7070Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Camel Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP)80
60Pink Floydthe Moody Blues, Procol Harum, the Synthe Nice7080neo-progressive rock6070Canterbury sound70Rock in Oppositionkrautrockpost-punkneo-classical metalprogressive metalnew prog21
Miles DavisProgJerry EwingDream TheaterJohn Petrucci
Greg LakeBoz BurrellKing CrimsonJeffrey Hammond-HammondJethro TullJeffreyIan AndersonPink FloydBrian Eno
Another Roadside Attraction (Another Roadside Attraction, 1979) (Toronto) Another Roadside Attraction are yet another late 1970s band that has that Midwest progressive rock sound that Im quite fond of, and is littered throughout these pages. They feature the unusual lineup of two keyboardists, a drummer and a vocalist. The songs themselves have that slight FM radio slant that makes me a bit nostalgic. But the instrumental sections are right out of the classic ELP playbook. In fact, this album reminds me most of Morgans The Sleeper Awakesand The Trips Time of Change. Like those albums, hyper active acoustic piano drives the compositions forward. Synthesizers tend to be the solo instrument of choice. The LP itself has the look and feel of your typical US private press and features neat cover art.
Avalon (Voice of Life, 1977) (Ottawa) Avalon were a band from Ottawa who managed to get out one very professional LP in 1977, and unfortunately that was to be it. Celebration Day opens up in Equinox-era Styx territory and it appears were in for that unique North American proggy AOR sound, often times pegged with the derogatory pomp tag. A fine opener that quickly gets one engaged. Mother Russia is similar, but theres more of a prog edge here, and yea sure, we can point to early Starcastle if you wish. Fine with me. Lady of My Dreams is the obligatory lame ballad, but at least theres a fine synthesizer solo. In fact regarding the latter, there are many great synthesizer moments to be had on Voice of Life. The title track and Land of Mordor bring out the bands James Young identity, and were on the heavy side of AOR. Great break/riffs here that require repeat-play. Then whoever was supervising the group fell asleep, because Avalon decided to just go prog rock with Smoke and Fire, perhaps the highlight of the album for moi. Shadowcaster is not a one minute interlude, but rather a fully realized song and quite good at that! Maranatha then blends all the elements of the disc so far into one delicious whole. Theres a killer riff half way through that sounds so much better on albums like this primarily because it isnt what is expected.
Avalon had the songs to be radio staples in their day but for whatever reason they were ignored by those that controlled all. This isnt an album thats going to register with hardcore AOR, hard rock, or progressive rock fans. But if you like all 3 in one, then this album goes to the great column. And I would be one such person.
Robert Connolly (Plateau, 1978) (Toronto) Ive said it before, but its worth repeating: Ontario in the 1970s was an extension of the US Midwest at least from an economic perspective. And so it comes as no surprise that the music shares similarities. Weve waxed on a number of times about this most unique of American made rock music. And Ill be honest, I never viewed Connolly with this lens, until this revisit of the LP (one Ive owned since 1992 according my database). Wham bam, bullseye! Get your Ethos, Dillinger, Starcastle and October albums out and compare.
Even though Connolly is standing next to a double neck guitar on the back cover, I believe his true passion is keyboards (and hes loaded with all the fun analog stuff like Mellotron, Mini Moog and Hammond). The concept is pure 1970s space alien fantasy and comes complete with a goofy comic book (and any righteous CD label MUST reproduce this bad boy). For the album, Connolly put together two entirely different groups, each side represented. Side 1 mixes narration, female vocals, acoustic balladry and all out progressive rock that recalls Eloys Power and the Passion, but truthfully better. Side 2 is where Connolly hands over the guitar duties as well as brings on a male lead singer while he focuses entirely on the keys. No question this side is the more traditional progressive rock, though the vocals tend towards the AOR side, typical of the region. Given this new outlook, Im appreciating Robert Connollys album more now than ever. Its the time and place.
Dillinger (Dillinger, 1974 |Dont Lie to the Band, 1976) (Toronto) In some ways, this is darn near the perfect early 70s progressive hard rocker, with grungy organ and loud guitar, fronted by an extra-testosterone-laced lead vocalist. One can easily see this band being label mates of Spirit of Christmas (both were on Daffodil), though Dillinger were certainly not as ethereal. But there are a couple of downers one is their rancid rendition of a Spirit track (Natures Way) and, gasp, the obligatory over long drum solo on the side long Live and Return. Still, a great example of the Midwestern progressive sound. Im one of the few folks who think they improved on their second Dont Lie to the Bandalbum.
Here we go again with another ashratom Midwest progressive rock classic. As stated in a couple of other places, I consider Ontario as part of this scene, as there are many similarities across economic and cultural lines. And once again we are at the crossing path of unabashed FM radio hits and off-the-hinges radical complex progressive rock.
This one front loads all the bad tracks, so that your typical downloader will have already given up on it before the main course is offered (serves them right anyway). In fact, the first 10 minutes are pretty dreadful to be honest. It opens strong enough with a hard rockin cover of Spooky Tooths Two Time Love from The Mirror album. This is followed by a funky version of The Beatles great composition Taxman. Downright blasphemous if you ask me. And finally we get the awful Its Not All Mine, a hideous ballad that represents everything that was wrong with FM radio in 1976. Well, isnt this exciting? Im thinking sell bin at this point.
Enter nine and a half minute Munchkin Men which introduces us to 35 minutes of great music. Its a completely different album. This track is the highlight and demonstrates to us the band is willing to pull out all the stops, recalling every great Midwestern album from Albatross to Yezda Urfa. Fat Hammond organ solos, shredding guitar, emotional vocals, wild flute, acoustic guitar, a thousand meter changes. Its a heart stopper to be sure. The next 4 tracks continue in this manner, three of which pass the 6 minute mark, and are all clinics in mixing the commercially accessible with an academic approach and mixed with serious chops. Its what all of us underground heads, if we are entirely honest, wished Journey, Styx or REO Speedwagon to have done in the late 70s. And look, you can forget all the words above and just know this one kicks ass.
