If there is one musical genre that truly expanded my horizons, it was likely progressive rock.
Sure, you could argue “classic rock” was diverse enough to do it anyway, but prog led me to all sorts of other forms of music because of its very nature.
Many years later, I don’t listen to prog rock much any more, but I do feel like I have a pretty good handle on the history of the genre. And it was always my ambition to make a quality playlist.
So here is my attempt at it. Listen to the Essential History of Progressive Rock Playlist.
Please note it’s a work in progress, and will likely be change a lot in the future.
Essential Prog Rock Playlist
1. The Beach Boys: “Good Vibrations” (October, 1966)
Yes, the furthest thing from the sound of 1969 King Crimson or 1974 Genesis.
But this was, as far I am aware, the first “suite as song” in popular music history, certainly the first that was a hit. It was the most ambitious hit single anyone had ever heard.
2. The Who: “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (December, 1966)
When people talk about the first rock operas, they talk about albums.
But before there were rock opera albums, there were Who songs with the ambition of rock operas, in miniature.
This is the first one.
3. The Beatles: “Penny Lane” (February, 1967)
Yes, a psychedelic song.
But compared to the song its paired with, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane” is a different beast entirely. The most notably “proto prog” thing about it is the “mock baroque” trumpet solo. If “Strawberry Fields” is one of the earliest art rock hits, it’s easy to think of “Penny Lane” as being a tentative step towards a different form of music, that combines more ambitious music with pop.
4. The Beatles: “A Day in the Life” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May, 1967)
A track from the most famous psychedelic record ever?
Well, it’s the ambition here that is influential: two separate songs stuck together using one of the most infamous uses of an orchestra in pop music.
5. Pink Floyd: “Interstellar Overdrive” from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (August, 1967)
Basically just an extended psychedelic jam, but a relatively early one (on record) and an ambitious one. Once this is combined with the ideas in the above songs, we’ll have actual prog rock.
6-8. The Moody Blues: “Lunch Break,” “The Afternoon” and “Evening” from Days of Future Passed (November 1967)
Received wisdom has it that this is the first progressive rock album of all time. But, much like the “first” heavy metal album of all time, this sure doesn’t sound like prog rock.
In fact, only three of the tracks really reach the ambition of prog rock. Most of the album is psychedelic rock or art pop sandwiched between orchestral flourishes and spoken word passages. It’s only these three tracks that try to integrate the sound.
If they had actually recorded the Dvorak symphony like they were supposed to, maybe that would merit the whole album being here.
As for the rest of their catalogue, if you think there’s an album or track I should consider, please do comment. But I’ve never listened to anything of theirs I found particularly “progressive.”
9-11. The Who: “Rael,” “Hall of the Mountain King” from The Who Sell Out (December 1967)
“Rael” is the second of “Tommy’s parents” that Pete Townshend wrote before the infamous rock opera. I have included the reprise here, which wasn’t included on the original album, because it gives a better idea of the ambition.
Also I included the Who’s cover of Grieg/psychedelic rock (Pink Floyd) parody which was also an outtake because it’s like the earliest example of a band this famous covering classical music.
12. The Nice: “Rondo” from The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (March, 1968)
The band that perhaps has the best claim as the “first” progressive rock band ever, or at least on record, adapts Dave Brubeck for their first attempt at long-form piece of music.
13-18. The Small Faces: “Happiness Stan” from Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (May, 1968)
A suite of psychedelic rock songs paired with a plot and spoken-word storytelling. Not prog rock, but among the more ambitious psychedelic works to date. (Compare with Sgt. Pepper for instance, where they abandon the concept after two songs.)
19. The Nice: “America” (June, 1968)
This adaptation of the hit from West Side Story almost made the UK Top 20. It was far from the first time a rock band – especially a UK rock band – had covered a song from an American musical. But it was how they did it that was revolutionary. Not only did they remove the vocals but they incorporated elements of a Dovrak symphony, making it arguably the first ever prog rock hit, at least in the UK.
20-22. Pink Floyd: “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “A Saucerful of Secrets” from A Saucerful of Secrets (June, 1968)
Prog rock barely existed in 1968, if it did at all. Certainly, the sound of ’70s prog rock did not exist in early 1968, before this album came out. These three songs from Pink Floyd’s otherwise very psychedelic second album helped set the template for ’70s prog rock perhaps more than any other songs from this era.
