Old Time Prog

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When I was in high school and college, I listened to progressive rock. Not exclusively, but a lot. Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, and especially Gentle Giant, were my jam. Later on it was Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North.

By the time I started making music “professionally,” prog had fallen very much into disfavor. Never a favorite among American critics, by 1980 prog was lumped in with “corporate rock” by punk genre purists and “authenticity” seekers. Though I never renounced the genre during those purge years, I had to sneak in anything I’d learned from it under the guise of post-punk, art-rock or quirky pop.

Johnny Unicorn is a generation younger than me, and probably faced less genre partisanship when he acquired a taste for classic prog, while also being corrupted at an impressionable age by music from the likes of They Might Be Giants, “Weird Al” Yankovic and – of all people – me. He’s developed as a songwriter a distinct style that’s an amalgam of the above and much more, retaining a fluency with progressive elaboration married to a whimsical sense of humor.

Johnny and I have collaborated on smaller projects here and there over the years. But writing “Old Time Prog” was the first time we sat down – he in Seattle, and I in LA – to write a song together. The assignment was to come up with something funny, since I was working on an album of funny songs.

I’ve always found songs celebrating genres of music ridiculous and risible. And therefore ripe for comedy. When we hit on the idea of a nostalgic genre paean to prog, we knew that was where to go. It was Johnny who convinced me that to be true to the genre, it had to be over 6 minutes long, with lots of sections. Our approach was to try to evoke the sounds, and musical and lyric styles, of certain key bands, but never to pastiche any particular songs.

Of course, prog has continued and developed in many different ways since the ‘70s. There seem to be more fans and practitioners of the genre now than there ever were back then. This song draws its inspirations from the early classic period, but is no way meant as a diss to those bringing the genre into the future. Prog on!

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