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Rock Music Studies


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Is Progressive Rock Progressive? YES


and Pink Floyd as Counterpoint to
Adorno
Jrme Melanon & Alexander Carpenter
Published online: 04 Feb 2015.

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To cite this article: Jrme Melanon & Alexander Carpenter (2015) Is Progressive Rock
Progressive? YES and Pink Floyd as Counterpoint to Adorno, Rock Music Studies, 2:2, 125-147, DOI:
10.1080/19401159.2015.1008344
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19401159.2015.1008344

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Rock Music Studies, 2015


Vol. 2, No. 2, 125147, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19401159.2015.1008344

Is Progressive Rock Progressive? YES


and Pink Floyd as Counterpoint to
Adorno

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Jrme Melanon and Alexander Carpenter

Theodor Adorno insisted that progress in music depends upon an on-going, radical
newness that breaks with convention as it strives towards aesthetic and social autonomy; it is not possible in popular music, which, as a mere cultural commodity, is
necessarily formulaic, repetitive and static. There is, however, a genre of rock music
that aspires to the high seriousness of art music, that eschews the market demands
of the pop single, and that calls itself progressive. Progressive rock, exemplied by
YES and Pink Floyd, both accords with and responds to Adornos critique of popular
music as meaningless and regressive, but also goes beyond what Adorno thought was
possible for progressive music. As both musically and politically progressive, prog rock
aspires to seriousness, meaning, and truth, challenges the aesthetic rigidity and
capitalism of the music industry from within, and makes possible for listeners an
awareness of the otherwise masked alienation of everyday life.
Introduction
Theodor Adorno wrote most of his major essays on modern music and popular
music in the 1930s and 40s. He identied the former as intentionally anti-commercial works of art for a specialized audience, requiring a particular kind of attentive/structural listening that would foster a revolutionary personality; the latter he
characterized as a production of the culture industry, as recycled form and content
guaranteeing quiescence and social stability. Musically speaking, while modern,
serious music is progressive and changes constantly, popular music is static by virtue of its commodication, and so cannot bring forth new musical elements to
compositions that thus merely repeat each other. However, Adorno failed to foresee the industrialization of modern music, as well as the possibilities that would
soon be opened by jazz and popular musicians in their experimentations, and so
missed the increasing commodication of both types of musici.e., serious and
popularas well as the manners in which both continued to promote progress.

2015 Taylor & Francis

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Although Adornos writings are mostly conned to a specic era of the music
industry, his rejection of popular music continues to nd echoes.1
Faced with the on-going resonance of this rejection, we consider whether and
how popular music might be able to overcome, rather than contribute to alienation
(as Adorno asserts), which we dene as being removed and turned away from
meaningful engagement in political, economic, social, and artistic life. We argue
that since progressive rock shares some of the same concerns we can nd in Adornos writings on modern and popular music, it stands in counterpoint to Adornos rejection of popular music, and provides an example of how music can be
tied to political and musical progress. The specicity of progressive rock is that it
addresses these concerns by leaving out the hypothesis of an art that might be
entirely autonomous from capitalism; instead, it focuses on possibilities for overcoming alienation, within that framework as it appeals to a larger audiencea larger portion of the population than modern art music could hope to reach.
We will develop this argument in two steps. The rst step comprises a study of
what Adorno meant by progressive, in political as well as in musical terms. We
will present what music must achieve in order to be considered progressive and so
emancipatory, rather than merely entertaining and consequently alienating and in
no way inoffensivein other words, to present what might make prog rock progressive. The second step will be to turn to two progressive rock groups, YES and
Pink Floyd, in order to study how they responded to the same problems within
popular music. These two groups were chosen because they were among the most
successful in the terms of the music industry, and so are the best known progressive rock groups outside the circle of acionados of the genre. We will turn to
YESs music and Pink Floyds own explanations for their musical endeavors to isolate the underlying intentionality at play in their compositions.
At the outset it will appear that for Adorno, the problems with popular music
are essentialthat is, there is no way for popular music to be anything but what it
iswhereas for progressive rock musicians, as exemplied by YES and Pink Floyd,
the problems with popular music are historical, and, while the commodication of
music cannot be avoided, the problems it brings can be overcome through a constant subversion of musical tropes and genres. This second thesis is especially
important for those who desire progress, since it suggests different roots for the
same problem and does not require a revolutionary break with previous musical or
political forms. Instead, our position seeks spaces for freedom and better musical
and political conditions within a capitalist and popular framework, and appeals to
a much broader public, yielding different results than the appeal to a narrow public, going beyond elitism as dened by Adorno.
The Continuing Relevance of Adornos Critique of Popular Music
Adornos critique of popular music provides us with three orders of problems we
must address if we are to speak of the progressive nature of any music or art form.

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First, this radical critique addresses the very essence of popular music: it is without
substance; it prevents us from understanding the society in which we live and the
domination under which we live, all the while silencing us; it even creates alienationa disconnection from our societyand prevents any kind of signicant
change within it. And so, if we are to see whether progressive rock, a subgenre of
popular music, is progressive, we must answer this critique and address these theses concerning what popular music is, as separate from serious music, which alone
is said to be progressive.
The second order of problems Adorno formulated explicitly as a critique is the
very malaise that progressive rock musicians appear to have felt or formulated
implicitly when they began creating music in the late 1960s. These musicians were
also uneasy about the standardization of popular music, the repetition of hits on
the radio and in society, and they sought to construct songs differently and to
reach audiences differently than through repetition, giving a wide importance not
only to the LP over the singles format, but also to large scale concerts that took
the focus at least partly away from the bands recognition factor, toward the music
and larger theatrical elements. In this manner, progressive rock can be said to
share Adornos critique of popular music, but to respond to it through other
means.
The third order of problem formulated by Adorno revolves around the issue of
dening what progress is politically and musically,2 and of linking music, as a
social and material practice, to political phenomena, even where no obviously political activity takes place. And so we will address these denitions, descriptions, and
propositions rst, before moving on to more specic aspects of progressive rock as
answers to the challenges he made explicit.
Adornos Criticism of the Music Industry: What is Politically Progressive?
In asking the question of what might make music progressive politically according
to Adorno, we will be able to pinpoint the other side of his criticism of popular
music. Popular music is problematic as light music, that is, as music for entertainment. As such, Adorno writes, music seems to complement the reduction of
people to silence, the dying out of speech as expression, the inability to communicate at all. It inhabits the pockets of silence that develop between people molded
by anxiety, work, and undemanding docility (Essays 289). Adornos argument is
that light music distracts us from the alienation and the domination that frame
our situation and that it makes us unable to articulate, express, discuss, and thus
understand, the predicaments of modern life. In other words, it does not necessarily cause us to become dumbin both meanings of the wordbut it does at the
very least cause us to remain dumb.
The most famous and most often studied statement of Adornos criticism of
modern capitalism can be found in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which he
co-authored with Max Horkheimer and in which he wrote the main essay on the

