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A subset of rock and roll noteworthy for its intricate arrangements and experimental sound. Originating in the late 1960s, "Prog Rock" often combines stylistic elements from Classical, Jazz, Folk or sometimes electronic implementations, uses non-standard song structures (including complex rhythms and time signatures) and complex instrumental orchestrations, and frequently employ lyrics which are abstract or fantasy-based.

The original idea was to bring some of the sophistication of "legitimate" musical styles to rock, which was still regarded as worthless pop trash. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band featured songs that were (loosely) tied together by a common theme, making it an example of a "song cycle". At around the same time, The Moody Blues recorded their Days of Future Passed album in which a full symphony orchestra accompanied the band and played interludes that connected the songs. Imitators followed.

Classically-trained musicians such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman started to be drawn to rock, and they brought their repertoire with them. This is where Prog gets its modern image of classically-influenced songs with many extended solos, but Art Rock could refer to any attempt to elevate rock from its lowbrow image. This could include pop music with experimental elements (10cc and Roxy Music), and bands that used orchestral instruments (The Electric Light Orchestra). Some bands fused with other styles: Jethro Tull were based on folk music, and the Canterbury bands leaned toward modern jazz. Prog was largely a British phenomenon, although Kansas and Rush were significant examples from America and Canada, respectively.

Critics usually dismissed these bands as being "pretentious". Some people just want to have a good time, and Prog bands sometimes took themselves far too seriously. Perhaps the most notorious offender was Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans album: it was seen by many as a clear drop in quality from their previous efforts, and it taxed listeners' patience by stretching a total of four songs over 2 LPs. The genre was mostly exhausted by 1980, although notable later bands included Marillion, IQ and Spock's Beard. Prog experienced a rebirth around the turn of the millenium, led by Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and The Mars Volta.

Prog Rock was one of the originators, and certainly one of the main motivators, of the Concept Album.

See also Progressive Metal for when prog gets heavy, and Technical Death Metal for when prog gets even heavier.

Notable Progressive Rock acts include and are labeled with their respective sub-genre according to the ProgArchives:

