Prior to recording their fourth album, Yes went through yet another personnel change: Tony Kaye was given the axe in favor of London's hottest keyboard player at the time. Rick Wakeman, who had just finished a musically unceremonious stretch with the Strawbs, was a Royal College of Music dropout, best known inside the studios (and pubs) of London. Yes offered him the opportunity to flaunt his talent, on the pretext that an infusion of more diverse keyboard sounds would further their music. It did indeed. With its rich vocal harmonies and catchy chorus, the album's opener "Roundabout" stands out as the quintessential prog rock tune; its crowning achievement, though, is one of the coolest bass lines since The Beatles' "Rain." It was an AM radio hit in edited form and an FM radio staple, both of which helped to propel the song to No. 13 in the US singles chart. "South Side of the Sky" displays the band's hand at heavy rock (courtesy of Steve Howe's angular guitar line), albeit with a gorgeous piano break thrown in the middle. But the second side's "Long Distance Runaround/The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" and "Heart of the Sunrise" are some of Yes' greatest moments on record. The seemingly innocuous choice of sounds committed to tape—whether it's Bill Bruford's distinct snare, Chris Squire's trebly Rickenbacker bass or one of Wakeman's many keyboards—are sonic perfection; within the prog context, it's perhaps the ultimate recording of the era's analog tones. In contrast to the rest of their catalog, Yes did more with less on Fragile. The musical ideas are by no means simple; they're exceptional. Yet the technical dexterity doesn't become lost in itself, as the deceivingly effortless execution and Spartan production create the band's most organic sounding output. One could even excuse the near-fatal inclusion of individual "ideas" (solo tracks from each member) for not destroying the continuity of the album as a whole. The album reached No. 7 in the UK, while it rose to No. 4 in the US in early 1972. It was also the first Yes album to feature Roger Dean's iconic artwork, on both the cover and the enclosed booklet. [US release date]
Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother were first introduced to each other when they joined Kraftwerk in 1971. Rother had spent the past six years in another Düsseldorf group, the covers band Spirits of Sound. As Neu!, Dinger and Rother were indeed attempting something "new," something they would call "fast-forward" music—known to the rest of the world as the "motorik beat." Their debut album, housed in a white cover with the title Neu! spray-painted on it, was produced by Conny Plank for Brain Records. "Hallogallo" bursts open and what a beat! It offers a simple 4/4 rhythm, but one that never hesitates, never turns and never slows down; it simply carries on, hurling over a sonic smorgasbord of backwards guitars and electronic effects. The statement made, the remainder of the album showcases the pair's penchant for experimentation and originality, leaving a musical legacy that was truly "neu." The album also was successful, selling a reputed 30,000 copies. The duo recorded a follow up in 1973, Neu! 2, and notoriously used recordings of their single "Super" b/w "Neuschnee" at various speeds to fill the second side after they ran out of studio time. However, Rother's other projects would keep the pair apart until their 1975 album, Neu! 75. That album would also see release on Capitol Records in the US. After that, their partnership ended. Rother would launch a solo career, while Dinger would form La Düsseldorf with his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe, both of whom appeared on the final Neu! album. An unfinished collaboration between Rother and Dinger in the mid-80s would be a source of much acrimony for the duo once it saw release in 1995 on Captain Trip.