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culture industry. In the Marxist terms that are more common in that essaywhich
after all is aimed at other sociologists and philosophers, rather than at musicologistslight music maintains us in a state of false consciousness. In other words, we
are unaware of the reality in which we live because we focus on fetishes. Fetishes
are things, objects, which are venerated in the place of the consciousness of the
relationships for which they stand and serve as intermediaries. Money is the ultimate fetish: we desire money for itself, rather than for the relationships it both
makes possible and in this process of becoming a fetish makes impossible. He also
lists the star, the singing voice, the instrument, the cultural good, and the presentation of the music as fetishes specic to the music industry.
Light music, music for entertainment, is of course part of the culture industry.
We should not be surprised, then, that it furthers the logic of capitalism that creates it. Modernityand so capitalismties everything together so as to make
everything commensurable, knowable, graspable, usable. For everything to be
replaceable with anything else, it must prevent any kind of difference, and so it
brings everything down to sameness, it forces everything to conform to rules and
lawsnot just human laws, but also what we call the laws of natureand we cannot see that which does not conform. Because we focus on what can be done, we
miss part of reality. In the process we forget what is greater than the diminished
version of a human being we have created for ourselves. What is outside our reach,
our grasp, be it physical or conceptual, is a source of fearand so nothing is
allowed to remain outside our reach.
Yet much remains outside our reach, and there is power exactly because concepts and ideas do not quite correspond to the world, but instead impose violence
upon it, through the gure they create for social order. Those who have power over
legal and scientic language also have power over others, since they can assign
places for them in the social whole. Only they have a vision of the whole; the others are limited to their actions as individuals, doing their own part in someone
elses plan for the whole. In this manner, the few can dominate society through the
actions of the collective, which is merely an aggregation of individuals acting
toward goals imposed upon them from the outside (Adorno and Horkheimer 16).
Fascism is looming behind every corner for Adorno; what matters most, even to
him, beyond the repetition of past fascisms, is that there exist social processes
mass production, standardized behavior, a statistical outlook on the individual, and
the repression of difference, all through a tangible threatening collective and
concealed powers (Adorno and Horkheimer 22)that necessarily lead to fascism.
The chain of causation is clear: mass production (the base) creates a culture (the
superstructure) that demands standardized behavior not only in the workplace, but
also in all social roles and interactions, and that fosters faceless domination. Moral
and intellectual codes make this behavior seem natural, unavoidable, and to be
obeyed and liked as the only possible destiny. As individuals are seen as, and told
they are, merely things that succeed or fail to meet the goals set for them, they seek
to adapt best as they can to these goals, which are tied to their economic and social

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roles. Self-preservation becomes the main value, the reason for all actions and all
thought. Individuals are the main agents of the standardization of their behavior:
there is no one in particular to tell them when they cross a line, except for a generalized and collective other, which is experienced in reactions such as what will
they think? As subjectivity is eradicated and replaced with scientic processes of
instrumental decision-making by individuals themselves, experience and thought
become limited to self-preservation and to the administration of the world to that
end. Individuals are then both cut off from their society and their situation and
disappear within a mass full of identical human beings who can speak to each
other, but solely in order to manipulate the world. As a result, they cannot hear or
see anything new. In such a context, culture creates mass deception through the
unanimity of the mass: culture today is infecting everything with sameness
(Adorno and Horkheimer 94).
Authoritarianism emerges at the junction of de-individualization and standardization. Millions are exposed to the same music, the same information, without
there being any mechanisms to support their response and reactions. Listeners are
not given the chance to be subjects and so are forced to conform their desires or
better yet their demand to the standardized product; the public conforms so well
that its members are willing to participate in all kinds of competitions to become a
part of the industry as well, on the terms dictated to them. Marketing research
treats the masses like authoritarian governments do: as mere forces to be divided
and organized, ready to be conquered or used for conquest.
Sameness is extended to the point of encompassing even dissent and opposition.
Being labeled as divergent from the rules and the style of the culture industry leads
to being incorporated within it: the criticism is also a position within the culture; it
is not countercultural; otherwise it would not be heard. Indeed, [p]ublic authority
in the present society allows only those complaints to be heard in which the attentive ear can discern the prominent gure under whose protection the rebel is suing
for peace (Adorno and Horkheimer 104). The cultural dissident can be heard but
only if he or she is well-organized and speaks to the standard in its own language
only if he or she appeals to the rules of the system and so follows them. Otherwise, there is only ostracism, estrangement, isolation, economic impotence, and
intellectual powerlessness.
For Adorno the way out is the logic itself, in what it leaves out. Indeed, thought
does separate, distance, and objectify, but that is not all it does. Rationality is not
only instrumental rationality but also dialectical rationality in that it allows us to
see how an experience is a part of something greater, part of broader experiences,
part of a social whole. In this manner, it can confess that it is power and mastery
and so can abandon its claim to mastery. Adorno seeks to establish activities that
stand outside the logic of what he calls enlightenment, and which we could also
call modernity or capitalism. Such activities recognize that we cannot measure
everything, that we will always be more than the roles that are assigned to us, and
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individuality, relationships, activities, and desires, by offering a contrast with our


society that leads us to question it and to criticize it. He is thus attempting to
establish a sphere outside capitalism whence it can be criticized. Later in his life,
Adorno would radicalize his position, and argue in favor of what he calls the
autonomous work of arta work of art that is entirely autonomous from politics.
In other words, a work of art that attempts to be political and speak about politics
is bound to send us back to the very same conditions that produced it. Yet his
position remains the same: only from outside capitalism, only from outside the
current social totality, is it possible to criticize and bring any kind of change to
capitalism and the social totality.

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Adornos Criticism of Light Music: What is Musical Progress?


Adorno applies this thesis to a distinction between seriousor new/modern
music (see below) and light music, rather than to what we now tend to call classical and popular music.3 He did not favor new music for only theoretical reasons.
Having studied piano as a child and later taken music courses at Goethe University
in Frankfurt, Adorno moved to Vienna in 1925 to study composition with Alban
Berg. Berg was a key member of the Second Viennese School, headed by one of
the most inuential composers of the early 20th century, Arnold Schoenbergthe
putative father of modern music and progenitor of atonality. Adorno also took
piano lessons with another of Schoenbergs close friends and collaborators, the pianist Eduard Steurmann, served as associate editor of the pro-Schoenberg music
journal Anbruch from 1928 to 1931, and wrote a number of substantial essays and
articles on Berg, Schoenberg, Gustav Mahler, and the modern Viennese musical
tradition, which sought to create radically and completely new music.
For Adorno, however, this period was short-lived: since then the history of
music has been nothing more than the history of decline, of regression into the
traditional (Philosophy 5). What is more, it is limited to very few composers, and
Adorno criticizes the music industry generally for commercializing serious music
as classical music, for turning it into mere household ornaments; by making it
sacrosanct, he writes, traditional music has come to resemble commercial
mass production in the character of its performances and in its role in the life of
the listener and its substance has not escaped its inuence (Philosophy 10). The
potential for the expression of truthsocial and aestheticlies only in the avantgarde. But the avant-garde is cut off from ofcial culture, and a philosophy of
music, as an investigation into musics truth and true nature, can therefore only
be a philosophy of modern music and can have only progressive music as its
object (Philosophy 10).
Progressive or new music is largely inaccessible and incomprehensible to the
general public: people are alienated by its outward characteristics, since they are
merely radio-trained listeners who are cut off from the production of new
music (Adorno, Philosophy 9). The difculty in achieving a critical understanding

