Monday, May 25, 2009

Prog Rock Britannia (2009)

Directed by Chris Rodley. This documentary about the progressive rock movement of the late '60s and early '70s was fun to watch though the story it told may have been a little too beholden to available footage and personalities.

If this film is to be made it has to spend the lion's share of its attention on the biggest groups of the genre: Yes, Genesis, ELP and King Crimson. But it's hard to tell what determined the acts of other note that were mentioned. OK, maybe in 1967 Procul Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" was part of a shift in the sound of pop music but it hardly established a prog rock force. The single, certainly a strong one, was part of an expansive year for pop music. The Doors' "Light My Fire" broke the four-minute mark for a radio single and the Beatles released "Strawberry Fields Forever," neither act establishing a prog rock movement.

In fact Procul Harum were barely a band. The group that capitalized on the immediate success of "Whiter Shade of Pale" were rushed together with one song in their repertoire. The recording was produced by a guy named Denny Cordell for a pop act called the Pinewoods. Cordell was also producing the Moody Blues, whose LP, Days of Future Passed, is considered an early prog rock masterpiece -- but the band and that LP are not mentioned in this documentary.

But the band Egg is. I had never heard of Egg. They actually sound pretty cool in a very nerdy, goofy way. The act's frontman was clearly available and contributed a great deal to this film, which may or may not explain the prominence of Egg in the film.

Of course, there's something to be said for avoiding the beating of dead horses. In a brief survey of a genre such as this, how much really needs to be said of Yes and Genesis. I'd have been happy with a few more facts about bands like Egg and Caravan. I've always wondered who the hell Family are, and Gentle Giant, and Wishbone Ash. What about Hawkwind, whom I am aware are so legendary that there may exist a whole film just about them?

Additionally, it's always interesting to hear people discuss how musical movements like these come about. Why was the time right? What disparate elements pulled together to bring about both supply and demand? On the other hand, I don't care as much about the dissolution. Look, we all know that things run their course and are replaced by other things. The reasons prog rock went away is not nearly as sophisticated or interesting as the reasons it came about in the first place. So instead of spending 20 minutes on that, briefly pointing out a few of the funnier, more embarrassing records released during the death of prog's popularity will do (e.g., Procul Harum's 1977 musical storybook, "Something Magic") and leave it at that.

All that said, there is always room for more old Genesis concert footage of Peter Gabriel prancing around dressed as a flower or a wart.

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