FM (Toronto) If youre a progressive rock band that names your group FM, then youre basically begging to be on this list! At times, FM is almost too Art Rock to fit the style. But the violin gives them that Kansas feel at times. FM were a band that has had a cult following for years.
Gideon (Eight Reasons Why, 1981) (Toronto area) Not sure how I got this far in life without at least hearing of Gideon, but I suppose its never too late. From the Toronto area, Gideon unleashed this one privately pressed album onto the public in 1981 and seemingly disappeared without a trace afterward.
Whats most striking about this album is just how high the professionalism is. In most cases like this, youll get a muddy or tinny recording, and a record sleeve from an artist that may or may not have been paid, if there was even artwork to be had at all. On Eight Reasons Why you are treated to a gatefold cover and one incredible production. I just cannot get over how well this album sounds. Big, fat, and analog.
The music is of a familiar variety for 1981, that of the North American proggy AOR genre, but its the execution that separates this album from the pack. This one lays off the saccharine bits (i.e. no lame ballad for track A3 here) and, if anything, has more of a hard rock streak than most. But its the keyboards that really shine here brilliant synthesizer tones, and excellent Hammond organ gives this one a strong progressive rock flavor. The guitarist is crisp and loud, and the bass is also mixed up front, with an active and clean sound. Most of the songs are well crafted, with many ideas per composition. Definitely not one dimensional, yet would have fit perfectly for FM radio in that era. I think it just sailed under everyones radar. Theres a couple of more ordinary tunes here in Auf Wiedersehn and Ill Never Forget You, but nothing banal or pandering. If you are someone who likes this particular strain of music, then Gideon becomes a mandatory listen.
Jokers Memory (Jokers Memory, 1976) (Ottawa) A 20 minute, one sided LP, featuring an amateurish attempt at a progressive rock style. Plenty of AOR moves to sit through, and while the effort is sincere, the material needed far more polishing before going into the studio. The abominable production (reminding me of the Astre album) doesnt help. One for collectors of the private press spirit, but musically speaking, little value can be found.
Rose (A Taste of Neptune, 1977) (Barrie) Rose were a band from Barrie, Ontario who managed a 4 album run, including the last two on major label Polydor. And its easy to see why they were signed up, as Ride Away is the perfect hook laden hard rockin opener. Snakes and Ladders begins to erode their sound though, as the late 70s styled chorus were cliched back then, much less today. Still, one cannot ignore the fantastic instrumental work, especially between the guitar and organ. As for the next track, Im sure the band said to the label How about we put the lengthy title track here?. No, no. Label rules state that a lame ballad must go in slot A3. And so it was done. Even here though, a fine guitar solo near the end saves it from the dire straits it was clearly in. And so the album goes between hard rock, AOR, and progressive styled mid sections basically a Crystal Ball-era Styx combined with the instrumental backdrop of Boston. Bangin My Head Against the Wall performs an excellent hard rock jam towards the end of the tune. The final track promises an epic length progressive rock extravaganza, but unfortunately its more of the same, and disappointment ensues. A good album on the whole, one that would have been for certain welcome on the radio in 1977. But it wasnt to be, and Rose was tossed into the trash heap with countless others, remembered fondly by a loyal few. At least they got a fair shot and went for it.
Rush (Toronto) If you were an adolescent male in the 1970s here in America, and had any taste for progressive rock at all (even if you didnt know what that meant), then most assuredly you were a Rush fan. Who didnt spray paint 2112 on junior high school walls back then? Exactly. Rush started primarily as a hard rock / blues rock band, but moved quickly into more cerebral music with Fly By Night. By the time of Hemispheres, the band was writing side long compositions with multiple themes and meter shifts. In their 70s heyday, they did tend to appeal more to the esoteric members of the high school class (freaks (aka stoners), nerds, musicians, etc). And they were able to hold off the pop bugbear much longer when they eventually melded their sound with the synth pop movement in the early 80s. To this day, Rush has more of a cult fan base than the other big progressive acts of Kansas and Styx. And thats because they stayed more true to the cause. They are, of course, legends today far beyond any regional associations they may have once had.
Saga (Toronto) Saga is the in between group for not only their popularity level, but also their place in Midwest rock history. They were a bit late to dinner, and Saga didnt find their stride until the early 1980s. One could argue they were the last hurrah for the big time progressive rock meets the arena type bands. Or you could also say that Saga was quicker to incorporate the early 1980s move to digital synthesizers and MTV styled songs. Heads or Tales might be their pinnacle achievement of pop songwriting with sophisticated arrangements, though at this point were pretty far from the goals of this list anyway. Still, Saga had a nice run for a few years as a top selling act. Even today, they continue to march along with their balance of AOR and progressive tendencies.
The Spirit of Christmas (Toronto) One of the originators of the type of sound were featuring here. The Spirit of Christmas rose from the ashes of Christmas, one of Canadas most praised psychedelic bands. The music here is a good example of proto-progressive heavy guitars and organ but the commercial orientation is definitely showing here. A groundbreaking work. When I first heard this album in the mid 1980s (long before I was a deep dive collector), Rush was the first band to enter my mind. Today I could name countless others, but I think my initial observation wasnt entirely wrong either.
Terraced Garden (Melody & Menace, 1982)(Toronto) Not an easy band to describe, this Terraced Garden, hailing from Toronto, Ontario. Arriving very late in the progressive rock game, its not readily apparent where the band is coming from. Especially on Melody & Menace. King Crimson is one obvious influence, especially when considering the Fripp sustained leads and the David Cross like violin. Flute and mellotron also call out an early 70s UK progressive rock heritage. But then theres the maudlin, but weirdly accented, vocals (a bit like the Canterbury bands actually) and compact song lengths, very clearly a product of the early 1980s. The album improves as it goes, and is definitely one of the progressive rock highlights of the era.
