Prog 1974 (posted 8/6/14)
By ProgBlog, Jun 8 2014 04:18PM
By 1974 I’d had over a full year of immersion into prog though most of it was still catch-up. Looking back on the classic releases of 1974 brother Tony and I hardly bought any of them at the time; window-shopping was more the order of the day because of a shortage of ready cash. The exceptions were Refugee, Hamburger Concerto and Relayer. We’d been following Yes and Focus and we believed Refugee were natural successors to The Nice. The major headline of 1974 was the Melody Maker Rick Wakeman Quits Yes announcement from June 8th and it’s hard to imagine the effect that had on me even though his discontent with Tales from Topographic Oceans, released 6 months earlier, had been aired in the music press. The closest example that I can come up with is the disappointment I felt when Dougie Freedman quit as manager of Crystal Palace in October 2012 to go to Bolton Wanderers, when Palace were stringing together a good series of results in the Championship. Fans of other teams will have experienced the same sort of feeling when one of their star players has been lured away by the promise of silverware or Rupert Murdoch/Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan buckets of cash.
There is a distinct qualitative difference between pre-Wakeman Yes and Fragile, Close to the Edge and Tales that was catalysed by the presence of Wakeman. The Yes Album may be a classic but it’s just a stepping-stone on the way to the band fulfilling their potential. I bought my copy of The Yes Album in 1974, an American pressing on heavyweight vinyl in a very robust sleeve. I still regard Tales as a brilliant album but I can understand the criticism that the quality of the material suffers for being stretched over four sides of vinyl. I was concerned that Wakeman’s replacement wouldn’t match up to his ability. Though not a great fan of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which I’d borrowed from friends, I understood that he was an integral part of the Yes sound. I’d heard material by the first possible replacement, Vangelis, but wasn’t convinced he was the right choice. When Vangelis turned down the gig it somehow seemed inevitable to me that the band would approach Patrick Moraz and though Moraz was a fully capable and obvious choice, I really wanted Refugee to stick together. It’s fair to say that I was really pleased with Relayer when I was given a copy for Christmas 1974.
Tony and I thought buying Hamburger Concerto was something of a gamble and we pooled our money and bought it between us. We were more familiar with Moving Waves and Focus 3, though I didn’t acquire my copy of Focus 3 until 1976, being more expensive than most albums because it was a double album; this was another record that had been loaned to us and both Sylvia and House of the King received a good deal of air play. The sleeve of Hamburger is rather novel, with the record itself accessed from an opening inside the gatefold. The inclusion of Colin Allen as a replacement for Pierre van der Linden was an unknown quantity (I’d not listened to any Stone the Crows) but the variety of Thijs van Leer’s keyboards was a bonus. The album is well produced and I think it’s the most satisfying Focus offering, overall slightly better than the excellent Moving Waves, because the compositions and musicianship maintain a consistent, high standard.
I became aware of Tangerine Dream in 1974, when Phaedra hit the record stores. The cover was very interesting, the song titles were intriguing and the instrumentation was a prog dream-come-true: three keyboard players. TD are possibly best remembered for their use of sequencer but I was particularly impressed by the sonic washes, other-worldly sounds and the use of plaintive mellotron. School friend Alan Lee lent me his copy and though I never owned a copy of Phaedra on vinyl, I bought Rubycon when it was released in 1975 because it seemed to me to be a more coherent album.
Another of the catch-up albums was Tubular Bells. When that first appeared in 1973 I was beguiled by the brilliant cover artwork, the incredible range of instruments played by Oldfield and the sense of humour reflected in the little notice on the sleeve, almost obscured by Trevor Key’s beach photograph: "This stereo record cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station." This tongue-in-cheek sentiment fitted in with my developing world view, that hi-fi was a serious business and the pursuit of the ultimate listening experience was facilitated by good audio equipment. That one individual should compose and record such an album, given the state of recording technology at the time, was quite remarkable. I loved the development of part 1, 25 minutes of build-up and glorious release, but I didn’t play side two as often as I’d play side one.
Other major releases from 1974 included Starless and Bible Black, Red, Mirage, Hatfield and the North, The World Became the World, The Power and the Glory, Red Queen to Gryphon Three and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. These albums represent output from some of prog’s heavy hitters and over the next few years all these were added to my collection. It was listening to Alan Freeman’s Saturday Rock Show that I first heard King Crimson when he played Great Deceiver to announce the release of SaBB. Tony eventually bought Starless and Guy Wimble, who lived across the road from us, bought a copy of Red. Gentle Giant had been introduced to us via In a Glass House, lent to Tony by one of his friends. I had borrowed Genesis Live and was more into the romantic sound of early Genesis than The Lamb, which seemed more urgent and modern to me at the time, not the symphonic prog that I was into. Gryphon managed the unique feat of appearing on all four BBC radio stations in the same week and Tony saw them live when he went to see Yes on the Relayer tour, with Gryphon as the support band.
Looking back, 1974 seems something of a watershed year. Two of the most commercially successful acts, Yes and ELP, were about to undergo a hiatus. (Pink Floyd, who were still in their prog phase, were out of synch but would take considerable time over the follow-up to Wish You Were Here.) It’s as though the bands themselves needed to take a step back and recover their creative spark. It’s just a shame that their re-emergence coincided with a social disconnect and the rise of punk.