The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock (3rd edition) – Charles Snider

Apparently the term Strawberry Bricks, which gives its name to this 572 page publication, is derived from a quote from Yes vocalist Jon Anderson when asked to describe symphonic rock. Had this not been specified in the introduction I might have guessed that the term referred to the combination of a colourful cover and the fact that this project is of such physical substance it could well be large enough to repel any lingering prog deniers. This is indeed a major project.

The central format of the book is to take each year from 1967 to 1981 and examine seminal LPs from each in a page or so’s depth each time, starting with the Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’ and cleverly ending with Asia’s eponymous album as the sole entry for the latter year, presumably because that project’s barren combination of four key prog players (Wetton, Howe, Palmer, Downes) appeared to herald the point of no return for the genre.

What really works with this book is Snider’s consistently succinct style. Few words are wasted. In a few short paragraphs per entry he manages to provide historical context of the musicians involved, describe tracks, and critically evaluate the music before summarising later projects (if subsequent albums are not to be discussed). There’s a wry familiarity with all the subject matter covered which emphasises what is clearly a deep love for the music covered. The focus is primarily but not exclusively British, with European and in particular German bands getting a good look in. Albums are selected largely on merit or impact and although the key bands (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELP, Jethro Tull –  ‘The Big Six’ as Sniding calls them) are comprehensively covered in terms of output, they far from dominate – the commercial success of a particular band or album does not translate to excessive column inches over another.

Suffice it to say that Canterbury bands are particularly well represented, which will come as no surprise to those of who will recognise the author’s name from various Canterbury Facebook groups.  Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong, Hatfield and the North and National Health get a comprehensive going over, but you’ll also find Egg, Khan, Steve Hillage, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Didier Malherbe, Delivery and further afield to links with Henry Cow, Clearlight, Nucleus, Mike Oldfield, Isotope, Quiet Sun….. Few stones are left unturned and in that regards must be one of the first instances in printed form of a critical Canterbury discography of sorts.

The book is topped and tailed with some interesting additional features: a partly sociological analysis of the music which led to the launch of the progressive genre; a justification of the timeline used; an examination of the reasons for its demise, which interestingly enough absolves punk from blame in a somewhat enlightened outlook; and beyond that into examinations of successive new waves of prog. There are even a smattering of lists which are a nice diversion and will further give you an indication of the author’s own preferences. Whilst this impressive tome is ultimately a reference book, with comprehensive evaluations of 510 albums, no less, it’s also a portal into further exploration: whether revisiting those albums within its ranks that you had forgotten about, following new links within from familiar names, or opening up a whole new set of albums to explore. Or simply just to pat yourself on the back that you’d got it so right in the first place…

Read more and get your copy at https://strawberrybricks.com/the-book

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