Few styles of popular music have generated as much controversy as progressive rock, a musical genre best remembered today for its gargantuan stage shows, its fascination with epic subject matter drawn from science fiction, mythology, and fantasy literature, and above all for its attempts to combine classical music's sense of space and momumental scope with rock's raw power and energy. Its dazzling virtuosity and spectacular live concerts made it hugely popular with fans during the 1970s, who saw bands such as King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull bring a new level of depth and sophistication to rock. On the other hand, critics branded the elaborate concerts of these bands as self- indulgent and materialistic. They viewed progressive rock's classical/rock fusion attempts as elitist, a betrayal of rock's populist origins.
In Rocking the Classics, the first comprehensive study of progressive rock history, Edward Macan draws together cultural theory, musicology, and music criticism, illuminating how progressive rock served as a vital expression of the counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s. Beginning with a description of the cultural conditions which gave birth to the progressive rock style, he examines how the hippies' fondness for hallucinogens, their contempt for Establishment-approved pop music, and their fascination with the music, art, and literature of high culture contributed to this exciting new genre. Covering a decade of music, Macan traces progessive rock's development from the mid- to late-sixties, when psychedelic bands such as the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, the Nice, and Pink Floyd laid the foundation of the progressive rock style, and proceeds to the emergence of the mature progressive rock style marked by the 1969 release of King Crimson's album In the Court of the Crimson King. This `golden age' reached its artistic and commerical zenith between 1970 and 1975 in the music of bands such as Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, Caravan and Curved Air.
In turn, Macan explores the conventions that govern progressive rock, including the visual dimensions of album cover art and concerts, lyrics and conceptual themes, and the importance of combining music, visual motif, and verbal expression to convey a coherent artistic vision. He examines the cultural history of progressive rock, considering its roots in a bohemian English subculture and its meteoric rise in popularity among a legion of fans in North America and continental Europe. Finally, he addresses issues of critical reception, arguing that the critics' largely negative reaction to progressive rock says far more about their own ambivalence to the legacy of the counterculture than it does about the music itself.
An exciting tour through an era of extravagant, mind-bending, and culturally explosive music, Rocking the Classics sheds new light on the largely misunderstood genre of progressive rock.
Published:09 Jan 1997
Publisher:Oxford University Press Inc.
Dimensions:320 pages 23.34 x 2.08 x 15.57 cm

A good book, weak around the edges
First of all, this book is a very good read, it covers its core territory with enthusiasm and ease - it also cost me a lot of money as I just had to go and buy a whole raft of albums that I had missed over my life. So, if you buy it you are unlikely to regret it. Yes, ELP, Renaissance, King Crimson and so on are well covered, The books failings are at the edges - the start and the end. How Pete Townshend is almost totally ignored, is beyond belief, The Beatles get some reference, and if the Author knew this he could said "but that is another book for another day." Another totally glaring omission is David Bowie - this man prettly much owned the 70's and beyond. Bowie is just referenced as "Glam" - I found this a staggering error. The end of the book, as with so many Rockographies, rushes to the finishing line, and misses perhaps 90% of the re blossoming of the "prog" world.
Aside of these few quite large issues, it is a very good read, but be prepared to hold your head and weep at the start and end.
L.D. Sheldon 4/5 27.02.2013 (Amazon)

A nice but restricted thesis of prog rock's development
A nice thesis on the early development of the progressive rock movement, including the musical development and the associated art, with coverage of more recent developments (at least to the mid 90's). However, the serious prog fan should read this with some reservations. One central thesis suggests progressive rock came about because of certain English institutions,(e.g. Anglican church music), and then especially in the SE of England! Debatable.
After an general introduction, Macan sets out to demonstrate his argument about the Englishness of prog rock, through a number of different analyses of 5 landmark prog albums (by Yes, Genesis, ELP, Floyd, etc). The importance of the artwork of albums and the theatrical sets at live gigs is rightly dealt with. The book provides good reviews of the different musical approaches and influences employed, and why these bands "progressed" rock along. The book finishes with a review of the state of play in this musical genre up to the early 90's, with some enthusiasm shown for the likes of Djam Karet.
In probability, Rocking The Classics was not intended to provide a comprehensive overview with musical theories of the subject nor it broad history - other books are around which attempt this with less success. Especially from my viewpoint as a Brit who grew up during the early days of progressive rock, I have to ask why the early American contribution to the genre is hardly touched. I would have like to seen something about Vanilla Fudge (who influenced Nice, and so ELP and indirectly Led Zeppelin), even something about the experimental work of the Electric Prunes. The omission of the Californian band Touch, who influenced Yes and Genesis, suggests the research was less thorough than it might have been. Here and there statements annoy, such as with "Allan Holdsworth is a typical Canterbury guitarist" - which is nonsense when there was no such being as a typical Canterbury guitarist - Steve Hillage, Kevin Ayers, Phil Miller, Andy Summers, Holdsworth and the others are distinctly different from one another.
Nevertheless, for new comers who have ignored the prolonged UK media tirade against prog and want to know more, this is a pretty good starting point.
R.J. Heath 3/5 22.11.2000 (Amazon)