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of progressive music lies in the fact that the works meaning, for Adorno and the
radical composers he values, lies in the inherent form of every work, in the
immutable questions and antagonisms of the individual compositional structure
(Philosophy 8).
Adorno juxtaposes Schoenberg and Stravinsky in his book Philosophie der Neuen
Musik to demonstrate the fundamental difference between progressive and regressive music. Regression in music is essentially a strategy, employed by composers
conforming to established and accepted sounds and practices. The intention of the
neo-classical Stravinsky, asserts Adorno, is to emphaticallyreconstruct the
authenticity of musicto impose on it the character of outside conrmation.
The mind of a composer such as Stravinsky reacts vehemently against any impulse
not visibly determined by societyactually against the trace of anything which has
not been socially comprehended (Philosophy 136). Regressive music, in other
words, is not born out of an authentic impulse. It makes use of traditional techniques, sounds, and modes of organizationwhich are not merely outdated but
falsetowards accessibility; this music is carefully crafted, favoring the strict
contour of the phenomenon over the strict self-development of essence (Philosophy 136). Progressive music, by contrast, arises from the tasks designed by the
composer, tasks for which traditional or conventional material as such is necessarily exhausted, so that new means must be found. It is in this moment that authenticity is found, in terms of the works consistency, on its own terms. Progressive
musicSchoenbergs antebellum atonal, expressionist music, in this caseis
exactly, necessarily, what it must be, arising out of artistic necessity, not technique
or ability, and striving spontaneously towards truth, towards music as knowledge
(Philosophy 41). As a result, progressive music does exactly what a progressive politics does: it follows the movement of history, while avoiding the false directions
and the stagnations that tempt all political actors and all musicians.
Dening Progressive Rock
What sort of relationships exist among Adornos condemnation of popular/popularist music, his notion of musical progress, and the notion of progress attached to
progressive rock? Clearly, from Adornos point of view, the mere facts of increased
technical complexityof harmony, of form, of rhythm, of meterand of increased
virtuosity in progressive rock music, especially as they reference classical music,
would not be de facto indicators of progress. Indeed, one could certainly argue that
the very elements in Stravinskys music that Adorno is railing against, namely the
use of pre-approved musical materialtonal or quasi-tonal harmonies, borrowings
from contemporary music, such as jazz, and parodies of baroque and classical
formsthat gives his music a phony imprimatur of quality and authenticity, are
also evident in progressive rock. This is certainly the case where bands are using
the traditional instruments of baroque and classical music, such as the harpsichord
and Spanish guitar, or are giving their works historical titles like Toccata or

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Suite, drawing from the lexicon of 17th- and 18th-century musicagain, the
imprimatur of quality, the weight of tradition, of substance. In this sense, for
Adorno, progressive rock would be patently regressive.
A different point of view is offered by progressive rock historian and acionado
Jerry Lucky, who claims that we make a mistake when we look for newness or
originality as such in the music of progressive rock bands. Rather, what is progressive about progressive rock is not necessarily its musical, technical, and technological aspectsalthough these are partly what differentiate progressive rock
aesthetically from other, more traditional forms of rock and popbut its philosophical approach, a philosophy that embraces a nobler goal, the goal of any art
form, to be able to express a greater range of emotions and ideas, with greater
shades and nuances (Lucky 120). Lucky suggests, too, that one way to dene progressive rock is with reference to its cerebralness, against the more visceral qualities of mainstream rock (120). While Adorno would certainly disagree, since he
argues that intellectualismthe mind over the heartis the charge commonly
applied against progressive modern art music by ignorant listeners and critics
(Philosophy 11), there is nonetheless some common ground to be found here. In
seeking to dene or delineate musical progress, both Lucky (for prog) and Adorno
(for modern music) highlight the importance of the progressive musicians resistance to the demands and vicissitudes of the commercial music market and to tradition and convention. For Lucky, citing Jon Anderson of the band YES,
progressive rock is about making music without having to worry about time,
without the restrictions of conventional song formats and lengths (110). By extension, progressive rock, by resisting these conventions, takes the risk of being
unpopular and commercially unsuccessful, albeit a limited and calculated one, as
prog groups do seek a broad audience and are often successful by industry standards: Jon Anderson claims, for example, that YES has sold 35 million albums
(Interview with Jon Anderson). By creatively resisting the demands of the industry without entirely rejecting themAnderson has stressed the importance of
making great music that lasts forever, creating music that has a heart and soul
while resisting what he describes as the business-business-money-money-poppop model (Interview with Jon Anderson), the corporate idea[the] record
company idea to make an album because we needed a hit (Ill Return to YES)
they complicate the popular music soundscape and the notion of popularity, and
in so doing create music that is, in the words of the members of the prog rock
band Gentle Giant, unique, adventurous, and fascinating (qtd in Lucky 121).
Adorno offers a similar argument, namely that progressive or radical music
which is unique by its very natureeschews the commercial market and mere
sensuality, following the integral laws of musical structure to their logical consequences, instead of striving for the more accessible middle road via the proper
mixture of enticement and banality (Philosophy 12). Modern music, which Adorno
presents as an example of art that seeks complete autonomy from the demands of
capitalist culture, could strive for such purity only by abandoning any measure of

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popularity. Ironically, the composers Adorno most valuedSchoenberg, Webern,


and Bergactively sought the publication and performance of their works and
hoped for the eventual acceptance and understanding of their aesthetic (see Carpenter), and indeed, over time, much of this music has become canonical and, as
such, increasingly commercially viable.
In contrast, Lucky denounces the idea that artists must progress and create new
music as one example of the centrality of the concept of progress in the 20th
century. He contrasts this need for innovation with the minimal qualitative
adjustments to composition, skill level, arrangements etc. throughout Mozarts life
(111). This taste for novelty is also difcult to pinpoint and tends to turn us away
from the work of mainstream progressive rock musicians. At the end of a series of
dubious arguments (one of which relegates classical music to a genre alongside
subgenres of pop), Lucky distinguishes music that is progressive musically
challenging musicfrom progressive rock music as created within certain perimeters [sic] (113): longer, structured songs, with many movements and parts (related
or not), featuring intricate musicianship, using contrasting elements like loudness,
dynamics, and mood, incorporating long solos or improvisations, including other
musical styles and referring to orchestras either by incorporating them or by using
Mellotrons and synthesizers. Although Luckys criteria seem generally sound, here
we will dene progressive rock not as a genreto which we will refer as prog
rockbut instead through the intention that underlies all these musical characteristics: to bring substance and meaning in popular music, so that it lives up to the
value popular music has for those who listen to it and play it.
Prog Rock as a Genre of Popular Music
Yet, in spite of this possible progressive structure, progressive rock has the distinction of being the most hated of all pop and rock genres. A recent review of
YES Is the Answer, a new book on progressive rock, describes prog rock and its
preeminent bands as uncool, reviled, and much-despised (Skratt). Prog rock
as a genre has yet to be ironically reclaimed and reappraised by subsequent generations of music fans, who have in recent years revived and appropriated bands
such as ABBA, the BeeGees, Hall and Oates, and Journeythat had been dismissed as symbolic of the uncoolness of their time. Prog rock, by contrast with
the pop of this era, appears to be so irredeemably uncool that no one wants to
touch it, no matter how much irony it is packaged in. The reasons for this hesitation are manifold. Prog rock has long been accused of a being, among other
things, unfashionably white; lyrically self-indulgent and ridiculous; sartorially
unfashionable; of displaying a slavish devotion to virtuosity that is fundamentally
tasteless; and, perhaps worst of all, of being unbearably pretentious in loudly
wearing its inuencesespecially classical and contemporary art music practices
and paradigmson its sleeve.

