Rush, Dust and Uriah Heep illustrate prog rock styles


Prog, progressive. The word is used to describe artists in almost every genre. The phrase “prog rock” seems to get used most often. Like a lot of musical terms that came into fashion in the late 20th century, prog or progressive rock refers to an idea behind the music rather than the actual sound. Meaning, there isn’t just one way to be a progressive rock band.

Case in point, the bands Rush, Dust and Uriah Heep. Each is considered progressive. None of them sounds like the other. The way “progressive” gets used is different from how “alternative” was bandied about in the early 1990s, after fans already knew what alternative meant from its usage in the 1980s. All of a sudden, “alternative” meant having a certain sound or aesthetic, mostly a jangly guitar and moody lyrics.

However, progressive means that a band is doing something beyond the typical constraints for the genre. And each is considered a progressive rock band. The ways in which all three bands go beyond rock ‘n’ roll standards can be found in song themes and structures.

Of the three bands mentioned here, Rush is probably the most famous, and the one most often used as an example of progressive rock. Dust and Uriah Heep are less well-known, but no less important to the understanding of the subgenre. Each band has a signature song that illustrates how the band is, in fact, progressive.

Rush, “Something For Nothing”

The song is found on 1976’s “2112.” The entire album and its concept are considered classic. On an album with a 20-plus minute title track, it would seem that it would be difficult for a song to stand out. Of course, this is also one of the songs on “2112” that is close to being a “standard” rock song.

The song starts with a moody exchange between bass and guitar. That exchange prepares listeners for the near-mocking lyrics that essentially scold people who merely hope or wait for what they want, instead of going after it.

The idea of urging people to find their own path is not new in popular music. What sets the song  apart is the poetry through which the admonition is given. The first verse reads in part” “…Waiting for the rainbow’s end to cast its gold your way/countless ways/ you pass the days.”

The bridge is practically screamed in Geddy Lee’s aggrieved tenor. Songs that tell listeners how they won’t “get wise” are usually beyond the scope of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Also, there is no typical arrangement of chorus and verse.

Dust, “Suicide”

Another trio takes on topics usually treated differently if at all, in typical rock songs. Usually, I would only think of Dust as an early metal band. Even then, they are worth mentioning for the gallows’ humor and bass solo found in ” “Suicide.”

“Suicide” appears on Dust’s last album, “Hard Attack” released in 1972. The title is apt. The band gives an in-your-face performance of a song about a narrator considering suicide. The bouncing thunder of the drums is attention-getting. The drums are played by Marc Bell, who would later become Marky Ramones in the legendary punk band, The Ramones.

The song is bleak, and the soundscape never stops bombarding listeners with that ominous sound of a harrowing choice being made. The result is a risk that paid off. The band still garners attention, and sparks debate among music fans struggling to classify them.

Uriah Heep: “Stealin'”

For the unaware, Uriah Heep epitomizes 1970’s rock. But the English band took on unpopular themes like regrets after a life of crime. The outlaw is not glamorized. The song sounds like it is sung from the perspective of a late 19th century outlaw. In an odd twist, the English band sounds American. Phrases like “I done the rancher’s daughter/ and I sure did hurt his pride/haha” paint pictures of the outlaw West.

The outlaw recounts his misdeeds, and figures that the things he has indulged in, wine, women, fighting and so forth, will “put me to an early grave.” The deeper themes provided by progressive rock bands kept them from being typical.

The band’s use of synthesizers, and blending them with the nimble and heavy guitar work, made for a classic sound.

Lead singer David Byron’s abilities to stretch phrases and insert a high-pitch yelp where needed also adds to the song’s memorable style.

While prog rock exists in other forms today, the work of the pioneers are still worth remembering.


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2 responses to “Rush, Dust and Uriah Heep illustrate prog rock styles”

  1. Thanks so much for an insightful look into these three bands. I once had a producer tell me that there are no rules in songwriting, with prog rock this extends into an element of why-not? There are no constraints on the artistic achievement that is found in prog rock.

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