An Academic Thesis?
Rocking the Classics is written very much in the style of an academic textbook, and like many of these appears to be the re-workings of a PhD thesis. Which is surprising given the subject of the book but one for which admirers of the genre should be please about, as 'progressive rock' (whatever that may be as Robert Fripp has asked!) has in the UK become almost a term of abuse! Despite this attitude, the musical style still has many followers, and not just those like myself having hit 60 and so lived through the period being analysed.
But what of the book?
As I have learnt over the years, when confronted with such a volume take a look at an area you know something about and then see if it matches your knowledge (or does it correct something you have misunderstood over the years!)
There are a few things in this that are incorrect, but many of these are I feel is because a new, updated edition would be in order. For example, the discussion on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here lacks the information of books that have been published, and interviews that have taken place, in recent years (it also gives no credit to the fact that on Pink Floyd's Have A Cigar off that recording is sung by Roy Harper which has an important bearing on the analysis of the song.)
The book covers what could be probably described as the 'golden age' of progressive music (it still seems the only term that we have to cover such music), and so it will be of most interest to those of us who know a lot of the works discussed well (owning and still listening to many of them), younger potential fans or newcomers to the genre will probably lose interest unless they have been inspired to seek out such music (my sixteen year old granddaughter fits this category having begun an interest in King Crimson, where as her thirty-five year old step-mother admitted to me that she had no idea what progressive music or prog rock was!)
Martsirt 4/5 23.06.2013 (Amazon)

A Ground Breaking Work on Adventurous Music!
...Macan's work really is an eye-opener on how to view progressive rock. It establishes a theoretical framework (no panic, easy reading;-) in a rather entertaining style on the whole genre. Having read the Neo Marxian professor Bill Martin's work on prog, it was comforting to discover that Macan has a different approach than the alienating phrases and angles of the professor (whose book also is worth reading, though).
Macan shows that he understands well how any work on prog has to look both at the music, the cover art and the lyrics. He even attempts a sociology of progressive rock. Even if he may be a bit too insistent on the influence of Anglican Church Choirs and drugs on parts of prog (he of course also find several other influences), he manages extremely well to track the impact of the late sixties' various Counter Cultures on the music scene.
Perhaps the outstanding part of the book is Macan's ability to combine a musical analysis (most work on prog - especially the negative ones - manages in mysterious ways to avoid saying meaningfull things about the music) with a cultural study.
For people interested in adventurous music Macan's book is a must. Hopefully someone in the future will make an even better book (and with some alternatives to Macan's perhaps too critical views on progressive rock after the 70's), however so far this is undoubtedly the best on progressive rock.
The only other comparable book - in the sense of combining a cultural with a musical analysis -is Ian MacDonald's "Revolution in the Head". These two books stand definitely head and shoulder above others on popular music.
Bjrn Are Davidsen 5/5 07.04.2001 (Amazon)

Essential reading material - very wise book
I've read almost every prog-rock book ever published, and this still stands out as the best one out there. Macan really did his homework, and his observations are spot-on. The clear writing style, the methodical analysis and the deep observations contribute to a very serious piece of work, which although not perfect, was very important when it was published.
I don't mind the fact that the book is very UK-centric. Other prog-rock countries are important (Italy, France, Germany, Holland) but everybody knows that prog-rock was born in England.
The only real problem with the book is the narrow scope (70's and 80's). Prog-rock's revolutions in the 90's (prog-metal and such) were ignored, or just not understood yet.
Still, I would recommend this to anyone who wants to understand progressive rock as unique genre.
Uri Breitman 5/5 04.06.2013 (Amazon)

Informative, but technical and dry
Macan's book is informative compared to some others, but it's also dry and highly technical. His comparisons of four progressive-rock masterworks are unlikely to add much to what fans know already. But Macan is pretty solid on the rise and fall of progressive rock -- some of the factors that led to it's popularity, and also a few of the reasons for it's downfall in the late '70s and early '80s. And you thought prog faded just because the music was pretensions and silly! Wrong....
Tracy Deaton 3/5 06.05.2014 (Amazon)

Comprehensive review of prog-rock...
Missing some key elements so probably not the best of its kind...
Daniel Staniforth 4/5 17.10.2018 (Amazon)

Not as good as I'd heard
After all the kudos on places like Progressive Ears I guess I was expecting more. This book won't have much that's new for seasoned Prog fans. And while the title does make it clear that this book covers only British bands, it's a shame because the huge and important German and Italian Prog scenes, not to mention the smaller but still important French and U.S. scenes get very short shrift.
The author way over-uses the term "massive." Every chord, note, whatever is described as "massive" which started giving me a massive headache. For a book of this price I would expect better than black and white pictures of horrible quality (they look like copies of copies of copies...very unprofessional.) Also, physically this book is strange, there's some sort of annoying "paper dust" on every page, and I mean all over every page. I found myself keeping a paper towel nearby to wipe my hands on constantly. Again, very unprofessional, and one expects better for this price.
This book really only appeals to those who are interested in the "Big 6" ; Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELP, Jethro Tull and King Crimson plus some of the 2nd tier groups like Van der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant. But it has little to tell that fans of those bands already know.
Having quite a bit of knowledge of music theory, I had no problem with the author's rather pretentious (for the sake of it) language, but others may want to beware.
All in all, a disappointment.
WhatWhatWhat? 2/5 27.05.2011 (Amazon)

Excellent overview of 1970's English progressive rock
This is a remarkable book. Macan appears to have done meticulous and exhaustive research, and additionally offered thoughtful insight and analysis into the music and the surrounding social forces in which it thrived. Once of the best books I've read about progressive rock, or music history generally - highly recommended.
Ken Sorensen 5/5 21.12.2011 (Amazon)