Sunday, November 4, 2012

The 80s: The Prog Dark Ages?

The 1980s are considered by many prog lovers as close to The Dark Ages. The arrival of the Punk movement is understood as a direct reaction to the long, bombastic musical explorations of the late 60s and early 70s. Many consider the end of the Classic period of progressive rock to be about 1975 or 76-- that the arrival of the watered-down, "neo-" movement began with Genesis' 1976 release of Trick of the Tail. To me this event is what I like to call the beginning of "Shadow Prog." The new music from prog artists after 1975 was so much less innovative, did so much more following or imitating styles, structures, and sounds that had come before, that it should be said that they were merely 'shadowing' the masterpieces that had come before. It was the end of the Classic period, the beginning of a slide into decadent, self-indulgence. The arrival of new technological advances in electronic equipment that rendered some instruments (and, we thought, orchestras) virtually obsolete is also the beginning of the era in which appearance and show were more important than instrumental or compositional prowess.

How true was this? Well, let's have a closer look at exactly what was coming out in the post-Classic Prog years.

1976 through 1982 were the peak years for Canadian Heavy Proggers Rush with a consecutive string of their six most highly rated albums being produced during those six years.

The late 70s and 80s saw the production of a string of fairly well regarded 'Shadow Prog' albums continued to appear from bands like The Eloy, Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Camel, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis as well as solo efforts from members of all of the above.

The rise, peak, and fizzle of King Crimson, version 3, came with 1981's highly regarded Discipline through 1982's Beat and 1984's Three of a Perfect Pair

Jean-Luc Ponty, Pat Metheny, SBB, Kenso, Michael Hedges, Steve Tibbetts, and Frank Zappa were all producing top notch exploratory jazz fusion during this period.

Several of the RIO/Avant Garde movement's premier artists arrived and produced highly regarded albums during this period, including Univers Zero, Present, and Art Zoyd.

Guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Anthony Phillips really began their solo careers in this period--though critics are not very fond of their output during this time.

The rise and peak of Brian Eno's "Ambient Music" was 1975 (Discreet Music) to 1988 (Music for Films 3)

It was only after 1977 that we saw the rise of 'pop-prog' superstars Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.

"One offs" (and sometimes two) by groups such as UK, Dün, Bacamarte, Eskaton, Asia Minor, Itoiz, Zammla Mammaz Manna, and Eider Stellaire occurred in this period.

Roxy Music as well as Roxy members Brian Ferry and Phil Manzanera all released high quality crossover albums during the 1980s.

Crossover band Talking Heads and, later, splinter members David Byrne and Tom Tom Club all had their heyday during this period.

Chile's folk proggers, Los Jaivas, peaked and ran a string of very successful and critically acclaimed albums during this time.

During the 80s we do have the rise of a few new artists, including:  Marillion, IQ, The Cocteau Twins, David Sylvian, Shub-Niggurath, Solaris, The Cardiacs, Dead Can Dance, Ozric Tentacles, as well as the morphing of Talk Talk and The Cure, and the burgeoning/morphing metal scene (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Vovoid, Crimson Glory, Savatage, Watchtower, Iron Maiden, Metallica, )

Naked City and Thinking Plague came to life during the mid-1980s.

Yes, the Canterbury and Psychedelic sub-genres seemed to fizzle and go into hiding during the 80s, but Space and Electronic prog was still being explored by Tangerine Dream & Klaus Schulze, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Mark Isham and some other French and German artists.

In Italy all of the prog bands were in fact either disbanding or treading a very much more pop-oriented path.

In Scandanavia, Pekka Pohjola, Ragnarok, Atlas and Terje Rypdal were pumping out some highly regarded albums in the Jazz Fusion, Prog Folk, eclectic and symphonic sub-genres.

With all the above is taken into consideration, can 1977 through the 1980s really be declared a Dark Age? Just because electro-technical advances were being experimented with and true instrumental prowess was being overshadowed by the technological experimentation does this mean that good, time-honored music was not being produced? I guess we've seen the same revisionist attitudes in human history, the fact that an awful lot of civilized progress and creativity was actually going on--even in Europe--during the post-Roman Empire, pre-Renaissance period. Time to open our minds and reconsider our judgment of the 1980s.

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