True Myth (True Myth, 1979) (London) This is obviously a big budget affair, complete with a thick gatefold cover, lengthy liner notes, and a brilliant production. Musically, even though its from Canada, it has much in common with the US Midwest prog rock scene of the mid 1970s. Though not that much of a stretch since southern Ontario is an extension of the region. 1979 was a little late for an album like this, and theres the expected obvious commercial AOR moves that can be a bit cringe inducing. But the piano work here is stellar (recalling Italys Festa Mobile actually). A good album that is generally panned by the progressive rock community. But I have a soft spot for this kind of stuff and recommend it to those who like groups such as Ethos, Styx and Sunblind Lion.
I created this section mainly as a depository for the inevitable what about this band? suggestions. A project like this is ripe for scope creep, and would become unwieldy if I tried to add every band from the Midwest during the 70s and early 80s. This is my compromise. I want to thank everyone for their suggestions. Some have found their way to the main list, which is outstanding.
The late 60s and early 70s psychedelic bands that were progressively minded: The Wizards from Kansas (Lawrence-KS); McDonald and Sherby (Minneapolis); Brimstone (Cleveland); Dragonwyck (Cleveland); Noah (Salem-OH. SW of Youngstown); McLuhan (Chicago); JD Blackfoot (Cleveland); Gypsy (Minneapolis); Grodeck Whipperjenny (Cincinnati); Truth (Chicago); McKay (Indiana); Westfauster (Cincinnati); Whalefeathers (Cincinnati); Michael James (Minneapolis; 1978 but sounds 1970)
Groups that are certainly progressive rock but dont fit the classic Midwest progressive sound: Random (Illionois; Avant prog); Nathan Mahl (Ottawa; Mix of New Wave synth pop and all-out progressive. However, I think their 2000 era reformation material is far more in line with this list); Tom Nehls (Minneapolis; One of those wacked out genius types. Even features a future Miss America on the album!); Earwacks (St. Louis; Similar to Nehls progressive for sure, but not the typical sound); Eardance (Chicago; Early 80s King Crimson styled); Syrinx (Toronto; Early 70s experimental / electronic); Rascal Reporters (Detroit; Canterbury, Avant prog); Pi Corp (Cleveland; Space rock); Machines Have Landed (Ontario; Space rock/folk); Ra Can Row (Cincinnati; Like a proto Ozric Tentacles); Demian (Moline-IL; Similar to a rock opera)
Groups that are more geared more towards jazz and fusion than progressive rock: Streetdancer (Chicago); Proteus (Chicago); Shadowfax (Chicago); Artport (Minneapolis); Ashby Ostermann Alliance (Chicago); Ruben Alexander (Gary-IN. Chicago MSA); Mosaic (Peoria-IL); Bagel OFun (Chicago); Meltdown (Detroit). Interesting that most of these bands were from the Chicago area.
Hard rock bands with progressive or psychedelic overtones: Thunderpussy (Carbondale-IL. I almost added this to the main list. Thunderpussy are proto epic metal in reality. More an influence on Midwesterners like Manilla Road); Warpig (Woodstock-ON. Closer to Uriah Heep); Amish (Galt-ON. Also a band influenced by Uriah Heep); Granicus (Cleveland. Majorly influenced by Led Zeppelin); Lodestar (Springfield-OH); Truth and Janey (Cedar Rapids-IA); Poobah (Youngstown-OH); Headstone (Columbus-OH); Kopperfield (Edwardsberg-MI); Max Webster (Toronto. Seeing that the band opened for Rush for many years, its only fair to include them here); VIIth Temple (Grimsby-ONT. Similar to the first two Rush albums with synthesizer); Strongbow (Columbus-OH); Euphoria (Milwaukee); Bulbous Creation (Kansas City); Highway (Fairmont-MN); Earthen Vessel (Lansing-MI); Wanka (Toronto); Skywalker (Chicago); Sky Dancer (Nebraska); Crystal Haze (Decatur-IL); Decadence (Chicago); JPT Scare Band (Kansas City)
Bands that are an absolute bulls-eye for this list BUT: Le Match (The sound is the perfect blend of progressive and AOR. Except they sing in French and are from Quebec just next door. But they are nothing like their Quebecois brethren such as Harmonium, Maneige, and Contraction); Maelstrom (Extraordinary archival find from 1976 that recalls Le Match and Et Cetera. Also sung in French); Astre (Very progressive but theyre from Tulsa which is a just a bit too far from the Midwest); Beyond (Another progressive band from Tulsa); Counterpoint (Also from Tulsa, and Counterpoint are more AOR influenced but still progressive)
Boneyard: These are bands that dont fit any of the above but are from the Midwest and have been spotted to be called progressive: Froggie Beaver (Omaha; Psych pop); Blitz (Cleveland; AOR); Trillion (Chicago; AOR); A Full Moon Consort (St. Louis; Lounge rock. Does have mellotron though!); Solenoid (Minneapolis; AOR); Locust (Iowa; Rock); Missouri (Kansas City; Rural rock); Mamas Pride (St. Louis; Rural rock); Zon (Toronto; AOR); Anonymous (Indianapolis; Folk psych); Roadmaster (Indianapolis; AOR); Garfield (Ontario; AOR); Mirth (Ontario; Folk rock); Clockwise (Erie-PA; Christian rock); Gabriel Bondage (Chicago; Odd band that doesnt fit the mold here and yet they dabbled with progressive and pop at the same time); Flight (Ft. Wayne; More of a UK song based sound. Demo recording); Dr Philter Banx (London-Ontario; Progressive electronic); Light (Indiana; AOR); Pharaoh (Michigan; AOR); Junius Brutus (Detroit; Folk psych 1981); Pavlovs Dog (St. Louis; AOR with mellotron and chamber music trimmings)
Im not either. And thats the thing with lists, especially lists about music: they are malleable. Kind of like the old saw about one persons Utopia being anothers Abaddon. Although with utopias an individual vision is probably easier to articulate. How many people do you know can declare, day-to-day, what their favorite albums or songs are? Would you, as a music enthusiast, necessarily trust anyone who could rank their all-time desert island discs and never revise or at least second-guess that list?
