The band's "In the Court of the Crimson King" album cover stood out as one of the icons of the era. The cartoonish ghost-like character's mask of fear summed up the paranoia, economic angst and sense of foreboding as the '60s collapsed into the '70s.
I never bought the album, or anything by Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Yes, although I knew their music thanks to that dorm network. "Said the straight man, to the late man..."
Nor was I ever taken by the Pink Floyd craze or Genesis. However, I shudder to remember that I once loved "The Six Wives of Henry VIII," an impressionistic solo album by Rick Wakeman, the Yes keyboardist.
These thoughts arise from reading a New Yorker review of Washington Post political writer Dave Weigel's new history of what has now been labeled progressive rock.
"The Show Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Progressive Rock" looks at the painfully pretentious music that helped kill the music that Chuck Berry believed would never die.
The bands used electronic instruments like the Moog and mellotron to create long pieces that sought to emulate classical music or jazz, although the late keyboardist Keith Emerson despised jazz's free spirit and improvisation. Their stage show extravaganzas exploding with sound and visual effects required performances in stadiums. As Weigel admits, young white males were prog rock's audience. Young women were excluded.
When I saw that Weigel is 35, I thought, Good god, man. Why would anyone of your generation want to look back on such musical dinosaurs? When Weigel hasn't been detailing outrages of the Trump administration, he's been listening to every note of every progressive rock album. I hope the Post has good mental health benefits.
Reading about Weigel's book made me think about some of the music I once listened to. Some seemed to share a border with prog rock. Pioneering rock critic Lester Bangs hated prog rock, but I possessed some susceptibility to it. Luckily, that vaccination consisting of a few old jazz chords, B-12, and a blues lick proved beneficial.
The Moody Blues showed prog characteristics, including Moog experimentation, dreamy compositions and concept albums. I suppose I'll have to read Weigel to see if they're considered among the prog flock.
The Moody's writing was on a higher level than that of the main prog rockers, who were stronger on music than lyrics. I haven't listened to old Moody records like "In Search of a Lost Chord" for years, but I loved them until early middle age. The old boys are still out playing.
And then there were bands like San Francisco's It's a Beautiful Day. In my sensitive youth, I loved the mystical violin of David LaFlamme, and the beautiful album cover of the young pioneer woman amid a blue sky and fleecy clouds. Procul Harum's poetic lyrics and dense chords also caught me.
The progs' obsession with a mythical pastoral England was mirrored by folk groups like the Incredible String Band and Pentangle. I also was a fan of the American folkies Pearls Before Swine. Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention recorded one of the best songs ever recorded, Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?"
Frank Zappa's more experimental compositions had prog rock affinities,with more artistic originality.
Miles Davis' Bitches Brew was another youthful mainstay. Sad to say, I wasn't aware of his earlier work, discovering "Kind of Blue" and other seminal jazz recordings much later.
Jefferson Airplane, devolving into Jefferson Starship. Hot Tuna. Country Joe and the Fish (I know). Quicksilver Messenger Service.
The Grateful Dead. Steely Dan, although I was never a big fan.
The Beatles of course were a progenitor of prog rock. Yes, the Beatles, not the Stones.
Crosby, Stills and Nash. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Ry Cooder. Randy Newman.
Moby Grape. Buffalo Springfield.
Bob Dylan, of course. Especially the great middle years of brilliance, highlighted by "Blood on the Tracks."
Tbe Fugs. Ed Sanders' Truckstop. Velvet Undergrouund. Lou Reed.
As my youth faded, a shift into early bluesmen and women: Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Bessie Smith.
Early jazz. Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five. True genius. An infatuation with Buddy Bolden, although no recording has been found. George Gershwin.
Later jazz. Charlie Parker. Bill Evans. Thelonious Monk.
Fats. Allen Toussaint.
And then a new direction in country. Graham Parsons. Flying Burrito Brothers. Later Byrds. Waylon Jennings. Willie Nelson. Jerry Jeff Walker. Asleep at the Wheel. Clarence White, that bluegrass master. Doc Watson.
My youth was gone. Eight tracks came and went, then CDs. I tried to relight the flame by repurchasing classics from the early days. A standout: Kiln House by Fleetwood Mac
Now, vinyl's back. Somewhere, I have the old Blind Faith cover of the topless blind girl holding the hood ornament.