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This article does not and cannot offer a complete history of progressive rock,
nor does it provide a systematic overview of prog rock style and aesthetics. It sufces here to note that prog rock was a musical movement fuelled by serious rock
musicians in the late 1960s who sought to elevate the status of rock into an art
form, in response both to the relative banality of contemporaneous pop music and
to the experimental rock music of the time, typied by the highly inuential late
albums of the Beatles. The terms art rock, symphonic rock, or concert hall
rockequally inexact termsare often used synonymously with progressive rock
(Covach 3). As a generic designation, these termsespecially the latter twoare
used to categorize rock music with an expanded scope and scale. The groups that
comprise the prog rock canonincluding YES, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, Rush,
Klaatu, Jethro Tullare all quite different in many respects: some tend towards
more traditional rock, with expanded instrumentation; others comprise classically
trained musicians determined to lend gravitas to rock by drawing on past traditions to lend it greater melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and formal complexity; others
still lean towards more experimental approaches that bring popular and art music
closer together. What binds them together is a common shift away from bluesbased rock towards ever increasing complexity. Listeners, both sympathetic and
unsympathetic, recognized this shift, and, as Wilsmore asserts, afrmed it as a
progressive movement (105). Then, as now, it was not entirely clear how prog
rock was progressive: that is, where it was going and what its end point would be
only came to be known in retrospect, and what the notion of musical progress
actually was and is requires a culturally constructed agreement that progress has
been made (Wilsmore 105).
It can be said with some certainty that prog rock as such grew out of an age of
experimentation in British rock music in the late 60s, beginning around 1967 and
ending roughly a decade later, effectively immolated by punk and new wave by
1977. The era of progressive rock begins, as Covach observes, when some rock
musicians begin to think of rock as listening music rather than dancing music, a
trend that seems to have been inuenced by the Beatles 1967 album Sgt. Peppers
Lonely Hearts Club Band (3), and that is certainly evident in the experimental symphonic and long-form music of other important groups of that same era, notably
Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues. Moore has likewise linked the advent of prog
rock to a general shift from a working-class, dancing market to a student, listening
market, and [to] an economic boom, which gave the major labels the space to
invest in artists and relax their hold over product and marketing.
Prog rock reached its apex in the mid-1970s, the era of prog super groups like
ELP, YES, and Genesis, spreading out from England to the United States and
Canada. By 1977, however, prog rock was becoming increasingly unpopular, undermined in large part by the emerging punk and new wave bands in the UK., whose
musical aesthetic was predicated on a return to the simplicity of traditional pop
forms and sounds, directness of personal expression, and a celebration of musical
amateurism (Covach 5). As of the early 80s, prog rock was effectively dead, its

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preeminent bandsincluding YES, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd either


totally defunct, shifting towards more commercially accessible pop music, or dissolving and reforming into new pop bands (Covach 5). Progressive rock quickly
became an invective in the lexicon of music critics and journalists, and, notwithstanding the pervasive inuence of progressive rock that continues to be felt today,
the genre came to be synonymous with pretention, artice, and a bygone era of
over-inated, over-produced rock.
While progressive rock was born out of the experimental, underground music
scene of the late 1960s as a vehicle for rock musicians determined to elevate rock
to the status of art, it should also be understood that progressive rock was also
something of a reactionary movement. The desire to give rock greater substance
and meaning was not sui generis; rather, the progressive impulse, the desire to
challenge and transcend traditional or conventional pop and rock, is also certainly
related to the pop music of the late 60s and early 70s. A glance at the pop charts
around the time of prog rocks birth and ascendancy makes it clear that, for young
musicians who came of age with Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and even the psychedelic
music of the latter part of the 60s, rock music that might be termed serious was
in erce competition with an array of manufactured and commodied pop music
acts, or bubblegum pop: Kim Cooper and David Smay identify 19671972 as the
classic bubblegum era, dening bubblegum as disposable pop musiccontrived
and marketed to appeal to pre-teens [and] produced in an assembly line process
driven by producers and using faceless singers (1). Some iconic chart-topping
artists in the late 60s, such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin were able eventually to resist their own commodication in the wake of mass commercial success. In doing so, they opened a path
for other forms of resistance to a music industry that was simultaneously producing monumentally successful pop acts such as the Monkees, the Archies, and David
Cassidy. As of the early 70s, then, classic prog rock bands were reactingat least
in partto the kind of popular music that Adorno would have characterized as
regressive, passive, and fundamentally meaningless: formulaic, mass-produced,
throw-away songs that were essentially childishcross-referencing childrens
games, nursery rhythms, candy (Cooper and Smay 1)and directly tied in commercially to popular live television shows, cartoons, and comic books.
YES and Roundabout: Breaking Musical Conventions
If prog rocks progressiveness is measured in part by its breaking with rock conventions, and if prog rock is, in effect, dened in the negativethat is, in terms of
how it is not like traditional rockthen a brief overview of prog rocks innovations
and characteristics, relative to traditional rock, is necessary.
Progressive rocks use of expanded instrumentation, which is a facet of rock in
the late 60s, is mentioned above; in prog, however, a songs orchestrationhow
the instruments are usedbecomes an essential aspect of the music itself. In other

