21 Favorite Progressive Rock Albums
by Clayton Walnum

The 21st Century (at least for some). To mark the occasion of the true "rollover," I asked each of my contributors to gather a list of their Top 21 favourite progressive albums of all-time. No mean task, mind you, because there are so many albums out there that we've not heard, so many released just this past year that haven't had time to become absorbed into our conscience, into our psyche, to become part of the fabric of who we are. So a list like this is only temporary, a snapshot of an otherwise transitory moment in time. Certainly there will be titles that, with each reordering, remain on the list, but others will drop in and out as time progresses. It takes away nothing from the validity of the list, of course, because that snapshot is as accurate and true as the next one.

Although I asked each of the reviewers to come up with a list, they were not required to do so. Because it is a big task, many are still working theirs out, including myself. So, throughout the year, we'll add each reviewers list as they are completed. [12/11/2007: as you can see... for most of us, it's still a work in progress] -ed.

21 Favorite Progressive Rock Albums

Picking 21 favorite progressive rock albums was a bigger task than I ever would have imagined. My first list had over 100 albums on it. I mean, let's face it: choosing a favorite Yes, Gentle Giant, or Genesis album is an exercise in futility. They're all my favorites. However, in this list I decided to limit myself to choosing only one album from each band, the exception being Genesis because I wanted to cover both their Gabriel and post-Gabriel periods. Without such a limitation, I'd have never been able to put together a list of less than 50 albums. So, here (in alphabetical order) are the fruits of a lot of hard choices and a lot of hours spent re-listening to, and comparing, stacks of CDs:

  1. Anglagard -- Epilog

    I didn't get a chance to hear this album until recently, and it instantly went on my have-to-listen-to-this-again-and-again-until-my-wife-throws-me-out-of-the-house list. Really amazing, creative stuff that goes from quiet classical-like sections to blazing Gentle-Giantish complexity and King-Crimsonish fury. Fabulous. Another great Anglagard offering (if you can tolerate the poor vocal parts that pop in here and there) is Hybris.

  2. Dream Theater -- Images and Words

    This is the band that made progressive rock cool again. Blending the sounds of modern metal with classic prog arrangements, these guys absolutely cook -- that is, they cook until they're doing one of their beautiful ballads. This is the album with "Metropolis, Part 1" on it, as well as the almost-hit and concert staple "Pull Me Under." 'Nuff said, except that the albums Awake and Scenes From A Memory: Metropolis 2 were runners-up for my list.

  3. Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- Tarkus

    Although I was crazy about EL&P's first album, it was on this second release that the band really gelled for me. The first track is the amazing title song (actually divided into seven songs, but it's continuous), which is 20 minutes of keyboard bliss. On this album, too, is "Bitches Crystal," another EL&P favorite of mine. Also, check out the marvelous albums Brain Salad Surgery and Trilogy.

  4. Flash -- Flash

    This is the first album by the band that featured ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks and ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. There's just something that really grabs me about this band. Maybe it's just because I'm so crazy about Yes that anything associated with them is okay with me. Whatever. In any case, this is pretty cool 70's style prog. They did a couple of other albums, too: In The Can and Out Of Our Hands.

  5. Flower Kings, The -- Back In The World Of Adventures

    The Flower Kings are one of the best of the newer prog-rock bands, and this is one of their best albums. The 14-minute title song is a good example of how to write great melodies and still keep the music sophisticated and not too poppish (something another band called Spock's Beard has also mastered). That's not to say that the rest of the album isn't great, too. Wonderful stuff. I also especially dig the albums Retropolis and Space Revolver.

  6. Genesis -- A Trick Of The Tail

    This was the first Genesis album after Peter Gabriel left and Phil Collins took over the vocal chores. Before this album was released, everyone thought that Genesis couldn't survive without Gabriel. Boy, were they wrong! Just listen to the intensely prog "Dance On A Volcano" or the enchanting "Ripples." Progressive rock doesn't get much better than this. Another great post-Gabriel album is Wind And Wuthering (even if it does include that gaggingly sweet stab at top 40 called "Your Own Special Way.")

  7. Genesis -- Foxtrot

    This is the album that features the magnificent "Supper's Ready," an epic suite (23 minutes) that's absolutely essential listening. And that's not to mention the classic "Watcher Of The Skies," which is the opening track on this album. No prog collection can be without this CD, as well as without what I think of as its companion, the album Nursery Cryme. Some other great albums from the Gabriel-period of Genesis are Selling England By The Pound and the epic The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

  8. Gentle Giant -- Octopus

    This is the first album on which Gentle Giant pulled out all the stops. (It's actually their fourth album.) Wonderfully complex. How complex? One song is titled "Knots," and they aren't kidding! This is a true prog classic. You can find more Gentle Giant knots on albums like The Power And The Glory, In A Glass House, Free Hand, and Interview.

  9. IQ -- Subterranea

    This release (and a double-CD to boot!) is IQ's masterpiece, featuring one marvelous song after another all merged into an immense and emotionally charged concept album. Although a neo-prog offering, there are enough old-style prog bits to keep things interesting for just about any fan of progressive music. Beautifully recorded, too. Other not-to-miss IQ albums are Ever and The Wake.

  10. Jethro Tull -- Thick As A Brick

    This is Tull at their most progressive, one long song (OK, it's in two parts, due to the fact that the LP had two sides) filled with some of the best Tull ever recorded. I was heartbroken when, after Passion Play (the album released after Thick As A Brick) the band went back to more conventional, short-form fare. Passion Play is, of course, another great Tull prog album.