English progressive rock was hugely popular in Italy during the early 70s, so it was only a matter of time before the Italians themselves decided to create progressive music as well. Premiata Forneria Marconi ("Award Winning Marconi Bakery") were at the forefront of this movement. Originally the beat group I Quelli, the members had enjoyed relative success in Italy as both a support band for others and as session musicians. But by the end of 1970, drummer Franz Di Cioccio, guitarist Franco Mussida, bassist Giorgio Piazza and keyboardist Flavio Premoli had formed PFM, named after the shop above their rehearsal space, and gone progressive. Multi-instrumentalist Mauro Pagani joined shortly thereafter, adding flute and violin. Their early shows were often in support of UK groups (Yes, Deep Purple) and their set included King Crimson and Jethro Tull covers. Their first album, Storia Di Un Minuto, is a brilliant statement. Although some English influences are within (most notably King Crimson), the album is uniquely Italian and PFM. The opener "Impressioni di Settembre" displays a detail quite unlike their British contemporaries. The tarantella of "È' Festa!" (my wife likes to call it "circus prog") is both lively and loopy, a testament to both their virtuosity and lightheartedness. The compositions on the second side combine many styles, but the spirited performance keeps the album as fresh as it is unique, in particular on the dramatic "Grazie Davvero." Though the album is sung in Italian, the language has a lyrical feel rendering it perhaps more familiar than foreign. Prog rock turned out to be a significant movement in Italy, as droves of Italian men began producing their own unique twists on the genre. However, few musicians—Italian, British or otherwise—would surpass the excellence of PFM.
The Strawberry Hill Boys were a bluegrass trio founded by Dave Cousins, Tony Hooper and Ron Chesterman in 1967. Sandy Denny briefly passed through the band, recording an unreleased album (1973's All Our Own Work) before joining Fairport Convention. In 1969 the band shortened their name and landed a recording contract with A&M. The Strawbs recorded two early albums with production heavyweights Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti, respectively. In 1970, Chesterman left, and Cousins and Hooper added the rhythm section of John Ford and Richard Hudson. Session-keyboard wiz Rick Wakeman, recently extricated from the Royal Academy of Music, was next to join. His debut, Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios, was recorded live at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, though his role on it was really just that of a soloist. Producer Visconti then urged the electric side of Cousins's songwriting and the resulting From The Witchwood, though still reflecting the band's folk roots, again put the band in the UK Top 40. By the time of Grave New World, Blue Weaver had replaced Wakeman. More importantly though, Cousins's songwriting had now gone progressive; it's best demonstrated here on "Tomorrow" and "New World." The album ranges from the acoustic of "On Growing Older" to the more eclectic rock of "Queen of Dreams." Cousins is a unique vocalist, his raspy voice not unlike a Peter Gabriel or Roger Chapman. The album became the band's best-selling to date, reaching No. 11 in the UK. However, boosted by the single "Part of the Union" b/w "Tomorrow" at year's end, Strawbs' next album, Bursting At The Seams, proved to be their commercial peak. Weathering some personnel changes, the Strawbs would continue with varying success until their eventual demise in 1978.
Ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks was enlisted for a (very) short stint in Blodwyn Pig before forming Flash. True to their name, Flash appeared quickly, released three albums for Capitol Records and vanished. Banks recruited vocalist Colin Carter, bassist Ray Bennett and drummer Mike Hough, with ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye filling in on their debut. The album offers exactly what you'd expect: middleweight prog rock reminiscent of the first two Yes albums; just check out "Children of the Universe." Still, Banks is a gifted guitarist and "Dreams of Heaven" showcases his considerable talent. Carter too is an original enough vocalist, though the vocal harmonies on the album are overplayed; the acoustic "Morning Haze" features Bennett on vocals. Their debut record, as well as the edited single "Small Beginnings" b/w "Morning Haze," had some chart action in the US, both reaching the Top 30. Kaye then joined Badger, with ex-Warriors bassist David Foster. Banks recorded two more albums with Flash. In The Can appeared later the same year, while Out Of Our Hands was released in late 1973. They offered neither more nor less than their debut; in fact, they may be just as well known for their "flashy" gatefold jackets from Hipgnosis. So, despite a more than capable band, Flash's songwriting would prove to be their Achilles' heel. In September 1973, Banks released his solo album, Two Sides Of Peter Banks. Largely instrumental, the album features somewhat of a prog rock who's who (with members of Genesis, Focus and Flash); but in reality, it was mostly a duet with ace guitarist Jan Akkerman of Focus. Their dueling guitar work on "Knights" and "Battles" are the standouts, in addition to the spontaneous jam "Stop That!" Flash broke up in early 1974, with Banks relocating to the US to secure a deal for his next group, the sub-par Empire.
