Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

The music industry claims that its collapsing sales are the result of piracy. Arrrrrrgh. . . give me a break. The music industry has been making mistake after mistake for decades now. It got greedy and lazy and risk-averse, and now it’s paying the price. The reality is they haven’t turned out anything worth listening to in years. Their biggest failure is. . .

. . . hold on, we'll get to that in a minute.

I miss progressive rock. Yep. It’s true. Normally, “progressive” is a dirty word, but not in this instance. In this instance, progressive means “experimental,” and that’s a good thing.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the music scene was very different. You had pop bands. You had stoned hippies with guitars. You had country. And you had this thing known as progressive rock. Bands like Pink Floyd, Supertramp and pre-pop Genesis roamed the music world turning out strange, sometimes-horrible, and often times completely brilliant music.

What made progressive rock what it was, was that its creators wanted to experiment musically and lyrically. They wanted to expand the bounds of music and try things that hadn’t been done before. Instead of the 90 second songs of the 1950s, they introduced 5, 10 and 15 minute songs. They introduced concept albums. They added new instruments and new sounds. And lyrically, they took on topics that no pop song would dare touch: some were philosophical, some were angry, some were full of angst, and some were utter nonsense. But most were interesting and deeply thoughtful. Indeed, it's the kind of music you listen too when you want to ponder the imponderables.

It's true a lot of progressive music turned out to be garbage, but a heck of a lot more turned out to be original, intense and brilliant. Moreover, the influence of progressive rock spilled over into every other aspect of music. Even 1970s pop music was much more varied that the pop music of other eras because of the influence of progressive rock. But those days are over and those bands are all on social security. And there is nothing comparable today.

Since the mid-1980s, the music industry has played it safe. They no longer experiment, they manufacture. They’ve been repeating the same sounds and the same mindless lyrics. The only thing that changes is the bimbo or pretty-boy doing the singing. And bimbos and pretty boys they are because the music industry is more interested in selling images than music.

Until and unless this changes, the music industry will continue to turn people off until there is no music industry left, and that's the problem with the music industry.

I miss progressive rock.

What do you think?


LL said...

MTV began to be the end for creative (but physically less than flawless) artists.

I don't know what the future holds, but I can't see it going backwards to people who don't fit THE MOLD.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, Very true. I remember and interview with Christopher Cross, who had a great voice, but not the looks. And he said that MTV literally killed his career.

In fact, looking back on it, most of the bands from the 1960s and 1970s had a bunch of ugly dudes in them . . . but man could they sing and write music!

Anonymous said...

Andrew, in an earlier post, I recommended that you check out Queensryche and I indicated that they were heavy metal. My husband suggested I correct that slightly. They are heavy metal, but not typical heavy metal. Some people have said that they are progessive rock. Either way, they were very good in the late 80's and early 90's and one of their albums (Operation Mindcrime) was a concept album.

As to 10-15 minute songs, my husband loves them. We've been listening to some older Kansas songs recently.

It's true the music of today does not compare to the older stuff. My husband is really into the late 60's through the 70's and I'm more into the 80's. MTV was cool when it first started out (I remember the very first video I saw was "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" by Night Ranger). It's nothing but garbage now.

I had Christopher Cross's first album, which was really good. It's a shame about his career because I think he could have had a great one. TJ

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, Cross had some great songs and was well on his way to being a superstar. . . until video took over. And it's sad if you think that so many of the great groups of the past wouldn't even be picked up today because they don't have the look.

I like a lot of the longer stuff as well, and I love concept albums. That's what first drew me to Pink Floyd. I love the way the music takes time to build. Everything today is binary -- all instruments on/all instruments off. Not so with the older stuff, where different things happened at different time in the song.

And could you imagine Britney Spear putting an instrumental on her album?

The early 1980s, while not quite progressive rock, were another rich period of experimentation. You had just come out of the punk phase and you entered New Wave with people trying all kinds of new things and literally creating instruments from computers. That led to some great music (and some of my favorites). In fact, I've got a HUGE 1980s collection -- and I will admit that I too liked MTV when it first came out, though I now wish it had never happened.

I miss the creativity and the experimentation. I miss things like the Floyd album "Animals" which just takes you to another world musically and you can get lost in it for an hour.

I think unless the music industry re-discovers its sense of experimentation, it will simply fade away from indifference.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I remember your comment on Queensryche and I've looked them up. The look interesting, a little different than a standard heavy metal band. I haven't listened to their stuff yet -- but I do plan to.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh--where to begin? The day my kids watched Duran Duran performing Hungry Like the Wolf on MTV, on knew the end was in sight. MTV was banned and I insisted that any music they listened to from then on had to be on records or tape (yeah, it was that long ago).

