AOR Miles Away From Progressive Rock

Cover of Asia’s debut album
In the last couple of weeks, a new tour by AOR band Asia has been generating articles that associate the band’s music with progressive rock. Naturally, AOR is not progressive rock, but rather a simpler form of rock music.

First, the background. What is AOR?

AOR is defined as either Album Oriented Rock or Adult Oriented Rock. It’s a musical genre that surfaced in the late 1970s and was popular as a radio format. Major record labels and FM radio stations loved the genre because songs were short, had pop hooks and conformed to commercial radio standards. While many classic rock bands had a blues base, the AOR bands incorporated keyboards, harmonies and even fantasy artwork, appealing to an adult rock audience. Some of the best known acts included Asia, Foreigner, Boston, Toto, Journey and Saga, as well as recent newcomer Circa.

Why does a commercial pop format form of rock get associated with progressive rock? The reason is very simple. Asia was formed by progressive rock musicians, who had played in legendary acts like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and King Crimson. However, the music they made under Asia had nothing to do with progressive rock. They wanted to play simpler music that would appeal to large audiences and had better chances of getting radio airplay than a fabulous 20-minute epic.

Another well-known AOR band, Foreigner, also included a former King Crimson member. This led to confusion among some critics and music fans, who kept using the term progressive rock whenever they commented on Foreigner, Asia and other AOR bands.

Fast forward to 2012. Fueled by nostalgia, many bands from the 1970s and 1980s are reforming. AOR is dead as a radio format. Commercial radio is a vast wasteland focused on formulaic hip hop, pop and country. Labels and publicists see an opportunity in the progressive rock niche market and re-file the AOR bands as progressive rock. So now, press releases go out and clueless local writers and gullible music fans accept this information and, voila, by art of magic, a simplistic form of pop has been transformed into progressive rock. Some lazy bloggers copy and publish the press release as is, therefore perpetuating the incorrect information.

We can only hope that music fans and music journalists do a little more research before accepting what is fed to them. Enjoy AOR if you wish, but please don’t call it progressive rock.

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