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words, it is not simply that more instruments are added for color or exoticism, or
that orchestral players are merely coupled to the rock band structure, but rather
that these extra instruments are integrated in the texture and substance of the song.
In terms of form, the standard rock/pop form of verse/chorus/verse is eschewed,
with songs becoming much longer, often multi-sectional, even taking on the
dimensions of small-scale classical movements. Jon Anderson has remarked on
prog as expanding the pop forms of artist like the Beatles, Frank Zappa, and the
Beach Boys, describing the approach of YES as an extension of that experience,
where youre going to do rock music but adventurous, not basic, working from the
structure, like symphonic structure, and instrumentation, so we expanded on that,
we expanded our musical thinking (Interview). Prog rock songs often include
sharply contrasting sections, varying in tempo, texture, instrumentation, mood, and
meter. The blues-based, relatively simply harmonic foundation of rockwhat
Wilsmore calls rocks xity of chord progressions(105)is likewise eschewed in
favor of more complex and less formulaic chord progressions, along with a chord
vocabulary expanded by the addition of jazz chords, plus sonorities taken from or
at least authorized by historical and contemporary art music practice. This would
include a variety of altered chords, modal harmonies, harmonies arriving from linear or contrapuntal processes, and atonal chords. Long, highly virtuosic and sometimes improvised solos are a prominent feature of most progressive rock. Finally,
and perhaps the most important rejection of standard rock practices, there is prog
rocks use of a variety of meters: that is, rather than the pedestrian regularity of 4/
4 common time (Wilsmore 105) organizing the governing pulse, prog rock songs
shift in and out of common time, using a variety of irregular metrical structures.
The song Roundabout by YES numbers among the modest number of songs in
the progressive rock canon that are generally familiar to listeners. It appears on the
YES album Fragile, released in 1971. As of that year, the groups membership comprised what is now considered its classic line-up: Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris
Squire on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, Steve Howe on guitar, and Rick Wakeman
on keyboards. Roundabout is 8:30 minutes long in its original incarnation; it was
edited down to 3:30 minutes so it could be released as a single, and was a major
hit for the band. It is an interesting song and relevant to our arguments precisely
because it is patently progressive but also eminently listener friendly.
The song is cast in a kind of cyclic form, common in many different eras and
genres of classical music. Cyclic form simply refers to unifying themes or ideas that
recur and hold a piece together. There are several instances of cyclic form functioning in Roundabout, most notably that the song begins and ends with the
same music: the introductory acoustic guitar part returns in the middle, and then
at the end as the conclusion. More subtly, there is a short music motif or thematic
ideaa transitional or linking ideathat appears in different parts of the song, creating a strong sense of unity. The songs fundamental structure is fairly traditional:
verse/chorus, with a bridge and solos. What marks it as progressive is the expansion of this form through the addition of a substantial introduction and conclusion,

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thematically unied transitional passages, and a very long bridge that is effectively
a stand-alone section, rather than a brief digression.
In terms of instrumentation, the classical inuence (Rick Wakemans contribution, most likely: he was a classically trained pianist who studied briey at the
Royal College of Music) is evident from the outset of Roundabout: the song is
introduced by classical guitar, which establishes the overall E minor tonality of the
piece, and concludes with a short, Baroque-inected contrapuntal passage that
serves as an anacrusis and establishes the tempo for the bands entrance and the
rst verse. Throughout the song, there is an unusual variety of colors and textures:
instruments drop in and out, there is auxiliary percussion (especially in the bridge),
and perhaps most notably Wakeman switches constantly and seamlessly between
six very different types of keyboards: the Mellotron, a MOOG synthesizer, a
Hammond B3 organ, a harpsichord, a piano, and an electric piano.
Instrumental virtuosity, as a staple of prog rock, is also audible almost immediately in Chris Squires very active bass line, heard as soon as the full band enters
after the introduction. Even when we hear the guitar and keyboard solos further
on in the song, Squires bass lines remain very busy, sounding much more guitarlike (indeed, Squire doubled some of the bass parts on guitar, to make them sound
brighter and punchier). This type of virtuoso bass playingevident also in the
playing of other important rock bassists of this era, including the Whos John
Entwistle and Led Zeppelins John Paul Jonesis a key signier of the progressive
sound and style, and paved the way for prog bands like Rush, and also for a number of more contemporary, so-called neo-progressive bands, such as Primus, that
feature a virtuoso bass player.
Finally, Roundabout offers a good example of how meter is treated in different
ways in prog rock. Meter in rock tends generally to be one of its most rigid characteristics: beat is almost always organized in 4/4, and larger structures then tend to
be organized in multiples of four, with musical phrases typically in 4+4 or 8+8
groupings. In Roundabout, following the unmetered introduction, there is a long
opening passage in 4/4 time, but when the verse begins irregular phrases of ve
measures are introduced. Within the phrases are individual measures of regular
and slightly irregular length, in a pattern consisting of 4+4+4+4+6 beats. This
irregularity is intensied at the tail-end of each verse, where there is an alternation
between 4/4 and 2/4 measures.
The chorus is also metrically irregular, comprising three-measure phrases
counted as 4+4+6. Perhaps most unusual is the linking passage that is heard before
the third verse, presented in a frenetic 13-beat sequence: 4/8+3/8+3/8+3/8. The
bridge and solo sections are in a stable 4/4 rock groove, though the keyboard solos
are heard over the 4+4+6 structure of the chorus. In the penultimate section of the
song, an extended a cappella vocal section, which is itself an unusual formal and
musical inclusion, seemingly unrelated to anything else and prefacing the actual
concluding section, the meter again becomes irregular. This section is comprised of

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alternating measures of 4/4 and 3/4 and is counted in 7. The song closes cyclically,
reintroducing the opening, unmetered acoustic guitar passage.
Given that Adorno provides a theoretical foundation for the concerns shared
among others by prog rock musicians, we are tempted to address the question of
what Adorno would make of YES and Roundabout, in light of his assessment of
musical progress and his critique of popular music. After all, for Adorno, Roundabout might simply exemplify the tendency of regressive music towards aesthetic
compromise through what he called the arbitrary preservation of the antiquated
(Philosophy 7). However, if we abandon Adornos innitely demanding perspective,
a song like Roundabout and its formal and technical difcultiesits seeking mastery of the musical materialcould be seen as serving an important progressive
social role, embodying Adornos antinomies: contradictions or paradoxes in the
formal structure of the music that, as Zabel describes it, express the contradictions
of society itself (199).
Perhaps, in the end, it could be argued that songs like Roundabout actually begin
to approach Adornos vision for music, insofar as they eschew mass consumerism as
a primary aim, and instead emphasize the importance of structural listening. They
force listeners to bring different musical elements together: juxtaposed classical and
rock aesthetics, metrical irregularity, layered/quasi-symphonic instrumentation,
formal expansion, and thematic development. As a result, they lead listeners to value
musical complexity, to recognize and reject formulaic structures, and quite simply to
pay closer attention to the music they are hearing. Following Adornos own
argument, such structural listening creates the possibility in listeners of recognizing
and rejecting forms of lifepolitical, economic, social, artisticthat do not offer
complexity and that do not demand that individuals make their own connections
between experiences. Songs like Roundabout, then, can give us the tools and offer
possibilities for listeners to unveil, of their own accord, the false pleasures offered by
both commoditized popular and classical music, while at the same time reaching and
engaging with a mass audience, via mass media.
Pink Floyds Progression: Doing this Properly
Beyond the question of lyrics and the manner in which they allow for a critique of
the social totality that includes the instrumental rationality embodied in the culture
industry, we can also look to Pink Floyd as an example of what makes progressive
rock progressive.4 Pink Floyd are one of the most commercially successful groups
in the movement, today as during its liveliest period. Indeed, they have provided a
number of albums that have become classics not only of progressive rock, but also
of rock and even popular music in general. Their existence as a group even repeats
the general chronology of the progressive rock movement: formed in 1965, they
recorded their rst album in 1967. Their last tour was short but grand. They performed The Wall 31 times in 19801981, each time building a wall between them
and the audience, a literal and metaphorical wall that would come crashing down

