Film composer Éric Serra is probably best known for his work with French filmmaker Luc Besson; however in 1995 he got the chance to score a James Bond film. GoldenEye is an iconic and important Bond film for several reasons… it’s the first to feature Pierce Brosnan in the role, the first Bond film made after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and its video game adaption would become one of the most iconic video games of all time.
The film was well received by both critics and the public, and is still considered by many to be one of the better Bond films that was not derived from any of Ian Fleming’s writings. One component of the film that wasn’t accepted with loving arms was the original score by Serra. The score was completely different from any Bond soundtrack before, or after it. Comprised of heavy synth with limited orchestration sprinkled throughout, critics felt the score didn’t serve the film properly. Richard von Busack famously wrote that the score was “more appropriate for a ride on an elevator than a ride on a roller coaster.”
Perhaps I’m biased because it was my favorite Bond movie growing up, and I played the video game endlessly until my eyes practically bled, like so many other people did. Whatever the case may be, I love Serra’s score. I think it’s one of the best scores a Bond film has ever had. I don’t care if the analog synth textures sound dated and corny, I think it holds up remarkably well. I recently revisited the score after I got thinking about it from playing the video game. Of any Bond film I’ve seen, that score stands out the most.
That deep-sea sonar echo, the brilliantly garish synth horn blasts. It is very much of its time, and yet it works so well. Imagine John Carpenter scoring a James Bond movie, and this is what you’d get. By listening to the Overture you can get the best summary of all the different musical themes and motifs at work. While many critics tried to claim that Serra failed to connect his music to any of the previous Bond movies, you’ll hear plenty of familiar Bond themes throughout the score. They’re repackaged and reconfigured, but still present. On top of reworking those classic musical melodies, Serra manages to create entirely new moments which have now become iconic to those who are familiar with the score.
For the orchestral purists, there’s even some gorgeous string work to be found. I’ll post a link to my favorite bit alongside the Overture below. On top of all these typically conflicting elements, Serra sneaks in some Eyes Wide Shut-inspired choir chants in Russian, to enforce the image of a dissolving Soviet empire. Contrary to popular opinion, I think no other Bond score has better serviced its accompanying film, and no other Bond score has ever given its parent movie such a unique, distinguished identity. Anyway, I’ll include some samples below, but the whole thing is on Spotify should you be curious enough to steam the rest, which I encourage you to if you find the time!
To say Steve Hackett has lived a musician’s dream would be an understatement. His career spans nearly half a century, and boasts a plethora of accomplishments. With Genesis, he contributed to the creation and definition of the progressive rock genre. Appearing on six studio albums, his creative input would prove crucial to the band’s iconic sound and legacy. An equally impressive solo career lies beyond his time with Genesis, including collaborations with some of the most renowned rock musicians of our time. Never one to compromise, he has continuously refused the confines of one particular style of composing, and has consistently pushed himself to explore and expand as an artist.
At a spry 66, he shows no sign of slowing down. After two successful legs of his Genesis Revisited tour (which spanned from 2013 to 2015), Hackett has returned to North America to tour a retrospective of his entire career. I had the privilege of talking with him prior to his show in San Francisco. Here is a transcription of our conversation:
Connor Strader: Your current tour is called Acolyte to Wolflight, which are the albums that bookend your solo career. How do you go about summarizing a nearly 50 year career in one setlist?
Steve Hackett: It was the 40th anniversary of Acolyte last year, and so I was celebrating that with the same set that we’re doing at the moment. And you’re quite right, it’s bookending. Wolflight, the current album, is highlighted at the same time as the Acolyte material. We break it down into two sets: there’s a solo set, and then we take a break before coming back with the Genesis set. It’s several bands at once really, since it covers the entire career span.
CS: And it’s quite a diverse career span.
SH: Other than to broadly describe myself a rock musician, my allegiance isn’t to any one particular genre of music. I’ve worked outside of rock; I’ve sometimes worked in classical music or in blues and jazz. So I’ve crossed over into various styles, and right up to the present day. I’m experimenting with something I’ve never done before, which is flamenco playing. For the new album, which we’re working on at the moment in parallel to everything else, there’s some very fiery flamenco work which I’m particularly proud of. I think the finest rhythm guitarists in the world are flamenco players. I think that’s what’s interesting. Never mind the extraordinary salvos, or the extremely fast playing they can do; it’s the way that they use the acoustic guitar as a percussion instrument in their hands. I’m trying to use that with an aspect of rock. Not to the point where it would please a flamenco purist, I’m not trying to do that by any means – but it’s a color and it’s an energy that I can dip in and out of – it’s style hopping. It’s always been a pangenre approach for me. Even in the early days with Genesis I was interested in a band that could sound powerful and tell stories, but could also be acoustic and poignant.