The first two tracks essentially invented the prog sub genre space rock – if “Interstellar Overdrive” didn’t invent it already – with their focus on “spacey” sounds and jamming.
The title track though, is something entirely different – four unrelated musical pieces combined into a suite, which climaxes in the fourth movement. It’s rough but it lays out the template for most ambitious prog rock tracks going forward.
23-24. Deep Purple: “Prelude: Happiness/I’m So Glad” and “Hey Joe” from Shades of Deep Purple (July, 1968)
Deep Purple’s first flirtations with ambitious, dare we say “progressive” music are these awkward covers combined with string sections – the prelude before the blues song “I’m So Glad” is inspired by Russian Romantic music, for instance.
25-33. Family: 9 tracks from Music in a Doll’s House (July, 1968)
The most ambitious and proggiest tracks from the debut album of one of these bands that was prog rock when they debuted but who didn’t adapt as the genre did. It’s sort of hard to figure out what to do with their later albums, as they’re stuck in a late ’60s prog rock world. What I mean is, they lack the ambition of ’70s prog rock bands.
34. Procul Harum: “In Held ‘Twas in I” (September, 1968)
The first ever prog rock side-long suite, as far as I’m aware, it set the standard for the most common ’70s prog rock rite of passage for aspiring bands.
45-47. Caravan: “Love Song with Flute,” “Cecil Rons” and “Where but for Caravan Would I” (October, 1968)
Caravan beat their fellow Canterbury band (and former bandmates) The Soft Machine to the punch but their music is mostly much more traditional and conservative. These are the most out-there tracks from their debut album, which manages to both sound like later Caravan but also not really like “prog.”
48-49. Deep Purple: “Exposition/We Can Work It Out” and “Anthem” from The Book of Taliesyn (October, 1968)
Another clunky fusion of classical music – actually Romantic music, based on Beethoven and Tchaikovsky – and a cover. But “Anthem” is a more serious attempt at “art music,” greatly indebted to Bach, which mostly works.
50-51. The Nice: “Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite” and “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” (November, 1968)
The first track is probably the first proper rock adaptation of a Romantic piece, something that was soon to be a Keith Emerson specialty. (He would get much better at it.)
The second track is extremely notable as it’s the second ever side-long prog rock piece, something that would become a rite of passage for serious prog rock bands in the ’70s. (Please note that, for some reason, it’s called “Symphony For Group and Orchestra” in this playlist.)
52-64. The Soft Machine (December 1968)
Our first complete album, though very much caught between psychedelic music and different emerging genres – jazz rock, prog rock, art rock – it’s more consistent in tone and in quality than the other early progressive rock efforts:
- Pink Floyd, who were still making psychedelic music at the same time as their space rock and prog rock
- The Moody Blues, who never quite went as “progressive” as their contemporaries
- The Nice, who had a huge problem with quality material (and had horrible singers when they sang)
- Deep Purple, who only flirted with progressive ideas some of the time, before they went full metal in 1970
The Soft Machine’s debut album is the closest thing to an essential prog rock album to exist before In the Court of the Crimson King.
65-77. The Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow (December, 1968)
Not progressive rock by any later definition but the first album-length rock opera, beating Tommy by six months. The music is basically just psychedelic rock, but the ambition is closer to progressive rock.
78-79. The Who: “Overture” and “Underture” from Tommy (May, 1969)
Most of Tommy itself is mainstream rock music that doesn’t resemble prog rock in any way. And given that Tommy isn’t even the first rock opera, it would be silly to include it. But these two tracks are among the closest the Who got to the genre. (I am actually not a fan at all of “Underture” but I feel like it would be wrong to omit it from this list.)
80-89. Procol Harum: A Salty Dog (May 1969)
It might be a little aggressive to include this entire album here as “essential.” Procol Harum are one of these bands (like the Moodies and Family) who are basically caught in a early version of prog rock and never really evolved. (Though Procol Harum did pioneer the side-long prog suite.) But, at the moment, I’m too lazy to go through the album to eliminate the inessential stuff, so it will sit here as a pretty decent early prog rock album until somebody complains.