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at the very end of the concert under psychological and social pressure. Their subsequent album, The Final Cut, is deemed even by the band members to be closer to
a solo album by their main songwriter Roger Waters, and, as in the following two
albums, some lyrics aside, the music can hardly be called politically or musically
progressive by any standard. The arrival of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967
and the crumbling of The Wall in 1981 can then serve as symbolic markers of the
era of progressive rock.
Authors who have dealt with progressive rock seem to agree that progressive
rock was born out of a desire to bring substance to rock music and to prove that
rock music can be valid, serious music. This desire led musicians to incorporate
elements from serious, legitimate, classical music. Adornos criticism of popular
music is perhaps the most elaborate and radical expression of the overall malaise
that many musicians experienced about popular music in the mid to late 1960s.
The experimental phase of psychedelic music, which opened the way for the innovations of progressive rock and in which a great number of the musicians who
would go on to form progressive rock bands participated, gave them the chance to
experiment with texture and form. That being said, Pink Floyd were able to nd
success beyond the psychedelic scene and to leave it before it was co-opted by the
music industry because they were not a part of this scenethat is, because their
focus was the music itself (Mason 50).
Even though at that point their sets mostly comprised songs with long improvisational passages following one or two riffs or themes, and had moved away from
using R&B standards as vehicles for long improvisations, Nick Mason, the bands
drummer and only continuous member, recounts how the members of Pink Floyd
were struck by the changes brought to blues-rock and R&B by groups like Cream.
They realized that songs did not need to have a standard structure:
for me that night was the moment that I knew I wanted to do this properly. I
loved the power of it all. No need to dress in Beatle jackets and tab-collar shirts,
and no need to have a good-looking singer out front. No verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-end structure to the songs, and the drummer wasnt at the back
on a horrid little platform... he was up at the front. (Mason 5152)

The decision (even if it was retrospective) was to forgo all the elements of successful popular music to date, even those they had felt necessary to take on. The goal
of the band nonetheless became to acquire more equipment and to sign a record
dealthe material necessities of producing music professionally.
What is more, the readiness of their audiences within the psychedelic scene to
let them improvise allowed them to develop under-explored elements of popular
music, namely texture, dynamics, the slow building of songs, and complex structures. Careful with that Axe, Eugene appears as a revolutionary song, containing
no identiable sections, playing on the dynamics between quiet and loud and
revolving around a climax near the middle of the song, and featuring none of the
singing of words usually seen as necessary to the craft of songwriting. Indeed,

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Roger Waters whispers throughout the rst part, until the build-up climaxes with
his primal scream, over and following which David Gilmour vocalizes without
words, taking the song back down toward less intensity. Of Careful with that Axe,
Eugene, Mason recounts, In time it extended into a lengthy piece of up to ten
minutes with a more complex dynamic form. That complexity may only have been
quiet, loud, quiet, loud again, but at a time when most rock bands only had two
volume settingspainfully loud and really, really painfully loud this was groundbreaking stuff (107).
That being said, Pink Floyd, like all other groups at the time, needed to address
the issue of singles: record companies demanded singles, and exposure to larger
audiences and the more professional tour circuit demanded that groups produce
singles which would 1) sell, 2) play on the radio, and 3) bring them to television
shows such as Top of the Pops and provide the background for promotional videos.
The format of singles was unequivocally verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus,
and so Pink Floyd obeyed that rulemore than a norm, it was a clearly stated and
restated rule that was demanded of groups by record executivesand produced a
series of, for the most part, ill-fated singles. Instead, and against the wishes of their
record company and managers, they gained their popularity through their live concerts, as well as through the emerging LP market. The industry, they felt, was
interested only in singles and in making money from the underground music scene
(Mason 86), using Pink Floyd and other groups as their gureheads.
The singles market created demands that made progressive rock impossible. It
limited most songs even on LPs to the three-minute format so they could also serve
as singles. And, while EMI had decided in the mid-1960s that LPs had no future,
Pink Floyd obliged but would ultimately fail as a singles group. After The Piper at
the Gates of Dawn was released, Pink Floyd felt pressure to release a single to
promote while on their tour supporting Jimi Hendrix. And so they took a possible
album track, Apples and Oranges, added overdubs and echo to the mixbut still
the song was not up to the task and failed as a single: This was a case of trusting
the advice we were given, and learning that sometimes, if not always, it was best to
stick with our own instincts, and make our own decisions (Mason 96).
They found inspiration in their fellow musicians. On that same tour with
Hendrix in 1967, they were amazed by the technical prociency of the musicians
in the other groupsand especially by the virtuosity of the Nices Keith Emerson.
Nonetheless, even at the height of their experimentation with long-form songs
when they often played only four or ve songs in the course of a one and a half
hour concert, they still released the ill-fated single Point Me at the Sky in 1968,
which they may never have played live (the B-Side was Careful with that Axe,
Eugene). And three years later they collected their singles with B-Sides in a collection entitled Relics, even as within one year they had nished Atom Heart Mother,
which featured their rst LP side-long recording, the title piece, and as they were
entering the studio where they would write their second LP side-long song,
Echoes. In these parallel attempts to satisfy the industry demand for singles and

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the popular demand (and personal preference) for complex and new structures and
melodies, we can see that, just as the singles market limited what progressive rock
groups could do, the LP market created new opportunities for them to expand
their fan base beyond their concerts and create a following that would precede
their concerts to the United States.
Yet, even with the opportunity of recording LP side-long pieces, there were challenges to working within the LP format. Whereas Interstellar Overdrive lasts under
ten minutes on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, it would often last around 20 minutes in their live shows. The band would thus devise two entirely different versions,
which were almost different songs, since there is no room for improvisation, hesitation, or mistakes on records, which must stand up to repeated listening. Mason
explains that [t]he trick was to construct these songs again so that they worked
within the limitations of what was then a traditional song length (8283), reecting once again on the strategies allowing the band to advance their own approach
to music within the context of the demands of the music industry.
In order to have the material means to achieve their musical goals, and starting
with their rst album, Pink Floyd negotiated a deal with their record company to
take a 5% cut of the prots instead of the 8% on which they had agreed earlier, in
exchange for having unlimited time in the studio to perfect their songs. This time
spent in the studio would become very important in the recording of their second
album, since all the band members were learning recording techniques and participating in every step at least in some capacity: no one was ever recording an instrument alone. They were able to use all this knowledge and skill in the preparation
of songs like Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. The song embodies the
attempt to do this properly and to abandon the standard elements of popular
music. The vocals are limited to Roger Waterss vocal range, which is far from the
kind of voice that is celebrated on the radio; the lyrics are based on Chinese Tang
period poetry and are an effort to deliver other meanings than those offered by
popular songs; the drum parts are featured prominently and are based on the jazz
patterns of the time; and the song had been played and perfected in concert for
some months, evolving slowly up until the point when the band recorded it in the
studio.
The title track to this same 1968 album, A Saucerful of Secrets, introduces a new
kind of long song, which would lead to the LP side-long songs of the following
albums. For the rst time, a song was carefully constructed, neither following the
standard song structure nor relying on improvisation, but importing elements from
classical music instead. Mason explains that Roger [Waters] and I mapped it out
in advance, following the classical convention of three movements. This was not
unique to us, but it was unusual. With no knowledge of scoring, we designed the
whole thing on a piece of paper, inventing our own hieroglyphics (118).
The sounds at the beginning of the piece were achieved by placing a microphone
very close to a cymbal so that all the tones could be caught, bringing the cymbal to
the foregroundand indeed the lm Live at Pompeii shows Waters playing the