CS: That dynamic is something I’ve been interested in asking you about because the first album I heard your playing on was Nursery Cryme. And I find that to be an interesting record because when you joined the group, I feel that they gained an edge that wasn’t present or fully expressed on Trespass. You added a really heavy sound to the band. Songs like “The Musical Box” or “Return of the Giant Hogweed” – for 1971, those songs are really out there. There’s a dynamic of loud-to-soft, and I’ve wondered how much of that was your doing. Did you enter the band with the intent of attempting something different from what had already been done before you?
SH: Well I knew the band was capable of doing very subtle shades, but I didn’t feel that they had a powerful edge live. I felt there was potential there and that I could steam in and scream in at moments. I had an overview that I might be able to function in Genesis in the way perhaps Pete Sinfield functioned with King Crimson. In other words: he was part of the band but he wasn’t part of the band – and by not being part of the band, he wasn’t limited to the band’s politics. I was invited to join as a full time member [of Genesis] but I imagined myself only staying for one year; do one album and then leave. It’s amazing how those plans got changed as we started to develop, and certain elements came into play. I always felt that the presentation was important. When I first saw Genesis, they really presented themselves like a folk group, and there wasn’t much emphasis on lights or equipment. It was almost like a family affair, a sit-down sort of thing. Peter Gabriel was the obvious front man. He had obvious charisma and a persona. Everyone else functioned like guys in a pit orchestra, really. And so that continued until the departure of Pete – we all sat down to play, even throughout The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. At the time that’s how we saw our role – the idea of serious musicians while Pete did the entertaining. Gradually over time, it changed. I was able to talk the band into getting a light show and a Mellotron Mark II.
CS: Which completely changed the sound.
SH: Yeah, it changed the sound and broadened the canvas. Because the band was able to make more sound, it could go from being either a rock and roll band or a folk ensemble, and at times an orchestra or a choir. In a way, that brought a certain sense of mythology to it; it gave us the capability of being able to inhabit different realms. It sounds like I’m talking about elves here, but it’s the idea of treating each song as a world unto itself. It really ought to be overwhelming – that’s what an album should be, it should be overwhelming. And you should be able to visit different worlds, and it should be a life-changing experience. That’s the ideal. But in reality, it was just a piece of plastic going around with a piece of metal being dragged through it. It’s weird how different the perception of it can be. But I was an idealist then, and I’m an idealist now.
CS: I want to talk about that some more, and Trey Anastasio touched upon this when he inducted you into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There’s something about the albums you did with Genesis, and your solo music as well – it’s very cinematic; the music is very visual itself. I think that your guitar playing is a large part of that. When I listen to a song like “Blood On the Rooftops” I envision pastoral, foggy images; grey English countryside and rain.
SH: Yes, it’s very black and white isn’t it?
CS: Absolutely, and going off on this same idea, you say in the liner notes of your most current album Wolflight that your music is often inspired by your travels. I can definitely sense that in your work because it always seems to transport the listener to a certain place.
SH: The idea of taking people places, the travel log idea, it’s not necessarily a new idea. The concept album as we know it was arguably started by Frank Sinatra doing Come Fly With Me. And he lists a description of each place and what might have gone on there – usually a love affair. In the case of non-mating ritual-oriented music, as so much of progressive music is, it tends to tell you a story and play you a film for the ear rather than the eye. Yes, the cinematic quality is very important to me. I think it helps to have a story. I didn’t really understand that when I first met Peter Gabriel, and he talked to me about the difficulty of expressing a convincing narrative. But I understand completely now, and I think even the love songs that still resonate with me from way back have that quality of placing you somewhere; either in this world or another one. I think in the case of Roy Orbison’s In Dreams and a little bit later with “MacArthur Park” and Jimmy Webb’s work, the template for what Genesis would do was there. These songs always include figures within a landscape. Whether it’s Phoenix or Galveston, it’s a place; and I love the idea that even if you’ve never visited the place, the song seems to be made much more exotic. Galveston for instance – I know nothing about it. But the interesting thing is that you have to visit the place, don’t you? The song suggests it. Maybe you’ve never been to Versailles – but if a song can capture its essence, it would make you want to visit that place… or fall in love with that woman. What is it that makes something cross over from the personal to the universal? I think these opposites are close in music. The in-built contradiction is very important to me. Like The Beatles doing “Eleanor Rigby”. What would be interesting about the last few days of an old woman’s life? And yet it’s so well done in practically two minutes. You’ve got the salvation of a forgotten life, neglect… and all these things are suggested by what the lyric leaves out. It’s an extraordinarily bleak picture that is formed, and there’s not a wasted line in the song. So, it is possible for musicians to not waste a single note. When a song works perfectly, it works perfectly.
