ARTICLE: The Essential Series - Pomp Rock Volume 1, By Gdazegod YEAR: 2017
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
Background No doubt this will be the first of many volumes to come, as the GDM website is chock full of pomp rock articles. What constitutes the category known as pomp rock? Well, like West Coast (and my explanation of that sub-genre some weeks back), pomp means different things to different people. Some will suggest that pomp rock is a derivative of progressive rock, as we knew it from the days of Yes, Emerson Lake And Palmer and Pink Floyd. Is it the imagery? Well yes and no. When pomp imagery is conjured up, then bands like Angel and Queen come to mind. When it comes to sound, well possibly this is where it all comes together, with layers of keyboards dominating the music, as well as keyboard solos. Bands like Roadmaster and Starcastle stick out for many. Strong vocalists are also a factor, but perhaps are a lesser ingredient, but that might be my opinion only. We have to start somewhere, and so here is the first volume for your reading pleasure.
The Albums New England - 1979 New EnglandAnother album which surprisingly found its way to New Zealand in 1979, and a $7.50 purchase it became, thanks to being thrifty with my pocket money. I was 15 years old when I picked this up, and though New England weren't as life-changing to me as Boston was three years earlier, this LP and the accompanying video for 'Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya' was like selling ice-creams to Eskimos! A perfect blend of hard rock and pomp, I don't need to remind regular readers as to New England's track record here at GDM, and you certainly don't need reminding from Malcolm (a.k.a Explorer) either, as he could talk with you about this band until next century!
Prophet - 1985 ProphetI remember first reading about these guys in Sounds back in 1985, and from the review, it became my number one priority search. Once landed, it was everything I dreamt it would be. From Kansas like passages on the awesome 'Slow Down' (check out that synth solo from Joe Zujkowski) to the essential 'Away From You' and 'Everything You Are', this album easily sits in my top 10 pomp records. R.I.P Dean Fasano and Joe Zujkowski.
Avalon (Canada) - 1977 Voice Of LifeThese guys had formed in 1975, and like Zon and Cinema Face, had built their profile around original music and live/stage theatrics. Their keyboard laden approach was tailor-made, the end result being the rather magnificent 'Voice Of Life' which really was pomp rock from a different era. They broke up in 1979, but music beyond this one album was evident in future years, but very hard to track down. If you can pick this little beauty up, never part with it.
Shooting Star - 1979 Shooting StarAnother LP from my high school years, and a great addition at the time as I was going through an intensive Kansas listening period. Despite originating from the food bowl of the American mid-west, the boys from Kansas City went over to England to record this debut with Gus Dudgeon, the LP being one of the first American acts signed to Richard Branson's Virgin label. This album contains the amazing symphonic rock classic 'Last Chance', and it set the stage for the band to dominate arenas all across America during the 80's.
Starcastle - 1977 CitadelI'll admit it. I was sold on the record cover alone, but it took me about three visits to the record store (Mainstream Records, Gisborne, NZ) to finally pluck up the courage to buy it. Call it instinct or intuition, but I didn't have a clue who Starcastle were (it was early 1978 after all), but looking at the glorious Hildebrandt Brothers cover art, I just knew. Once I hooked this fish, then all their other albums were reeled in soon after. I picked up 'Real To Reel' as a new release later in 1978, but 'Citadel' was an amazing piece of work, and of course the Roy Thomas Baker wind-tunnel effects were to be heard soon after on the debut Cars album. How cool was that! Pomp, prog, AOR.. yep all in one.
Zon - 1978 Astral ProjectorAnother Canadian band who need no introduction here. There was just something about this album that ticked all the boxes for me. If you read Sounds magazine back in the late 70's, 'Astral Projector' always seemed to be in the import charts alongside 1994, Storm and Legs Diamond. If you managed to own the blue vinyl LP, lucky you. I loved the quirkiness of the album, with some clever tunes and OTT keyboard work from one Howard Helm (later of the band Refugee). This site was lucky enough to write the liner notes of the Zon CD reissue for Escape Music back in 2004.