And yet, as the purpose of this column has been to revisit, reassess and, above all, celebrate all-things prog rock, its inevitable we grapple in some fashion with the best of the best. As such, and to ensure some measure of consistency, Ive set up some sensible but entirely self-appointed guidelines. For me, the initial and still-golden era of prog rock starts in 1969 and ends in 1981. And, since debate will and should forever rage regarding which bands are or are not part of the progressive genre, Im (quite contentedly) limiting discussion to acts hailing from the UK and here across the pond, including a certain trio from the Great White North. Whether this decision is defensible is subject to debate, and I welcome (and can predict) alternative suggestions in the comments section. If a particular band is overlooked the ultimate question must be: however worthy, could any of their albums supplant any on this list? My conclusion, after weighing the options, is that they could not.
If, inevitably, certain acts figure prominently, no apologies are offered. This is not an exercise in anointing personal preferences, but an inventory of the best albums. So while many of these final choices were easy to make, it was still excruciating to cull what necessarily began as a large list.
A quick shout out to some (but not all!) of the selections that didnt quite make the final cut. From Gentle Giant, The Power and the Glory; from Camel, Mirage; from Pink Floyd, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle; from Jethro Tull, Minstrel in the Gallery and Songs from the Wood; from Yes, Going for the One and Tales from Topographic Oceans; from Genesis, Nursery Cryme and A Trick of the Tail; from Rush, A Farewell to Kings and Permanent Waves; from ELP, Pictures at an Exhibition and Brain Salad Surgery; from King Crimson, Lizard, Islands and especially In The Wake of Poseidon; and two wild cards: Traffics The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys and from the Moody Blues, On The Threshold of a Dream. Anyone who loves progressive rock (and lists) can appreciate that many, many additional choices were affectionately considered.
One final note: in general individual tracks are not discussed in part to avoid giving this article an even more unwieldy word count, but better still, because The Amazing Pudding will be examining the Top 100 Progressive Rock songs every other month throughout 2016.
When it comes to the absurdly resourceful bench of prog rock bands, King Crimson was probably the most versatile of them all. Certainly they were the most adventurous, with ceaselessly shifting line-ups inspiring entirely new sounds. One could play a song from their first, third, and fifth albums and the average listener would have no clue it was the same band. And that, in some regards, is the premise and essence of progressive rock. Guitarist/resident visionary Robert Fripp is, as always, guiding the ship into ever-weirder waters, but its the introduction of (former Yes) drummer Bill Bruford and the one-two punch of David Cross (violin) and Jamie Muir (percussion) that make this one of the most distinctive offerings in the Crimson catalog.
Swapping out the fully competent Tony Kaye for keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman put Yes on an completely new level; by the time they recorded Fragile the group had a veritable genius on each instrument. More indulgent than The Yes Album, as each member gets their own solo showcase (with mixed results), the high points on this one are among the best things Yes ever did. While Roundabout functions as a seminal prog-rock touchstone, its the other extended tracks that make Fragile far greater than the sum of its parts. South Side of the Sky provides ample evidence for why the Wakeman upgrade was obligatory, and Heart of the Sunrise remains the most purely distilled product of this bands considerable powers.
The Wall might be prog rocks White Album in the sense that different fans would disagree which songs are sublime and which are second-tier. Most folks would concur that, while exceptional overall, this sprawling and extravagant (see: Waters, Roger) opus is a notch or three below the holy trinity of masterpieces that preceded it. Still, its difficult to deny that some of the Floyds finest work is represented (In the Flesh?, The Thin Ice, Hey You, Comfortably Numb), even if Waters had long since set his ego for the heart of the fat old sun. One of Pink Floyds and prog rocks last gasps, The Wall endures as the kind of album the best bands made when the best bands made these type of albums.
Just over halfway into the decade, when many of the old guard progressive rock bands were out of ideas or on hiatus, Rush delivered one of the genres definitive anthems. If the second side has mostly aged as poorly as the scarves and kimonos the band sports on the back cover, the title track still sounds at once familiar and forward-looking. Where on their previous three outings the trio wrestled uncomfortably, at times, with Led Zeppelin aggression and Pink Floyd-ian precision, everything came together for the masterpiece that served as coming out party and remains a calling card. Interestingly, while plenty of pundits (then, now) find Rush in general and prog rock in particular too pretentious to bear, this particular album has more in common with the much celebrated punk rock ethos that served, along with disco, to serve the progressive movement its last rites.
All these years later, theres no denying this remains high on the list of all-time worst album covers (meaning its also kind of awesome, in its way). If the cover art, like the bands existence, seems to function as an upraised middle finger to critics, the music inside is no joke. Not unlike 2112, the second side is, at times, inconsequential, but Tarkus is a delivery device the side-long title suite. This is where grandiosity meets spectacle, with a storyline as bewildering as it is half-baked. But the music? With ELP its all about the music, and the mood only more so. The martial Sturm und Drang of the opening notes billowing into the scorched earth lamentation of what is supposedly a tale of evolution in reverse expertly balances bedlam with resolution. Art-with-a-capital-A; Epic-with-a-capital-E, Pomposity-with-a-capital-P, etc.
Gentle Giant has always been relegated to the second or third tier, worshipped by a select contingent. This of course is a phenomenon that imparts a certain aesthetic credibility; only the people who are really in the know are aware of them. Or, you have to work harder to find your way to this band. Octopus ably matches the groups lofty aspirations and their impeccable musicianship, and stacks up nicely with other prog masterpieces of the era, no mean feat. Typical period pieces like The Advent of Panurge (if you are going to get literary, dont half-step!) and Raconteur Troubadour are stylistically and sonically all over the place but always in control. On this outing the band knows what its after and is able to achieve it.
For people to whom even Gentle Giant is not out-there enough. This, as much as any music of the genre, is a take it or leave it proposition, which might explain why this band (and, in particular, this album) has unwavering disciples while those who dabble in prog rock assuming such people exist may have never heard it. Here it is, for better or worse, work that embodies many of the best accolades and worst epithets of the genre: ambitious, self-conscious, literate, sprawling, obscure, and unadulterated.