CS: I think your playing does an excellent job of providing the moods and ideas that the lyrics exclude, or only imply. You’ve always filled in the narrative gaps with your guitar. Both with Genesis and in your solo material, I think your guitar is just as much world-building and setting an atmosphere as the lyrics are. And your style is so signature – it makes me wonder how you came upon it. You have an almost toy-like quality to your playing. How did you discover those sounds?
SH: I notice most of the time electric guitarists do what sounds good on the guitar. But there’s another way of looking at it. If you listen to the early work of The Ventures, The Shadows, and Duane Eddie from the era when guitars did not sustain and it was a percussion instrument – instrumentalists were forced to have a melodic approach. Then the instrument began to develop sonically within blues and R&B. You had sustain, you had feedback. Rock and Roll, all of that… simple and very exciting. But in general I’ve found, and I still do, that when I’m listening to a rock record, guitarists tend to move toward familiar shapes and avoid melody lines that are normally given to the singers. Guitarists seem to want to wail, fire off salvos, and do the sonic equivalent of a gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Guitars are great at that because they’re alive and tactile instruments, but I had the idea that it could occasionally sound like a violin or a distant voice. Often in Genesis, I was forced to come up with non-heroic playing in order to have something relevant for electric or acoustic guitar to do. And in Genesis you had the core unit of Collins, Rutherford and Banks. They’d come up with things that sounded like finished pieces of music, and I’d have to make some difficult decisions. I could double the bass, but that would be orchestral thinking, you know? In other words the brass joins the bowed bass or the cellos. Or I could play part of the topline coming from the lead chords played by Tony. I would be forced to do something extremely subtle at times, unless I got the chance to provide lead work. So I had to think in terms of these other instruments that the band did not possess.
CS: And what led you to developing playing techniques like sweep picking and double-handed tapping?
SH: They all just seemed natural to me. Sweep picking is rather the same as what a violinist does when they’ve got a fixed position and are rocking over the strings and arpeggiating. Tapping is really just using the fretboard as a keyboard, virtually. Hammering on and pulling off. You can play lightning fast like that, it’s actually not hard. It’s a very responsive way of working. And so then you find that speed is not an issue, if you want to nail your colors to that particular mast. But what people tend to remember is the quality of a melody line – a romantic melody line.
CS: A lot of your music tends to have a romantic quality to it, especially what you contributed to Wind & Wuthering and Selling England By the Pound. What comes to my mind is the solo you have in “Firth of Fifth” which is a very spiritual, romantic solo.
SH: It’s a funny thing that, isn’t it? It’s Tony’s melody so I can’t claim any credit for that, but the interpretation of it I think is part of what makes arrangement important. The ability to arrange a song to the point where you can create a complete rescue package – I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad melody, by no means. I’m thinking of George Martin’s work on “I Am the Walrus”, where if you hear the original, you might dismiss it as a doodle; and yet suddenly it becomes this extraordinary cartoon-like thing, with pastiche and romanticism… All songs can be filled with this sort of stuff.
CS: You seem to know where to lay your guitar work within a song. For example, in “Fountain of Salmacis” there’s this very angelic keyboard chord sequence towards the end, and when your guitar comes in with the solo it really brings the song to another level.
SH: That and the “Firth of Fifth” solo are probably the most melodic electric guitar parts I did with the band. We happened to be rehearsing Nursery Cryme in a cottage in the country in 1971. It was an idyllic setting, on a summer’s night and all that. We had been jamming away at midnight when suddenly that bit came into focus. I started playing a solo over Tony’s chords, and it felt to me like a new area in music that hadn’t quite been touched on before – it was the most amazing feeling at the time. I improvised it at first, and then refined it. And the same thing goes for the “Firth of Fifth” solo. I was thinking about a previous band I’d been in (Quiet World) with three guys who had grown up in South Africa. They came back to England, and their father was a medium. He used to send tapes over of him virtually speaking in tongues, and taking on the persona of different characters. One of the ideas he’d talk about in this trance-state was a sea with a bird flying high above it – and I took that on board with me with the “Firth of Fifth” solo. There’s a long sustain note that comes into play so that the whole thing almost takes on the idea of stasis, or something floating. There’s a build up to that moment, and it’s one of the moments that works best. We’ve been closing the show with it, in fact.