MTV probably played the biggest part in promoting gangsta rap as well. But I seem to have noticed that being ugly is not as much of a disability for rock success as is being "ordinary." Chris Cross was not my cup of tea, but he was talented, and very ordinary. Pretty boys, ugly girls and freaky pretty much everything seems to be the order of the day. Lady Gaga? Oh my God God. Justin Bieber? Ya gotta be kidding. Boy bands from Menudo to New Kids on the Block and 'N Sync and felon rap groups. Yuck. They ruined some kind of business, but I wouldn't call it music.

Bob Seeger said it best: "Just give me that old time rock and roll," and I don't care what the hell they look like.

Anonymous said...

Queensryche's best albums were before their lead guitarist (Chris DeGarmmo) left. I like Rage For Order, Operation Mindcrime and Empire. My husband also likes The Warning. That is early in their career and has more of a raw sound. TJ

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You were much more perceptive than I was. I thought it was great seeing the videos, I never figured the music industry would be so stupid as to drop great singers for young hotties. I guess I was naive at the time.

I think you're right about Christopher Cross being ordinary -- he wasn't Quasimodo or anything. But he didn't fit the mold of what the music industry wanted anymore. In fact, if you look back on the 1960s and 1970s, few of the greats did. Could you image if they had applied the same lousy standard back then and they never signed people like Bob Seeger because he didn't have the look?

That's truly sad.

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, I have long felt that most bands are better in their earlier albums before they get "too produced", which seems to come later in their careers.

Anonymous said...

That tends to be true Andrew. One of the things I liked about Queensryche was that they were all so talented (you can't say that about too many of today's "so called" artists). Geoff Tate, the lead singer, has in my opinion one of the best voices around.

One of my favorite groups was ELO. I just loved the mixture of classical and rock music. I came so close to seeing them in concert, but the show was canceled (what a bummer - I heard they put on really fantastic shows). Unfortunately, they don't tour in the US anymore.

It's so true that it's all about looks nowadays. I read the comments on youtube from time to time and I remember on one of ELO's videos (the song was Showdown), someone compared Jeff Lynne to Big Foot. His looks may not be the best, but he is a musical genius as far as I'm concerned. Today's "artists" could learn a few things from him.

Tom Petty is another one I can name that is head and shoulders above the "pretty boys". TJ

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, I love ELO and Tom Petty -- both are incredible artists and musicians. And I doubt either would be picked up today because they don't look the part. Can you imagine that? Neither group getting a contract because they don't look like pretty boys? How sad would that be? And what are we missing for that very reason today?

In terms of talent, I hate to sound like a grumpy old guy, but it used to be that you needed talent to make it. Music used to be so much less produced than it is today, and you actually had to be able to play your instruments, use your voice to make pleasing or interesting sounds, and you had to have creativity to distinguish yourself.

Right now we're in a period where looks matter the most and anyone can be cleaned up sound-wise to the point that talent is a secondary concern.

That's why groups like the Beatles had such staying power -- because they had real talent. They weren't just pretty kids who were singing other people's songs as their studio engineers cleaned up all their mistakes.

Man I hate sounding like an old grump, but this is true in this case. Things really have gotten to the point that it's all about machines instead of people.

AndrewPrice said...

T.J., P.S., I've noticed that a lot of the early metal bands did have a good deal of talent. It's not my favorite style of music, though I do have some in my collection, but I have to admit that the early guys could play their instruments and their sounds were creative. The newest group is just loud, angry wannabes.

Anonymous said...

Anrew, I was reading this to my husband, and he agrees with you about "Animals" - it's his favorite Pink Floyd LP. Talk about 10 minute plus songs!

My husband's favorite Pink Floyd song is "Echoes" (23 minutes). TJ

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, Great song! I have a hard time picking favorite songs of theirs because each album is so different. In fact, they're one of those groups that I like everything they've done and whatever mood I'm in will determine my current favorite song! There aren't many bands like that for me, but they are one of them, and I think that's a sign of true quality when it's so hard to pick a single favorite.

CrisD said...

I always thought Pure Prarie League was progressive rock-country. Love that song Aimee.

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, That's is a great song and it's definitely not typical country. Like I say in the article, I think that the spirit of experimentation of that era is what drove the creation of so much good music in all genres at the time.

That's what's missing today. Today all they do is manufacture what you've already heard a hundred times and tinker with it just enough to make you think it's something new.

Mike K. said...

The thing I like most about my favorite prog rock band---Jethro Tull---is the sheer variety of their music. A little hard rock, some folk music, blues, jazz, and the odd classical piece pops up from time to time.

