Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture / Edition 1by Edward L. Macan
Pub. Date: 01/28/1997
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Despite having authored what is to my knowledge the first comprehensive study of progressive rock, I must admit that my involvement in the progressive rock scene has heretofore been as an objective observer, not as a participant. To be sure, I was a fan during the music's commercial heyday of the mid- to late 1970s-- although I never was involved to the point of joining any band's fan club--and I have attempted to remain abreast of developments in the progressive rock scene.
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It's not too often one runs across a book devoted entirely to the subject of prog rock. But Edward Macan's Rocking the Classics is that one book. Basically the book tells you the cultural climate that gave the rise and then the fall of progressive rock. The book also focuses on several of the most important prog rock pieces like 'Tarkus', 'Firth of Fifth', 'Close to the Edge', etc. It's also describes of the technological development that made prog possible. The book isn't pefect. Some of the information is a bit inaccurate (wrong release dates to certain albums). Macan made one think the minute you hit the 1980s, all analog keyboards were replaced by digital, when in fact keyboards like the Prophet 5, Oberheim OBX, Roland Jupiter-8, etc., keyboards that represented the sound of the early 1980s, were in fact analog, and it wasn't until the arrival of the Yamaha DX-7, the first commercially practical digital synth, in 1983 that the digital keyboard revolution began (although digital synths were under development since the mid to late 1970s with the likes of the Synclavier and Fairlight CMI). Also Macan focuses almost entirely on England, as if that was the only country who gave us prog. Of course the country was home to some of the most important and revolutionary prog bands, but he really didn't put much emphasis on other country's prog, simply because I own a ton of great prog albums from mainly Continental Europe, and so do many other diehard prog fans out there. Sure there's the occasional mention of German, Italian, Swedish, American, and even Latin American prog bands, but little focus was brought in to those bands. The book also focused on why the mainstream rock critics never took too well to this kind of music ('too far from rock's R&B roots' was the one criticim critics leveled at this kind of music). Don't buy this book expecting a lengthy, extended overview of every prog band that ever existed, it's not that type of book. It's a book that tells you what progressive rock is all about and a focus on some of the more important bands. Regardless, despite some of the shortcomings of this book, if you're a prog rock fan and you want to know what brought the rise and fall of progressive rock, be sure to get this book.
Edward Macan's book reads like a thesis on progressive rock, its place in modern music history, and relationship with the counterculture it grew out of. He uses his musicology background and a good sense of cultural theory to very thoroughly investigate and explain the many facets that shaped progressive rock, including in depth chapters on the music, the visuals, and the lyrics in progressive rock. To illustrate things further one chapter looks at four specific pieces of music: ELP's 'Tarkus', Yes's 'Close to the Edge', Genesis's 'Firth of Fifth', and Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here'. Macan's focus is the English prog rock scene, although he does make mention of both North American and Continental European bands in his discussions of styles and social relevancy. 'Rocking the Classics' also touches on practically all of the related styles of music and bands, from jazz-rock fusion, English folk-rock and heavy metal, to minimalism and avant-garde electronic music. In a sense, I discovered much about what makes me enjoy many of the bands I listen to. The book also delves into prog rock's standing in critical circles and touches a little on more recent progressive rock output, even though the majority of the book concentrates on the 70's. Macan compliments things with an appendix containing a very nice discography and personnel listings for most of the bands he has written about. As a non-musician I often felt challenged to follow many of Macan's music analyses, however I surmise musicians will appreciate such depth. I also found Macan's style quite dry at times, but preferred that this was not a book written by a typical rock critic. Some may argue that Macan elevates progressive rock to a level akin to the pomposity that befell the music in the late 70's, but I think that would be an unfair assessment. Macan's arguments may be somewhat pedantic at times, but I found them sound and well presented. I think that anyone interested in discovering more about progressive rock will find this an excellent guide, and would recommend the book others.