In protest over the misconception of Aqualung (he claimed it wasn't a concept album), Ian Anderson delivered what might be the mother of all concept albums: the wryly-titled Thick As A Brick. Based on a "poem written by eight-year-old Gerald Bostock and set to musical accompaniment by rock group Jethro Tull," the album contains a single "song" spanning both sides of the vinyl. So much for the approach pioneered on Aqualung! This isn't a bunch of discrete sections strung together either; the work has considerable continuity and consistency over its sides—certainly a credit to Anderson's compositional ability-and the arrangement skill and precise ensemble playing of the band. Though former Blackpool mate Barriemore Barlow was the newcomer on drums, the album presents a core of musicians who had coalesced into a band. John Evan shines through on the Hammond organ; it's not an instrument that immediately comes to mind with the band, but no other screams "prog" louder. Of course, all the other stock Tull sounds appear, with no shortage of flute and acoustic passages. Just as important, Anderson's penchant for writing a memorable melody doesn't get lost in the massive composition: The main theme (Edit #1), with its killer hook and wry lyric, is an instant classic. The album's gatefold sported a tabloid newspaper, The St. Cleve Chronicle, which arguably remains the most elaborate record sleeve ever printed. The album immediately rose to No. 5 in the UK and No. 1 in the US. Regardless of its intent or delivery, the response to the album was extraordinary and certainly a testament to the times in which it was created. Imagine, one 40-minute-plus piece of music topping the charts. TAAB was and remains a rock milestone.
By now, Amon Düül II had settled into what would be the classic lineup of Chris Karrer on guitar and vocals, Renate Knaup on vocals, John Weinzierl on lead guitar, Lothar Meid on bass, Falk-Ulrich Rogner on keyboards and Peter Leopold on drums, with the ever-present Olaf Kübler producing. Here the band is assisted by Karl-Heinz Hausmann on keyboards, and the more permanent arrival of Daniel Fichelscher as a second drummer. Carnival In Babylon marks a turning point in AD2's musical evolution; the long psychedelic jams now yield to more composed structures, yet they always contain the band's unique musical signature and original songwriting. "C.I.D. in Uruk" opens, a potent rocker punctuated by its rousing chorus. The thematic shifts and involved arrangements are immediately evident, giving the music a huge lift towards the progressive. But the following "All ‘Round the Years" is nonpareil; emotive and with a great lyric, it's Knaup's finest hour. Weinzierl's raw guitar punctuates the left channel of both "Ballad of the Shimmering Sand" and "Kronwinkl 12" (named after their commune), while the vocals of Karrer and Knaup provide a vexing but thoroughly original tandem. This is certainly not the progressive rock of their British contemporaries; AD2's music is unpolished, edgy, even uneasy, but always rewarding. "Tables Are Turned" has a folk feel and shines with its laidback arrangement; the combination of Farfisa, acoustic guitar and Leslie-phased electric guitar is eclectic. "Hawknose Harlequin" closes the album; it's a bluesy jam driven by a fierce bass line and spooky organ, but as it paces through various themes over its near 10-minute length, it reclaims the psychedelic realms of the previous few AD2 albums.
