In Prog We Trust: Five Progressive Rock Bands You Hate, But Shouldn't

John Myung of Dream Theater is better than your favorite band's bass player.
John Myung of Dream Theater is better than your favorite band's bass player.
Photo by groovehouse

There are some forms of music that struggle to find critical acclaim while others are loved by critics but universally dismissed by the public. Then, there is another group that, despite a loyal and sometimes massive cult following, are disliked by critics and everyday music fans alike.

Meet prog-rock, the Rodney Dangerfield of music.

For more than 40 years, progressive rock music has survived on the adoration of a fiercely loyal group of fans, but languished in the purgatory of critical acclaim. Critics, on the whole, don't like complex music. The simpler and more direct the better. Add in lyrics that have more in common with epic poems than the Rolling Stones and insult is piled on injury.

But in the last 10 years, with the rise of independent music, it seems like there has also been a rise in really noisy rock that often receives praise for the very oddity and complexity that relegates progressive music to the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

I decided to put together a list of five classic prog rock bands and why you shouldn't hate them as much as you do along with a comparison to a modern indie band you probably like that is more similar to these prog rockers than you may think.

DREAM THEATER

Why they are hated: Really complex metal music. Why they shouldn't be: John Myung and Mike Portnoy Modern comparison: The Mars Volta

I know it isn't terribly popular to be great at your instrument these days. Most musicians don't even care enough to stick to one instrument in the same band. If I got a buck for every indie band member that switches instruments more than once during a set, I'd be making a decent living.

But the original rhythm section for Dream Theater is a perfect example of honing your craft is a good idea. You don't have to join some neo-classical prog-metal band, but you could if you wanted to, unlike many of your contemporaries.

GENESIS

Why they are hated: Phil Collins Why they shouldn't be: Peter Gabriel Modern comparison: Death Cab for Cutie

It's hard to believe the same band that did "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" churned out the guy that wrote the Tarzan soundtrack tunes, but it's true. However, that band also brought us Peter Gabriel, who has created some of the most interesting and important music of the last 30 years.

 

EMERSON LAKE & PALMER

Why they are hated: Lame, cheesy keyboard rock. Why they shouldn't be: All the lame cheesy keyboard rock that came after them. Modern comparison: Animal Collective

If ELP came out today, they'd be heralded as a wild retro throwback. As it is, they are almost universally disdained for their sludgy brand of organ-driven fusion. But, truth is, they were one of the early bands that drove rock with keyboards rather than guitar paving the way for new wavers to embrace synthesizer technology.

YES

Why they are hated: See ELP. Why they shouldn't be: Vocal arrangements. Modern comparison: Muse

Born literally out of a music conservatory, the founders of Yes blended art rock with layered choir vocals for a sound that was all their own. While they delved heavily into complicated rhythms early on before modernizing for "Owner of a Lonely Heart," their vocal arrangements were as lush as the Beach Boys even if their songs weren't as popular.

RUSH

Why they are hated: Geddy Lee's voice. Why they shouldn't be: The hundreds of famous musicians they influenced. Modern comparison: Smashing Pumpkins (tell me his voice is less annoying than Geddy)

Like them or not (and despite LA Weekly calling them one of the 10 worst bands of all time), Rush is the undisputed king of prog-rock, with a string of platinum records bested only by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. They are wildly popular 40 years into their career still routinely selling out arenas.

The focus of critics has nearly always been the grating voice of lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee. I still find it hard to believe this, considering some of the hideous voices rock and roll has produced. Whatever the case, Rush has influenced an incredibly wide spectrum of artists, making them not only one of the most successful, but most influential bands ever, and putting a stamp on a whole lot of music likely in your collection.


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