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cymbals and the gong for the rst part of the song, eschewing his role as bassist.
The middle section was based on what they had done in the past during their
improvisations, copied techniques used at the same time by classical pianists, and
by Masons admission was probably lifted from a John Cage piece (119). The
third and last section builds in intensity, relying on an organ, a Mellotron; eschewing lyrics, it featured a choir in the studio and for a few concerts, and then David
Gilmours vocal capacities.
The title song on the album Atom Heart Mother, their rst LP-side-long recording, went further still in the same direction opened by A Saucerful of Secrets. The
song fully integrates classical music and features an orchestra as well as a choir as
integral components. However, live performances required a different arrangement
of the song that could be played by the quartet, without a choir. In concert, it thus
resembled their other 20-minute-plus length songs. The band worked with Ron
Geesin, a composer and arranger who had built one of the rst electronic home
studios. Geesin offered the group a novel approach to the meeting of classical and
rock, one that was not a mere importation of one kind of music into another.5 As
a result, the song does not have the orchestral feel that we nd throughout
progressive rock at the time:
He understood the technicalities of composition and arranging, and his ideas
were radical enough to steer us away from the increasingly fashionable but extremely ponderous rock orchestral works of the era. At the time arrangements of
such epics tended to involve fairly conservative thinking; classical music graduates had been indoctrinated with a lack of sympathy for rock and crossing over
was still seen as something of a betrayal of their years of discipline and training.
(Mason 136137)

Echoes is the endpoint of the rst period in Pink Floyds progression, building
on what had been done in the carefully constructed A Saucerful of Secrets and
Atom Heart Mother but relying solely on the four-piece band and all their musical
and technical skills. Pressures from the record industry remained strong, if only as
a sort of superego, and Echoes was placed on the second side of the Meddle LP,
perhaps because we were still thinking, perhaps under record company inuence,
that we should have something suitable for radio play to open an album (Mason
148). Pink Floyd had already encountered the difculties of having rock music
taken seriously even by those who subsidized their work. In the late 1960s, the
upper echelons of the music industry divided pop and classical absolutely and,
although the pop releases were subsidizing the classical recordings, the staff who
created them were treated like other ranks by the top brass (Mason 79). In spite
of these pressures from the industry, Echoes is for Gilmour the rst piece of
which he is really proud; it is also the last LP side-long song they would record, as
their next three albums would explore the possibilities of concept albums, structuring LPs into albums that comprise one coherent LP-long suite, for which songs like
Echoes opened the way.

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In measuring the progress accomplished by Pink Floyd, we must be as careful as


Nick Mason is. He refers to other bands prociency and virtuositywhile admitting their own lack in these regardsand remembers that the song Echoes failed
to measure up to its original self when it was performed in 1987 with the large
support band made of session musicians who were much too procient to unlearn
their technique and improvise freelyindicating that Pink Floyds creative impetus
came out of a lack of technique and skill, rather than the other way around. He
also tempers his own enthusiasm about the newness of the elements in their compositions, improvisations, and songs: they were never the only ones to do any one
thing, although much of what they did was unusual, rare, and not standard in relation to the music industry in general. We can also add that their songs, by making
it possible for us to bring together different elements across a complexly structured
song or across an album, and even across different albums when it comes to their
four most successful LPs, allow us to transfer these same activities to our relationship to our society.
In addition, in their lyrics Pink Floyd allow us in a straightforward manner to
criticize the totalities that are at the heart of modern society: capitalism, war, fascism, madness, and alienation. More importantly perhaps, Pink Floyd open themselves to our criticism of them as part of the music industry, without letting their
music be co-opted by the music industry, since they bring our attention to the
presence of these elements of the social totality in their very music, as they are
playing it, and as we are listening to it. Have a Cigar gives us the voice of the
music industry manager with ironyrecognizable as such without overshooting the
markwhereas the irony of Money forces us to evaluate our priorities; and
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 subverts the disco craze into a criticism of the
imperative to obey, in the clubs just as much as in schools. (In the lm the children are marching to the rhythm of disco music.)
What is more, with The Wall the rock concert itself becomes a fascist rally, the
singer becomes a fascist leader in the repetition of the opening song, during which
he asks that fans be lined up against the wall he has constructed: the rock singer
leads just as the fascist doesbut he can expose it and lead us to decide for ourselves the degree to which we will pay attention, including whether or not we will
cheer when the singer/fascist calls out to the audience member who is smoking a
joint...and should be put up against the wall. The symbolism of the wall lies in the
insurmountable distance between the musicians and the audience, the difculty of
reaching the audience which is itself a result of the decisions made by the band just
as much as of the decisions suggested or imposed by the industry. The parody of
the trial of these decisions, which closes the concert, pushes the gures that appear
throughout the concert and the songs to the extreme of ridiculousness, effectively
breaking down the wall and revealing the musicians as nothing more than a string
of people strumming barely audible instruments. Such thematic elements in the lyrics and performance come only to add to the structural elements of their music:
while it could be argued that lyrics about money and a giant wall across a stage

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force meaning and interpretation upon an audience, the manner in which the
music is structured continues to demand creativity and engagement from listeners.
As such, the music is the proper site of resistance to alienation.

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Conclusion
In these focused studies of Pink Floyds progression as a composition unit, and
YESs song Roundabout, we have attempted to defend two theses. First, progressive rock does play the role Adorno wants music to play, and it plays this role better than serious music in spite of failing to meet his criteria for seriousness,
because it reaches a wider public. And, second, progressive rock does from inside
capitalism what Adorno wants serious music to do outside capitalism: offer the
possibility of structural listening to the listener. Yet, like serious music, it cannot
do more than offer such a possibility or try to force the listener to strive to create
connections between the elements of the music.
YES and Pink Floyd are two examples of how progressive rock was born out of
a desire to prove that rock music is valid, serious music, and that rock is not stuck
within the bounds of instrumental, commercial logic. And they are but examples:
not all prog rock is progressive, and not all progressive rock is prog. Progressive
rock must be understood on the basis of the conventions it overturned, on the
basis of the questions it tackled, and not on the basis of what other musicians
might attempt to do. It begins within the rock tradition and expands from within
the music industry, to push forward attentive and even structural listening, to bring
attention to the alienation of everyday life and bring forward utopian images that
lead the listeners to question their day-to-day life. Rather than doing the work for
us, it allows us to see alienation proper to life in a capitalist context and creates
habits through which we become able to partially overcome this alienation.
Historically, prog made possible a gradual process of musical creation through
which the most commercially viable progressive rock groups were able to push
back against the demands and standards of the music industry, to work with the
best artists of their time, and to create music that did not obey the needs of the
industry. The music industry comes rst, musicians encounter it rst as listeners
and then as musicians, before attempting to serve both the industrys goals and
their own goals as musicians, eventually subverting the rst if they are successful
in the pursuit of the second.
Success, in terms of creating both musical and political progress, follows the
commercial success that gives bands the resources and the power to exit from a
contract and so to extract compromises from the industry. Such creation, in a constant tension with the culture industry, allowed the music of commercially successful bands to nd echoes over time rather than to disappear as cultural products do.
One such echo is the continued presence of a set of progressive rock classics on
the charts and their discovery by new generations of listeners. Another perhaps
more important echo is the fundamental change in the elasticity of the rock form