Originally known as Kluster, the group was founded in Berlin at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in 1969 by Conrad Schnitzler and Hans-Joachim Roedelius; the two were older art students who envisioned a space for their radical and decidedly non-western "Gerausche," or noises. Most every group that would be associated with the so-called "Berlin School," including Tangerine Dream, Agitation Free, Ash Ra Tempel and Klaus Schulze, played their earliest gigs there. Kluster released a few albums for the Schawnn label, which were basically backing sound for religious texts; but when Schnitzler left for Tangerine Dream, Roedelius and fellow student Dieter Moebius connected with Conny Plank to form Cluster. Their debut album, Cluster, was released in 1971 on the Phillips label. For their second album, Cluster II, they had signed to the Brain imprint of Metronome Records and discovered song titles (versus track timings). Neither album is easy listening and they certainly have more in common with the avant-garde electronic or musique concrete of academia than anything remotely rock ‘n' roll. That said, Cluster are completely into investigating sound on their instrumental experiments. "Im Suden" has a delicate melody that twists, turns and modulates throughout the track's near 13 minutes, while "Für Die Katz" pitches high to its title's effect. "Georgel" is quite ambient, and the following "Nabitte" simply wobbles! It's industrial music, in perhaps its purest form, and certainly Plank's hand at the recording controls helped shape what's heard on record. From here, Roedelius and Moebius would join forces with Neu!'s Michael Rother and record as Harmonia.
For their third album, Gentle Giant made their first foray into the realm of the concept album; and, as such, it's one of the band's most cohesive and satisfying records. As the title suggests, Three Friends does indeed revolve around the lives of three childhood friends. All of the Giant's cleverness that one may have "acquired a taste" for on previous records is present here; yet more direct and rock steady, the six compositions reflect a bluesy, if not ballsy, performance. The rollicking "Prologue" opens, its main theme punctuated to great effect with a fat saw-tooth Moog line. In contrast, the ensuing "Schooldays" is beyond inventive, whether it's the syncopated interplay between vibes, vocals and guitar on the verse or the gorgeous piano and Mellotron in the middle section; Kerry Minnear's voice is the perfect complement for the track. Accordingly, "Working All Day" gets a little dirty; the band adds a horn section over the laidback rhythm, and the heavy breakdown features a great organ solo from Minnear. The second side ambles before exploding into the giant rocking riff of "Peel the Paint," finally digressing into a mess of drums and echo guitar (not that I'm complaining); the band bounces right back with the snappy "Mister Class and Quality?" Underneath Minnear's hard-driven organ, the track seamlessly glides into the symphonic refrain of "Three Friends." Drummer Malcolm Mortimore had joined for the album and an ensuing European tour supporting Jethro Tull; however, his time in the band was cut short due to a motorcycle accident. Further tour commitments forced the band to quickly find a replacement. The album was the first of two released in the US on Columbia Records, and with Martin Rushent producing.
Germany's Guru Guru, formed in 1968 by drummer and vocalist Mani Neumeier and bassist Uli Trepte, gave new meaning to the concept of the "power trio." Originally from the university town of Heidelberg, the band shuffled through guitarists before moving to Berlin. There they added guitarist Ax Genrich, previously in an early lineup of Agitation Free, and proceeded to take the guitar-bass-drum formula and turn the combination on its head. Loud, intrepid and thoroughly soaked in psychedelia, Guru Guru created krautrock of the highest order. Both their debut album UFO and the following Hinten—released in 1970 and 1971, respectively on Ohr—displayed not only the guitar acrobatics of Genrich, but also the similarly freaked-out playing from the rhythm section of Neumeier and Trepte. Their third record, 1972's Känguru, was the first of two albums for the Brain label, and heralded a change. Guru Guru play rock ‘n' roll in the traditional sense of the word, but in a paradoxical fashion. "Oxymoron" opens with a renewed sense of purpose. Here the band are musical explorers, turning to arrangement and improvisation over the acid-soaked sonics of their previous works. "Immer Lustig" ("Always Funny") features a Neumeier march at the start; but from there, the rock ‘n' roll goes sideways. The track leaves Genrich free to explore his progressively inventive fretwork and tones, only to shuffle it off to Trepte, then back to Neumeier and so forth. "Baby Cake Walk" sports another rockin' riff from Genrich and initially, a vocal to match. It may seem incongruous, but wherever Guru Guru are musically, and whatever idea they're currently exploring, it's all but guaranteed that they'll switch to something else the very next instant. Yet, it all works and in the most psychedelic of ways. While many groups were peers of Guru Guru's, few—if any—were as original or as psychedelic.
