlier Next Big Thing, and consequently its stylistic impact on the musical mainstream was a limited one”.
Once stated that there is no foundation whatsoever in saying that punk finished prog rock, the question that follows is: where and why does this lie came to be? Tommy Udo (2017) tells us that “It was in the pages of NME, Melody Maker and Sounds that we were told that prog was the class enemy and encouraged to feel hatred”. The author Sean Albiez agrees:
The polarisation of ‘prog’ and punk promulgated in the 1976–1977 period may have as much to do with internal class and gender politics in the Melody Maker offices (Caroline Coon versus . . . the rest?) as a real groundswell of anti-progressive sentiment (Johnstone 1995, pp. 217–18). The Coon analysis of the burgeoning punk scene as a knowing, working-class kick in the face of middle-class, University-educated progressives (a narrative Lydon employs, but implicitly contradicts) seems a defining trope which froze debate on the musical explosion of punk; (…) Coon’s iconoclastic narrative predetermined the future discourses of punk history, and is frequently reproduced in popular television histories of rock and punk. (Albiez, 2003, p.359)
As we see, we have an invented and widespread idea by the rock press in a pursuit to diminish a kind of music that wasn’t up to their taste. This history forgerers continue to repeat their lies, on brazenly, lies that others, possibly without bad faith but with the terrible habit of repeating without verifying, reproducing it time and time again.
On my part, there is nothing more to conclude, based on the evidence that I have shown, that punk didn’t even tickled progressive rock.
Albiez, S. (2003). Know history!: John Lydon, cultural capital and the prog/punk dialectic. Popular Music, 22(3), 357-374.
Forrester, G., Hanson, M., & Askew, F. (2001). Emerson, Lake and Palmer: the show that never ends. London: Helter Skelter.
Genesis discography. (2017, June 02). Retrieved June 20, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_discography
Jethro Tull discography. (2017, June 01). Retrieved June 20, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jethro_Tull_discography
Laing, D. (2015). One chord wonders: power and meaning in punk rock. Oakland: Pm Press.
Morat. (2000). 1. The greatest punk album ever: Never Mind the Bollocks’. Noise Pollution: the Punk Magazine, 39-39.
Tommy Udo, T. (2017, June 07). Did Punk Kill Prog? Retrieved June 20, 2017, from http://teamrock.com/feature/2017-06-07/did-punk-kill-prog