CS: It’s a big moment.
SH: It’s a big moment, yeah. It’s a payoff. We were trying to explore thick dark textures that previously only orchestras had been privy to, and I’m always trying to think of new ways to do that now. Trying to invent my own colors. How do you do that? That’s the challenge.
CS: With the new record Wolflight, I feel you do achieve that. It shifts gears from track-to-track, but not in a way that feels jarring at all. It’s as if everything you’ve done previously has been working up to this album in some way.
SH: Yeah, it’s got a lot of things in it that I’ve tried to do before. If ever I’ve tried to get a cinematic quality into an album, this is the one that does it most successfully, I think. Part of that comes from using orchestral instruments – whether it’s the real thing or sampled, I’ve used both. But again, ever since I heard the Mellotron way back in the day, I was blown away that you could have something that could sound a little bit like a string section – but you might be receiving it from a TV channel on Mars; almost as if something has been lost and you have this cold, Frankenstein facsimile coming back at you. And sometimes we do use Mellotron because we want the strings to sound like that.
CS: I think that the Mellotron is so much a part of 70s progressive rock. It became such a crucial component of the Genesis sound with songs like “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready”, so I can understand your love for it. It’s got this alien, other-worldly vibe.
SH: It does, and you can work within the range of it, or outside the range. For instance, we were using Mellotron flutes recently much slower than it normally goes. Then you start getting alto flute Mellotron. You can slow down all the instruments to half speed. There’s all of these other parameters it has, meaning you don’t necessarily have to use something in its prescribed form.
CS: And going back to the new record, it seems now more than ever people are interested in your music, and coming out to see your shows. It must feel great touring behind a new album and having people be so receptive towards it.
SH: It’s marvelous! I think it’s partly because I’ve tried to appeal to fans of Genesis who might feel disenfranchised by what the band became. I think once the band had success as a singles-oriented band, and I don’t think I’m saying anything pejorative here because they were obviously very well done and slick, and admirably well-received. But the early stuff, which is less slick, is a bit more like an oil painting that hasn’t quite dried – as opposed to a poster. And the fact that the oil painting hasn’t dried yet is the reason I’m still putting it in front of the public and saying, ‘That’s what you liked, isn’t it? That’s what I liked too.’ I liked it then, and I still have that same relationship with that music. So it still feels very much alive. And the ethos of the band at that time, which would virtually take on anything, was the right way to go. For any band, for any writer, for any creative person – you don’t have to think within the box, you can think outside of it. Change the rules of the game. Of course if you’re sticking to long solo, then you’re into what happened in the 70s. But assuming radio isn’t going to play you anyway, it’s awfully liberating to think outside the confines of FM and singles. I’ve had hit singles, but that’s not the motivating force. I don’t want to go out and just do the hits. What I really want to do is to take out the glorious experiments; to take out the test tubes. And it never gets finished really, I’m still in the lab.
The year is 1998. The charts are dominated by boy bands and pop stars. Most rock and roll comes in the style of Brit pop or grunge. In Sweden, six musicians decide now is the perfect time to record and release a 16 track psychedelic, space rock album. As if that weren’t ballsy enough, they also decide to call the album Extended Revelation for the Psychic Weaklings of Western Civilization.
The band I speak of is The Soundtrack of Our Lives. If you’re not familiar with their work, then I hope to use this blog piece to shed some light on what is one of the most underrated and misunderstood bands in rock history.
I’ve decided to talk about Extended Revelation because it is such an anomaly of its time. The record picks up where the group’s (also fantastic) debut left off, and steers their sound into darker realms of psychedelia. Regardless of this new experimentation in style and tone, the songwriting remains the top priority; and that’s the key here.
The group have always boasted an impressive collective of songwriters, and the partnerships of Lundberg/Person and Lundberg/Bärjed have been more consistent than the likes of Jagger/Richards. I’m serious! Just listen to the music. Extended Revelation (and the rest of the band’s discography) is fucking good, from start to finish. There’s so much variety over the 16 included tracks; it’s truly astounding. No other band before or after have managed to explore so many styles and vibes on one record, while retaining such a high standard of quality. There’s no fat to be found on Extended Revelation.
