Pretentious Art Rock of the 70s

I’ve been listening to a lot of Renaissance the past few days and, dammit, I’ve been enjoying it. So what if it was as if it had been designed by a marketing department specifically to appeal to overeducated and underexperienced female English and Music majors? (There was this one flautist I knew who liked them— (sigh) I wonder what it was about me and flautists? :wink: ) I like 'em anyway.

Same with King Crimson and Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and early Genesis and even The Moody Blues. Yeah, these guys were not nearly the musicians they were credited with being. Yeah, the cringe factor of the lyrics is through the roof. I simply don’t care. Gimme heavy bass lines and a Mellotron and a monophonic synthesizer playing endless solos and a vocalist who can remember preposterous lyrics without paying any attention to them and I’m in hog heaven.

This seems to have been a British phenomenon. I’m hard pressed to think of any American bands doing that fusion of Celtic folk, romantic classical, and Tolkien and German bands were busy inventing Industrial. But even British Heavy Metal bands were crossing over, ie: Led Zep, Deep Peep, and Uriah Hurple. I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising since Renaissance, for instance, was founded by Keith Relf, vocalist for The Yardbirds, which begat Led Zeppelin.

I think I’ll clean off the workbench so I can build my first Theramin. I’m basically moving into my computer room/workshop soon. Might as well have some fun.

I was an art-rock geek in the 70s, and still am, to a lesser extent. In retrospect, the lyrics ranged from incomprehensible (Jon Anderson) to silly (Pete Sinfield) to simply trite (the Moody Blues). And while a bad Rolling Stones song was over in 3 minutes, a bad ELP or King Crimson song could go on forever.

Still, I remain a fan. If “Love Beach” (the worst album ever made by ANYONE- take my word for it) couldn’t kill my remaining affection for ELP, nothing could.

What’s interesting to me, though, is how readily critics equated organs and mellotrons and orchestra with “pompousness” and “pretentiousness.” Pompousness and pretentiousness are STATES OF MIND, not a style of music.

Stark, simple music can be INCREDIBLY pretentious. Listen to either of Springsteen’s godawful acoustic albums, and see what I mean. Keith Emerson at his worst never made a record as nauseatingly self-indulgent, preachy or pompous as “Nebraska” or “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

I used to love Rennaissance and I don’t care what others think of that either, there are only two sorts of music, that which one likes and that which one does not.

I have been to classical chamber music recitals and modern classical music and many pieces just seem to be written for the composers and musicians to get right up inside their own arses, they are just exercises in technique.

You could go on to include concept work as far as the OP is concerned, things like Godley and Creme’s work were pretty dire but got critical acclaim or maybe the godawful Wishbone Ash of around the same period, or Uriah Heep.

Looking back you can see why the punk revolution had to happen, to kill off those superannuated rock dinasuars

Way back when, I used to have a concert tshirt from Yes. When punk broke, I spray painted NO across the band logo, tore it to shreds, and then reassembled it with safety pins. Boy you shoulda seen how people reacted when I wore it…

I’m a fan of the original Renaissance, which broke up early to be replaced by Annie Haslam and her bland imitation of the original. (John Hawkin was an amazing pianist, putting great baroque classical riffs on Relf and McCarty’s blues base. Louis Cennemo was also a first-class bassists, and their “Kings and Queens” is one of the best pieces in the art rock genre.)

I generally liked most of the Art Rock groups, though as time went by, they tended to try to get more and more “arty” and a ripe target. Oddly enough, one group that was part of that scene at the time – Pink Floyd – has been completely forgiven (and forgotten), but they worked with orchestras and played endless solos, too (I was at a Pink Floyd concert at the time – 2 1/2 hours, eight songs).

There are some fine works in the genre, though. Even more forgotten albums, like Rick Wakeman’s “Six Wives of Henry VIII” or Macdonald and Giles, are worth listening to. As usual, the punk revolution ignored the fact that not everything it was rebelling against was all that bad. But I’d recommend to anyone such albums as “On the Threshold of a Dream,” “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer,” “Rennaisance,” “Six Wives,” or “In the Court of the Crimson King.”

Art rock or progressive rock is still there, albiet it’s not as pretentious as the long “symphonies” of the 1970s. Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and others – lots of American bands, with inspiration coming from the likes of Rush, Yes and Marillion more so than Pink Floyd and ELP.

Personally, I like it, though in moderate doses. A playlist of modern prog rock, mixed in with some 1970s classics (both symphonic and AOR), mixed with some contemporary AAA and folk rock, and 1980s era new wave and punk … mmmmmm …

Albums like Genesis’ A Trick of the Tail, Jethro Tull’s Minstrel in the Gallery or Thick as a Brick, and Pink Floyd’s Animals changed what rock music was thought to be capable of. They broadened the rock pallette to incorporate intricate storytelling, symphonic instrumentation, longer playtimes, and more sophisticated musicianship.

