I’m obliged to Kim du Toit, a fellow expatriate South African who, like me, is now an American citizen. A couple of days ago he mentioned on his blog the Genesis hit “Firth of Fifth“, from their fifth studio album “Selling England by the Pound“. He first linked to a version of the song by former Genesis lead guitarist Steve Hackett, then to an analysis of the piece by a composer in the classical music tradition. I found both engrossing.
Genesis was, of course, a progressive rock group from the outset. Classical music influences are evident in a great deal of their music. (One of the things I dislike most about modern pop, R&B, etc. is their inanity. They make no effort to rely on the human race’s voluminous musical roots, instead starting with nothing much and going on to nothing at all. Rap is even worse.) Drawing on such a rich musical heritage allowed many progressive rock artists (such as Jethro Tull, Mike Oldfield, Strawbs, Yes and many others) to create their melodies and hits, and it shows.
Here are the two performances to which Kim linked. The first is a music performance, the second a music analysis, so if you don’t like to hear such a detailed breakdown of the music behind the song, you’ll probably want to skip it.
To illustrate just how much classical music roots and themes influenced progressive rock, here are a couple of examples from other groups. First, Strawbs with their three-part piece “Autumn“, from the album “Hero and Heroine“, possibly their finest prog-rock collection at the height of their powers.
Next, here’s Jethro Tull in a 1969 live performance of “Bouree” from their album “Stand Up“, combining J. S. Bach’s original composition with jazz and rock influences to very good effect. The piece remained popular for as long as the band toured, with repeated demands for it from audiences around the world. It changed and evolved as the group did, sometimes being performed as part of an extended medley, but always fluid and fluctuating.
Finally, let’s have something combining traditional folk music, progressive rock leanings, a little jazz and a touch of classical elegance. British group Traffic released their fourth studio album, “John Barleycorn Must Die“, in 1970. Here’s the title track. Listen to the background instrumentation and how it progresses from simple to more complex, yet never loses its folk roots.
Thanks, Kim, for the inspiration for this morning’s blog post. I enjoyed your selections, and I hope you enjoy mine.