90. Deep Purple: “April” from Deep Purple (June, 1969)
Deep Purple’s most successful attempt at prog rock before they switched to heavy metal. One of my favourite songs by them.
91. Jethro Tull: “Bouree” from Stand Up (July, 1969)
Tull began as a blues rock band and then transitioned into a band which merged hard rock and folk rock. But they had progressive tendencies from the beginning and nothing reveals that more than this Bach cover.
92-108. The Soft Machine: Volume Two (September, 1969)
The Soft Machine’s second album is far more ambitious than the first. Heavily influenced by Frank Zappa, it is still less avant garde than the Mothers’ music and is still recognizable as among the best early prog rock. There is a pretty heavy jazz influence too.
109-113. King Crimson: The Court of the Crimson King (October, 1969)
If one album can be said to have inaugurated the golden era of progressive rock, it’s this one.
5 self-produced, multi-part tracks over 44 minutes, with heavy influences from jazz and classical music, and perhaps the first use of a mellotron as a lead melodic instrument. (Not to mention woodwinds and a vibraphone.)
Not everything on this record has aged as well as some of the prog rock that would come later, but most of it still sounds pretty incredible.
114. Colosseum: “The Valentyne Suite” from Valentyne Suite (November, 1969)
Colosseum are a jazz rock band and are kind of lumped in with progressive rock sometimes because people cannot make up their mind about whether jazz rock is its own genre. But a suite still gets them on this list, as far as I’m concerned.
115-118. Pink Floyd: the live LP from Ummagumma (November, 1969)
Sorry to be a little redundant here with live versions of two tracks already on this list, but I think there’s enough of a justification. Pink Floyd had already invented the subgenre of space rock. But this live album codified and cemented the sound of the genre more than perhaps anything else from the 1960s. (Also, it shows off how great a live band Pink Floyd was before the stage shows took over.)
119-124. Van Der Graaf Generator: The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other (February, 1970)
Van Der Graaf Generator’s second official album is actually their first. The first album is actually a solo set by lead singer and primary songwriter Peter Hammill. The reasons are due to weird contract disputes I won’t get into.
This proper debut is a little rawer and less sophisticated than their later records but still shows off their potent sound – with little reliance on electric guitar – and their ambition.
125. Locomotive: We Are Everything You See (February, 1970)
The only album by this band is one track on YouTube music at the moment so I couldn’t curate.
126-129. King Crimson: “Pictures of a City,” “In the Wake of Poseidon,” “Cat Food” and “The Devil’s Triangle” from The Wake of Poseidon (May, 1970)
For a band that was essentially broken up to put out so much essential prog rock remains incredibly impressive to me. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, King Crimson’s primary composer had quit – though he contributed music to this album, as had their bassist/lead singer, and their drummer would soon leave too, though he participated in these recording sessions.)
Three of these tracks are classic early King Crimson epics that helped define the genre almost as much as their first album did. The other track is completely unlike anything else they ever did; their attempt at a single-length song. (I have omitted the rest of the album because I really don’t like the pastoral folk interludes, personally.)
130-136. T2: It’ll All Work in Boomland (July, 1970)
I was completely unaware of this band and album, before I started making this list. So I don’t have a ton to say.
137-144. Caravan: If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You (September, 1970)
Few prog rock bands balanced accessible melody with prog rock ambition and ideas. I’m convinced that if they had a better singer they might have been stars, like Yes. (To be clear, Yes was more ambitious.)
145. Pink Floyd: “Atom Heart Mother” from Atom Heart Mother (October, 1970)
Most side-long prog tracks existed before this were unfocused and full of ideas that didn’t quite work. (Check out “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” from the second side of this LP for an example of an unfocused long track.) This is probably the first side-long prog rock track worthy of real attention. The rest of the album is excluded because it contains folk and psychedelia.
It combines brass, a choir and blues rock with a musique concrete section.
146-148. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “The Barbarian,” “Knife-Edge” and “Tank” from Emerson, Lake and Palmer (November, 1970)
Prog’s first supergroup (of many), featuring Keith Emerson from The Nice, Greg Lake from King Crimson and Carl Palmer, from some other band.