Sure, it went a little nuts; I’d rather listen to Scylla’s aroused goat than a few of the albums that came out during that period. But discounting a movement because of its excesses is unfair; I could point out a few seriously embarrassing punk bands, as well. That’s the cycle of a musical movement; the initial excitement of being involved in doing something totally new, the midstage of attracting competent and inspired musicians into the musical fold, and then the end, where the bloated musical form self-destructs. (Genesis actually recreated this cycle, in miniature, in the album Duke.)

Chacun a son gout. I love the (early) Annie Haslam Renaissance, but found the original unlistenable. Then again, I’m a fan of vocal pyrotechnics (Annie Haslam has a great voice) and even the most impressive piano virtuosity is lost on me completely.

Ahh, my kind of thread.

I thought I was the only Progger here.


What amazes me is how many people have listed King Crimson as an influence. Living Color, Kurt Cobain, etc. King Crimson is currently (at least I think they’re still on the road) touring with Tool. And they are still putting out albums, as well.

Does RUSH count in this group? How about Marillion?

And no-one has mentioned Camel yet?

I love many of these bands and their albums. I still get blown away everytime I play Selling England by the Pound, The lamb lies down on Broadway or A trick of the tail (Genesis), Mirage or Moonmadness (Camel) and many others, including Renaissance (I only know the Annie Haslam version).

How can a prog rock thread mention Camel and not “The Snow Goose”?

Anyway, I’m a progger, and I’m not ashamed of it. My faves are Marillion and old Yes and Genesis. Kcrimson is a little too avant garde jazz for me, but I love most of their stuff.

The best prog bands today are Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, Tool.

One band that was pretty big in their day was Mountain, wonder what happened to them.

Thanks for the tips for further listening, folks. And I have noticed that my assumptions of the marketing department origins of some of these bands are either wrong or simply failed: yer all guys!

lawoot, I’ve always classed Rush with the Uriah Heeps of the world: pretentious but insufficiently precious to be “Art.”

astorian, I can see your point about pretentiousness and pomposity, and agree that, while Springsteen should suffer the worst that Hell can dish out for “Nebraska” there is no punishment sufficient for “Tom Joad,” what these other bands have in common is an overblown, “Six Wives” musical* pomposity. These bands created dessert carts of fluff and sugar and empty calories. And, like desserts, I love it all.

To give these bands credit where I might have suggested a disrespect for their musicianship (with the exception of Keith Relf, whom I will say was simply the WORST harmonica player with a recording contract, and I’m including Bob Dylan in this comparison :eek: ), despite a musical complexity that would seem anchored to the studio and a primitive level of synthesizer technology that forced the keyboardists to bring a veritable music store of equipment onstage, these kids could duplicate it live. “Yessongs” is a prime example. And I appreciate their efforts to draw many musical styles, some centuries old, some brand new, into the fold of “modern music.”

Can’t mention it without mentioning Gentle Giant.

I’ll see you GG (Although I never liked them) and raise you one Caravan, which helped make Camel great in the mid-70s.

A few months ago Una did a pretty good song-by-song review of Rush’s Signals. Maybe I oughtta do one for Yes’ Relayer

I don’t think I agree with the Springsteen/Art Rock comparison. I know you aren’t saying that Bruce is Art Rock ,but that he is just as pretentious.

I don’t see it. Granted, Bruce is definitely coming from a POV that has an agenda. But trying to convey the circumstances of the so-called working man and trying to deliver a message (political or otherwise) is a little different than trying to freak-out potheads. It might be pretentious to rail against a system when you reap millions from the market forces of that system, but understading people trapped within that same system is not.

ELP, Yes, Moody Blues, King Crimson, Captain Beefheart, Marillion, etc… were the nadir of 70’s rock. Let’s see, singing about knights, unicorns, maidens, dragons, spaceships, time-travel, sorcerers while playing overly dramatic 14-minute songs is just about everything rock-n-roll isn’t supposed to be.

Sorry, I just always hated that shit


I guess it depends on where you set the skill-o-meter for musicians. If you’re saying they weren’t fit to play in a classical orchestra, you could be right in some or most cases. But by actually having some idea of what they were doing beyond which chords they were playing, yeah they were several steps beyond what Foghat were capable of. Rick Wakeman could hold his own with most musicians, as could Keith Emerson and Bill Bruford.

As far as it being a British phenomenon, don’t forget Kansas, which was a later attempt at American prog-rock. I think the British had a stronger affection for this style because the class structure was so inflexible and so important.


That’s a crime against nature. And rock.

Your knowledge of prog then is rudimentary.

Although it is a myth that prog is mainly themed around dragons & wizards, there are many bands around the world named after Tolkien- American included :
Isildur’s Bane
Valinor’s Tree
Minus Tirith