Formed in 1970, Hoelderlin initially occupied a unique space in German rock music, combining the influences of British folk with musical romanticism—obviously, a nod to their namesake, the 19th century German poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Formed in Wuppertal, the core of the band included the von Grumbkow brothers, Christian and Joachim, and Christian's wife, Nanny de Ruig, on vocals. Longtime members Christoph "Nops" Noppeney on viola and Michael Bruchmann on drums also joined at this point; and story has it that after just a few gigs (and at the behest of German folkies Witthüser & Westrupp), svengali Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser offered the band a chance to record an album. Their debut, Hölderlins Traum, was released on the Pilz label. Primarily an acoustic album in a folk tradition, it is an evocatively beautiful record, featuring the German language vocals of de Ruig. "Waren Wir" opens gently, but the Mellotron-led section under the quick beat highlights the electricity the band could generate. The following "Peter" is more conventional, yet the baroque melody of "Erwachen" adds a certain formality and classicism to the mix. Even over a short six minutes "Requiem fur Einen Wicht" showcases the band's extensive composition skills, while the mostly acoustic "Wetterbericht" again features the melancholic beauty of de Ruig's voice. The instrumental "Traum" is another electric and eclectic number, pointing in the direction that band would eventually follow. The album has achieved cult status since its release, and rightly so.
The Parisian-born Jean-Jacques Kravetz was classically-trained on alto saxophone at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris. In the mid-60s, he moved to Hamburg to work as a music teacher and moonlighted with folk-rockers The City Preachers on keyboards. Around the time of Frumpy's metamorphosis into Atlantis, Kravetz assembled some friends to record a solo album in Hamburg for the Vertigo label. Drummer Udo Lindenberg brought his former Mustangs bandmate, bassist Karl "Steffi" Stephan, and adds vocals to a couple of tracks. Inga Rumpf guests on "I'd Like to Be a Child Again," offering her voice and lyrics; but it's really Thomas Kretzschmer's guitar solo that steals the show. And there's Kravetz with his remarkable organ playing; not only does he have the chops, but his tone is exemplary, ranking him with the top British players. Lindenberg offers some vocals on "Ann Toomuch," while Kravetz adds a synthesizer solo toward the end. "Routes" drifts into chaos before returning on a nice groove, again with Kretzschmer providing the solo. The simple piano of "When the Dream Is Over" backs another Lindenberg vocal, while "Master of Time" is indeed masterful, and wouldn't have been out of place on Frumpy's second album. Kravetz was re-released in 1975 on the German Fontana label as 8 Days In April by The Hamburg Scene. Stephan, Kravetz and Kretzschmer would later work with Lindenberg in his Panik Orchestra; Kravetz also was a member of Randy Pie and, from 1977 on, Peter Maffay's band.
Matching Mole was Robert Wyatt's post-Soft Machine group, its name a play on the French translation of Soft Machine, "machine molle." Wyatt first managed to draw keyboardist and fellow Cantabrian Dave Sinclair from Caravan, then continued to recruit a first-rate band: bassist Bill MacCormick was previously in Quiet Sun and guitarist Phil Miller came from Delivery, while Nucleus' pianist David MacRae rounded out the lineup as a second keyboardist. The debut album begins with Sinclair and Wyatt's idiosyncratic and affected "O Caroline," one of only two songs with vocals on the record. The track slides straight into the sublime "Instant Pussy," where Wyatt's voice is used in a wordless role. From there, the album is instrumental, flush with fusion-like textures that rely heavy on improvisation. There is a hint of the so-called Canterbury sound, but the playing is distinctively looser and decidedly jazzier. Of course, the performances are all first-rate, particularly on Miller's "Part of The Dance," the only composition not written by (or with) Wyatt. The album closes with the King Crimson-esque Mellotron-fest "Immediate Curtain." Unsurprisingly then, it was Robert Fripp who was called in to produce the band's second album, Little Red Record, released in October of the same year. Absent on that record were both Wyatt's writing from the composition credits and Sinclair's fuzzed-out Hammond, as the latter musician had left for Hatfield and the North. Overall, the sound on this album is heavier; the uncharacteristic "Gloria Gloom," sounding analogous to its title, features guest Brian Eno. The debut album's charming cover of a mole was replaced with an equally charming play on a Chinese communist postcard—a not-so-subtle hint at Wyatt's political future. In June 1973, Wyatt's paralysis from a fall from a fourth-floor window led to the group's end. He spent the next six months in hospital in Aylesbury recuperating.