The first two tracks are some of the best examples of prog rock adaptations of classical music, in this case Bartok, and Janacek and Bach, respectively. In addition to his incredible keyboard playing, this type of thing was Emerson’s best skill.
The final track is an Emerson original showing off his keyboard orchestra arranging skills.
148-155. Gentle Giant (November, 1970)
They would release better albums, and I’m not sure the entirety of their debut is really necessary to listen to, but nobody else combined rock (sometimes borderline proto math rock) with older forms of “classical” music (Baroque, Renaissance) this aggressively, and certainly nobody had done so yet.
156. McDonald and Giles (November, 1970)
The main songwriter of the original King Crimson and their drummer put out this slightly folky prog rock album after they both quit. I wouldn’t have the whole thing here but it’s one track on YouTube music.
157-158. King Crimson: “Cirkus” and “Lizard” from Lizard (December, 1970)
King Crimson were sort of lost in the wilderness after their band fell apart and the first two attempts to create new bands didn’t result in the best music of their career. But there were still some gems.
Check out Robert Fripp’s acoustic guitar playing on “Cirkus,” which is about as close to “mathy” as you got in 1970.
And though “Lizard” is a bit of a mess, it’s the only time King Crimson, the quintessential prog rock band, ever attempted the de rigeur side-long epic.
159-163. Van der Graaf Generator: H to He, Who Am the Only One (December, 1970)
5 tracks in 48 minutes, wearing their ambition on their sleeve much like King Crimson on their debut. Peter Hammill is the best singer prog rock ever produced.
Most of this volume was achieved without electric guitar, too, which is saying something.
169. Uriah Heap: “Salisbury” from Salisbury (February, 1971)
Uriah Heap sometimes get lumped in with the prog rock bands because of their tendency to record really long songs. But Zeppelin did that, as did Purple and Sabbath to a lesser extent. For me, a really long track doesn’t automatically equal prog rock, especially by 1971.
But this, well this is pretty ambitious for a metal band, not to mention “jazzy.” And that’s why it gets included whereas I’m leaving all the other early metal epics for my prog metal playlist.
170-173. Yes: “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Starship Trooper,” “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Perpetual Change” from The Yes Album (February, 1971)
It’s kind of ridiculous that I didn’t include all of this album, given how much more famous Yes is than some of the other bands on this list. But I think it’s easier for me to cut songs from albums I know than ones I know less well, and it’s easier for me to cut songs from albums I like less. Anyway…
All four of these tracks show off why Yes were one of the most radio-friendly of the prog bands, while still being proggy. (I can’t say the “Big 6” because two of those bands were more accessible, at times, than Yes.)
174-175. Jethro Tull: “Aqualung” and “My God” from Aqualung (March, 1971)
Of the Big 6, Tull were the least proggy by a lot, with two notable exceptions (one of which we’ll get to shortly). And it took them multiple albums before they really got ambitious.
Depending upon your definition, you could claim that this entire album is “progressive” but I’ve picked both the title track and most famous song and the only song that I really feel warrants inclusion in the prog rock canon.
176-180. Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink (April, 1971)
I probably didn’t need to include the entire album but this record includes their attempt at a side long track, which was de rigeur for serious prog bands at this point.
181. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: ” Tarkus” from Tarkus (June, 1971)
Their first side-long track is not up to the standards of the very best of these, but it’s one of their best tracks.
182-189. Gentle Giant: Acquiring the Taste (July, 1971)
Gentle Giant’s second album is one of the better examples of a prog musician’s prog band.
190. Focus: “Hocus” from Hocus Pocus II (July, 1971)
Certainly one of the most famous proggy ish hits of the 1970s, a Top 10 hit in the US.
191-193: Magma: 1001° Centigrades (October, 1971)
Our first introduction to the prog rock subgenre zeuhl, at least on this playlist. (There first album, the album that invented the genre, is too jazzy and is on my jazz rock playlist.)
Arguably French prog’s most original band. (Prog’s most original band?) But I don’t know their catalogue well enough yet. Anyway, they are distinct enough they invented their own subgenre, Zeuhl. Note that Zeuhl is something that usually requires a little getting into.
It’s very early days here, and so it hasn’t quite crystalized into what it would become (i.e. it’s own genre).
