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Pink Floyd - Prog Or Not Prog (Part one)

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Pink Floyd - Prog Or Not Prog (Part one)

October 25, 2010




Jon Neudorf



That is the question. I have loved this band since I started listening to music about thirty-three years ago. Yes I was young back then but I was exposed to some good music from my older brothers. While some kids were listening to the latest song on the radio, I was listening to Manfred Mann, Floyd, Yes, Horslips and so many more great bands. I didn't care whether the music was considered progressive or not, I just liked it and that is still true today. I don't listen to progressive music because it happens to be progressive, I listen to progressive music because I like it.

Now back to my original question. If any of you, dear readers, visit progressive rock blogs and forums there is no doubt you have likely seen the debate of whether or not Pink Floyd is considered prog. I have thought about this for a while now and I really cannot figure out why some people do not consider Pink Floyd prog. Perhaps we should first discuss just what is progressive music. The Oxford Companion to Music states that progressive artists "explored extended musical structures which involved intricate musical patterns and textures and often esoteric subject matter." Progressive rock often incorporates other elements of genres like classical and jazz. Those early progressive bands of the late 60s and early 70s (Genesis, Gentle Giant, ELP, Yes, etc) experimented with different sounds and textures and made music dynamically exciting. So, what about Pink Floyd?

Pink Floyd's first album was The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and I will admit this is more psychedelic than purely progressive but it does contain elements that would lean the Floyd in a more proggier direction. The spacey "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine" are a case in point. The more experimental "Bike" really showcases Barrett's creative juices. Is that not what progressive rock is all about – being creative and demonstrating a flair for the experimental?

Next came A Saucerful of Secrets and its exciting title track. This multi-part twelve minute epic is an intriguing mixture of composition and wild improvisation with a science fiction theme to boot. Both experimental and totally chaotic, this track shows just how diverse and 'progressive' Pink Floyd could be. The album's other standout piece "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" features exquisite organ playing from Richard Wright that sure sounds progressive to me.

In 1969 Pink Floyd released More, the soundtrack to the film of the same name which was probably their most experimental offering up to that point. Although this album lacks longer compositions, it is still a richly varied release with elements of jazz, blues and of course space and psychedelic rock. The beautifully subtle "Cirrus Minor" again has Wright doing what he does best – his graceful organ filled soundscapes are a highlight. This is not my favourite Floyd album by any means but it is an important bridge connecting Floyd to what they would become in the future and for that it is an important piece in the world of progressive rock.

The last album I will look at in part one is Floyd's groundbreaking two album set Ummagumma that had the band's penchant for experimentalism coming to a head. Wright really came into his own on "Sysyphus", a four part suite featuring classically inspired piano and Mellotron. The piece is a pretty, experimental, jazzy slice of avant-garde prog that screams 'I am progressive' from beginning to end. Also, if you have not heard "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict", you really need to as it is truly bizarre. It might not be true prog but it certainly is creative and is that not what progressive rock aspires to be?

These four albums set the groundwork of what Pink Floyd would become. Their creative and groundbreaking psychedelic/space rock explorations speak for themselves. For me, Pink Floyd are easily one of the most important bands in the history of progressive rock. Stay tuned for part two…
  

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