Everest - 1984 EverestI recall interviewing Everest's Ric McDonald about this Toronto based outfit back in 2002, but my first exposure to them was seeing this LP advertised for sale on one of Shades adverts in Sounds Magazine back in 1984. It took me years to wait for this one to land, thanks to the Long Island CD reissue in 1995. They are best described as a pompy version of Saga, but with Zon and Genesis influences thrown in for good measure. There is a second album out there too, so they weren't the one-off wonders we all assumed them to be. Glorious stuff.
Styx - 1977 The Grand IllusionBy this stage of their career, Styx were definitely trending upward, and eventually peaked with albums such as 'Cornerstone' and 'Paradise Theater' a few years later. However, their most productive period (or perhaps the most interesting) were the years between 1975 to 1978. 'Equinox', 'Crystal Ball', 'The Grand Ilusion' and 'Pieces Of Eight' are all classics from this Chicago band, but for mine, 1977's 'The Grand Illusion' represents Styx at their pompiest best. Songs like 'Castle Walls', 'Man In The Wilderness' and the title track 'The Grand Illusion' takes us back to another time and place. Even Jimmy Fallon's modern day Styx impersonations (as seen on YouTube) are no match for the real thing. No point foolin' yourself (every pun intended!)
Fortune - 1985 FortuneThis Los Angeles based band were based around the Fortune brothers: Richard and Mick. It was their association with singer Larry Greene, Irish keyboardist Roger Scott Craig and bassist Bobby Birch which saw this quite lush set dominate the polls across various AOR and melodic rock publications for years. There's not a real weakness across this LP. The only issue I have is that no proper reissue label/company has gone back to MCA/Camel to get a decent full remastered CD created. That would be the cherry on top. An essential pomp record nonetheless.
Saga - 1980 Silent KnightI've always been a sucker for the very early albums from these Canadian legends. But it was their third album from 1980 which took the cake. There is not a weak moment here, and this album became a soundtrack for my life back in the early 80's. Songs like 'Compromise', 'Careful Where You Step', 'Don't Be Late' and 'What's It Gonna Be?' are all classic Saga tunes which have stood the test of time. A compulsory acquisition.
In Summary This is our first volume in this series, you can be assured there will be volumes to follow as there are many Pomp related albums to cover off. We can add names such as M.P.G., Russia, Trillion, Roadmaster, Magnum, Air Raid, Bighorn and Touch.
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Regarding the Fortune album.. I've been trying to follow the timeline of the band membership through the early 80's and beyond the release of the 1985 album. I don't think MCA/Camel were very honest with the band. The label became bankrupt apparently, and Fortune never saw their 'fortune'. Reyno's 2011 interview with Larry Greene is very illuminating.
Some top notch stuff there. I stupidly sold the Avalon - Voice of Life years ago and took me nearly as many years again to track it down at a regular price after realising my mistake. The Avalon II is worth a punt too...although the only copies I've seen are CDRs - I picked mine up from Musea and another off eBay dead cheap but the same CDR. In fact Musea sent me some weird free album along with it by Wappa Gappa .. called Gappa, probably feeling bad about the CDR.
I agree a lot with you, especially with Saga and the Silent Knight album. An album that made saga one of my favorite bands. I think I've never enjoyed more with keyboards than listening to the first Saga albums.And Styx of course ,they are my nš1 band with Asia (hey!donīt forget the debut ,maybe the best selling pomp record ever ),They had everything ,the theatric and prog part of Dennis ,the hard rock of james,and the melodic stuff of tommy .
Maybe this is my favourite style of music ,because simple Aor tends to be a little bit repetitive ,but when you put some drops of prog rock , it gets much more interesting imo.
I agree Melodiapositiva, Pomp/AOR with that touch of Prog has always elevated the music for me too, which is probably why New England resonates with me so much. BTW George, Gary Shea of New England hates the band being called Pomp, he prefers them to be seen as a Prog band who put all their ideas into shorter songs!, but I`m with you they are definitely Pomp but the way they use the keyboards and more importantly their use of the Mellotron gives that all important sprinkling of Prog. Top list.
For me Pomp is epitomized by Roadmasters "Sweet music", Zon "Astral projector". They are also among those albums that I just can't get tired of.
Great to see Avalon in the list, awesome album.
Starcastle, great Pomp/prog.
Saga's "Silent knight"....Their best imo. Among so many Good albums in their catalogue. Favetrack; Help Me Out. Had Never heard Everest before. Checked it out after reading the article....All I can say; thanks for that One!