If the band took a major step forward with Nursery Cryme, they took an Olympic vault with Foxtrot. Ominous, dark and dense where they were previously more whimsical and wide-eyed, this is where Peter Gabriel made his play for whackiest and most wonderful frontman in the crowded prog circus, circa 1972. Lyrically, the album touches on everything from space travel to ancient rituals to the ecology, homing in on mans arrogance and ignorance. And then theres Suppers Ready, which most fans consider the ultimate Genesis song, if not the apotheosis of prog rock. Everything and the kitchen sink? They even throw in some shit from the neighbors house for good measure.
It was a shame, then, and remains regrettable, now that some folks dont have the ears or hearts for this material, as it represents much of Ian Andersons finest work. His voice would never sound better, and he was possibly at the height of his instrumental prowess: the obligatory flute, the always-impressive acoustic guitar chops and, for this album, the cheeky employment of a soprano saxophone. Its a gamble (and/or a conceit, depending upon ones perspective) that pays off splendidly: a difficult, occasionally confrontational, utterly fulfilling piece of work. The subject matter, so perplexing at first blush, is a relatively straightforward examination of what happens after death. Literary allusions abound, and one wonders if this project had been described as rock musics version of Dantes Inferno it may have fared a bit better. (Probably not.)
As critics of this list will no doubt agree, certain bands seem to suck up all the oxygen (this is neither of the fault of those bands or those making the lists, if were to be honest). But while a handful of excellent groups should receive more praise, its difficult to think of one more unjustly overlooked than Camel. Granted, for the uninitiated, a lazy overview might suggest they sound something like Ian Anderson fronting Genesis, with the flute replacing the vocals. Camel is much more than that, and while their first several albums are all close-to-excellent, The Snow Goose is their masterpiece. More, its one of the underappreciated jewels in the Prog Crown. No distracting and/or flamboyant lyrics to contend with, its one extended, often gorgeous and always engaging musical suite.
Just as Fragile was a showcase of sorts for Rick Wakeman, The Yes Album introduced Steve Howe as the guitar players guitar player. On each song he pulls another riff out of his hat and his solos still sound immaculate, all these years later. Jon Anderson, prog rocks choir boy, is in all his multi-tracked glory and the remarkable rhythm section (Bill Bruford and Chris Squire) represent possibly the most potent combination rock has ever heard. Ludicrous lyrics, interesting album cover, unparalleled musical proficiency and an all-time prog rock epic (Starship Trooper), The Yes Album has something to offer anyone.
Interestingly, while the two albums that preceded it and the blockbuster that followed it receive if demand most of the attention, Animals is arguably the most cohesive and satisfying concept album Pink Floyd recorded. Neither as immediately arresting nor as alluring upon repeated listens, Animals is, among other things, the last time all principle songwriters came together in the service of a project that superseded ego and personal ambition. Separating the human species into three basic groups, Roger Waters gets politicians, corporate strivers and their timid victims into his sights. David Gilmour and Rick Wright, working gamely within this structural framework, lend some of their best support, helping turn what might have been an irredeemably dark and disconsolate work into something that illuminates the filth without wallowing in it.
After an extended hiatus and just as progs first decade ended, Fripp got behind the wheel for another series of remarkable efforts. Retaining Bruford and recruiting agile bassist Tony Levin, it was the audacious decision to employ a second guitarist (Adrian Belew, who also handled vocal duties) that gives this collective its characteristic sound. Fripps exposure to new wave, complemented by an increasingly globe-ranging palette, alongside Belews supple support, results in material that is challenging yet concise. On songs like The Sheltering Sky Fripp incorporates virtually every trick in his arsenal, creating something that integrates multiple source-points (African, Indian, and Western). The title track is like a business card for the new decade: Fripp asked a lot of his audience, but hes always asked more of himself.
Lets give it up for a band that, while disco raged, punk roared, and prog rock was already deep into its death-spiral, was just getting started. Indeed, Hemispheres represents at once a summation and a point of departure for what Rush had been trying to accomplish throughout the 70s. This was the last side-long suite Rush attempted, and it remains the last necessary one any prog-rock group ever did. Not as incendiary or influential as 1976s 2112, it will have to settle for merely being flawless, and the pinnacle of the bands output to this point.
By 1978 the trio was truly hitting on all cylinders, musically: arguably the most ambitious of all the progressive bands (which is really saying something), Rush had spent the better part of the decade trying to make a cohesive statement where all elements came together. Interestingly, if not ironically (since irony is anathema to prog-rock) this album/song that studies, and then celebrates the separate hemispheres (of our left/right brains, of our organized/emancipated natures) matches the smarts and technical proficiency with the ingredient that would play an increasingly obvious and vital role in the bands subsequent work: soul.
How much further out could Peter Gabriel go after this often impenetrable, messy and miraculous album? Nowhere at all, at least with Genesis, and it could be suggested that the rest of his consistently rewarding solo career is a journey inward, back from whatever near-insanities he courted while recording Lamb. The album is about the split personality of a homeless kid named Rael, adrift in New York City, like Moby Dick is about a whale. Consistent with so much exceptional music from this genre, whatever it ostensibly means is minor in comparison with the music and the emotion. Urgent, exceedingly dark, disorienting and, at times, almost unbearably beautiful (Hairless Heart, The Lamia), it also features one of the all-time examples of prog rock perfection: The Carpet Crawlers.
One thing that plagues even some of the better progressive rock music is how utterly of its time it can sound. (Not that theres anything wrong with that!) Like most of the bands already discussed, few people would have difficulty tying the majority of these albums to their era. Jethro Tull, particularly on Aqualung, nevertheless manages to present a song cycle meshing Ian Andersons acoustic strumming with Martin Barres abrasive electric guitar chords that manages to sound not only fresh but vital, even today. Understanding that the tunes are essentially asking What Would Jesus Do? in the context of a mechanized and materialistic society (circa 1971; circa 2015), Aqualung is prog-rocks Jaccuse. Anderson makes a case for the better angels of the 60s ethos, with nary a flower, freak-out or paean to free love. The ugliness of the way we tend to treat one another is, at times, reflected in the brutality of the music, and drives the relentless soundtrack to a state of affairs that arguably worsened as the Me-Decade got its malaise on.