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even as the standard form of song-writing remains unchanged. Simply, new possibilities are open, as we can see in the music of non-prog groups such as the Cure,
Tool, Smashing Pumpkins, System of a Down, or Radiohead.
Given the capitalist structure of the cultural industry, perhaps all we can hope
for in terms of political and musical progress is the kind of musical creation that
was introduced by progressive rock, where conventions are broken over and over,
in ever new ways, as the old ways to break them become assimilated into the very
manner in which music is made. Yet, against Adorno, we can also measure success
in reaching a large number of people over a longer period of time, which goes
beyond the imperatives of the cultural industry. Inter-generational reach and longevity, in the relatively new tradition of rock music, may be the indicator of the
creation of music that is progressive because it remains new every time it is heard,
no matter the context and no matter the music that succeeded it and went beyond
what it made possible musically speaking. Such classics as Dark Side of the Moon
are thus able to speak to us as Bach or Schoenberg continue to do.
Disclosure Statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.

Notes
[1]

[2]

[3]

In musicological circles, and in particular in the realm of pop music scholarship, Adorno
rose to some prominence towards the end of the 20th century. He has his detractors and
defenders, as the musicologist Richard Leppert has noted; however, Leppert also asserts
that, notwithstanding the divide on Adorno in scholarly musical circles, it remains the case
that the terms of [Adornos] critique of musical mass culturehave largely remained current even among those who most stridently oppose him. That is, music criticism has
retained the aesthetic query that lies at the heart of Adornos concern: is the music authentic? (Leppert, in Adorno, Essays 346).
We can already suggest that progressive rock is not progressive sociallythat is, it has not
created social equality or incorporated members of oppressed groups. Whether it has led to
it is another question, which is almost impossible to answer. Without having the time to
expand on this issue here, it appears that progressive rock is tied to the white male members
of the middle class, achieving some success in the popular classes perhaps only later on, during the arena tours. Likewise, progressive rock has been dened as middlebrow musica
mixture of high and low art, themselves at the time associated with the bourgeois and working classes respectively. The movement might have contributed to the disappearance of class
distinctions in the taste for low or high art, without however affecting class structures. Anecdotally, the movement seems to be exclusively white, and female musicians and singers were
extremely rare, at least during the period when it enjoyed its greatest success.
The centrality of new music to Adornos thinking can be found in one of his most important
works on music, a book entitled Philosophie der Neuen Musik. First published in German in
1948, it is usually translated into English as Philosophy of Modern Music. A better translation
would be Philosophy of New Music, and indeed recent editions of the booknotably Robert
Hullot-Kentors 2006 translation for University of Minnesota Presshave adopted new
rather than modern. When Adorno is writing about new music in the 1940s, he is not
thinking of chronology, but rather about progress (Fortschrittadvance). In Philosophie
der Neuen Musik, Adorno addresses the issue of musical progress directly, by contrasting the

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[5]

J. Melanon and A. Carpenter


music of Arnold Schoenberg with that other highly inuential composer of the 20th century,
Igor Stravinsky. Adorno locates Schoenbergand the free atonal, expressionistic music he
began composing around 1909at the epicentre of what he calls an heroic decade
(Philosophy 5) of radical or progressive music, of music that aspires to truth and knowledge,
that emerges out of historical inevitability and in its extreme dissonance illuminates the
meaningless world (Philosophy 133); Stravinskys music, by contrast, is archaic and regressive, drawing on an outmoded musical language as it fails to engage dialectically with the
musical progress of time (Philosophy 189).
Studies of Pink Floyd lyrics are a common approach to the band, alongside the history of
the group. For an example of such a study, in relation to Adornos thesis, which might
complement this article, see Macan.
See Geesin, for his view of the composition of the album, and where it ts within his own,
even more radical attempts to work within the music industry to create new, meaningful
music, as well as on the tensions between serious musicians and rock music.

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References
Adorno, Theodor W. Essays on Music. Ed. Richard Leppert. Berkeley, CA: U of California P,
2002. Print.
. Philosophy of Modern Music. Trans. Anne G. Mitchell and Wesley V. Blomster. New
York: Seabury Press, 1980. Print.
Adorno, Theodor W., and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott.
Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2002. Print.
Anderson, Jon. Ill Return to YES When They Wake Up. Interviewed by Ray Shasho. Examiner.com. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
. Interview with Jon Anderson (YES). Interviewed by Dmitry M. Epstein. DMME. Web.
15 Nov. 2014.
Carpenter, Alexander. Stepping Down from the Pedestal: Schoenberg and Popular Music. DeCanonizing Music History. Ed. Vesa Kurkela and Lauri Vkev. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK:
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. 2135. Print.
Cooper, Kim, and David Smay. Introduction: Bubble Entendres. Bubblegum Music is the Naked
Truth. Ed. Kim Cooper and David Smay. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House, 2001.
Covach, John. Progressive Rock, Close to the Edge, and the Boundaries of Style. Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis. Ed. John Covach and Graeme Boone. New York, NY:
Oxford UP, 1997. 331. Print.
Geesin, Ron. The Flaming Cow: The Making of Pink Floyds Atom Heart Mother. Stroud, Glos.:
The History Press, 5 2013. Print.
Lucky, Jerry. The Progressive Rock Files. Burlington: Collectors Guide Publishing, 2000. Print.
Macan, Ed. Theodor Adorno, Pink Floyd, and the Psychedelics of Alienation. Pink Floyd and
Philosophy: Careful with that Axiom, Eugene! Ed. George A. Reisch. Chicago, IL: Open
Court, 2007. 95119. Print.
Mason, Nick. Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books,
2005. Print.
Moore, Allan F. Progressive Rock. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford UP.
Web. 17 May 2014.
Skratt, Stephen. Prog Rock: In Praise of a Much-Reviled Musical Genre. Macleans 14 June
2013. Web. 1 Sept. 2013.
Wilsmore, Robert. Intermezzo No. 3: as they produce the movement (the YES of YES).
Parallax 16.3 (2010): 10506. Print.
Zabel, Gary. Adorno on Music: A Reconsideration. The Musical Times 130.1754 (1989):
198201. Print.

Rock Music Studies

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Notes on Contributors
Jrme Melanon teaches political philosophy and Canadian politics at the University of Albertas Augustana Campus. He has published on Radiohead as well as on
dissent, power, anti-colonialism, democracy, the role of critical intellectuals, and on
literature, and he is the author of two books of poetry.

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Alexander Carpenter is a musicologist at the Augustana Campus of the University


of Alberta. His research interests include gothic rock, Arnold Schoenberg and the
Second Viennese School, popular music, and the connections between music and
psychoanalysis.