Caravan's fourth album was a bit of a departure: Richard Sinclair brought in new keyboard player Steve Miller, previously in Delivery, to "jazz" up the Caravan sound. "Waterloo Lily," a song about a heavy-set hooker, would be one of the last songs Sinclair would sing with the band. It's a simple number, but Miller's extended electric piano solo signals the change. The next track, "Nothing at All," is extremely out of character for the band; not to its discredit though, some strong soloing by guitarist Phil Miller (Steve's brother) and saxophonist Lol Coxhill grace the number. Miller's "It's Coming Soon" is similarly blues-based. The second side is bookended by some more conventional Caravan numbers, but its highlight is the lengthy "The Love in Your Eye." In the tradition of the "For Richard" suite, the track has several instrumental sections that flow together effortlessly; and, as to be expected, some more fine soloing from the band as well. Producer David Hitchcock suggested the string accompaniment; and fortunately, Decca anted up. The album remains a somewhat controversial entry in the Caravan catalog, but is nonetheless veritable. The band toured the UK in the late spring, but both Miller and Sinclair would leave the band thereafter. A short-lived lineup with Derek Austin on keyboards and Stuart Evans on bass toured Australia and New Zealand in early 1973, though the band was unable to complete a new album before they members moved on as well.
Italy, more than any other country represented in the timeline, produced some of the most genuine and decadent progressive rock during the early 70s. Even more obscure than the English "cult classics," only the polycarbonate and aluminum of the compact disc has allowed for these treasures—which were originally pressed in the hundreds—to be resurrected from both oral legend and obscurity. One of the prime examples is Il Balletto di Bronzo ("Bronze Ballet"). Another Neapolitan band, their debut album Sirio 2222, released in 1970 on RCA, owed much to 60s psychedelia; prog rock it certainly wasn't. However, in 1971, guitarist Lino Ajello and drummer Giancarlo Stinga added two new players to the lineup: bassist Vito Manzari and, most significantly, ex-Città Frontale keyboardist Gianni Leone. Leone quickly instigated a new musical direction for the band; the resulting album, Ys, remains one of the most revered classics of the era. A concept album about a mythical city in Breton folklore, the album consists of five movements. With a foreboding chorus, "Introduzione" unfolds to the classically-inspired organ of Leone. Halfway through the track, Manzari's bass cues up a prog rock workout that the band hammers out with a manic intensity reminiscent of Van der Graaf Generator. While the band is up to task, it's Leone's keyboards that steal the show, presenting a classic palette throughout: With organ, piano, Mellotron, Moog and spinet (similar to a harpsichord), it's an almost dissolute pleasure. Leone's Italian vocals and the female chorus are similarly discordant, as "Secondo Incontro" ("Second Encounter") attests; yet throughout the album, Il Balletto di Bronzo is heavy, dissonant, reckless, completely over the top and all the more wonderful for it. This is classic rock progressivo Italiano. The band attempted an English language version of the album; however, it never saw completion. (Decades later, two tracks were released as a CD single; in addition to the English lyrics, it features a different mix from the album). After a round of touring and a second single in 1973, the band broke up due to lack of success.
