Sunday, December 06, 2015

50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums

Roger linked and commented on Rolling Stone's list of the 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums. I have to say, this is the rare Rolling Stone list that took me by surprise. I love prog rock, but even going by what seems to be a somewhat broad definition of prog, the list is fascinating because not only is there a significant amount of music listed that I've never listened to, there's some I've never even heard of. It's exciting, because now I get to try and track this music down and check it out.

I'm not going to comment on the whole list, but a couple of opinions.

43. Electric Light Orchestra, Eldorado (1974)
I love every ELO album from the seventies, but this one is probably the most satisfying listen, start to finish.

41. Amon Duul II, Yeti (1970)
I'm mentioning it because I've heard it, but Amon Duul II isn't really my thing. Even their first incarnation, just plain Amon Duul, isn't really for me, although I do like their first album, Psychedelic Underground.

40. The Soft Machine, Third (1970)
A heady album, for sure. Lots of experiments with ambient music (which didn't even quite exist yet) and free jazz and jazz fusion... man, my wife hates this kind of album. Lots of dissonant, weird noise. I love all the Canterbury Scene touches and flourishes. Nothing on this album clocks in under eleven minutes.

38. Gong, You (1974)
Gong was a weird band. This is the third part of their "Radio Gnome Trilogy," and that's about as far as I got with this band. Another prog album with a lot of jazz fusion on it. You can find the whole album on YouTube (as you can with a lot of these), and I'd describe it as sort of like half Mothers of Invention and half Tangerine Dream.

34. Caravan, In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971)
Oh, man, I really love this album. It's just so much fun to listen to. It opens with the wonderful "Golf Girl" and closes with a 22-minute suite. I love the Canterbury sound... it's like a middle ground between psychedelic and prog, but there's a lot of avant garde and jazz improvisation to it, all somehow mixed with a folk sensibility and this... I don't know, level-headed Englishness. This is the kind of sound that makes me think of epic fantasy (the album cover is inspired by Tolkien) and English gardens.

32. Kansas, Leftoverture (1976)
If you're going to listen to Kansas and you want to branch out from Best of Kansas (which is a great collection), this is the one.

31. Renaissance, Ashes Are Burning (1973)
I know it's prog rock, but I think of it more as sort of folk rock/psych-pop with a symphonic touch, but I guess that's part of the prog salad. Great album, just fun to listen to. I find "Let It Grow" achingly beautiful.

27. Supertramp, Crime of the Century (1974)
Interesting choice. I find that a Supertramp hits collection--a single album one--gets me all the Supertramp I need. I didn't find any of their albums particularly good (except Breakfast in America), even when they actually were a prog-ish band.

23. Tangerine Dream, Phaedra (1974)
Listening to this album, you can see why anyone wanted them to score films. It seems so simple, but it feels like traveling across the universe. I like Rolling Stone's description of the album's sense of "interstellar drift."

21. Camel, Mirage (1974)
Fantastic album, and probably the band's best, but it's their next album, The Snow Goose, that I return to the most.

20. King Crimson, Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973)
This album is a lot of clattering and noise. This is what separates the casual fan from the fellow traveler, and it showed me that, well, I'm more of a casual fan of King Crimson. For as much stuff as Robert Fripp has done that I love, there's an equal amount that just remains inaccessible to me, which actually makes me feel like some kind of fraud to admit. (I prefer the album Red to this one.)

18. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, One Size Fits All (1975)
Fantastic stuff. Zappa is another one of those guys who delights me as much as he confuses me, like Fripp, but this album is fantastic.

17. Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells (1973)
Fantastic album, forever identified with The Exorcist, still to me one of the most overrated movies I've ever seen. But the album is enveloping. My Mom always liked this one, so much so that I can hear her voice telling me to listen to Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach next... Oldfield's next two albums, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, are also excellent.

16. Gentle Giant, Octopus (1972)
One of the best album openings ever: "THEY'RE coming over CHARATON BRIIIIIDGE." Just grabs you right off. The best Gentle Giant album: baroque, experimental, lush and very, very English.

