Those educating archivists at Backbeat Books are at it again.
High-stepping into 2016, the renowned music publishers (a Hal Leonard imprint) have added several new titles to its successful FAQ series.
Painstakingly researched and authored by the top minds in film and music journalism, the pop culture paperbacks present discerning readers with “all that’s left to know” about modern movies (Star Wars, Star Trek), popular pastimes (baseball, football, wrestling), today’s top television (X-Files, Twin Peaks), and legendary musical acts (The Who, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, etc.)
We were first turned on to the black-bound references in 2013, when we covered music FAQs on The Beach Boys (Jon Stebbins), Rush (Max Mobley), and Kiss (Dale Sherman). We delighted in the writers’ fondness for their subjects and fastidiousness to detail and presentation: These guys know their stuff, and they thrill to impart even the most trivial minutiae on their favorite artists.
Think you know it all when it comes to Slowhand and Mr. Mojo Risin? The FAQs compile, inventory, and distill all that Eric Clapton ephemera and Doors data rattling around in your noggin. Still have a few things to learn about Morrissey and The Smiths, Neil Young, The Who, The Grateful Dead…or Elvis Presley’s film career?
Take a seat and crack a FAQ.
Now Backbeat continues the trend it started six years ago with the Prog Rock FAQ.
Curated by Long Island sound sage Will Romano, the Prog Rock FAQ guides readers into the quagmire and through the morass of what is perhaps the most maligned—and misunderstood—genre in pop history, when highly creative and virtuosic musicians honed their craft with “perseverance, innovativeness, and resiliency…under the most adverse conditions of the post-punk music world.”
Our host studies the rise of progressive rock (from out of the experimentalism and psychedelia of the British Invasion), shines a light on bands long “filtered out of the mainstream discussion,” and reevaluates important prog acts and their most significant works with aficionado aplomb. We get a sense of how (and why) the prog of the late ‘60s and ‘70s captured the imagination, scrutinize the delicate balance between artistic pretense and genius, trace the movement’s eventual downfall in the face of punk (Sex Pistols, Skids, Siouxsie and the Banshees), and look at some of the factors (Internet, independent labels, music fests, tribute bands) giving rise to its resurgence in the new millennium.
Though progressive music has been unfairly pigeonholed as self-indulgent and unwieldly by mainstream press (and the general public), fans know better. Accordingly, Romano’s retrospect (and, er, progress report) is more bright than bleak: He celebrates the era’s greatest songs and albums (and there were many) and profiles the artists (and instruments) behind them. He examines the social and cultural backdrops against which the best works were written and recorded, then reassesses both their impact at the time of release and their enduring reputations, however popular or polarizing (hello, Tales from Topographic Oceans).
From “clockwork soldier” groundbreakers Clouds to female fronted District 97, Romano touches on the titans, tunes, and trends that defined rock’s most ambitious age. He charts the birth and evolution of the experimental movement from its UK breeding ground to the fertile soils of America, Italy, and elsewhere.
We’re introduced to overlooked pioneers like Can, Touch, and Soft Machine, and Silver Apples, marveling at their contributions alongside those of household names like Genesis, The Moody Blues, and Yes. We get reacquainted with ‘80s acts like Marillion, Spock’s Beard, Flower Kings, and Galadriel, meet “third wave” confabs like Porcupine Tree and Sound of Contact, and trace the myriad modern musicians who tore a page from prog’s way-cool cookbook (King’s X, Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters).
Banks Statement: Romano dedicates his FAQ to late guitarist Peter Banks, who started a revolution with his Hendrix-like guitar chops but never quite received the recognition he deserved following his departure from Yes circa 1970 (despite fresh starts with Flash and Empire).
Exclusive Interviews: There are quotable quotes aplenty, but Romano chats directly with former Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams, ex-Genesis gunslingers Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett, Scale the Summit hotshot Chris Letchford, Van der Graaf Generator horn man David Jackson, and conceptual minimalist Steve Reich.
Mindcrimes and Misconceptions: The book delves into the “concept album” and sets forth a list of illustrative examples (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Wall, Thick As a Brick)whose running storylines stitch the individual tunes into a cohesive whole. But Romano is careful to also present a survey of stellar works (Aqualung, Dark Side of the Moon, In the Court of the Crimson King) he feels are often mistaken for concept albums, but (in his opinion) do not qualify.
The Gates of Delirium: The FAQ revisits (or unearths) prog’s most audacious tracks—from twenty-minute long Yes epics to album-side opuses by Floyd and Tull. We get the scoop on masterworks by Vangelis, Mothers of Invention, Genesis, Magma, Neu! and King Crimson, and expert opinions on what—other than outlandish running times—set such pieces apart.
Escapist Artists: We’re walked through a museum’s worth of fantastical sleeve art by Roger Dean, Hipgnosis, H.R. Giger, Gered Mankowitz, Dave McMacken, and more, with Romano commenting on how their otherworldly paintings and illustrations brought a visual aesthetic to what we heard on our turntables.
Crafty Hands and Cult Bands: There are chapters devoted to unsung heroes Henry Cow and Happy the Man, and a section on “Cinema Show” stalwarts whose music became the score (if not the basis) of art films and concert classics (Yes, Mike Oldfield, Goblin). There’s even an entry about what might be considered a number-one prog-pop smash by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Blinded by the Light.”
Heavy Horseshit: Prog was rock ‘n’ roll’s whipping boy for over a decade, so Romano revisits some of the more scathing album and concert reviews, with journalists ditching the kid gloves to bash now-celebrated works by prog’s most famous artists in the pages of Rolling Stone, Creem, and Crawdaddy.
Tools of the Trade: Romano takes us inside the mechanics and applications of the Mini-Moog and Mellotron keyboards so famously employed by Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and Mike Pinder—and provides a playlist of “mello” tracks (by Netkar, Rush, Wobbler, Harmonium, et. al) whereon the organ pastiches and spooled tape snippets are heard. We also explore the guitar gymnastics of such heroes as Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, Dave Gilmour, and John McLaughlin.
Andersonian Affirmations: Romano scrutinizes key releases by Yes—but devotes an entire essay to the band’s most tumultuous period (1976-1984), during which the band’s ever-changing lineup dodged proverbial tomatoes and nearly stepped in Roy Thomas Baker’s doo-doo only to temporarily join forces with New Wave act The Buggles before streamlining its sound (with Trevor Rabin) for the big ‘80s.
Journeymen and Raconteurs: The Prog Rock FAQ profiles all-stars like Peter Gabriel, William “Billy” Ritchie, Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, and Peter Gabriel, and devotes an entire chapter to prog’s most successful utility man, John Wetton (Asia, UK, King Crimson, Wishbone Ash).
The Funny and The Fascinating: Discover how classical music influenced prog’s earliest practitioners, how ELP purloined Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” (and Kim Fowley’s business acumen) for a rousing Bach-rocker, and how Yes (and producer Eddie Offord) carefully edited strands of Ampex tape into cohesive passages. Laugh as keyboard whiz Keith Emerson mistakenly scolds Fillmore manager Bill Graham…and when fellow organ ace Rick Wakeman hurls a tomato at an ugly album cover.
We certainly weren’t left wanting by Romano’s wit and wisdom, but we hoped for more on quirky quintet Gentle Giant, whose considerable contributions are reduced to but a passing mention (about bands who updated their sound in hopes of resuscitating flagging sales). Heck, the Shulman brothers don’t even make the index.
The Prog Rock FAQ on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/gv37f6n