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I Know What I Like: Trollheart's History of Progressive Rock (2 Viewers)


Senior Member
And here I am, back with the list. To be fair, it’s hard to discount any of the albums released in 1970 that contributed to the prog scene, so I haven’t.

The Madcap Laughs - Syd Barrett
While I can find no actual reference to this album being prog rock of any sort, it has to be accepted that without Syd the chances are that Pink Floyd might not have existed, or might have been a totally different band. Certainly, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “Wish You Were Here” would likely not have been written, and, while Syd’s musical and mental demise is sad and lamentable, sometimes it’s tragedy that brings the best out of a band. And so we owe it to the mad one to at least listen to and review his debut solo album, released in the year his own band would start to make major waves. Without him.

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other - Van der Graaf Generator

Second album from a band who would become very important to the emerging prog scene, blending elements of jazz and blues into their music, and influencing a whole slew of young bright-eyed hopefuls in the future. At this point though, VDGG were bright-eyed hopefuls ,and their debut album, released the previous year, had hardly set the charts alight. This one wouldn’t either. It did however scrape into the top forty, by the skin of its teeth, a better performance than The Aerosol Grey Machine, and indeed their best ever chart placing.

Egg - Egg
I know nothing about Egg, other than that they were big on the Canterbury Scene, and they were the band Steve Hillage wasn’t in. I’ll be finding out more about them as I review this and their other albums, this being their debut. Obviously.

Benefit - Jethro Tull
I feel this may be a dodgy choice, as it seems to have been some time into their career before Tull achieved a sound that could in any way be described as progressive rock, but I can hardly ignore icons like them, so we’ll give it a listen, but I won’t expect too much. Hey hey hey! I’ll give them the “benefit” of the doubt! Yes? No? Have it your way then. Moving on…

Yeti - Amon Duul II
Considered very important in the new Krautrock scene, this is Amon Duul’s second album, and some say, their best. We’ll see.

In the Wake of Poseidon - King Crimson
Having exploded onto the prog rock scene the previous year with the now-classic In the Court of the Crimson King, Fripp’s boys did not rest on their laurels, releasing their second album a mere seven months later. It further reinforced their place as future prog rock giants. It says here.

Barclay James Harvest - Barclay James Harvest
Always thought this was an interesting name for a band. Not interesting enough for me to check them out though, which means that I know almost nothing about them. This was their debut album.

Home - Procul Harum
I’ve already been impressed with their first three albums, so hopefully the fourth will continue that trend.

Third - Soft Machine
These guys, on the other hand, have yet to impress me. Big they may have been in Canterbury, but I wasn’t sold on their first two albums. It’s Soft Machine again, with their imaginatively-titled third album.

Time and a Word - Yes
This is the Yes album (no, not The Yes Album!) I spoke of in the … And in Other Prog News feature, the one where Jon and the boys decided to use an orchestra, and Peter Banks wasn’t having it, precipitating his departure. We’ll find out how it all worked out for the remaining members of Yes, and hear Steve Howe’s first contributions to the band. Oh no, we won’t; Banks stayed for the recording but left before the album’s release.

Supertramp - Supertramp
Almost more of a folk record, somewhat in the From Genesis to Revelation mould, Supertramp's debut album nevertheless signposted some of the greatness that was to come from this band.

Weasels Ripped My Flesh - The Mothers of Invention
What is it with Zappa and rodents? First Hot Rats and now this? Ah, sanity, how I fear for you! The things I do for prog!

If i Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You - Caravan
What a great title! If it wasn’t Caravan, one of the leaders of the Canterbury scene, this album would gain its place here just for that imaginative title. But it is, and they are, and it is. Capische?

Atom Heart Mother - Pink Floyd
While Syd was finding himself, or losing himself, or doing whatever the hell it was with himself after leaving Floyd, Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Wright were getting on with it. With a proper, working band now and no issues to concern them (at least, in the studio) they crafted their first album to break them commercially, hitting the number one spot. This was also their first foray into working with Storm Thorgerson’s Hypgnosis, who would design so many of their icon album sleeves.

Trespass - Genesis
Ah, the first of what I consider the “real” Genesis album, Trespass set down a template other prog bands would follow, with long, involved songs telling long, involved stories and creating the persona of stuck-up arty bands whose feet weren’t rooted in the real world. One of my all-time favourite Genesis albums, it was the end for poor Anthony Phillips, but the beginning of a glorious career for Genesis, leading the charge of the riders on the prog rock storm.

Chunga’s Revenge - Frank Zappa

And here he is again. Like a turd in my bowl who just won’t flush away, it’s Zappa again. For the second time in the same year. Again. As a matter of fact, it would have been three times, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to listen to Burnt Weeny Sandwich too! There’s only so much one man can take!