One can space out to the Pink Floyd stylings of “Psychomantum X2000” before rocking out to the Stones-like “Safety Operation.” There are epic sermons (“Black Star”, “Jehovah Sunrise”), and intimate, poignant ballads (“Love Song #3105”, “From Gravity to Gold”). My personal favorite track, “All for Sale”, begins slowly before crescendoing into a stunning vocal round. Intricate melody is to be found everywhere, and the musicianship belongs in a class of its own. You’d be hard-pressed to find modern rock musicians who are more capable at their instruments than the members of TSOOL.
Most importantly, Extended Revelation was a brave album to release in 1998. It represents a group of rock artists who were more than willing to laugh in the face of convention. I can’t think of many current rock acts who would be bold enough to do the same. Regardless of commercial success and publicity, it is a band’s body of work that speaks volumes to their true impact. TSOOL leaves behind one hell of a legacy; to be discovered and appreciated by generations of listeners (both human and not) for eons to come.
I bought a CD copy of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway from my hometown’s local record store sometime in what must have been late 2007. I was still riding the high of having seen Genesis live with my best friend and decided it was time to buy everything the band had ever released. I knew a handful of songs from The Lamb, but had never heard the album in its entirety before. I didn’t have an iPod yet, so I was forced to carry around a gawky Walkman CD player in order to listen to it on the go.
I distinctly recall this conversation I had with a friend of mine’s mother at the time:
“Is that a Genesis CD you’ve got there?”
“Yeah, it’s great! The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway!”
“Which one is that, again? What were the singles off it?”
“Er – Uh, ‘Counting Out Time’?”
*look of confusion/disdain*
It must have been November when I was first hearing it. Strange to think that 41 years ago, on this date, the record was first released. I can’t help but feel I’m late to the party. This post should have arrived a year sooner, on the 40th anniversary. Ain’t that just the way things go?
When I first experienced The Lamb, I remember feeling odd. It’s an unquestionably colder album than those that came before it. Goodbye to the pastoral Victorian English countryside, and hello to the callous triptychs of a Lewis Carroll-inspired New York City. That very tone is set from the packaging alone. Every release prior had been adorned with a hand-painted image, rife with vibrant colors. The Lamb swapped that trend for a grim, black and white graphic – designed by the legendary Hipgnosis.
It has taken me years to make sense of the damn thing, too. A 15-year-old in 2007 doesn’t necessarily know who the hell Caryl Chessman is and doesn’t immediately pick up on lyrical allusions to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve dissected every sinew of The Lamb; I’ve read every existing essay and review. I’ve gone on to absorb each related interview with the band members themselves. Gabriel has been adamant about not going into too much detail about the meaning behind the album’s concept and insists that each listener develop their own unique interpretation. I’ve always admired that. Nothing is worse than establishing your own personal meaning to a story, only to have its author tell you you’re wrong. It takes all the fun out of trying to determine what it means when Rael (the album’s central character/narrator) comes across a dilapidated town inhabited by rubbery STD-people.
There’s a lot of teenage angst being exorcised within the lyrics. Rael is a sex-depraved, angry young man who is being forced to confront his lesser half in order to better himself, and that directly relates to my time in high school. Whether I understood the words or not, I could relate to the venom in Gabriel’s shouts, and the frustration in Steve Hackett’s guitar work. I could unravel my own existence in the sawing buzz of Tony Banks’ synth, and in the rhythmic improvisations of Phil Collins. Perhaps angriest of all is Mike Rutherford’s bass playing – channeled through every fuzz effects pedal known on earth.
It’s a mammoth of a record. It features some of the best lyrics Gabriel has ever written, along with some of the finest playing from each respective band member. It captures a band firing on all creative cylinders, perpetually climbing for the stars.
It is fitting that the finale of the album is “It“. On this track, Gabriel proclaims: “It is here/it is now.” He never gets around to telling us what It actually is. But going back to what I was saying earlier, maybe that’s left to the listener to decide.
It is the soundtrack to my teenage rebellion. It is the soundscape that continuously enthralls my imagination. It is an undying creative inspiration. And today, It is 41 years old. Happy Birthday. – Connor
Connor – So we got the idea to do this discussion piece about U2 after briefly talking about how the band comes under a strange amount of criticism, particularly from our generation. I can’t tell you how many people in my social sphere have lashed out against U2 or Bono to me, and I’m just not sure it’s at all validated or warranted. I think the negative criticism from our generation specifically comes from early exposure to satirical pieces like South Park, and a general disliking for anything that originates earlier than 2010. Maybe I’m being too harsh.