  • 10cc, in the Godley & Creme era (Progressive Pop)
  • The Alan Parsons Project (Symphonic Prog)
  • Arena (Neo-Prog with Progressive Metal leanings)
  • Ayreon (Progressive Metal)
  • Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso (Progressivo Italiano)
  • Be-Bop Deluxe (Crossover Prog)
  • Between the Buried and Me (Progressive Metal)
  • Camel (Symphonic Prog)
  • Caravan (Canterbury Scene)
  • Children of Nova
  • Coheed and Cambria (Crossover Prog)
  • Colosseum and their later incarnation Colosseum II (Jazz Rock/Fusion)
  • Conception (Progressive Metal)
  • The Decemberists, sometimes (Prog Folk)
  • Deep Purple recorded at least two "band and orchestra" albums in the late 1960s (Symphonic Prog)
  • The Dixie Dregs, nominally a Southern Rock band (Jazz Rock/Fusion)
  • Dream Theater (Progressive Metal)
  • Electric Light Orchestra (at least their pre-Discovery stuff) (Crossover Prog)
  • Eloy (Space Rock)
  • Emerson Lake and Palmer (Symphonic Prog)
  • The Flower Kings (Symphonic Prog)
  • Gazpacho (Crossover Prog)
  • Genesis up to Wind & Wuthering (and the occasional song afterward) (Symphonic Prog)
  • Gentle Giant (Eclectic Prog)
  • Gong (Canterbury Scene)
  • Hawkwind (Psychedelic Rock)
  • Henry Cow (Avant-Prog/Canterbury Scene/Rock In Opposition)
  • IQ (Neo-Prog)
  • Jadis (Neo-Prog)
  • Jethro Tull (Prog Folk)
  • Kansas: a relative rarity who could compose successful commercial songs, but whose core material was more similar to Yes or King Crimson. Later overlapped with Christian Rock (Symphonic Prog)
  • King Crimson (Eclectic Prog)
  • Magma (Avant-Prog/Zeuhl)
  • Marillion (Neo-Prog)
  • The Mars Volta (Heavy Prog)
  • Mastodon (Progressive Metal)
  • Men of Lake (Progressivo Italiano)
  • The Moody Blues (Crossover Prog)
  • Motoi Sakuraba; he was part of a few bands before doing video games (Symphonic Prog)
  • Muse (Prog-Related/New Prog)
  • Nektar (Crossover Prog/Symphonic Prog)
  • The Nice; Keith Emerson's first group, before joining Emerson Lake and Palmer (Symphonic Prog)
  • Oceansize (Space Rock)
  • Mike Oldfield
  • Opeth (Progressive Metal)
  • Pallas (Neo-Prog, later Progressive Metal)
  • Pendragon (Neo-Prog)
  • Pink Floyd (Space Rock according to progarchives; whether and exactly how Floyd counts as prog is a very controversial topic)
  • Porcupine Tree (Heavy Prog; but most of what you can say about Floyd can also be said - and has also been said, some of it by Steven Wilson himself - about Porcupine Tree; later became Progressive Metal)
  • Premiata Forneria Marconi (Progressivo Italiano)
  • Procol Harum (Crossover/Symphonic Prog)
  • Queen (Progressive Metal/Heavy Prog) that is, their early stuff.
  • Queensryche (Progressive Metal)
  • Renaissance (Symphonic Prog)
  • Riverside (Progressive Metal)
  • Roxy Music (Crossover Prog)
  • Rush (Heavy Prog)
  • Joe Satriani; (Well, some of his work, at least.) (Heavy Prog)
  • Soft Machine (Canterbury Scene)
  • Sound Horizon (Symphonic Prog. Usually.)
  • Spock's Beard (Symphonic Prog)
  • Styx, prior to 1975 or so (Crossover Prog)
  • Super Furry Animals (Prog-Related/Space Rock)
  • Supertramp (Crossover Prog)
  • Symphony X (Progressive Metal)
  • Tangerine Dream (Progressive Electronic)
  • Tool (Progressive Metal)
  • Transatlantic (Symphonic Prog)
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Crossover Prog)
  • Triumvirat (Symphonic Prog)
  • Twelfth Night (Neo-Prog)
  • Underground Zero (Psychedelic Rock, Hawkwind-style)
  • Univers Zero (Avant-Prog/Rock In Opposition)
  • Uriah Heep (Heavy Prog)
  • Steve Vai
  • Van der Graaf Generator (Eclectic Prog)
  • Yes (Symphonic Prog)
  • Frank Zappa has been described as such (Avant Prog)
    • Zappa is describable?

Tropes frequently associated with progressive rock include:

  • Concept Album: Developed somewhat in tandem with prog rock. The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa's band, were responsible for many of rock's early concept albums.
  • Dead Horse Genre: Critics, who usually believe in Three Chords and the Truth, have tended to hate the genre. A prominent exception is Allmusic, which has given several famous prog albums the maximum rating of five stars.
  • Epic Rocking: Naturally, given the song lengths. Often more focus on "epic" than rocking, obviously.
    • The Jethro Tull albums Thick As a Brick and A Passion Play contained one song each, broken up by an interlude that allowed the listener to flip the record.
  • Genius Bonus/Viewers Are Geniuses: In addition to the fact that musicians are more likely to appreciate the musicianship there are often all sorts of bizarre subtexts to the lyrics that can't be easily picked up on.
    • Also, frequent quotes/covers from the Classical and traditional repertoire that might not be familiar to a casual listener.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: It's not uncommon for prog bands to incorporate multiple genres in one song, and in many cases, to incorporate them well.
    • Dixie Dregs in particular stand out for this.
  • Rock Opera: Often goes hand-in-hand with the concept album.
  • Uncommon Time: It would probably take less space to list progressive rock bands that don't use this trope than to list progressive rock bands that do use it. It's pretty much a requisite of the genre.
  • Up to Eleven: Musicianship and complexity of songwriting for starters.