Air Conditioning - Curved Air
I already spoke about the problems Curved Air had in the previous section. This is their debut album.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Emerson, Lake and Palmer
If any band typified the excesses and overblown self-indulgence of progressive rock, it was ELP. Though they had masses of fans, they had probably as many detractors, and were seen as elitist and arrogant, claims which are hard to deny. We’ll get to all of that in due course, but for now this was their debut album, after the breakup of The Nice.

Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant
Already referenced in some detail in the ProGenitors section, this is the debut album from the trio of brothers who tried, didn’t really make it, but gained a cult following even decades after their demise.

He to He Who Am the Only One - Van der Graaf Generator

Yes, back then some bands did release more than one album in a year. VDGG were another, their third effort hitting the shelves as 1970 drew to a close.

Lizard - King Crimson
Not to be outdone, King Crimson got a second one (their third in all) out too, before the year closed.

Act One - Beggars Opera

I haven’t yet decided if this album will be reviewed in the normal timeline or as part of Over the Garden Wall. They don’t seem to have been that well-known or influential, but I could be wrong. One way or another, we’ll get to the debut from these guys.

In and Out of Focus or Focus Plays Focus - Focus
But these guys are definitely in. Jan Akkerman left Brainbox and joined up with Thijs van Leer, and prog history was made.

Magma - Magma
The only French prog band to release an album this year, Magma created the sub-genre known as zeuhl, of which we’ll learn more later. This was their debut album.

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Senior Member
We’ll also be looking at some of these albums in Over the Garden Wall It’s almost certain that we won’t get to them all but we’ll see how we go).

Quill - Quill

We’ve already come across Quill in the section on bands formed this year. This was their one and only album.

Ahora Mazda - Ahora Mazda

Another band to have only one album, this time a Dutch one. Seem to have been something along the lines of the prog Grateful Dead…

Barrett - Syd Barrett
The second and final album from the ex-Floydie seems to bear no resemblance to prog at all, but as it’s him I thought we really needed to do it, so I’m popping it in here.

Aardvark - Aardvark

Surely destined to come first in any alphabetical search for prog albums, Aardvark’s claim to fame is to have had future Free founders Simon Kirke and Paul Kossoff in their band at one time. When they went off to seek fame and glory, the anteating ones released… one album. And apparently they had no guitarist, which is odd, given that their second album, released in, um, 2016 (!) was titled Guitar’d ‘n Feathered! Guess they must have found someone to play the axe then!

Almendra II - Almendra

Very hard to track down, this. A band from Argentina (the first we’ve had here? I think possibly) and seem to have had little or nothing to do with prog, but Wiki have it on their list. Seems to be a LOT of tracks on it, but as there are no times I don’t know how long it runs for. Guess I’ll find out.

Earwax - Association P.C.

German/Dutch band of whom it was apparently said that “eighty percent of [them] is electronics”. Hmm.

Cressida - Cressida

Took their name from a famous fizzy drink - oh no wait, that was Cresta. Oh well.

Output - Wolfgang Dauner

Jazz fusion pianist. Why is his album here? Christ knows. Maybe I will, once I get to it. Maybe not.

Goliath - Goliath

A grandiose-sounding name for a band who had one album and then folded. Oh well.

Trauma - Gomorra

Very unsure about this one. Both ProgArchives and Discogs say the album was released in 1971, so chances are Wiki got it wrong. German prog band who at least had two albums, which puts them ahead of the last few anyway.

Gracious! - Gracious

And this one beats them too, with three albums.

Marsupilami - Marsupilami

Jesus! Where did these bands get their names from? Speaking of…

Moving Gelatine Plates - Moving Gelatine Plates

Another French proto-prog band. Of course they are.

Present From Nancy - Supersister

Not a sister in sight. Nor, indeed, anyone named Nancy.

It’ll All Work Out In Boomland - T2

Sure it will.

Walrus - Walrus

Not to be confused with the seventies prog band Sealion, who did not exist.

Tombstone Valentine - Wigwam
If you think that’s an odd name for an album, their debut was called, ahem, Hard’n’Horny! Oh, I see! They’re Finnish! Well, that explains it. Oh no wait, it doesn’t.


