OK Computer was profoundly prog rock…
From “Paranoid Android” video, by Radiohead.
From The New Yorker:
In April, 1971, Rolling Stone reviewed the début album by a band with a name better suited to a law firm: Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The reviewer liked what he heard, although he couldn’t quite define it. “I suppose that your local newspaper might call it ‘jazz-influenced classical-rock,’ ” he wrote. In fact, a term was being adopted for this hybrid of highbrow and lowbrow. People called it progressive rock, or prog rock: a genre intent on proving that rock and roll didn’t have to be simple and silly—it could be complicated and silly instead. In the early nineteen-seventies, E.L.P., alongside several more or less like-minded British groups—King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, as well as Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd—went, in the space of a few years, from curiosities to rock stars. This was especially true in America, where arenas filled up with crowds shouting for more, which was precisely what these bands were designed to deliver. The prog-rock pioneers embraced extravagance: odd instruments and fantastical lyrics, complex compositions and abstruse concept albums, flashy solos and flashier live shows. Concertgoers could savor a new electronic keyboard called a Mellotron, a singer dressed as a batlike alien commander, an allusion to a John Keats poem, and a philosophical allegory about humankind’s demise—all in a single song (“Watcher of the Skies,” by Genesis). In place of a guitarist, E.L.P. had Keith Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who liked to wrestle with his customized Hammond organ onstage, and didn’t always win: during one particularly energetic performance, he was pinned beneath the massive instrument, and had to be rescued by roadies. Perhaps this, too, was an allegory.
Most of these musicians took seriously the “progressive” in “progressive rock,” and believed that they were helping to hurry along an ineluctable process: the development of rock music into what Jon Anderson, of Yes, once called “a higher art form.” Even more than most musicians, the prog rockers aimed for immortality. “We want our albums to last,” Robert Fripp, the austere guitar scientist behind King Crimson, said. In a literal sense, he got his wish: although the progressive-rock boom was effectively over by the end of the seventies, it left behind a vast quantity of surplus LPs, which filled the bins in used-record stores for decades. (Many people who have never heard this music would nonetheless recognize some of the album covers.) Progressive rock was repudiated by what came next: disco, punk, and the disco-punk genre known as New Wave. Unlike prog rock, this music was, respectively, danceable, concise, and catchy. In the story of popular music, as conventionally told, progressive rock was at best a dead end, and at worst an embarrassment, and a warning to future musical generations: don’t get carried away.
The genre’s bad reputation has been remarkably durable, even though its musical legacy keeps growing. Twenty years ago, Radiohead released “OK Computer,” a landmark album that was profoundly prog: grand and dystopian, with a lead single that was more than six minutes long. But when a reporter asked one of the members whether Radiohead had been influenced by Genesis and Pink Floyd, the answer was swift and categorical: “No. We all hate progressive rock music.”
It is common to read about some band that worked in obscurity, only to be discovered decades later. In the case of progressive rock, the sequence has unfolded in reverse: these bands were once celebrated, and then people began to reconsider.