Uriah Heep, named after the Charles Dickens character, was one of the more critically-derided bands of the era. The classic quote is this: "If this band makes it, I'll have to kill myself" (Rolling Stone, Melissa Mills, 1970). Sadly, a few of the members did pass away too early: New Zealander Gary Thain in 1976, while David Byron (born David Garrett) died in 1985. Lead singer Byron and guitarist Mick Box had previously been in the Essex-based band The Stalkers, which mutated into Spice in 1967. With the arrival of bassist Paul Newton the following year, they recorded a lone single, but also signed on with manager Gerry Bron. Former The Gods' keyboardist Ken Hensley came on board during recording sessions in late 1969, at which point Spice changed their name to Uriah Heep. Recorded at Lansdowne Studios with engineer Peter Gallen (as were most of their albums), their debut album appeared in 1970, followed quickly by two more albums in 1971. Heep's sound was much closer to the heavy thunder of Deep Purple than anything strictly progressive, but their albums were original and contained epic gems such as "Salisbury" and "July Morning." During this time, the band endured several personnel changes (mainly with drummers) before settling down in 1972 with Thain (formerly with the Keef Hartley Band) on bass and Lee Kerslake (another The Gods' alumnus) on drums. Demons And Wizards embodies Uriah Heep's finest hour. It has all the accoutrements of a good prog rock record: songs about wizards and demons, plenty of Hammond organ and a Roger Dean cover. But the one element that raises the bar is the great songwriting. Whether "The Wizard," "Traveller in Time" or "Circle of Hands," each track rocks hard and delivers catchy hooks. From start to finish, the album moves consistently and sets a blueprint for the stadium-sized anthem rock that would appear later in the decade. The Heep nearly had a hit single in the classic "Easy Livin'" b/w "Gypsy," and the album reached the Top 20 in both the UK and US, earning gold status as well.
Agitation Free's roots were in the same creative scene that most bands in late-60s Berlin shared. The group was founded in 1967 by bassist Michael Günther and guitarist Lutz "Lüül" Ulbrich. By the time their ranks had congealed enough to record their debut album, drummer Christopher Franke had already departed to Tangerine Dream, and guitarist Ax Genrich to Guru Guru. By 1971, keyboardist Michael Hoenig, guitarist Jörg Schwenke and drummer Burghard Rausch had joined Günther and Ulbrich, and teamed up with avant-garde composer Thomas Kessler and his Berlin studio. Improvisation and experimentation were at the band's core; and fortunately, so was endurance. Using a grant from the Goethe Institute, the band traveled to Egypt, Lebanon and Cyprus. Upon returning to Berlin, Agitation Free recorded their debut album, Malesch, for the Music Factory label in 1972. "You Play for Us Today" opens with a soundbite from their trip, one of the many field recordings interspersed throughout the record; while "Sahara City" drifts in stasis until it erupts, "Ala Tul" offers a progressive sound, anchored by organ and punctuated by a gripping rhythm from Rausch and guest Uli Popp. "Pulse" rises from a simple pulsating synth, just as the title track "Malesch" emerges from an organ line. Much like music from the Middle East, the band builds on a pattern, propelled forward by a fluid, moving rhythm. As avant-garde or even academic as their roots may be, there's still a musicality to the band that defies that pedigree. Like the best American psychedelic bands, Agitation Free excel at improvisation, and offer a free rock sound that's both stirring and moving. The closing "Ruecksturz" reprises a melodious theme, indicating the direction for their next album. ["Malesch" is an Egyptian word that translates to "take it easy, don't worry"—a response to their first concert's cancellation due to a customs delay entering Egypt.]