Stevie – I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that the band’s personas have overtaken their music. You mentioned the South Park episode that features Bono and I agree that press like that doesn’t exactly help. However, I feel like Bono has built himself into a celebrity figure that can’t avoid that kind of attention.
Look at The Rolling Stones. U2 and The Stones are arguably the two biggest bands in the world. The difference between the two is that The Stones have a legacy that is respected by a younger audience because its based on their music. Mick and Keith may have had their fair amount of press in the past, but nowadays you rarely see them hobnobbing with political figures and celebrities.
Connor – That’s a good point. Also, I think there’s a certain misunderstanding when it comes to Bono’s intentions. He’s constantly donating money to numerous charity organizations, and a big part of his public image is related to his humanitarian work. I mention that only because to some people it might come off as something he does to make himself look good, but I think that’s a seriously misguided misinterpretation of who he is. He didn’t have the best childhood or upbringing, he came from nothing and came into a position of fame and power and he’s simply trying to do the best with that power. Why are we hating on a guy who donates millions to help make the world a better place? Most rock stars wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing.
Stepping away from defending the band as people, why don’t we begin to defend them as artists.
Stevie – Well, I know we’re both fans of their latest album, but another problem is that they haven’t really created an album for people who aren’t U2 fans. The last time U2 had a ubiquitous hit was in 2004 with “Vertigo” and its parent album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. That was over a decade ago meaning we were around 11 or 12. I don’t know how you feel about No Line Left on the Horizon, but I think we can both agree that it wasn’t exactly a hit by U2 standards and it definitely didn’t have a string of hit singles like How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’s “Vertigo”-”City of Blinding Lights”-”Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”. Regardless of the overall quality of No Line… and Songs of Innocence, both of those albums haven’t had a single to grab people who aren’t already U2 fans. I think if they had a big, undeniable hit more people our age could get on board.
Connor – Right, you couldn’t avoid “Vertigo” when it first came out, due in part to that being Apple’s flagship song for their big iPod advertising campaign. It was all over the radio, and people loved it. But maybe you’re right. Maybe U2 has stopped making records for everyone. Songs of Innocence is not a very accessible album, and I have to admit that it took a few listens before I really started to get into it. They keep searching for ways to reinvent themselves, hence why I think they went about releasing that album in the way they did. But all of that is a publicity stunt, and doesn’t speak for the music itself.
Given that their last hit record was 10 years ago, they’ve since become “outdated” and “irrelevant” to most people of our generation. What these people fail to realize is the massive influence U2 continues to have on a majority of the popular and hip music the kids are all listening to today. There would be no Arcade Fire, no Muse, no Radiohead even, if it weren’t for U2. Look no further than Arcade Fire’s Reflektor record. They’re not the first band to abandon their usual style in favor of a more dance-friendly musical approach. They’re also not the first band to embrace arena rock-ready, larger-than-life sounds. U2 in many ways has defined the arena rock band. They are larger-than-life. And they have the fucking tunes to back it up. I just saw them on their current tour, and what blew my mind was how great nearly every song on the setlist was. And this is just absolute fact, there’s no denying their greatness. No opinion involved here. I mean really fucking think about the quality of songs this band has in their catalog.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“With or Without You”
“Where the Streets Have No Name”
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
“I Will Follow”
“Pride (In the Name of Love)”
“New Year’s Day”
Not to mention the countless deep cuts that in my opinion are as good as a decent number of the hits. The power of these tunes cannot be denied, and I challenge anyone from our generation to find a band that has produced a string of tunes comparable to that one.
I could almost guarantee that “One” alone would trump most band’s entire catalogs today.
To round this out, Stevie and I are gonna pick two songs from the band that people should give a listen to if they feel up to it.
Stevie – Beautifully put. I’m glad you brought up the point that the irony lost on many is that these majorly successful indie bands owe a lot to U2. They broke a lot of ground and constantly redefined themselves.
My pick is “Lemon” from the deeply underrated Zooropa.