Their self-titled debut was not an introduction so much as a kind of coronation: We are geniuses, hear us roar! The ideas and styles crammed into these six songs are at once staggering and overpowering, yet they manage to pull it off so that it never seems superfluous or overwrought (that problem would surface later on in their career). If King Crimson, during their prime, were not satisfied until they upped the ante past the point of endurance (for the uninitiated or enlightened; that is), Emerson Lake & Palmer made indulgence and excess their calling card. Adventurous, audacious and, yes, at times pretentious, ELP threw down a gauntlet and, at their best, produced works that still sound miles ahead, in terms of musical proficiency, conception and execution, of what just about any other rock band is capable of achieving.
An extended meditation on loss, the lyrics certainly address Syd Barrett and serve as equal parts explanation (of) and apology (for) what really went down in 1968. But Waters words are expressive enough to welcome additional, deeper interpretations. Certainly songs like Have a Cigar and Wish You Were Here speak to Loss with a capital L: loss of innocence, loss of intimacy or loss of connection(s) to others as well as oneself. If the two-part suite Shine on You Crazy Diamond is a rousing elegy for Barrett, Welcome to the Machine manages to condemn stardom, the system (military, corporate, entertainment) and the eventual disenchantment that follows success, all while creating a seven-minute soundtrack to make Dystopia sound at once inevitable and irresistible.
Although King Crimson seemed, sonically, locked in to make a sustained run, Red turned out to be their final album of the 70s. This was entirely Fripps decision, the result of burnout and likely, if understandably, residual exhaustion from his almost ceaseless work. The album begins and ends with signature songs for the band and prog-rock. The title track is a yin yang of intellect and adrenaline, underscored by a very scientific, discernibly English sensibility: its the closest thing rock guitar ever got to its own version of Coltranes Giant Steps.
The closer, Starless, is epic in every sense of the word; one of the all-time prog masterworks. Brooding and heavy, fraught with feeling and foreboding, its an exercise in precision, the apotheosis of their dread and release formula. It builds an almost unbearable tension, breaking at last through the darkness; less like the tide retreating and more like an ocean disintegrating into air. If ever a rock album could be said to invoke Poes famous unity of effect theory, Red remains one of the most fully felt, affecting artistic statements in the genre.
Rush arrived at the prog party later than their compatriots, but unlike other acts who began to both born out and fade away, this trio emulated the best aspects and steadily engineered their own wholly unique and rewarding style. Moving Pictures is, without any question, not only Rushs masterpiece, but one of those rare albums that epitomizes an era. It represents both a culmination and a progression: the peak of the bands development as well as the blueprint for Rushs subsequent work. More, it is a template of sorts for the way rock albums were made in the early 80s. It, along with King Crimsons Discipline, illustrates that the first great era of progressive rock had been taken as far as it could, or should, go. Prog rock became, in some ways, something very different than it was in the late 60s, and thats the point of its appeal. Always recognizable but seldom derivative, it pushed boundaries, sought new ways to explore sound and feeling and striving to become, as Rush put it best, emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength.
Jethro Tull was on top of the world (and the charts) in 1972 when Thick As a Brick became the first pop album comprised of one continuous song to reach a widespread audience. The concept may have been audacious, but the music is beyond belief: this is among the handful of holy grails for prog-rock fanatics, no questions asked. If Aqualung doubled down on the concept album concept, Thick As a Brick functioned as a New Testament of sorts, signifying what was now possible in rock music. Even with the side-long songs that became almost obligatory during this era, nobody else had the wherewithal to dedicate a full 45 minutes to the development and execution of one uninterrupted song (and Tull did it twice). Anderson had already proven he could write a hit and create controversial work that got radio play; now he was putting his flute in the ground and throwing his cod-piece in the ring.
Whatever else one may say about it, Thick As a Brick is the Ne Plus Ultra of prog-rock: between the extensive packaging (a faux newspaper that is equal parts Monty Python and The Onion); this was as ambitious as progressive music had been, and arguably remains the ultimate (anti?) concept album.
Perfect opening song. Perfect closing song. No, even thats not quite sufficient praise. No other album begins and ends as sublimely as this one does. From the opening heart beats to the sardonic assertion There is no dark side of the moon, reallyas a matter of fact its all dark, this is rock musics visionary apex. Dark Side represents the ultimate balance of aesthetic and accessibilitydemanding yet consistently satisfyingthat The Beatles initiated with Sgt. Pepper. For 741 weeks it was on the charts and it somehow remains invigorating; its still capable of surprising you, whether its the reverb of Gilmours slide just before the (improvised) caterwauling on The Great Gig in the Sky or the ceaselessly rousing climax of Waters understated poetry in Eclipse (And everything under the sun is in tune/But the sun is eclipsed by the moon). This is it; its all in here and it seldom got better than this.
Other bands came very close, but it seems safe to suggest no one else in the prog arena were as productive and proficient as Yes managed to be from early 1971 to late 1972: three masterpieces culminating in their tour de force, which approaches a level of ecstasy few outfits have ever approximated. While rightly castigated for bringing inane lyrics to an almost holy level, listening to Yes is like listening to opera: the words are, or may as well be, in a different language. Its all about the sounds: that voice, those instruments, that composition.
The title track is one of prog rocks ultimate statements of purpose, worthy of every clichd superlative imaginable: it really is epic and it really does deliver delights only the rarest art offers. And, while he presents abundant evidence before and after these proceedings, his work on this album alone ensures Steve Howe immortal status. Throughout the proceedings there are no pauses, wasted moments or miscues: everyone assembled works in service of the songs, resulting in a unified, utterly convincing proclamation, a truly joyful noise.