Aphrodite's Child was a Greek singles group that had some success in the UK; but more importantly, they spawned two of Greece's greatest musical exports, singer Demis Roussos and composer/performer Vangelis Papathanassiou. By the time their seminal 666 (The Apocalypse of John, 13/18) was released, the beat era and any pop legacy were all behind them. Based on the Book of Revelation, the double-album was recorded in Paris, from late 1970 to early 1972. Musically it's all over the map; but what composer Vangelis offers is not only more psychedelic and progressive than his previous output, it is as wholly conceived as a concept album as any other record of the era. From great pop hooks ("The Four Horsemen") to heavy rock ("Do It") to Magma-esque prog rock ("Altamont"), the album covers a lot of ground while remaining unique, cohesive and even quite idiosyncratic of Vangelis's later solo recordings. "?" (Infinity), a female orgasm trip supplied by Irene Papas, was controversial upon the album's release, though that has certainly worn off with age. The performances are all top-notch—in particular, Silver Koulouris's psychedelic guitar work and Lucas Sideras's drumming. The album's magnum opus, the 20-minute finale "All the Seats Were Occupied," is transcendent. Drifting in and out of the mix, the track reprises the album's various themes as it gradually unfolds into a tight psychedelic groove. Unfortunately, this album would be the last for the band. Roussos left for a solo career in Greece after the recording, while Vangelis would eventually move to London to begin a long and distinguished career.
Khan was the brainchild of Steve Hillage. Previously in Uriel (aka Arzachel), the guitarist went off to complete his studies at the University of Kent in Canterbury, where much of the album was subsequently written. Gaining support from Caravan's manager Terry King, he formed Khan in 1971, with Nick Greenwood (ex-The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) on bass and Eric Peachey on drums. Dave Stewart replaced original keyboardist Dick Heningham just prior to recording Space Shanty, their first and only album. The title track reveals some heavy psychedelic rock, but with a fair amount of melody and hippie flair. Building on the Arzachel/Egg formula, the record showcases Hillage's distinct guitar style. Here, he first finds the echo effect that would provide the signature to his guitar work with Gong; but he also doesn't shy away from bending a few notes either. Stewart's organ, of course, is a fine complement, particularly on "Stranded." Hillage's first solo album, Fish Rising, would be the logical successor to this record; just check out the closing section of "Driving to Amsterdam." After the album's release, Hillage and Stewart carried on with a new rhythm section for a few short months; but an offer from Kevin Ayers lured Hillage away, and the band ended abruptly, with Stewart moving on to Hatfield and the North after a spell of unemployment. The album was originally issued by Deram in the UK and Brain in Germany, but also was reissued years later in the US on Passport Records. Following his departure, Greenwood released a solo album called Cold Cuts, featuring Heningham and Peachey, which he had recorded in California in 1970, prior to joining Khan.
In 1970, keyboardist Tony Pagliuca ventured to the Isle of Wight festival in Seaclose Park, UK, befriending noted photographer Armando Gallo from the Italian weekly Ciao 2001. Upon returning to Venice, he gathered Michi Dei Rossi and Aldo Tagliapietra and resurrected Le Orme as one of Italy's first progressive rock group. The band took off in a direction similar to that of The Nice and Quatermass, with keyboards at the fore. Supported by producer Gian Piero Reverberi and a contract with Philips Records, the band recorded a new album, Collage, released in 1971. Classically (and British) influenced, the heavy organ rock on "Cemento Armato" is not to be missed. Uomo di Pezza ("Man of Rags"), released in 1972, took an even bigger leap, presenting music that was not only unconventional, but distinctly Italian as well. After a resound start, "Una dolcezza nuova" descends into a moving melody, highlighted by Reverberi's beautiful piano and Tagliapietra's soothing voice. The gentle "Gioco Di Bimba" ("Child's Play") follows, with guitar and clavichord dominating. But "La porta chiusa" quickly changes the mood, with its powerful bass and organ chords: It's a veritable prog rocker and uniquely Le Orme. "Aspettando l'Alba" features Tagliapietra's guitar and Pagliuca's Mellotron, offering a mood so haunting it aches; while the closing "Alienazione" is a full-on prog assault, with Dei Rossi pummeling his drums. As a single, "Gioco Di Bimba" b/w "Figure Di Cartone" topped the Italian hit parade; the album also scored, rising to No. 1 on the Italian charts. At the year's end, Le Orme toured Italy with Peter Hammill (performing solo) as the opener.