Are we entering the era of the end of real prog?
Here’s the argument:
You can kiss the mainstream culture goodbye, because there is no such thing anymore. And if there is no mainstream culture, there is no can be no real prog because there is nothing “mass culture” for it to react to. So, we’re all proggers now, insofar as no one partakes of mass culture anymore.
Need more color on that “end of mass culture” thesis?
First, while it had an enormous influence, mass culture had a surprisingly brief life. The first nationwide radio networks, the predecessors to the big three commercial networks, were born in America in the 1920s, right around the same time that Hollywood had completed building its nationwide movie chains. But mass culture has been dying since the mid-to-late 1970s, when cable TV, the VCR, and videogames first began to break the monolithic stranglehold that the three commercial TV networks had on viewers. It was around that time that the personal computer first took off, allowing early adopters to dial into the first information services such as CompuServe and early homebrew bulletin board systems.
While the Beatles were obviously influenced by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and other early rockers, we were lucky that the Fab Four came of age during a period when there was still a traditional music culture they could ransack ideas from, including Tin Pan Alley, big band swing music and crooners, and classical music (thanks to their brilliant producer/arranger, George Martin). And as Charles Paul Freund perceptively noted at Reason in 2001, by the time of Sgt. Pepper, while the Beatles “continued to use rock elements to make their music, there is almost as much British Music Hall in their later work as there is rock.”
While the Beatles leaned heavily on the music traditions of the mid-20th century, concurrently, Berry Gordy borrowed a very different show business tradition to build his musical empire at Motown. Even as it was beginning to fade as a production technique in Hollywood, Gordy used the Hollywood studio system as a model to run Motown as a business. In the studio system, the film studios signed actors to long-term contracts, gave them allocution and dance lessons, and generally groomed them for stardom. Gordy did the same thing for his artists, and supplied them with songwriters and a crack house band called “the Funk Brothers” who played on virtually every great Motown hit.
Arguably, the Beatles’ role as a benchmark for what was possible in rock music didn’t wane until the end of the 1980s, when genres such as punk rock-influenced grunge and death metal removed much of the melodic impulse from rock. Motown’s influence on the soul and disco music of the 1970s would start to end in the early 1980s, as record labels and MTV pushed rap, which eschewed melody and traditional pop craftsmanship entirely.
“It was fun watching the applecart being upset, but now where do we go for apples?”