What is it about?

Of all the albums ever made, only a few of them are celebrated as the greatest. In this article, we examine how that process plays out in progressive rock. Among other things, we find that albums celebrated years later as the "greatest" were often financially successful upon their release and were also praised by underground critics at the time of their release. We also find that albums from particular places (those released by UK bands) and particular times (those released in the early years of progressive rock and its various subgenres, as well as those released in the online era) are more likely to be celebrated as the "greatest." Finally, we find that performers in the early to mid points of their careers are most likely to release albums later deemed as "greatest."

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Why is it important?

This article contributes to larger scholarship on "canonization" -- the processes by which the greatest are identified and celebrated. Typically, studies of that type focus on high profile domains -- such as orchestral music, mainstream rock, or mainstream cinema. We add to that scholarship by considering an underground scene, one with a global reach. We show that while there are similarities in how canonization occurs in the mainstream and underground, the progressive rock underground also has some unique elements given the high solidarity contained among its participants (as when fans and critics tend to value the same musical qualities).


We also bring a somewhat unique perspective to scholarship on canonization by tracking albums across multiple stages. We see which of some 28,000 prog rock albums every had any type of success when first released. And then we model the likelihood that these "never-successful" and "ever-successful" will later be called the "greatest" by music periodicals. In this underground scene, we find that while early success matters greatly for earning the later title of "greatest" -- it is not required. That is, about 60 of the 160 so-called greatest prog albums were not successful when first released. We deal with why that is the case in our article -- emphasizing the solidarity of this underground scene and its members' concerns with documenting the past.

Timothy Dowd
Emory University

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This page is a summary of: Retrospective Consecration Beyond the Mainstream: The Creation of a Progressive Rock Canon, American Behavioral Scientist, July 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0002764219865315.
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