194-195. Family: “Between Blue & Me” and “Spanish Tide” from Fearless (October, 1971)
Family were an early prog rock band that never really evolved with the other prog rock bands. This is about as ambitious as they got.
195-196. “One of These Days” and “Echoes” from Meddle (October, 1971)
The opening track is one of their spaciest and jammiest albums to date, though it’s a weird opening to what is otherwise a super rootsy side.
But, though they only produced a few side-long tracks, they are masters of the form, and “Echoes” is their best.
197-199. Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts (October, 1971)
Three tracks in 42 ish minutes. (I omitted a shorter track that was added to the US and Canadian additions.) This is probably their best album in addition to being their most ambitious. It contains their definitive side-long epic, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers.”
200-202. Genesis: “The Musical Box,” “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” and “The Fountain of Salmacis” in Nursery Cryme (November, 1971)
Genesis’ first appearance on the list is late because they really didn’t find their groove until 1972. But these three tracks are the first evidence that they were on their way to becoming one of the couple greatest prog rock bands.
203-207. Yes: half the tracks from Fragile (November, 1971)
Most prog rock fans know the story of Fragile. The short version is that they had to record an album quickly and the result was a record that was half individual pieces. I’ve left out all but “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” (Chris Squire’s bass orchestra track) in favour of the group tracks. The solo (or nearly solo) pieces might work for you but I don’t think they qualify as prog rock.
208-219. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition (November, 1971)
A live, album-length cover of a Romantic piano suite. About as prog as you can get, in some ways.
220-221. King Crimson: “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (December, 1971)
Two tracks from what is generally regarded as King Crimson’s worst album of their first era (eras, really, given the endless line-up changes).
222-224. Premiata Forneria Marconi: “È festa,” “La carrozza di Hans” and “Grazie davvero” from Storia di un minuto (January, 1972)
Our first Italian prog rock band! (Italy became a huge prog market.) Not a scene or band I know much about. I grabbed these tracks because the album is well regarded by RYM users. Maybe the whole thing should be here?
225-226. Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick (March, 1972)
The logical conclusion of the side-long track is the album-long track. And nobody ever did it better than Jethro Tull on their first attempt. (Including Jethro Tull on their second attempt, A Passion Play, which I did not include.) If there is another album-long track from a rock band that is better I haven’t heard it. (And it’s only because of LP technology that it isn’t even better.)
227-232. Gentle Giant: Three Friends (April, 1972)
Not Gentle Giant’s best album – that’s either Acquiring the Taste or Octopus – but I still like including their albums because of how committed they are to their sound, which is just more committed to their influences than some other band’s.
233-238. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (May, 1972)
The debut album of the most prominent Italian prog rock band. Still not familiar with them enough yet.
239-244. Khan: Space Shanty (June, 1972)
Pre-Gong Steve Hillage’s prog rock band’s only album. Another one I don’t know well enough but included it due to high RYM ratings.
245-247. Yes: Close to the Edge (September, 1972)
Yes’ best album – by a long shot – it’s 3 tracks in 37 minutes and it shows off the band at their very best.
248-53. Genesis: Foxtrot (October, 1972)
Well, not the entirety of it, as I omitted “Horizons” a brief instrumental track. Anyway…
For my money, “Supper’s Ready” is the best side-long tack from any prog rock and of the ’70s. The other tracks are pretty good, too, though they’re not up to the same standard. The production sucks, though.
254-255. Focus: “Carnival Fugue” and “Answer? Questions! – Questions? Answer!” from Focus 3 (November, 1972)
There are probably more Focus tracks that should be on here frankly.
256-263. Gentle Giant: Octopus (December, 1972)
Gentle Giant’s best album, probably. At least in my opinion.
264-270. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso: Darwin! (??? 1972)
I don’t know enough about Italian prog rock but its here.
271. Skaldowie: Krywań, Krywań (1972)
The world of non-English prog is one I haven’t explored enough. I’ve tried to put as much of it on here as I can. This is a polish album.
272. Camel (1973)
I likely would have dropped tracks from this if I could find individual ones instead of the whole album.
273-282. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon (March, 1973)
The best selling prog rock album ever until it was beaten by The Wall. And album which infamously spent 13 years on the Top 200.