Combine that variety with the interesting lyrics and impressive musicianship, and you get some albums that stand the test of time.

I could say the same thing about other bands like Steely Dan, as well as the others you mentioned.

What's interesting is that the vast majority of these groups are "love them or hate them" phenomena. Which is your point, I guess. The more the music industry tries to appeal to the masses, the less popular it's product becomes.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I think you're right that when it comes to these bands, people either love them or hate them -- there aren't many people who say, "yeah, I kind of like it."

My point is actually a little more about experimentation than just about appealing to the masses, but your comment is very on point. The music industry is looking to aim for the biggest target in the market at all times -- they want no risk in what they put out today. That means no experimentation because experimentation can lead to failure. But as a consequence, they've stagnated and there just isn't much to feel passionate about.

I think what made these prog-rock bands so great was their sense of experimentation. Basically, by letting all these guys experiment, they found new things that no one had done before, some of which worked spectacularly. And that poured over into all other aspects of the music industry.

But today, the music industry doesn't want to take that risk. Instead, they keep making the same three or four songs over and over.

Ultimately, I think your point and mine are related. By trying to appeal only to the most generic market, they are eschewing the very experimentation that kept music moving forward and kept it interesting and drove album sales. Unless they change that and start taking risks, they're doomed.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, P.S. I agree entirely about the variety. When I first heard of Pink Floyd, all I heard was "they're one of those horrible rock bands." People likened then to heavy metal or punk. But that wasn't true at all. The first album I got was "Dark Side of the Moon," which was truly surprising from what I'd expected to hear.

Then I got "Wish You Were Hear" and I was stunned how different the two albums were. . . and so on. Most of their albums are so distinct that they could almost all have been done by different bands.

I find the same thing throughout progressive rock -- major variety. And I really like that because it just offers so much and it's so surprising. And when you find a group who is actually good at what they do, these albums are truly incredible.

It's hard to say that about anything I've heard in the last 20 years. . . in fact, I can't even stand to listen to modern albums, which are just a collection of 2-3 radio singles and a bunch of filler.

(And Jethro Tull easily has one of the most diverse sounds.)

StanH said...

It’s funny you talk of Progressive Rock, I just returned from a gig, and we played our original set and mixed in “Freewill” Rush, “Yours is no Disgrace” Yes, and “Portrait/He Knew,” and “Wayward Son,” Kansas, I know it’s not prog, “Ramble On,” Led Zep. And you are indeed correct the bands Like, King Crimson, ELP, Yes, Genesis, Rush, and a hearty shout out to Jethro Tull …saw him a half dozen times in the ‘70s, and early ‘80s, blow your face off. Another genre from that time period, is progressive/fusion Jazz bands like, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Jeff Beck, The Bitches Brew, Gentle Giant, Dixie Dregs, Frank Zappa etc. Pink Floyd sits by there selves, not to be un-cool, but my favorite Floyd was post Sid Barrett, I saw the Dark Side of the Moon tour, amazing. Not to diminish Cream, ZZ Top, Tom Petty, or the Van Halens of the world, etc. As a player I was challenged more covering progressive rock, or Jazz. I’m “rambling on” an bit, excuse the pun!

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, "blow your face off" LOL! That's funny! Also, nice pun! :-)

I actually prefer "post Barrett" Pink Floyd as well. . . by a lot. I think they really hit their stride in the 1970s with "Dark Side of the Moon," "Animals" and "Wish You Were Here."

In truth, I'm not much into jazz, but I know some people who would definitely agree with you about that period of jazz music. I honestly don't know why I don't like jazz more. Maybe I just haven't been exposed to it enough?

That is really cool that you're out there doing gigs! I am very jealous! I would love to be able to play an instrument, but I just never learned. I've heard that a lot of the progressive stuff is really difficult to play, but I have no first hand knowledge of that -- though it seems a good deal more complex than anything I've heard from a Seattle garage band, and it seems like there's less room for mistakes.

Ed said...

I've noticed that everything sounds the same for a long time now. I think you're on to something here. In fact, now that I think about it, everything todays sounds just like everything as far back as the early 1990s.

MegaTroll said...

Floyd is one of my favorites. So is Yes. Nice article.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I would say that about the time when it all started. In the early 1980s, you had a lot of creativity. In the mid to late 1980s, you had the tale end of that effort and the follow up albums. By the 1990s, everything sounds like a Celine Dion song sung by castrati. Nothing's changed since then.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Mega. I guess trolls have good taste! LOL!

MegaTroll said...

Andrew, Trolls like "rock music"! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Hardy har har.

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