15. King Crimson, Red (1974)
Hey, there it is.

14. Genesis, Foxtrot (1972)
9. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
6. Genesis, Selling England by the Pound (1973)
I mention these all at once because they comprise something of a stylistic trilogy of art rock that touches on all kinds of themes: the supernatural, consumerism in England, alienation, even prog rock as a genre itself. Three of my all time favorites.

13. Pink Floyd, Animals (1977)
Pink Floyd isn't always my speed, but I really identified with a lot of the raw anger of this album. Strangely, this is an album my wife and I really disagree on; this one she doesn't like at all, just sitting there in the middle of a run of albums she really digs. It's funny, but that's how I class this album in my head: the Pink Floyd Album from the Seventies Becca Doesn't Like.

12. Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery (1973)
I love this album. Actually one of my Dad's favorite albums. I also like their much-maligned Pictures at an Exhibition.

10. Yes, Fragile (1971)
One of my Mom's favorite albums. They had a decent run of albums after this, too, although after Going for the One, I'm out. This is from when Rick Wakeman was still with the band, and I love his weird solo stuff. Even the King Arthur album.

7. Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick (1972)
A parody of concept albums so spot on that most critics didn't spot that it was a parody. One of many Tull records my Mom had... I think I have it and the other ones now. Of course I like Jethro Tull, up until about 1978 or so. The run from Aqualung through Songs from the Wood. I also have a single disc best of that I like to throw on sometimes. Sometimes I just want to hear the single edit of "Heavy Horses" without listening to the full album.

5. Yes, Close to the Edge (1972)
I love this one, too. Yes' best album. I'm very into the long prog rock suites. (Although I agree with Rick Wakeman that Tales from Topographical Oceans was a bit much.)

4. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
Tremendous album; obviously, I can relate to the themes of alienation and coping with what feels like the unending sadness of life. Why yes, I am coping with mental hardships right now...

2. King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
My Mom used to have this record, too, and the cover used to scare the hell out of me as a kid, as did, weirdly, that Mellotron flourish on "The Court of the Crimson King." It just made me feel weird. It made me feel in a way that I wasn't prepared for, that combination of notes, and I'm starting to think maybe that weird feeling is what drew me to prog rock. Because it made me feel anything. Great album, the only King Crimson album I have on CD.

1. Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Kind of an obvious choice, but a great album. Like all massive commercial successes, it's a little bit of a cliche for number one, and I resisted it for years because I'm not a fan of the song "Money." But the sweeping experience of the album itself is really something. Roger mentions being turned off by the cultish admiration of the album, and that kept me from it well into my adult years, too. But yeah, it's a great, great album. You know, you've heard it.

I'm a little surprised Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed isn't on there, as it's often called the first prog album and is a legitimately great album. A lot of this album, of course, depends on what you consider prog. Is Brian Eno's masterful Another Green World progressive, or is it art pop? Kate Bush's early albums have a prog influence, but are more like baroque pop. Folk rock bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span influenced some prog, as did great psychedelic stuff from The Incredible String Band, and a lot of early glam (Queen, Sparks) and early heavy metal (Uriah Heep, Hawkwind, the wonderful first album by Rainbow) have a lot of prog influences. David Bowie was obviously feeling it. And then, hell, there's the first four albums by Focus, which are just... everything.

I guess that's why I love prog so much. So many moving parts, encompassing the best parts of so many genres and turning into something lovely, something symphonic, something hard, something rocking, something fantastic, and something that branches out over so many great artists. I love the stuff. Just love it.


Kelly Sedinger said...

Wow! I love prog rock and as with all things, I don't know nearly enough about it. Now a big list of stuff to explore!

I'm glad to see Porcupine Tree on the list; that's an amazing band. Their front man, Steven Wilson, has done solo albums in the prog rock arena, and his album The Raven That Refused To Sing is one of my favorite albums of all time. It's the kind of record I'd like to put on the stereo as I drive two-lane roads.

Roger Owen Green said...

Interesting stuff. BTW, in terms of # of hits, and FB likes, my take was one of my most popular posts.