If you listen to one progressive rock album in your life, it should be this one, for many reasons. Some people think it’s closer to psychedelic music, and it’s clearly influenced by psychedelic music (especially the Beatles). Bit is a fairly coherent concept with some music – more than a couple of tracks – that is clearly not psychedelic. You could also claim it’s art rock, I guess, though it has less in common with most of the art rock being made in the UK in the ’70s than it does with psychedelia.
It is likely one of the most accessible and catchy prog rock albums you’ll ever here, so if you’re ever going to get into the genre…
(Keep in mind, no other prog band used samples like Pink Floyd did, so no other prog rock really sounds like this.)
283-286. King Crimson: 4 tracks from Larks’ Tongues is Aspic (March, 1973)
Disclaimer: the whole thing should probably be here, especially given some of the entire albums I’ve let on to this list that I don’t like as much. Maybe I’ll fix that later.
This is King Crimson’s re-invention, a turn away from third stream jazz towards contemporary metal and European modernist music of the early 20th century. As this version of the band self-destructed, they would get even better, but they were already making music different than just about any other prog rock band at this point.
287-295. Procol Harum: Grand Hotel (March, 1973)
Like the Moody Blues, these guys helped pioneer the genre but didn’t really evolve. YouTube might not have the proper track listing. Not familiar enough with this record to really vouch for it yet.
296-300. Museo Rosenbach: Zarathustra (April, 1973)
Some consider this the greatest Italian prog rock album of all time.
301-307. Magma: Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh (May, 1973)
This is arguably the first Magma record where we get the full Zeuhl sound that they invented and defined.
308. Gong: “Flying Teapot” from Flying Teapot (May, 1973)
Gong are much more jazz rock than prog rock, or sometimes even avant rock, but there’s the odd track that’s closer to prog, such as the title track from this album. (The whole album is only available as a track so you get the whole thing.
309-310. Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells (May, 1973)
You know the first part of the first side from The Exorcist but there’s more here than just the most famous segment. Essentially two side-long suites full of catchy melodies and weird instruments – my biggest nitpick is the production values, which are not great.
311-316. Gentle Giant: In a Glass House (September, 1973)
Not one of their best albums but certainly still they sound like nobody else and there’s some of their better music on some of these tracks.
317-322. Genesis: most of Selling England by the Pound (October, 1973)
I’ve omitted Genesis’ first minor hit and their first outright pop song (not the same song, believe it or not) but otherwise included the rest of the album. Though nothing here is on the level of “Supper’s Ready” these tracks show off how Genesis were one of the very best prog rock bands in the world in the mid 1970s.
323-324. Renaissance: “Can You Understand” and “Ashes are Burning” from Ashes are Burning (October, 1973)
It’s possible I should have included some earlier Renaissance but I don’t know them that well and, also, I don’t really like them that much. They’re substantially less “rock” than most of their contemporaries, but that’s probably appealing to some.
325. The Who: “Quadrophenia” from Quadrophenia (October, 1973)
Possibly the Who’s best alum, this rock opera is still too mainstream to be prog rock, though this one track, which is really just four overtures, comes the closest to prog rock.
326-330. Banco del mutuo soccorso: Io sono nato libero (October 1973)
More Italian prog.
331-335. Kebnekaise (October, 1973)
336-340. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “Toccata” and “Karn Evil 9” from Brain Salad Surgery (November, 1973)
“Toccata” may be the best rock adaptation of a “classical” music piece I’ve ever heard (it’s Ginastera, if you’re interested).
“Karn Evil 9” is even more ambitious than “Tarkus” and arguably more successful, especially given how catchy the vocal parts are. It’s certainly not up to the standard of the epic tracks by the other members of the Big 6 (or Van der Graaf Generator) but it’s the best these guys could do.
341-344. Yes: Tales from Topographic Oceans (December, 1973)
Yes’ most ambitious album is not for everyone, 4 side-long tracks is a lot. But it’s their most ambitious work and it mostly, um, works.
345. Area: “Luglio, Agosto, Settembre (nero)” from Arbeit macht frei (1973)
More of a jazz rock band but this track struck e as proggy enough to include.
