VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era (Rhino)

Progressive rock, as we know it today, originated in Europe in the late '60's. The music combined elements of rock and psychedelia with assorted classical and jazz influences. Throughout most of the 70's, prog-rock had a huge following. Groups like Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Genesis (all of which are included here) ruled the FM airwaves. Since the beginning, however, critics were notorious for dissing progressive artists. Pure-bred rockers blew it off as pompous and pretentious. Classical aficionados found it too simple and undemanding. Still, the crowds flocked to the concerts and the bands sold millions of records.

In celebration of the first wave of prog-rock (1967-76), Rhino has just released a 5CD box set entitled Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era. Three years in the making, this 53-track collection includes more than five hours of music from multiplatinum groups, as well as lesser known artists, with nary an "I love you" in the lyrics. Keeping with prog-rock tradition, renowned artist Roger Dean created the artwork. Supernatural Fairy Tales also includes a comprehensive 60-page booklet brimming with photos, and informative liner notes from compiler Archie Patterson, Keith Emerson and several others.

Disc one starts off with the single version of The Nice's "America". The song was originally banned in the US due to the song's so-called 'anti-American' tone. As you would expect, there aren't many 'hits' in this collection. The Moody Blues' classic "Legend of a Mind" qualifies as one though, and it fits in perfectly. Also included on disc one is a precursor to what later became known as 'space music', Klaus Schulze's "Searching".

One of the best things about this box is the variety of artists involved. Chances are, there is something here that you'll remember hearing from years ago, but forgot about for whatever reason. Maybe it was just the 70's. For me, one such track appears on disc two - Atomic Rooster's "Death Walks Behind You". Another band I had been aware of for years, but never heard, was Van Der Graff Generator. After hearing "Killer" (from the band's second album), it made me wish I had discovered them sooner. Disc two also contains one of the few prog tracks to make it into the pop charts, the classic "Hocus Pocus" by Focus. Who can forget the song's yodeling choruses and stellar guitar licks? Nothing like that had been done before, or since.

Disc three starts with the first of two tracks from Yes, "Perpetual Change", from the band's third album. Though this was still the 'pre-Wakeman' era, the album's six songs are among their best. One thing to note about Supernatural Fairy Tales is that the songs are all uncut, there are no short versions here. Electric Light Orchestra's eight-minute version of "Roll Over Beethoven" is included, as is the (once rare) complete version of "Karn Evil 9 - 1st Impression" from ELP's masterwork, Brain Salad Surgery. Until CDs came along, the track was split across two sides of the album, except for a rare compilation album that had the complete version.

There aren't many tracks on Supernatural Fairy Tales that make you stop and ask yourself "why is this song on here?". However, one such track appears on disc four--Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain". Apart from Brian Eno's presence on the track, there is no reason for this song to be on here at all. "Ladytron" (also from the band's debut album) is a valid choice, but "Virginia Plain" simply doesn't belong. The same applies to "Warrior" from the third Wishbone Ash album. Its chorus sounds like Monty Python's "Lumberjack Song".

Disc four isn't all bad though. One artist that I was glad to see included is Nektar. The band's Remember the Future was one of 1973's biggest prog albums, represented here by the track "Questions and Answers". I was surprised at just how well this cut stood up outside the context of the album. Italy's self-proclaimed answer to ELP, Le Orme contributes "Ritorno Al Nulla" from their second album. The band sounds more like an orchestral version of Camel than ELP. Disc four ends with an instrumental by the French band, Clearlight, cleverly entitled "Without Words".

With cuts by lesser known artists like Samla Mammas Manna, Banco, and Seventh Wave, disc five has the most obscure tracks. It also features material from prog stalwarts such as Gentle Giant and the jazz-rock sounds of Gong. The last 'hit' on Supernatural Fairy Tales is Golden Earring's classic rock staple, "Radar Love". Given the other great songs on the album (like "Vanilla Queen"), this one doesn't belong. It's great to see the band represented here, but they should have picked a better song. The box set wraps up with a cut from the lone American artist included here - Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. While Zappa was undeniably progressive in his own right, this song ("Inca Roads") seems an unfitting conclusion to the box.

Whether it's nostalgia, or just a new audience discovering the music, the fact remains that progressive rock is still a viable form of music and this compilation draws upon the period where prog-rock was at its creative and influential peak. As with any collection of this size, there are sure to be those who will disagree with the selections included here. Yet when you look at the box as a whole, it gives you an excellent cross-section of the bands responsible for creating and influencing this musical genre.

Here's a side note for collectors: the initial pressings of Supernatural Fairy Tales have an error on disc four. Yes' "Siberian Khatru" (as listed on the jewel box, the booklet, and the outer box as well) is actually "And You and I". Rhino has corrected this for future runs and replaced "And You and I" with the correct track, "Siberian Khatru". Anyone wishing to exchange their copy of disc four for a corrected one should send the disc--not the whole box set--to Rhino Customer Service, Prog. Rock Box Set, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. You'll receive the corrected disc in the mail.

© 1996 Steve Marshall