Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wooden Finger Five – April 2014

Last week, I watched a BBC documentary from a few years back called ‘Prog Rock Britannia’. Like many of my generation, who grew up with the punk of Nirvana on one hand and the pop of Oasis and Blur on the other, I have generally considered progressive rock to be a load of pretentious old twaddle. But this documentary was excellent, containing interviews with many of the main players from this era of British music, including members of Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Procol Harum, and Genesis (Phil Collins in fact). For the rest of the weekend I was seeking out ten minute suites with ridiculous titles … which I often turned off halfway through, but still… Prog rock had some good stuff, and here is some of it.

1.       Roundabout – Yes

I first listened to Yes’ ‘Fragile’ album in full a few years back, and my affection for this track was cemented by soon after discovering it was on my newly obtained Rock Band 3 game. Even on a relatively tame difficulty level I almost broke my fingers trying to play plastic guitar along with this monster track. It’s quite catchy, Jon Anderson’s voice sounds quite nice rather than fey, and the first couple of minutes of the guitar solo does actually make your neck hairs stand upright. Amount of time that could be edited out of song: three minutes.

2.       The Carpet Crawlers – Genesis

After watching the Prog Rock Britannia documentary, and seeing Peter Gabriel’s over-the-top costumes I spent a fair amount of time googling ‘peter gabriel genesis’, which then led to googling ‘peter Gabriel haircut’. I have listened to a lot of Gabriel’s solo output over the years, but pretty much nothing of his Genesis output. For a person who grew up listening to ‘Invisible Touch’ I was impressed by how well the band could play, and how much they, well, rocked, and Peter Gabriel’s voice is unmistakable even if the musical style is quite different to his ‘Sledgehammer’ or ‘Solsbury Hill’. ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ is a good sample of Genesis’ best era for anyone who does not feel like committing 10-plus minutes listening to a track. Amount of time that could be edited out of song: one and a half minutes.

3&4. 21st Century Schizoid Man and Fallen Angel – King Crimson

In true prog rock fashion I am combining my two favourite Crimson tracks in one entry. I have to make the heathen-like admission that my first encounter with King Crimson’s masterful ’21 Century Schizoid Man’ was the sample that was used in Kanye West’s ‘Power’.  When I first heard the full track in a sufficiently light-minded state on an airplane flight early in the morning, it blew said mind away. Well, at least half the track did – the ‘ironclaw’ part that sounds like it invented alt-rock rather than the free-form jazz-like part in the middle. ‘Fallen Angel’ comes from King Crimson’s mid-70s ‘Red’ album,  and might seem a bit too standard to fit in the prog rock genre, but it is beautifully played and it still has a change in time signature for prog rock fans to appreciate. Amount of time that could be edited out of song – Schizoid Man: four minutes, Fallen Angel: one minute.

5.       Learning To Fly – Pink Floyd

This is not so much prog rock as classic ‘80s rock, but I have pulled it out as I also watched a pretty good Pink Floyd documentary in the past week, and I think this is a fairly underrated track by Pink and cohorts.  Dave Gilmour’s guitar sounds like it was bought and then discarded in 1985, but this track still has an epic feel to it that I find hard to resist. I remember being about eight years old on a houseboat interstate when I first heard this track on the TV, and I immediately felt like I had been fast-tracked into moody young adulthood. That memory might help explain why this track still feels to me nowadays like something beyond my own life experience, even as I generally feel like I’ve long outgrown most of the Floyd’s output. Amount of time that could be edited out of song: half a minute.

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