Selling England by the Pound is the most satisfying and fully realized Genesis recording, a period piece that recalls the past while being utterly of its time: the elegiac keyboards at the end of Epping Forest, for example, invoke a police siren outside a football stadium filtered through a black and white telly in an English pub, circa 1973. Its elaborate but controlled, far-ranging but focused, and it achieves a unity in words, sound and especially feeling that necessarily ranks it as a high water mark of prog rock.
Each member does career-best work, and the primary players all get a suitable showcase: Hackett serves up a shredfest on Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, and history has correctly noted that his tapping technique provided a template for the young Eddie Van Halen; Banks turns in a piano tour-de-force on Firth of Fifth that must have given even Keith Emerson pause (the solo Hackett uncorks mid-song might well earn him all time Prog MVP status); and Gabriel puts his words, voices and every ounce of his showmanship into The Battle of Epping Forest and The Cinema Show. The mastery throughout is all-time, for the ages; a bottomless pit of riches you can plunge into and float around blissfully, for the rest of your life. The poetry, puns, reportage, riffs on modern life (Oh, the humanity) and, as always, a yearning not-quite-nostalgia for a quieter and less complicated time.
The Rosetta Stone, and still the purest and most perfect expression of the prog-rock aesthetic. To fully fathom what In the Court of the Crimson King signifies, its useful to consider it as less an uncompromised statement of purpose, and perhaps the first influential album that forsook even the pretense of commercial appeal. To understand, much less appreciate, what these mostly unknown Brits were doing you have to accept their sensibility completely on their terms. Importantly, this was not a pose and it was not reactionary; it still manages to seem somehow ahead of its time as well as it must be said out of time. Of course, it came out of an era and the minds from which it was conceived, a dark, sensitive and undeniably psychedelic space.
So what is it, exactly, that King Crimson accomplished on the album that arguably remains their most fully realized vision? It has all the necessary ingredients: impeccable musicianship from all players (but special props must be doled out to Ian McDonald, whose flute and saxophone contributions grant the material its majestic, at times ethereal air), rhythmic complexity, socially conscious lyrics courtesy of Peter Sinfield, and an outsiders perspective that is neither disaffected nor nihilistic. It speaks from the underground, but is grounded in history and looks forward, not backward.
For close to a half century, prog has been the breeding ground for rocks most out-there, outsized and outlandish ideas: Thick-as-a-brick concept albums, an early embraceof synthesizers, overly complicated time signatures, Tolkienesque fantasies, travails from future days and scenes from a memory. In celebration of Rushs first Rolling Stone cover story, heres the best of the deliciously decadent genre that the punks failedto kill.
Progressive rock is one of my favorite genres and there so many good bands. This is my list of the 50 best progressive rock bands in alphabetical order. Some of them are borderline metal and some of them are borderline other genres, like alternative rock and post rock.
These sub-genres can all be very confusing. One thing to be sure if that all of these bands are awesome, in my opinion. Go through my entire list of progressive rock bands right now, I bet youll find a new favorite! Oh, and I mostly listen to modern side of progressive music, so dont be surprised if many old school influences are missing.
Progressive rock developed in the 60s and grew popular in the 70s. Its characterized by lengthy compositions, keyboard instruments and generally using experimental ideas. King Crimson and Pink Floyd are considered two of the most important bands in the style. Many modern takes on progressive rock came along over the years, and now many different bands can be considered part of the genre.
Im Stefan Nordstrm, an aspiring musician and content creator. This is one of the ways I promote Soliloquium, my progressive death/doom metal band. If youre searching for new music in the style, it would be awesome if you listened to my stuff on:
Antimatter is not just one of my favorite progressive rock bands, its one of my favorite bands of all time. Some of the darkest, most honest music Ive ever heard. The band only seems to get better over time, proved by 2018s brilliant Black Market Enlightenment.
One of my favorites among the classic progressive rock bands. Camel is so good at crafting dreamy, otherworldly songs. Never Let Go also has one of the most unforgettable acoustic intros in the genre.
Cynic is a classic band for many fans of death metal and progressive metal, but 2008s Traced in Air is more a progressive rock album. I actually prefer Traced in Air to the classic 90s debut Focus.
Awesomely super-geeky band somewhere between progressive rock and alternative rock. Catch without Arms is the most catchy album, while the album after goes heavy on the prog and art rock leanings. One of my all-time favorite bands.
In the Silence and the 2012 album A Fair Dream Gone Mad is one of the first bands that came up when someone needs something similar to Katatonia. Really classy progressive music on the border between metal and rock, with songwriting, emotion and great dynamics.
Katatonia is my favorite band, treading somewhere between doom metal, progressive metal and progressive rock. Fans of progressive music are bound to find something to enjoy from the modern part of Katatonias discography.
I ranked Klimt 1918 as number one in my best shoegaze bands article, but that doesnt stop me from including the band here as well. This band is just so good, taking the best parts of shoegaze, alternative rock and progressive rock, putting it into an overly emotional mix.
Super-hyped band in progressive rock and progressive metal, and mostly for a reason. Insane vocal performances and some damn interesting dynamics. 2015s The Congregation is the bands peak for me so far.
Balancing somewhere between progressive metal and progressive rock, Pain of Salvation is a given band to check out for fans of both styles. The albums around the millennium shift are the best ones, but the band returned to good form with 2017s In the Passing Light of Day.
No list of the best progressive rock bands is complete without Pink Floyd. The classic stuff is good, but Ill declare blasphemy by saying that my favorite is 1994s Roger Waters-less The Division Bell.
Ive listened to this band so much its unbelievable, especially In Absentia, Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun and Deadwing. Now I mostly go back for some solid nostalgia, but theres no denying the power of those albums.
Port Noir is a great example of newer progressive rock, sounding similar to other bands on this list, like Khoma, Aoria and Agent Fresco. Sadly, the band gradually lost their edge after the great debut album.
Riverside is one of the progressive rock bands that have been with me the longest. Debut Out of Myself caught me a long time ago, and Ive pretty much approved all the bands twists and turns over the years. Rapid Eye Movement and Anno Domini High Definition remains my favorites.
