October 23, 2016 3 Comments
As both a fan and musician, I have had more than a passing interest in progressive rock (prog rock or prog) for the last forty years. As an astrologer for the last thirty years, I noticed some time ago that Aquarian and Uranian themes are very common in the charts of many progressive rock musicians and that the whole musical genre is essentially Aquarian-Uranian in nature. From the often original and experimental nature of the music, to the eccentric musicians themselves, to the frequently intellectual lyrics in search of the truth. Not all Aquarian and Uranian musicians are prog rockers and not all progressive rock musicians have Aquarius or Uranus strong in their charts but the link is there.
Progressive rock gradually evolved out of the late 1960s, beginning with the more experimental sides of the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys and others. “Progressive” and “experimental” are of course words that are frequently associated with the astrological symbolism of Aquarius and its ruling planet Uranus, both being concerned with challenging existing conventions and exploring new territory. It has been suggested that Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles was the first progressive rock album and it certainly has many features that have come to be recognised as prog rock trademarks. There is an overall concept, a colourful album cover – a piece of art in itself – and an extraordinarily wide range of musical and lyrical influences. Others have suggested that In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969) by King Crimson was the beginning of progressive rock. By the 1970s and the likes of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes having established themselves, progressive rock had emerged as a subgenre in its own right. The term “prog”, sometimes used in a jokey or derogatory sense, appeared much later.
Unusual and quirky (Aquarius) time signatures and unconventional song structures are often a feature of progressive rock. Rather than conforming to the more typical 4/4 rock and pop beat, artists such as King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree often use alternatives such as 7/4 or 13/8. Pink Floyd’s Money on Dark Side Of The Moon and Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill are examples of using a 7/4 time signature. Aquarian progrock often breaks the musical rules in all sorts of ways – the traditional verse and chorus structures are frequently avoided in favour of extended instrumental sections or other alternatives. Unpredictability is the name of the day, although critics have observed that this can seem musically pretentious, sometimes appearing to sound different for the sake of being different. Such criticism is of course unlikely to bother a musician with several planets in Aquarius or a strong Uranus in their birth chart, who will follow their own path, regardless.
A quick look at the astrological charts of famous progressive rock musicians confirms the prominence of either Aquarius or many close aspects between Uranus and the personal planets. Guitarist Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd was born a Pisces Sun with a square to Uranus. In a 2014 interview promoting Floyd’s The Endless River album, producer Youth gave a perfect Sun-Uranus description when commenting on his experience of working with Gilmour:- “It’s funny with David, you think he’s going to be one way and then he goes completely the other. He’s unpredictable like that, and that’s good” (1). Keyboard player Rick Wakeman of Yes has Moon and Jupiter in Aquarius, flautist and singer Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull (a brilliant eccentric if ever there was one!) has Mars conjunct Uranus in 10th house. The extraordinarily gifted and uniquely intelligent guitarist Robert Fripp (King Crimson) was born with a close Venus conjunct Uranus trine Jupiter and another multi-talented guitarist and musician Steve Hillage (originally with the eccentric and sometimes brilliant Gong) was born with a close Mars conjunct Uranus at the apex of a Cardinal T-square. Kate Bush, who made her spectacular live comeback in 2014, has pretty much transcended all genres but the strong prog leanings are there. She has a natal Sun-Uranus conjunction and almost certainly, depending on the time of birth, Moon in Aquarius.
At their 1970s peak, Genesis were one of the most interesting and innovative progressive rock bands. A very English group of musicians making clever and eccentric (Aquarius/Uranus) music, fronted by Peter Gabriel’s clever and eccentric theatrical performances. Although Genesis became more commercially successful after Phil Collins took over as singer, most prog fans consider that the more interesting and original ideas (Aquarius/Uranus) started to run out after first Gabriel and then Steve Hackett left the band. Both Hackett and Gabriel have natal Sun, Venus and Jupiter in Aquarius, being born one day apart on 12th February 1950 and 13th February 1950 respectively. The Aquarian urge for freedom and independence would have played its part in them branching out to pursue extremely successful solo careers, each achieving substantial international recognition for their artistic brilliance across a number of musical genres.
With his Aquarian Sun and other 7th house Aquarian planets on display to the public, Peter Gabriel is the living embodiment of the most highly evolved Air sign. A major feature of Gabriel’s birth chart (2) is a powerful close opposition between Pluto in Leo on the Ascendant and Jupiter in Aquarius on the Descendant. Gabriel has achieved huge recognition and success as both a Pluto in Leo rock musician and a Jupiter in Aquarius visionary humanitarian. The tension between these two is mediated by a gifted and magical conjunction between Mars and Neptune in Libra, a perfect combination for a socially conscious artist and musician. He has often been years ahead of his time (Aquarius), from his founding of the Womad festival, to his support for world music through his record label and recording studio, to his involvement with one of the first music download services, OD2. Receiving the Prog God award at the annual Progressive Music Awards in London, September 2014 from comedian and prog fan Bill Bailey (there’s a fair bit of Aquarius in his chart too), Gabriel said:- “Despite prog probably being the most derided musical genre of all time there were – as today – a lot of extraordinary musicians trying to break down the barriers to reject the rules of music… We didn’t always get it right, but when it did work we could move people and get some magic happening.” (3)
Mainstream progressive rock was carried into the 1980s by Marillion, who are still going strong today. Both the original Marillion singer Fish and new boy Steve Hogarth (who has actually been with the band since 1990) have a prominent Mars in Aquarius. It has often been said that guitarist Steve Rothery is Marillion’s greatest musical asset, and Rothery was born with an almost exactly stationary Uranus in Leo. (Astrologer Stephen Arroyo recently observed that due to the use of computers, the importance of natal stationary planets is now often over-looked (4), something that contemporary astrologers might want to bear in mind.) Marillion were years ahead of everyone (Aquarius) when they famously first used crowdfunding to raise money for an American tour in 1997. As with many newer and lesser known 21st century prog acts, the Aquarian internet has continued to be essential to the band, enabling them to build a worldwide fanbase whilst remaining largely independent (Aquarius) of the music industry.
No piece on astrology and prog would be complete without a mention of Francis Dunnery, who is himself an accomplished astrologer. The inspired ex-It Bites and ex-Robert Plant guitarist and songwriter has a close Sun-Uranus aspect and Saturn in Aquarius. Appropriately, he runs his own label called Aquarian Nation.
Although progressive rock has always survived and thrived underground, it was uncool for many years. Since Radiohead’s OK Computer in the late 1990s, prog rock’s influence has become increasingly acceptable in the mainstream again – prog is no longer quite such a dirty word!
- “The Making of The Endless River”, Prog magazine, October 2014, p.44.
- Peter Gabriel, born 4.30 pm, 13th February 1950, Woking, England. Time of birth is from memory, according to astro.com databank.
- “Peter Gabriel honoured at Prog music awards”, BBC News website, 12th September 2014.
- “Experiments and Experience with Astrology: Reflections on Methods and Meaning”, Stephen Arroyo, CRCS Publications, November 2013.
This article was originally written for a book on the astrology of music, due to be published by Flare Publications, UK.