The Classic Prog Bands That Went On To Pop
The late ’70s was described as a “tough time to be a progressive rocker,” and so 1980s, was by far, the most visible period where progressive rock bands went pop on a large scale.
But of course, just because a band switch their genre doesn’t mean they can’t switch back to progressive in the long run. Anyway, here are 10 such progressive rock bands that went pop.
The Mars Volta
The refining process of their modern prog rock took a decade until breaking up in 2012. In 2022, their self-titled comeback album was described by the guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez as a “our version of pop.”
The band’s 1991 hit “I Can’t Dance” made them the arguable paragon of a prog band who went pop. The track perfectly caps the prog abyss of the ’80s. It also paved the way for the success of singer Phil Collins, who had already seen wide success with his solo material.
This band also failed to resist pop. It first started with the 1980’s Permanent Waves wherein they made use of new wave and reggae. The album spawns hits like “The Spirit of Radio” and was followed by Moving Pictures, which features Rush’s most enduring pop song, “Tom Sawyer.”
This band broke up in the middle of their way into switching from prog to pop. After 15 years, the group initially splits up and when they returned two years later, they made poppy 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
Even Pink Floyd tried pursuing pop success and it took place some time after 1979’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” which went No. 1 in several counties.
The Moody Blues
The group had spent the previous two decades before Voyager, a pop-ish album, gave them two Top 20 singles in the US, “Gemini Dream” and “The Voice.”
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
This prog super-trio of Emerson, Lake & Palmer were able to reach the pinnacle with their jazzy rock masterpiece Works Volume 2 in 1977. Before they initially broke up by the end of the ’70s, they tossed off 1978’s critically derided “Love Beach,” a quick and friendly song apart from a sprawling 20-minute finale.
This band did the pop thing way better than many other proggers because they’re not a prog band that went pop, they were a supergroup of prog musicians who joined forces specifically to make rock for the masses.
In terms of striving for mainstream appeal, they went less pop. However, listeners can’t deny that the band still seek the same sonic space of ’80s new wave with the sounds they have produced.
It all started in the ’80s when they incorporated electronic music into their rock. It epitomizes an era of Jethro Tull that their longtime fans still refuse to claim.