I have always had a love for long, sweeping compositions of music. Specifically the genre of progressive rock. I think part of the appeal stems from the time period. By this I mean a two fold effect. The time period being my teenage years, when I and most of us form the lasting bonds of musical taste that will stay with us for the rest of our lives, and the actual time period it occurred in. That time period was, for me, the 1980’s.
The accessible format of the day was the cassette tape. The relative inconvenience of the cassette as compared to today was that, while portable it was time consuming to skip tracks and imprecise to find specific parts. Often this lead to simply letting an entire album play, instead of hunting for the songs you liked. You heard the whole album, not just the single. Often you came to love hundreds of songs you would never have heard on FM radio.
Another aspect of the inconvenience of the cassette format was that it was preferable to play something that you enjoyed most of the content. Enter the 15 minute prog opus. If I was engaged in an activity, be it writing a paper for school or driving somewhere, it was great to pop in a piece of music that I could just let play, and know that for the next block of time I didn’t have to think about what to listen to next.
One of my favorites of those days was Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans. This sprawling epic, while composed of different songs, or movements comes across as one drawn out musical idea. While extremely diverse, it has a unique feel throughout that doesn’t give one the sense of changing gears like a typical band’s sequence of 3 minute rocker/ballad/rocker set lists.
The benefit of the prog-rock bands was once you found something you loved, there was simply more of it. I love Van Halen’s “Hang em High”, and it’s about 3 minutes. I also love Rush’s “2112”. It’s about 18 minutes. More is more.
Many of the prog-rock epic pieces would feature lyrical sections that were separated by long stretches of instrumental composition. This always had the affect of letting me get lost in not only the music, but my own thoughts, before the singer would pull me back in to the topic at hand. This is extremely conducive to the creative spirit. If one were so inclined, purely instrumental masterpieces like the Dixie Dregs’ What if allowed the listener to both absorb the music and ponder life’s mysteries at the same time.
So I wonder if it takes more discipline in today’s streaming culture to listen to long complex forays of music? If a song doesn’t grab you, you simply hit skip and select another song. Instant gratification. I think there was, in the long run, a virtue in just hitting “play” and going along for the ride, even if at first, the only reason was it was easier than hitting “fast forward”.