Eighties Prog FAQ

The ’80s Prog Blog examines the journeys undertaken by progressive rock artists in the age of sequined gloves, Cosby sweaters and Members Only jackets. I have no particular goal or agenda here; I’m just endlessly intrigued by the topic. So fire up the lava lamp, sit back and enjoy.

Who counts as ’80s Prog artists?

This is all entirely subjective, of course, but for my purposes eighties prog refers to the major prog artists, especially from the seventies, who somehow found continued success in the eighties. My starting point is the “big 7” progressive groups who emerged from the late-sixties London scene: ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Yes, as well as spinoff groups and band members’ solo outings, but I’ll no doubt look at other prog and prog-adjacent artists as I go.

What counts as “the ’80s”?

The pop and rock music landscape didn’t transform overnight; prog artists didn’t wake up on New Year’s Day 1980 to find everything was suddenly different. Conveniently, though, many of the bands in question underwent significant changes as the seventies drew to a close, paving the way for a kind of rebirth in the eighties. ELP split after the 1978 release of the disastrous Love Beach. Not long after, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman left Yes, who then absorbed New Wave wunderkind the Buggles before breaking up altogether in 1981. UK, the product of a failed attempt at a King Crimson reunion, ended its brief run in 1980. Genesis evolved a more accessible style, signaling a major shift with the 1980 album Duke. The same year, Jethro Tull adopted a new, modern sound and approach, and introduced an overhauled lineup, on the album A. Also in 1980, The Wall was the final album to feature the “classic” lineup of Pink Floyd (the very last album by the Roger Waters-led Floyd was 1983’s The Final Cut, which was made up in part of songs left off The Wall).

When the eighties ended, from a prog perspective, is slightly little less well defined. I generally place it at about 1991, though. Yes and the Moody Blues released their final major label studio albums this year. Also, Genesis released their last studio record with Phil Collins, while Queen released their final album before Freddie Mercury passed away. We saw Peter Gabriel’s Us and Roger Waters’ Amused to Death in 1992, and the David Gilmour-led Pink Floyd rang The Division Bell in 1994, but really 1991 marked the end of the eighties prog era.

When did ’80s prog peak?

If you’re looking at chart performance, eighties prog reached its high water mark the week of July 19, 1986. Four of the top 20 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart that week came courtesy of erstwhile prog artists: “Invisible Touch” (Genesis; No. 1), “Sledgehammer” (former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel; No. 2); “Your Wildest Dreams” (the Moody Blues; No. 9), and “When the Heart Rules the Mind” (GTR, a group consisting of Steve Hackett and Steve Howe— ex-guitarists for Genesis and Yes, respectively; No. 14). Lower down, Emerson, Lake & Powell’s “Touch and Go” checked in at its peak position of No. 60.