346-50. Quella vecchia locanda: Il tempo della gioia (January, 1974)
Even more Italian prog.
351-352. Peter Hammill: “Red Shift” and “A Louse is Not a Home” from The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage (February, 1974)
Hammill is the lead singer and primary songwriter of Van Der Graaf Generator. His solo stuff skews more towards art rock though this record is considered his prog rock album by many people. Despite the lengths of these songs, it still sounds closer to art rock to me but maybe I’ll add the whole thing one day. These tracks strike me as the proggiest of the bunch.
353. Wigwam: Being (February, 1974)
Finnish prog rock!
354-365. All but three tracks from Hatfield and the North (February, 1974)
3 tracks weren’t on YouTube music. But this is a pretty good Canterbury Scene record.
366-370. Camel: Mirage (March, 1974)
Maybe I should have included stuff from their first album, but I think I also could drop some tracks. Not a band I know that well so I’m inclined to just dump the whole thing here until I listen to it more.
371-377. King Crimson: most of Starless and Bible Black (March, 1974)
I omitted one track from this album but otherwise this is the second classic King Crimson album from their mid’70s peak, now down to a quartet (as the previous record was performed with two drummers). If math rock didn’t exist yet, “Fracture” may have invented it.
378-386. Phantom’s Divine Comedy, Part 1 (March, 1974)
More psychedelic, perhaps, than prog, but it’s semantics in the 1970s. Yeah, that singer needs to stop imitating somebody else.
387. Arti + Mestieri: “Strips” from Tilt (April, 1974)
An especially proggy track from a jazz rock band.
388. Invisible (April, 1974)
Couldn’t include only certain tracks, so here’s a whole Spanish prog album.
389-391. Renaissance: “Running Hard,” “Black Flame” and “Mother Russia” (May, 1974)
Three tracks from Renaissance’s fifth album.
392. Peter Hammill: “Gog Magog (in Bromine Chambers)” from In Camera (July, 1974)
Another prog track the lead singer of VDGG snuck onto one of his singer-songwriter records.
393-396. Magma: Köhntarkösz (September, 1974)
More Zeuhl! The greatest of all prog subgenres.
397-404. Gentle Giant: The Power and the Glory (September, 1974)
Another album of theirs that doesn’t meet their peak but which is distinct enough for me to include it.
405-409. King Crimson: Red (October, 1974)
Reduced to a trio (sort of, long story), King Crimson produced the best album of their mid ’70s prime, including two of my absolute favourite King Crimson tracks, “Fallen Angel” and “Starless.”
410-417. Gong: You (October, 1974)
Proggier than their other records, I’ve included the entirety here.
418-440. Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (November, 1974)
For me, this rock opera is both Genesis’ greatest achievement and also the Greatest Rock Opera of All Time. More meta than more famous rock operas and weirder than anything else they ever made (though much of the material is quite catchy), this is absolutely worth the time commitment. On my shortlist of favourite albums of all time.
441-443. Yes: Relayer (November, 1974)
I had actually never gotten this far in their discography yet, but it’s more of what they do well.
444-452. Samla Mammas Manna: Klossa knapitatet (1974)
Aggressively weird, jazzy, Zappa-esque prog and Rock in Opposition. Swedish.
453-458. Secret Oyster: Sea Son (1974)
Pretty jazzy, almost jazz rock. Danish.
459-467. Hatfield and the North: The Rotters’ Club (March, 1975)
I found this one on a list of jazz rock albums and, to me, it’s much more prog.
468-483. Camel: The Snow Goose (April, 1975)
Not one of my favourites but notable for how it’s a nearly entirely instrumental suite based on a novella.
484-485. Frank Zappa: “Inca Roads” and “Andy” from One Size Fits All (June 1975)
Zappa’s music often defies easy categorization, his earliest music (with the Mothers) is usually classified as “avant rock” but helped invent art rock and prog. And to confuse things, there was a jazz influence. By this point, he was making much more commercial music which mostly could be categorized as “jazz rock.” These two of the proggier tracks I am aware of from the mid ’70s.
486-494. Renaissance: “Song of Scheherazade” from Scheherazade and Other Stories (July, 1975)
This suite is probably Renaissance’s most ambitious work, and among their most successful music.