I got into Rush very late, but both influence and songwriting makes them mandatory in an article like this. The band really went out on a high note with 2012s Clockwork Angels, my personal favorite.
Soen has always been a quality band for me, but the bands sound really exploded on 2019s Lotus. It rid the band of the most obvious influences, while carving a whole new quality when it comes to vocal lines and lyrics.
Theres no need to describe Tools music or motivate why they are on a list of the best progressive rock bands. Ive been divided on the band over the years, but theres no denying the power of 2001s Lateralus.
VOLA is a band that defies classification, but the progressive rock influence is certainly strong, especially on the lighter second album. Very original and refreshing band in todays over-saturated rock scene.
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Progressive rock came and went, but opinions differ on what specific years it covered and which artists epitomize it. Perhaps this is unavoidable, because this so-called era isnt easily packaged into a particular time period or specific aesthetic, and what we are left with is the all-encompassing yet ultimately unsatisfactory moniker of prog-rock, which manages to be inadequate, overly simplistic, reductive, portentous and perfect?
The reason, at the end of the day, that so-called classic rock (in general) and progressive rock (in particular) endure is the most simple of all: they deliver the goods. Prog-rock satisfies the faithful and is entirely capable, on its own without aspiration or interference, of converting new acolytes every single day.
You had to be there does not apply when it comes to this music (or any music), and this is the elusive alchemy that best illustrates its staying power. Moments in time, whether artistic, political or social, that are defined or defended by those who took part in them, are necessarily exclusive not that there is anything wrong with that. Expression that, for lack of a better clich, transcends time and place is created and exists on its own terms, so there is no barrier of language, ideology or agenda that prevents it from finding its audience. The only requirement is a sufficiently open mind and ears (or eyes) capable of picking up what is being put down.
For the purposes of this list, the prog-rock era will include songs recorded between 1969 and 1979 (though, as will presently be made clear, the majority of the songs come from the first few years of the 70s). There are likely a song or two that some readers wont recognize, but I endeavored to not make this an exercise in obscurity (a person willing to rank prog-rock songs does not or should not need to further bolster his ambiguous street cred by listing songs nobody is remotely familiar with). As such, most of the usual suspects are included, and several of those bands have multiple entries. I tried not to list two songs from one specific album, which made the project only slightly less impossible than it already was. I look forward to hearing which songs I missed (and Ill honestly reply if the songs you would have picked were on my master list or if I overlooked them, intentionally or not).
Pink Floyd was still an underground band of sorts (albeit a very successful one) circa 1970, mostly because they didnt bother to write hit singles. For the fans that did not jump ship after Syd Barretts departure, the efforts between 1968 and 1972 were transition albums from a prog-rock icon in progress. The title song from this 1970 work clocks in at over 23 minutes and has everything from trumpet fanfare to orchestrated choir.
Originally and appropriately dubbed The Amazing Pudding, this opus crams in ideas (and serious shredding from Dave Gilmour) that would resurface on their ultimate breakthrough, Dark Side of the Moon: the multi-tracked voices, reprises, odds, sods and half-assed grandiosity are waved up a freak flag and remain unabashed and untamed today. It sounds very little like what Pink Floyd would shortly become; it sounds like a band from another planet which, after all, was more than half the point in the first place.
God bless Peter Gabriel. Appearing on stage dressed like a flower, or a fox, or with a faux-hawk, he had brilliance to burn. Still a tad rough around the edges, Gabriels earliest work with Genesis mixes heady ambition with elements of rocks most admired iconoclasts: there are pieces of T-Rex, David Bowie and Roky Erickson in his approach, but the sum of his artistic personas is utterly unique. This song, about a giant hogweed (obviously) only hints at how wonderfully weird Gabriel was before he became Peter Gabriel. What is generally and unforgivably overlooked is how incredible this band was all through the early 70s. The song bristles with anger and energy, and while the vibe is unquestionably of its time, everyone seems (and sounds) dead earnest.
Before they discovered the liberating ethos of leather and cracked the AOR code toward the end of the decade, Judas Priest was a bit of an enigma. While straddling the landscape of rock and metal, very much in the shadow of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Queen, they borrowed bits and pieces from their better-known brethren and released the not-at-all shabby Sad Wings of Destiny (in 76). If the lyrical ground on Epitaph was already covered, better, by Genesis (on Seven Stones from Nursery Cryme) even Gabriel did not have the vocal range of the young-ish Rob Halford. That falsetto! That pretension! That genius! A song like this is a make or break affair: if you loathe it or worse, if you laugh, you are a helpless cause when it comes to progressive rock; if you love it or worse, find it more than a little moving you are a helpless cause. Welcome to the machine.
This was the last side-long suite Rush attempted, and it remains the last necessary one any prog-rock group ever did. Not as incendiary or influential as 1976s 2112, it will have to settle for merely being flawless, and the pinnacle of the bands output to this point. By 1978 the trio was truly hitting on all cylinders, musically: arguably the most ambitious of all the progressive bands (which is really saying something), Rush had spent the better part of the decade trying to make a cohesive statement where all elements came together. Interestingly, if not ironically (since irony is anathema to prog-rock) this album/song that studies, and then celebrates the separate hemispheres (of our left/right brains, of our organized/emancipated natures) matches the smarts and technical proficiency with the ingredient that would play an increasingly obvious and vital role in the bands subsequent work: soul.
That ELP had the audacity to not only invoke classical music (as King Crimson had done with Holst on The Devils Triangle from In the Wake of Poseidon) but to actually cover a celebrated masterwork was not surprising. This band had the ego and indifference necessary to conceive such sacrilege; they also had the ability and vision to pull it off. A band like ELP not only invited critical venom, they practically begged for it (when they titled a later album Works it signified, possibly, the shark-jumping moment of the decade). On the other hand, they did not pander and they could not be pigeonholed: none of their early albums sound especially alike, and they were really interested in satisfying nothing else but their own curiosity. It is debatable that the only thing that pissed off the purists and prigs in the critical establishment more than their homage to Mussorgsky was how wonderfully they made it sound.