  11. Kansas -- Leftoverture

    This is Kansas at their peak. Here, they've not only managed to stay true to their prog leanings, but also to have a huge hit in the great track "Carry On Wayward Son." This album also features the gorgeous "The Wall" and the rockin' "Miracles Out of Nowhere," which manages to squeeze in a Gentle Giantish center section. The album closes with the long (almost nine minutes), very proggy track "Magum Opus," which often borrows from EL&P's sound while still maintaining a true Kansas feel. Truth is that there's not a mediocre track on the whole album. Another nearly perfect Kansas album is Point Of Know Return.

  12. King Crimson -- Larks' Tongues In Aspic

    For me, this is the legendary Crim at it's best. I never, ever get tired of listening to this album. I love all of KC's stuff (well, most of it, anyway), but this one really stands out. I have a feeling that Mr. Fripp would agree, considering that he's released no less than four different songs that use the "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" title. Other favorite KC titles of mine include Red, Islands, Thrak, and The ConstruKction of Light.

  13. Pink Floyd -- The Dark Side of the Moon

    What can you say about the album that turned on the whole world to our kind of music? It's amazing that any progressive album could be one of the best selling albums of all time, but there you go. On this one, Pink Floyd managed to walk that fine line between high-quality music and commercial appeal. What a balancing act. My runners-up from the Floyd catalog include Meddle, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall.

  14. Rush -- Hemispheres

    Being the grandfathers of progressive metal (well, one of them, anyway), Rush just has to appear on my favorite prog list. Hemispheres is for me the album on which the Rush sound reached its full maturity. The 18-minute opening track, "Cygnus X-1 Book II Hemispheres," and the 10-minute instrumental "La Villa Strangiato" are absolute essentials. Also, keep in mind that today's prog guitarists often credit Rush's Alex Lifeson as a major influence. A couple of other great Rush albums are Farewell To Kings and Permanent Waves, the latter of which features the huge crossover hit "The Spirit Of Radio." (Yes, Virginia, there was actually a time in the deep dark past when progressive rock bands could have hits.)

  15. Saga -- Silent Knight

    Saga have never really been a full-fledged progressive band, being more concerned with writing great songs than in showing off their musical chops. (Please don't interpret that statement as meaning that I don't think a heavily progressive band can't have great songs and great chops!) However, in their earlier days, they were easily as progressive as some of today's neo-progressive bands like Pendragon, Marillion, and IQ. This, their 1976 album, has all those great songs along with scads of cool proggy bits. Other Saga goodies include the albums Images At Twilight and Worlds Apart, the latter of which features their smash hit "On The Loose."

  16. Spock's Beard -- V

    Hey, Neal Morse! You and the Beard rule! Spock's Beard is (to me, anyway) the best prog rock band since the good old days. Sure, they owe a huge debt to Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and The Beatles, from whose styles they lift liberally. But so what? As far as I'm concerned, if you can pull off that combination successfully, you can park your CD in my player any day. This, their fifth album (duh!), includes the 16-minute magnificence of "At The End Of The Day," not to mention the very Gentle Giant-like "Thoughts (Part II)." Some other great Spock's Beard albums (hey, they're all great) are The Light, Beware Of Darkness, The Kindness Of Strangers, and Day For Night.

  17. Starcastle -- Starcastle

    OK, I know that they were a Yes copy band and that they couldn't hold a candle to the real thing. Still, I love these guys. Guess you could say this is a guilty pleasure. Some other guilty pleasures by this band are the albums Citadel and Fountains Of Light.

  18. Thinking Plague -- In Extremis

    An amazing, challenging album. Definitely not for everyone, but if you dig the weirder side of King Crimson or Gentle Giant, you'll probably dig this, too. Not that they necessarily sound like KC and Gentle Giant. They pretty much have a sound of their own?well, sometimes they sound like KC and Gentle Giant?but usually they don?t. Oh, hell, go listen to the darn thing.

  19. Transatlantic -- SMPT:E

    The best of the recent progressive "side projects" (or what used to be called supergroups), this band is a melding (literally) of Spock's Beard, Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, and Marillion. This is my favorite album by any new prog band, including Spock's Beard. Oh, wait a minute ? this almost IS Spock's Beard. In any case, great songs, great jams, great changes, great production. Just plain ol' great!

  20. U.K. -- U.K.

    This band has an impressive lineage, featuring John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia), Allan Holdsworth (Gong, Soft Machine, Tony William's Lifetime), Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, Zappa, Curved Air, King Crimson), and Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson). U.K.'s first album treads a line between progressive and jazz-fusion, with some really great performances. U.K. also did two other albums, Danger Money and Night After Night, but Holdsworth and Bruford appear only on this first outing.

  21. Yes -- Fragile

    Trying to come up with my favorite Yes album was like having to choose between my kids. But I finally decided that Fragile represented Yes at their absolute best. With classic numbers like "Roundabout," "Long Distance Runaround," and "Heart Of The Sunrise," you just can't go wrong. As for Yes stuff, maybe you'll also let me squeeze in Close To The Edge, The Yes Album and Tales From Topographic Oceans. (OK, so I can't pick just one.)

    Links: Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Äglagård, King Crimson, Dream Theater, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard, IQ, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Rush, Saga, The Beatles, Starcastle, Thinking Plague, Transatlantic, Asia, Allan Holdsworth, Gong, Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford

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    Published on: 2000-01-30 (7644 reads)

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