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Notes 59.2 (2002) 317-320

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Progressive Rock Reconsidered. Edited by Kevin Holm-Hudson. New York: Routledge, 2002. [280 p. ISBN 0-8153-3715-0. $85 (hbk.); ISBN 0-8153-3715-9. $24.95 (pbk.).] Music examples, index.

In recent years, progressive rock has been the subject of numerous essays and books by music scholars, for example: Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis, edited by John Covach and Graeme M. Boone (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Edward Macan's Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Allan F. Moore's Rock, the Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1993). The genre features two general characteristics with obvious appeal for musicologists and theorists: (1) a relatively complex musical syntax, and (2) a self-conscious identification with certain "highbrow" trappings. The syntactical analytic approaches favored in studies of concert music are readily adaptable to progressive rock's expanded conception of the pop record, especially in the realms of harmony, meter, and form. The music's referencing and outright borrowing of both musical and ideological elements from the concert music tradition is likewise familiar territory. Furthermore, the lively documented discourse among musicians, fans, and critics provides a valuable resource in attempting to connect the music with other aspects of the overall cultural picture. Progressive Rock Reconsidered engages all three of these aspects, while at the same time moving well beyond them to illuminate the music from a number of different perspectives.

The book is a collection of twelve essays (including the introduction) by ten authors dealing with the music of Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, Rush, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, as well as the lesser known United States of America and Don Caballero. [End Page 317] Academic disciplines represented by contributors include musicology, music theory, sociology, and comparative religious studies. The "reconsidered" in the title refers both to the inclusion of diverse critical viewpoints and a historical perspective that extends the 1969 to 1977 time frame of progressive rock's commercial heyday in both directions. The aim, writes editor Kevin Holm-Hudson, is "to reconsider progressive rock in a way that transcends commonly held stereotypes of the genre" (p. 1).

Analytic and critical approaches vary according to the authors' interests and training. Deena Weinstein, a sociologist with long experience writing about rock, focuses on the lyrics of Pink Floyd's John Waters, arguing that in the consistency of themes and images the group presents an artistic vision "fully within the parameters of modernist discourse" (p. 104) and are "deserving of the designation of high art" (p. 95). As is often the case when rock music is reduced to a subset of elements, the conclusion of the analysis appears somewhat curious. By accepting the implicit hierarchization of the high art/low art division, and by removing the words from their sonic context, Weinstein ends up defending Waters as an artist appreciated only by a "select audience," by "those who know how to listen" (pp. 106-7). One wonders how many of the millions of fans who fell in love with, say, Dark Side of the Moon (Harvest SMAS-11163 [1973], LP; Capital CDP 7 46001 2 [1994], CD) would qualify for such an exclusive membership. Jennifer Rycenga, too, focuses on lyrics—those of Yes's Jon Anderson—but her analysis explores how "a pantheistic neopagan immanent cosmology" (p. 145) is expressed through the interaction of words and music. Believing that in Anderson's case "trying to establish any linguistic meaning for the lyrics, independent of the music, is frustrating at best and counterproductive at worst" (p. 144), she probes the band's Tales from Topographic Oceans (Atlantic SD 2 908 [1973], LP; Atlantic 82683-2 [n.d.], CD) to illustrate how the album's musical form reflects conceptually the lyric content, specifically in its negation of "narrative and linear logic" (p. 145). The resulting multiplicity of formal relationships and connotative meanings allows for a rich field of possible interpretations, which themselves reflect the identity and position of the listener.

Most of the other analytic essays...


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