Young persons' guide to Progressive Rock books

"Writing about Music is like dancing about Architecture"

This was the first reaction I got from Prog fans, when I told them that I wanted to start a Progressive Rock bibliography. This website is obviously a statement against this amazingly stupid and even more amazingly well known sentence. The most amazing thing about it, however, is, that it is probable, that it was a musician, who uttered it. Why is such a sentence stupid?

First of all: Why shouldn't one dance about architecture? Why limit the dancers' artistic freedom by saying 'you shouldn't dance about architecture'? In fact, Prog musicians wrote songs about architecture, such as Yes' 'Angkor Wat'!

Secondly: Why say that writing about music is senseless? Above all, writing (about anything) is communication. And how else should we reach each others minds than by means of communication? So by writing about music, an author wants to share his thoughts with us. In any case, we can learn from him and in the worst case we learn, that his thoughts are the same as ours.

So don't be too quick saying ‘why should I read a book about music, the music itself says it all!' You might even be right, but are you sure you understand ‘it all'? I'm not. And even if you are, it is only your understanding. It might not be the same as your friends' or the musicians'. That's why you discuss ‘Close to the Edge' or wether Prog was over in 1974 or in 1977 or if Pink Floyd was a Progressive Rock band. So you share your thoughts. Because the music is worth it. Like anything else. And that's why people write about music or dance about architecture.

Enough criticism. When you start reading about Progressive Rock, you will realise very quickly, that it is great to learn about the background of the music. It adds to your understanding if you know where the musicians come from, how they work together or how their songs are constructed. You might learn that changes in sound do not so much depend on changes in personnel but on changes in the writing process. You might learn that there is a single musical motive that is the key to a 15 minute song. And you might also learn, why some bands are progressive and others just sound progressive.
Which is quite an experience, I promise you!

So here's a list of eleven books that might be considered as ‘essential', which doesn't mean they are better than others. They are just the right books to start with:

  1. Asbjørnsen, Dag Erik: Scented Gardens of the Mind. A guide to the golden era of progressive rock (1968 -1980) in more than 20 european countries. Wolverhampton 2000. ISBN: 1-899855-12-2.
              (The best prog discography I've ever seen: very detailed, all of the albums are described
              - and it's a lot more than "I like this album" - and there's a HUGE amount of albums there.
              Caution! This book does not cover the UK and Germany! Look for these countries in
              Asbjørnsen's "Cosmic Dreams at play" and in Joynson's "The Tapestry of delights".)

  2. Duxbury, Janell: Rockin' the classics and classicizin' the rock. New York 1985. ISBN: 031324605X.
  3. Duxbury, Janell: Rockin' the classics and classicizin' the rock. A selectively annotated discography. First supplement, New York 1991. ISBN: 0313275424.
  4. Duxbury, Janell: Rockin' the classics and classicizin' the rock. A selectively annotated discography. Second supplement, New York 2000. ISBN: 0738837547 (hardcover), ISBN: 0738837539 (paperback).
              (Duxbury's very informative books deal with classical references not only in Progressive Rock,
              but in popular music in general. An essential work. Duxbury's website:

  5. Halbscheffel, Bernward: Rockmusik und klassisch-romantische Bildungstradition. Berlin 2001. ISBN: 3-00-008178-X.
              (The doctoral thesis deals with the connection of Rock/Pop and classical Music.
              It also contains a chapter about "Progressive Rock und Avantgarde".
              It can be downloaded or read here. You might also want to check the author's website.)

  6. Holm-Hudson, Kevin (Ed.): Progressive Rock Reconsidered. New York 2001. ISBN: 0815337159.
              (A collection of very hetergeneous articles. Intelligent analyses are followed by absolute rubbish.
              But the good ones outweigh the others. Check my comments on the articles.)

  7. Josephson, Nors S.: Bach Meets Liszt: Traditional Formal Structures and Performance Practices in Progressive Rock. In: Musical Quarterly, vol.76, no. 1 (Spring 1992), pp. 67-92.
              (In this article, Josephson shows, how Progressive Rock Music has been influenced
              by classical music of any era. This article is most interesting, because Josephson does not
              restrict himself to adaptions and interpretations by Progressive Rock musicians,
              but focuses on their original compositions.)

  8. Joynson, Vernon: The Tapestry of delights. The comprehensive guide to british music of the beat, R&B, psychedelic and progressive eras 1963 - 1976. 3rd Edition, Glasgow 1998. ISBN: 1899855084.
              (Maybe the most detailed and best researched discography listed here. There is a great website:
              In fact, it contains the whole thing!)

  9. Macan, Edward L.: Rocking the classics. English progressive rock and the counterculture. New York/Oxford 1997. ISBN: 0-19-509888-9.
              (The book does not tell the story of prog in chronological order, but is rather thematically structured.
              Most interesting are the analyses of four pieces (Tarkus, Close to the Edge, Firth of Fifth,
              Wish you were here (the album)) and there is also a chapter on "related styles".
              It has a discography and a bibliography. There is a review of Macan's book by Mark Spicer. See below.)

  10. Pethel, Blair: Keith Emerson: The emergence and growth of style. A study of selected works. Ann Arbor 1988. No ISBN.
              (A doctoral thesis in musicology. Very detailed analyses.)

  11. Smith, Bradley: The Billboard guide to progressive music. New York 1997. ISBN: 0-8230-7665-2.
              (A very interesting discography for it contains a number of rather obscure people & bands.
              Recommended to those who like to explore new stuff.)

  12. Stump, Paul: The music's all that matters. A history of progressive rock. 2. Edition, London 1998. ISBN: 0-7043-8036-6.
              (This is a Prog history, focusing on british Prog, from the art school roots in ‘67 to the nineties.
              It also has a bibliography and a discography of what the author regards as essential Prog albums.)

  13. Wright, Jonathan: Tales from graphic oceans. A study of the role of graphic design in English progressive rock and the concept album (1967-76). Dissertation (M.A.), University of Southampton, Winchester School of Art, Division of History of Art and Design. Original typescript 1997.

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