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The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall…

The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock

by David Weigel

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This book is simultaneously filled with too much detail and not enough. Long descriptions of the time signatures of individual songs, while whole albums are mentioned in a single sentence. As others have noted, many bands given short mentions. The book is really about the overlapping history of 4 bands: Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Granted these were the most popular of the prog bands but long lived groups like Procol Harum and Moody Blues deserved more mention.

There was virtually no mention of how prog fitted (or didn't fit) with other music of the time (the 1970s). For example disco, so-called corporate rock, Electric Light Orchestra or Fleetwood Mac were never mentioned.

I was also poorly organized. It sort of was in chronological order but jumped around too much. He'd often start a paragraph about one group and then end the paragraph, with no real transition, with another. I read through to about half way and just skimmed the rest.
1 vote capewood | Aug 19, 2017 |
All right, I owned or own six Emerson Lake and Palmer LPs, six Yes LPs, King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, three (yes, three!!) Rick Wakeman solo albums and a handful of other progressive rock albums. There's probably a half dozen or more such albums on my iPod right now. Caught up in the midst of the prog rock movement, I also admit I'm one of those who bailed when, by the end of the 1970s, it was derided and ridiculed.

Where prog rock came from, its decline and what it left behind are the subject of David Weigel's The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. As Weigel notes, The Rock Snob's Dictionary describes prog rock as "the single most deplored genre of postwar pop." And it was only 1984 when This is Spinal Tap, a peerless send-up of "prog rock" and some of the metal bands it influenced, was released. Te book, the title of which comes from a 1973 Emerson Lake and Palmer album, is a thoroughly researched and entertaining look at the genre. Yet the nature and history of prog rock is such as to create difficulty for any writer and, as a result, The Show That Never Ends stumbles with a couple unavoidable hurdles.

One confounding factor is the seemingly continuous changes in band personnel. Take drummer Bill Bruford, for example. In addition to forming two bands of his own, he was with Yes for its first five albums (1968-72) and part of a reconstituted Yes in 1991-92, part of two different incarnations of King Crimson (1972-74, 1981-84), the drummer for Genesis on its 1976 tour, and part of a band with three other original members of Yes in 1989. Or consider King Crimson. While its 1969 In the Court of the Crimson King is generally viewed as one of prog rock's best albums, it came and went for decades with 21 different musicians in its various formations.

Despite that, Weigel, a national political correspondence for The Washington Post, seems at his best in delving into the origins and early development of prog rock, following a handful of its preeminent artists and showing the music it spawned. It also reflects the heavily British source of the musicians.

The biggest challenge in examining prog rock is the music itself. The musicians not only aimed at creating complex music with unusual time signatures they sought new sounds, largely through the use of synthesizers and polyphonic keyboards. Yes even bought Slinkys, put microphones on them and threw them down stairs. "If you put a lot of reverb on it, it sounds great," said Yes guitarist Steve Howe. Moreover, Weigel notes, many lyrics "had as much or as little meaning as the listener wanted from them."

Even with a straightforward and traditional approach to any genre, there's the adage that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Add in the unusual and unconventional sounds in prog rock and the level of difficulty is even greater. As a result, The Show That Never Ends has passages like this one, describing the last track on the Yes album Fragile:

It started with a rumble, a 6/8 bass line from [Chris] Squire and a drumroll from Bruford. Then came [Rick] Wakeman, with a horror-film keyboard melody in 3/4. Back to the ascending riff, joined by Howe’s guitar. The melody suddenly changed, to a 4/4 beat, with the original riff being phased in slowly by the mix. Then a dropout, to a melody that Anderson had written on his acoustic guitar. The themes repeated, announced at various intervals on keyboards, by what the band came to call "Rick-recapitulation."

Weigel's efforts to translate this music into words are admirable but there's a few too many times when they muddle rather than enlighten. Readers could greatly enhance their enjoyment of the book using streaming music services as a supplement.

Naturally, the most well-known bands, such as Yes, King Crimson and ELP, get plenty of attention. The book also examines the role of many lesser known artists in prog rock's development and its legacy. Oddly, despite its success, Pink Floyd is discussed far less, although that is perhaps because entire books have been written about the band and by its members.

The reasons for the precipitous decline of prog rock are harder to define than the factors that gave rise to it. Declining record sales and Changes in the music industry led to labels dumping progressive rock bands. Yet listeners also abandoned the genre in droves, perhaps in response to the music's complexity. Or perhaps it is just as simple as the fact the bands and the music tended toward bombast, pretension and self-indulgence. I know that was what pushed me away. Still, Weigel makes a good case for prog rock's role in shaping rock music and what would come.

(Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie.)
1 vote PrairieProgressive | Jul 16, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393242250, Hardcover)

The wildly entertaining story of progressive rock, the music that ruled the 1970s charts―and has divided listeners ever since.

The Show That Never Ends is the behind-the-scenes story of the extraordinary rise and fall of progressive (“prog”) rock, epitomized by such classic, chart-topping bands as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake & Palmer, and their successors Rush, Styx, and Asia.

With inside access to all the key figures, Washington Post national reporter David Weigel tells the story with the gusto and insight Prog Rock’s fans (and its haters) will relish. Along the way, he explains exactly what was “progressive” about Prog Rock, how it arose from psychedelia and heavy metal, why it dominated the pop charts but then became so despised that it was satirized in This Is Spinal Tap, and what fuels its resurgent popularity today.

8 pages of illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 23 Feb 2017 15:11:17 -0500)

The Show That Never Ends is the definitive story of the extraordinary rise and fall of progressive ("prog") rock. Epitomized by such classic, chart-topping bands as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake & Palmer, along with such successors as Rush, Marillion, Asia, Styx, and Porcupine Tree, prog sold hundreds of millions of records. It brought into the mainstream concept albums, spaced-out cover art, crazy time signatures, multitrack recording, and stagecraft so bombastic it was spoofed in the classic movie This Is Spinal Tap. With a vast knowledge of what Rolling Stone has called "the deliciously decadent genre that the punks failed to kill," access to key people who made the music, and the passion of a true enthusiast, Washington Post national reporter David Weigel tells the story of prog in all its pomp, creativity, and excess. Weigel explains exactly what was "progressive" about prog rock and how its complexity and experimentalism arose from such precursors as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. He traces prog's popularity from the massive success of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" and the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" in 1967. He reveals how prog's best-selling, epochal albums were made, including The Dark Side of the Moon, Thick as a Brick, and Tubular Bells. And he explores the rise of new instruments into the prog mix, such as the synthesizer, flute, mellotron, and--famously--the double-neck guitar. The Show That Never Ends is filled with the candid reminiscences of prog's celebrated musicians. It also features memorable portraits of the vital contributions of producers, empresarios, and technicians such as Richard Branson, Brian Eno, Ahmet Ertegun, and Bob Moog. Ultimately, Weigel defends prog from the enormous derision it has received for a generation, and he reveals the new critical respect and popularity it has achieved in its contemporary resurgence.… (more)

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