Cheat Sheet: Prog Goes New Wave
by Justin Farrar | May 17, 2011
In the early 1980s, some of the best New Wave bands were actually progressive rock groups. This is a bit of an exaggeration, of course. But not totally untrue, when you think about the super-creative ways in which Yes, Rush, Phil Collins and Queen fused the two genres. Ignoring the fact that punk had declared war on the classic rock fossils of the previous decade, these musicians boldly explored synthesizers, funk-inspired dance grooves, drum machines, sound collage, wiry arrangements and icy production techniques. Some truly great music was produced in the process. The Trevor Horn-produced 90125, the wildly experimental The Game and the titanic Moving Pictures are all bona fide classics. Then there's Collins' Miami Vice masterpiece "In the Air Tonight," one of the most striking (and moodiest) pop songs of the 20th century.
Many progressive rockers embraced this brave new world so deftly because it didn't feel all that foreign to them. Though deeply inspired by punk's high energy, New Wave owes much of its sonic palette, particularly the earliest synthesizers, to mid-1970s prog and art rock (Krautrock, too). Spend time with Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom, Peter Hammill's PH7, Brian Eno's myriad productions, or the entire King Crimson discography, and you'll quickly detect the basic traits of New Wave (and, by extension, post-punk and synth-pop).
These connections can also be felt from the flip side of the coin. Talking Heads' Fear of Music (coproduced by Eno), most of The Police discography (drummer Stewart Copeland previously served time in Curved Air) and This Heat's uncompromisingly intense Deceit all contain some seriously proggy touches, particularly when it comes to the quirky rhythms these groups liked experimenting with.
And let's not forget: on August 1, 1981, at 12:01a.m. precisely, that bastion of New Wave indoctrination, MTV, came alive when it broadcasted "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. Little did most viewers know the duo were hardcore progheads who had joined Yes as full-time members a year prior.