Geddy Lee explains why Radiohead are the ultimate prog-rock band

Prog rock, so the story goes, had its moment in the 1970s when bands like Genesis, Yes and Jethro Tull garnered a devoted following in the UK and Europe, where they were regarded as innovators and pioneers, not – as is the case today – musical masturbators with unlimited studio time. After punk, anyone giving off even the faintest whiff of having listened to Aqualung risked being scalped by an angry mob. Contrary to popular belief, however, prog regained its foothold relatively quickly, finding a new audience via the post-punk (arguably progressive punk) and art-rock bands of the late 1970s and ’80s. By the ’90s, the spirit of prog was alive and well. Consider My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Consider Radiohead.

Rush were one of the few Canadian rock outfits that truly embraced prog. Blending the virtuosity of Led Zeppelin with the psychedelic grandeur of King Crimson and Cream, they are a shining example of the genre’s dynamism and vitality. Indeed, their album 2112 is widely regarded as the high-water mark of progressive rock. That’s to say nothing of later tunes like ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘The Spirit of Radio’, which are fawned over to this day. During an interview with The Quietus, Rush bassist Geddy Lee was asked to name some of his favourite records. As it turns out, he’s a huge fan of Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer.

Discussing his love of the British group, Lee said: “To me, Radiohead carried on the tradition of bands like Yes. They are always adventurous and challenging and yet they have remained ahead of the game, really. I love the way they blend old and new…including contemporary beats and instrumentation. But again, and like Yes and Genesis, they still have great songs at the heart of it. Especially on OK Computer, which completely fired me up and gave me hope for the future. Great music in every sense of the word.”

Though Radiohead were always slightly embarrassed about such comparisons, Jonny Greenwood did once admit to trying to foster an appreciation for prog. “It’s been very disappointing because most of it is awful,” he told Q. I’ve got it into my head that prog rock must be good because it attracted a lot of fans. So far, I’ve just trawled through fairly tedious Genesis albums.”

20 years later, Greenwood sat down with Rolling Stone to discuss the making of OK Computer. During the conversation, he confessed he’d pinched a few things from Genesis for ‘Paranoid Android’: “I remember hearing a Genesis record and thinking the Mellotron sounded amazing, so I stole it. It was either ‘Nursery Cryme’ or ‘Selling England by the Pound’,” he confessed.

Adding: “It didn’t sound like any other keyboard. Instead there was a choir, and a weird, fucked-up sort of choir. I love the fact that the notes run out after a few seconds. Some relative of the inventor was trying to remake them and had a few. They came with the tapes in and it turned out they all belonged to Tangerine Dream, which is getting into prog territory.”

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