My favorite U2 era is 90s U2 because they’re constantly fighting against their own commercial sensibilities while embarking on massive stadium tours around the world. Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop are three widely diverse albums that see U2 bringing in electronica, dance, and experimental influences and almost altogether forgoing their classic Joshua Tree sound. Zoo TV, Zooropa’s tour, is widely regarded as one of their most impressive. You only need to look at the diverse line-up of opening acts to see where U2’s heads were at the time: PJ Harvey, Big Audio Dynamite, Bjork, Pixies, Public Enemy, and a reunited Velvet Underground.
Connor – My pick would be “Bad” from The Unforgettable Fire. I’m sure seasoned U2 fans are already largely familiar with this track, but most casual listeners have never heard it before, or never really paid it much attention. Give it a listen here. DO IT NOW!
I’ve been reading the many tributes to Chris Squire of Yes online, and felt compelled to write one myself. The music of Yes has had an immense and profound influence on my life from the moment I heard it. Squire didn’t just play the bass, he mastered it. He made the instrument his own, and took it to sonic landscapes it had never traveled to before.
The first Yes album I ever listened to was Close to the Edge. I had been yearning for new progressive rock music to listen to, and through the suggestion of a friend I checked this record out. I had never really listened to Yes before. I had heard most of Fragile and admired it, but never really took the time to sit down and actively hear the music. The first time I heard “Close to the Edge” I was moved to tears. I had never heard a song so beautiful in my life. My friend Matt had suggested that record because he considered it to be the greatest progressive rock album of all time; I wouldn’t disagree with him. Yes elevated prog music to an entirely new realm of spirituality; and found soul not only in the lyrics, but in the music as well. Chris Squire was a key component of that soul. His bass not only complimented the composition, it also fought against it. If ever there was a “lead bass” player in a band, it would be Chris Squire. The melodies he created were as memorable as any lead guitar or keyboard line. He could be thunderous and violent one moment, serene and benevolent the next.
He by no means lived a short life, and yet it seems he was taken much too soon. His music and soul live on within the same hearts he so frequently inspired while he graced this universe. Yesterday was really tough. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so personally effected by the loss of a musician. Today has been a bit easier, if only because the legacy of so much incredible music has been left behind. New generations will come to discover and explore that legacy. I find comfort in that thought, and even more comfort in continuing to enjoy and explore Chris Squire’s incredible gift to this world. I’m beyond grateful I was able to meet him and see him play live while he was still with us.
When I first read that Chris had passed, music came before sadness. Before I felt the heartache, I heard his music.
Childlike soul dreamer, one journey, one to seek.
And see in every light do open, true pathways away.
Carrying closer go gently, holding doors.
Will open every way, you wander through pathways away.
After all your soul will still surrender. After all don’t doubt your part, be ready to be loved…
Progressive Rock has never been cool. Even when it was cool it wasn’t cool. Like Heavy Metal, anyone who listens to it is a complete pariah on every level. Social misfit, outcast, weirdo. It comes with the territory. That doesn’t stop prog from being great!!! I think fans identify with the genre because it presents an alternative way of thinking and feeling. A pop song can take three minutes to say “I love you,” while a prog song takes ten. Something about that extended length forces more retrospection. The moods and thoughts of the song feel more warmly explored as opposed to coldly calculated. This is why I love this genre. Anyone who knows me is well-aware that I never shut the fuck up about it. It’s just so damn epic! One song can be jam-packed with so many musical and lyrical concepts! What’s not to love?
So I’ve decided to compile a shortlist of the 5 Prog Epic Essentials. I’ll briefly (yeah right) attempt to explain what makes each tune so epic, and maybe provide some amateur insight into the meaning behind them. This list is in no specific order, and is in no way meant to denote any amount of superiority from song to song.
1. Supper’s Ready – Genesis
Don’t even know where to begin with this one. If anyone were to ask me what “Supper’s Ready” is about, I’d tell them it’s the history of the world in a song. 23-minutes of sprawling epicness. This song defined epic. In reality, the song is intended to be a massive meditation on the battle between good and evil, as told in seven different sections. It would come to define what prog was all about: tempo changes, intricate movements, insane solos, excess. It presents 5 musicians, all at the height of their game, playing/singing for their lives. It’s a tune that feels like an experience, as if you’ve just gone on some wild adventure or journey through time and space. It’s absolutely mad in the best of ways, and will have you scratching your head long after it’s over. I don’t feel like I can do it much justice, so just listen to it. Explore it yourself, or miss out!!!
2. Close to the Edge – Yes
‘A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace.’ This is the opening line to one of the greatest prog epics ever written. Like Genesis on Foxtrot, the 1972 classic record Close to the Edge is Yes at their best. Bruford, Wakeman, Anderson, Howe, Squire. Those names in the same breath is a prog fan’s wet dream. In my opinion, this the definitive Yes record, and definitive Yes song. It’s the best record they ever made, and could be the greatest prog song ever recorded. You’ve just got to hear it. The lyrics are strange, and it’s never really quite clear what they’re about. Anderson has said the following on the subject of the song’s meaning: “It’s all about your higher self eventually bringing you out of your dark world.” The musical passages certainly reflect that sentiment. If I can be a little serious for a moment here, I’d like to comment that Yes has always been a spiritually comforting band for me. Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m one of the most anxious, paranoid people to walk the earth. Yes has been a band that has always been there to remind me that it’s all good. Everything is okay. Things have a way of working themselves out.
This track is in a similar vein as “Supper’s Ready.” It takes you on a spiritual journey that leaves you feeling elated, and oddly comforted. This song has a strange ability to do that for me, and I hope it can do the same for you. The first time I heard it, I was moved to tears. It’s THAT powerful. See if you agree.
3. Thick as a Brick – Jethro Tull
This is another epic I struggle to find words for. In my senior year of college I actually wrote a term paper about this record because I had so much to say about it. Ironically, it was made as a parody of the genre, but was received as a celebration of it. Sick of being labeled as a prog band, Ian Anderson and company decided to make a record that would call out the genre for its excessive and pretentious nature. The plan backfired when prog fans hailed Brick as a champion of the genre. From that point on, Tull would embrace their proggy reputation and go on to work almost exclusively within the genre.
The lyrics to the album’s lone song are supposed to be the work of an 8-year old prodigy with a knack for writing epic poems. That’s right by the way, one fucking song for the entire 45-minute album. I LOVE THAT! I could go on all day about the themes explored in the song, but I already did that in a college paper. If you really want to hear my thoughts on the piece, just ask for the paper. Otherwise, figure it out for yourself. That’s half the fun of it!
4. 2112 – Rush
I feel like this only makes sense as the next step on the list of epics. I think any prog fans reading this most likely knew this was coming. I mean… how could it not be included? I’m not really sure how to explain what 2112 is all about, so let me provide you with this aptly written description of the piece via Wikipedia:
In the year 2062, a galaxy-wide war results in the union of all planets under the rule of the Red Star of the Solar Federation. By 2112, the world is controlled by the “Priests of the Temples of Syrinx,” who determine the content of all reading matter, songs, pictures — every facet of life.
A man discovers an ancient guitar and learns to play his own music. Thinking he has made a wonderful discovery that will be a boon to humanity, he goes to present the guitar to the priests of the Temples, who angrily destroy it and rebuke him for unearthing one of the “silly whims” that caused the collapse of the previous civilization. He goes into hiding and dreams of a world before the Solar Federation. Upon awakening he becomes distraught and commits suicide. As he dies, another planetary battle begins resulting in the ambiguous ending “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control.”
Do I need to say more?
5. The Invisible Man – Marillion
This choice is a bit more controversial and unexpected than the others, but I’ve thought very carefully about this selection. I assure you that I have not taken it lightly. I’m guessing most of the people who will read this will ask themselves, “Who the fuck is Marillion?” That’s a perfectly normal question to ask! The band rose to fame in the 80s as a prog rock revival act, but just as quickly faded into obscurity as the world politely made it known that they weren’t interested in that sort of revival. That doesn’t mean that Marillion hasn’t contributed some great epics to the genre, and this is one of them. This pick is also the most current of all on the list, coming from the 2004 album Marbles. The band’s sound has changed throughout their 30+ year career, and this song and respective album are a far cry from the band’s early work.
Lead singer Steve Hogarth is a bit more personal with his lyrics, and surely more direct. “Invisible Man” is a meditation on the physical and psychological frustrations that come with…well…being dumped. But of course in classic prog fashion, Hogarth doesn’t just come out and say it, he chooses a more introspective method:
If I close my eyes I can see where you live Climb the winding stairs Up to your apartment The scent of you preparing His evening meal I must watch in dread When he’s cruel to you In horrified silence As you make love I cannot lift a hand Lift a hand to stop him I don’t exist What can I do? What can I do?
The song builds and builds until it reaches its zenith. A summary of what it means to feel insignificant, ostracized, abandoned. A comprehensive guide to being a lost in another person, while you mean nothing to them. It’s heavy stuff, and the music reflects that. GIVE IT A LISTEN COME ON!