Senior Member

Album title: The Madcap Laughs
Artiste: Syd Barrett
Nationality: English
Label: Harvest
Year: 1970
Grade: C
Previous Experience of this Artiste: Only via the first two Floyd albums
The Trollheart Factor: 3
Landmark value: 5
Tracklisting: Terrapin/No Good Trying/Love You/No Mans Land/Dark Globe/Here I Go/Octopus/Golden Hair/Long Gone/She Took a Long Cold Look/Feel/If It’s in You/Late Night
Comments: Although we’re only beginning the seventies here, Barrett’s music always seems to me to have been firmly rooted in the sixties, with no intention of or willingness to come into the new decade. This has flower power written all over it. The opening track is whimsical and limp, played seemingly mostly on an acoustic guitar, while there’s a certain sense of Floydesque feedback on “No Good Trying to Love You” (perhaps a synonym for how the band felt about him before dismissing him?) and “Love You” sounds like a rushed version of a Beatles/Kinks crossover, though it does have some nice piano in it.

Interesting to see that the man who would replace him in Floyd, Dave Gilmour plays bass here. Perhaps he felt he owed something to the man whose job he was taking? “No Mans Land” features a kind of muttered laconic vocal in the lead-out, which probably best represents Barrett’s approach to music, almost a motif for his way of working in the studio. Apparently he often responded to requests as to what key a song was in from other musicians working with him with a non-committal “Yeah”. Must have been hard to work with the guy. “Dark Globe” almost sounds like Waters is singing, but no it’s Syd of course, again acoustic guitar driven, and you can hear the kind of confused, chaotic way he’s playing. “Here I Go” is another sixties pastiche, then “Octopus” is regarded as the best track on the album, but really that’s not saying much. Sort of puts me in mind of “I Am the Walrus”...

It sounds all very derivative to me, like he’s copying the Beatles really, but it’s not terrible. Definitely not prog though, in any way, shape or form, and had I not heard the first two albums I would never have linked him to Pink Floyd. “Golden Hair” has something about it, a kind of dark menace with tinkling piano like bells and a slow, laconic guitar with a sort of fractured vocal. Despite the fact that it’s a mere two minutes long it says this was the eleventh take! I suppose that just underlines how difficult a person he was to work with. “Long Gone” is another acoustic ballad, but with the rising powerful organ line it’s the closest I see this coming to any sort of Floyd tune.

“She Took a Long Cold Look”, on the other hand, passes by without making any impression on me, while “Feel” sounds like it could have had something but Syd doesn’t seem interested, and the production (or his vocal) keeps coming and going, fading in and out. I also don’t think much of the stop/start instructions and chatter going on during the beginning of “If It’s In You” - if this is intended, a way of showing the usually-shut-out public how things can go on in the studio, a kind of backstage pass to the recording process, then fine. But this is not what it is: this seems to have been the best take the producer could get from Syd, and in a sort of resigned way it was left in. The song, by the way, is fucking awful, Syd howling like a wolf, often not in tune. Worst of the bunch by a long long way. At least it’s short.

Which leaves us with “Late Night”, which is a lot better, with what I think is the first proper electric guitar riff; I would have said Gilmour but he’s shown only as playing bass and acoustic guitar, so I guess it’s Syd, so props to him for that. But it’s too little too late, and can’t rescue what is kind of a train wreck of an album, that didn’t need to be. There are some good ideas in there, he just doesn’t seem to have known how to use them properly or mould them into songs.

The Madcap may have laughed, but he didn’t have the last laugh.

Favourite track(s): Dark Globe, Octopus, Golden Hair, Long Gone
Least favourite track(s): If It’s In You
Overall impression: Not a terrible album but, made by anyone else, this would have sunk without a trace. As it kind of did, but it got special attention due to being made by an ex-member of Pink Floyd. All I can say is I’m glad he did leave, as I’d hate to have seen him drag the others in this weird, return-to-the-past direction he seemed determined to head. Look, maybe Barrett was a misunderstood genius, or a genius who was unable to communicate his ideas to others in order to have them properly executed, or maybe he was just a musician who thought he was better than he was. Maybe, had his mental state been better, this might have been a better album. But I’m reminded of a scene from the series Red Dwarf that perhaps illustrates the problem.

Lister: “The last time you sat your engineer’s exam, you wrote I am a fish a hundred times on the paper, did a funny little dance, and fainted.”
Rimmer: “If you must know, Lister, what I did was write a thesis on porous circuitry that was so different, so ground-breaking, so ahead of its time that nobody could appreciate it.”
Lister: “Yeah. You said you were a fish.”
If we use this as an analogy for Syd Barrett, I believe that what he did here was write I am a fish all over this album, then perhaps not fainted but certainly passed out, out of the possibility of ever being a true rock star. Maybe that’s not what he wanted, which is just as well, as it’s not what he got.
Personal Rating: 1.0
Legacy Rating: 3.0
Final Rating 2.0: