Will Romano: Prog Rock FAQ

A suitably strange and idiosyncratic study of prog.

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Subtitled ‘All That’s Left To Know About Rock’s Most Progressive Music’, this is the second major prog tome from New York-based journalist Romano.

His previous offering, Mountains Come Out Of The Sky, was a comprehensive, enthusiastic history of the genre with great pictures, but was spoiled by (one presumes) disastrous editing, which meant that some chapters read like complete gibberish. Fortunately, Prog Rock FAQ has been subbed by a sentient being, and if the book’s chapter structure is a little random and counter-intuitive (let’s have a Q&A with Mick Abrahams now, apropos of nothing, just because he interviewed him), then nothing says ‘prog’ louder than peculiar juxtapositions and quirky time signatures.

So if you can handle “a kind of alternative history of progressive rock” (his words), which leaps inexplicably from Italian cult bands to the implosion of Yes prior to Drama to a career overview of John Wetton to interviews with Änglagård and District 97, this is an entertaining dip-in book. Its perspective is very American, so there are notable omissions (Caravan, Camel), but where it scores big is in its best two, hefty sections. The first, ‘Mindcrimes And Misconceptions: Concept Albums (That Are And Aren’t)’, is a lively judgement (after an in-depth discussion of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) on what qualifies. The Dark Side Of The Moon “in the strictest of senses” isn’t; neither is Rush’s 2112. In The Court Of The Crimson King? He’s “on the fence”.

Likewise, ‘The Gates Of Delirium: Top 20 BIG Compositions’ is appropriately epic, analysing the canon with back-stories, interviews and zeal. Echoes, The Revealing Science Of God, Thick As A Brick, Supper’s Ready plus one or two surprising choices make this 50-page chapter a marvellous mini-book in its own right. Elsewhere, everyone from Zappa to Neu! to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band are covered. There are interviews with Steve Hackett and Van der Graaf’s David Jackson, a dash of humour in a gathering of the nastiest ever reviews of prog albums (Tubular Bells and A Passion Play among them) and a look at the genre’s artistic overlap with film (titled, inevitably, ‘The Cinema Show’).

This can’t match the intellect and sweep of Hegarty & Halliwell’s Beyond And Before, nor serve as a functional primer like Romano’s previous book, but its eccentric quirks somehow make it rather endearing. It makes you want to hear the more obscure albums you haven’t, and reminds you why Pawn Hearts was so named.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.