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Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture [Paperback]

Edward Macan
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
Price: 16.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

9 Jan 1997
Few styles of popular music have generated as much controversy as progressive rock, a musical genre best remembered today for its gargantuan stage shows, its fascination with epic subject matter drawn from science fiction, mythology, and fantasy literature, and above all for its attempts to combine classical music's sense of space and momumental scope with rock's raw power and energy. Its dazzling virtuosity and spectacular live concerts made it hugely popular with fans during the 1970s, who saw bands such as King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull bring a new level of depth and sophistication to rock. On the other hand, critics branded the elaborate concerts of these bands as self- indulgent and materialistic. They viewed progressive rock's classical/rock fusion attempts as elitist, a betrayal of rock's populist origins.

In Rocking the Classics, the first comprehensive study of progressive rock history, Edward Macan draws together cultural theory, musicology, and music criticism, illuminating how progressive rock served as a vital expression of the counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s. Beginning with a description of the cultural conditions which gave birth to the progressive rock style, he examines how the hippies' fondness for hallucinogens, their contempt for Establishment-approved pop music, and their fascination with the music, art, and literature of high culture contributed to this exciting new genre. Covering a decade of music, Macan traces progessive rock's development from the mid- to late-sixties, when psychedelic bands such as the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, the Nice, and Pink Floyd laid the foundation of the progressive rock style, and proceeds to the emergence of the mature progressive rock style marked by the 1969 release of King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King. This `golden age' reached its artistic and commerical zenith between 1970 and 1975 in the music of bands such as Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, and Curved Air.

In turn, Macan explores the conventions that govern progressive rock, including the visual dimensions of album cover art and concerts, lyrics and conceptual themes, and the importance of combining music, visual motif, and verbal expression to convey a coherent artistic vision. He examines the cultural history of progressive rock, considering its roots in a bohemian English subculture and its meteoric rise in popularity among a legion of fans in North America and continental Europe. Finally, he addresses issues of critical reception, arguing that the critics' largely negative reaction to progressive rock says far more about their own ambivalence to the legacy of the counterculture than it does about the music itself.

An exciting tour through an era of extravagant, mind-bending, and culturally explosive music, Rocking the Classics sheds new light on the largely misunderstood genre of progressive rock.

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Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture + Progressive Rock Reconsidered (Composer Resource Manuals)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (9 Jan 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195098889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195098884
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 15.3 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 589,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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An impressive piece of work ... Macan knows this music backwards and forwards: he combines a fan's detached knowledge of minutiae with what if often a quite sophisticated agenda of cultural criticism. (Robert Walser)

a wonderful account of the Yes-Genesis-ELP crowd, and much, much more (John Covach, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

About the Author

, Assistant Professor of Music at College of the Redwoods, Eureka, California, is a composer, mallet percussionist, and pianist.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A nice thesis on the early development of the progressive rock movement, including the musical development and the associated art, with coverage of more recent developments (at least to the mid 90's). However, the serious prog fan should read this with some reservations. One central thesis suggests progressive rock came about because of certain English institutions,(e.g. Anglican church music), and then especially in the SE of England! Debatable.

After an general introduction, Macan sets out to demonstrate his argument about the Englishness of prog rock, through a number of different analyses of 5 landmark prog albums (by Yes, Genesis, ELP, Floyd, etc). The importance of the artwork of albums and the theatrical sets at live gigs is rightly dealt with. The book provides good reviews of the different musical approaches and influences employed, and why these bands "progressed" rock along. The book finishes with a review of the state of play in this musical genre up to the early 90's, with some enthusiasm shown for the likes of Djam Karet.

In probability, Rocking The Classics was not intended to provide a comprehensive overview with musical theories of the subject nor it broad history - other books are around which attempt this with less success. Especially from my viewpoint as a Brit who grew up during the early days of progressive rock, I have to ask why the early American contribution to the genre is hardly touched. I would have like to seen something about Vanilla Fudge (who influenced Nice, and so ELP and indirectly Led Zeppelin), even something about the experimental work of the Electric Prunes. The omission of the Californian band Touch, who influenced Yes and Genesis, suggests the research was less thorough than it might have been.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Progressive Rock gets a book about it! 29 Oct 1997
By A Customer
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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Summary 25 Feb 1999
By A Customer
Macan's contribution to the burgeoning field of prog rock literature serves as an excellent summary of the genre. As one reviewer mentioned above, it is highly unlikely to tell seasoned vets anything they don't already know, but the excellent discography of all the major bands at the end of his book is well worth the price of admission. It's important to remember that Macan is a musicologist, and therefore tends to analyse his chosen genre in highly technical terms. If you're a trained musicologist, then the esoteric language won't be a problem, but the frequent discussions of "polytonal triads" "bass ostinatos" and "momentary shifts to A phrygian" (to name but a few) will leave the average reader feeling somewhat alienated, although Macan does his best to describe the jargon in simple terms. One slight gripe I have with the book is Macan's open dismissal of all the major progressive rock bands after 1980. Macan convincingly argues that the "loss of creativity" of the major bands was partly due to the titanic changes in the record industry during the late 70's, but he then goes on to practically ignore the major band's output in the 1980's. Hasn't Macan heard Yes's "I'm Running" or "Final Eyes" for instance? But apart from that slight flaw, Macan's book is an excellent introduction into the world of progressive rock.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Ground Breaking Work on Adventurous Music! 7 April 2001
...Macan's work really is an eye-opener on how to view progressive rock. It establishes a theoretical framework (no panic, easy reading;-) in a rather entertaining style on the whole genre. Having read the Neo Marxian professor Bill Martin's work on prog, it was comforting to discover that Macan has a different approach than the alienating phrases and angles of the professor (whose book also is worth reading, though).
Macan shows that he understands well how any work on prog has to look both at the music, the cover art and the lyrics. He even attempts a sociology of progressive rock. Even if he may be a bit too insistent on the influence of Anglican Church Choirs and drugs on parts of prog (he of course also find several other influences), he manages extremely well to track the impact of the late sixties' various Counter Cultures on the music scene.
Perhaps the outstanding part of the book is Macan's ability to combine a musical analysis (most work on prog - especially the negative ones - manages in mysterious ways to avoid saying meaningfull things about the music) with a cultural study.
For people interested in adventurous music Macan's book is a must. Hopefully someone in the future will make an even better book (and with some alternatives to Macan's perhaps too critical views on progressive rock after the 70's), however so far this is undoubtedly the best on progressive rock.
The only other comparable book - in the sense of combining a cultural with a musical analysis -is Ian MacDonald's "Revolution in the Head". These two books stand definitely head and shoulder above others on popular music.
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