495-497. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: “Countdown,” “Time is Right” and “Crossfade” from Nightingales & Bombers (August, 1975)
The Earth Band were one of numerous hard rock bands in the ’70s to flirt with proggy music on occasion. These are the only tracks I’ve heard that are sufficiently proggy enough.
498-500. Pink Floyd: “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “Welcome to the Machine” from Wish You Were Here (September, 1975)
It’s a bit of a hot take to have only 3 of the 5 tracks from what most fans think is Pink Floyd’s best album. But the title track is an out-and-out pop song (well, just about) and “Have a Cigar” is a particularly knotty funk rock song. If you’re really bent out of shape about it, leave a comment and I’ll add them.
502-503. Invisible: “Encadenado a anima” and “En una lejana playa del animus” from “Durazno sangrando” (1975)
n Argentinian band I’m entirely unfamiliar with but these tracks stood out.
504-507. Van Der Graaf Generator: Godbluff (October, 1975)
The first Van Der Graaf Generator reunion gets off to a great start with this 4-track album.
508-511. Steve Hackett: four tracks from Voyage of the Acolyte (October, 1975)
Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s solo debut has some great prog on it intermixed with some pretty cheesy stuff that I don’t like, including parts of the tracks I’ve included here.
512-513. Queen: “The Prophet’s Song” and “Bohemian Rhapsody from A Night at the Opera (November, 1975)
“The Prophet’s Song” is a good early candidate for “first progressive metal song not by a metal band” (i.e. excluding Zeppelin, Purple etc.). And I’m not sure “Bohemian Rhapsody” is truly prog rock but, if it is, it’s the most famous prog rock song ever, crossing over much further than any other prog rock song.
514-527. Phoenix: Cantafabule (1975)
Romanian prog rock.
528-529. Genesis: “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos” from A Trick of the Trail (February, 1976)
The first post-Gabriel Genesis album is not a favourite but these two tracks are probably the best from this record.
530-536. Camel: Moonmadness (March, 1976)
One I should listen to more before putting all the tracks on the list.
537. Rush: “2112” from 2112 (March or April, 1976)
The birth of prog metal.
538-542. Van Der Graaf Generator: Still Life (April, 1976)
Another near-classic from the band’s (sort of) second tenure.
543-548. Magma: Üdü Ẁüdü (September, 1976)
Zeuhl! And that final track sounds like the future.
549-556. Invisible: El jardín de los presentes (September, 1976)
I haven’t yet listened tot his enough times to pull the essential tracks.
557-561. Genesis: five tracks from Wind & Wuthering (December, 1976)
From memory, these are the best tracks from Genesis’ second post-Gabriel album (which I like more than the first).
562. Picchio dal pozzo (1976)
Another where I could only find the entire album on one track. Another Italian prog record.
563-565. Pink Floyd: nearly every minute of Animals (January, 1977)
I love this record. But the weird thing about it is that these three great Floyd tracks are book-ended by an unrelated Roger Waters solo acoustic love song.
566-568. Jethro Tull: “Songs from the Wood,” Hunting Girl” and “Velvet Green” from Songs from the Wood (February, 1977)
The beginning of Tull’s brief renaissance as a folkier version of themselves.
569. Pekka Pohjo, Mike Oldfield, Pierre Moerlen: Keesojen lehto March, 1977)
One of the great Finnish prog and jazz rock artists is joined by Mike Oldfield and a member of Gong for this pretty good record.
570-577. Goblin: Suspiria (June, 1977)
The most famous prog rock soundtrack (save the Exorcist theme, I guess) probably belongs on this list.
578-580. Rush: “A Farewell to Kings,” “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-” from A Farewell to Kings (September, 1977)
I’m excerpting the ballads and attempts at hit singles but nobody else was making prog rock this loud or metal this proggy in the late ’70s.
581. Happy the Man: Crafty Hands (September, 1978)
The rare American prog rock band. Again, only the whole album is available.
582-583. Rush: “Hemispheres” and “La Villa Strangiato” from Hemispheres (October, 1978)
Again, I’m including the epics as they are the best examples of their unique sound.
584-590. National Health: Of Queues and Cures (December, 1978)
Perhaps a little too jazzy but pickens are slim in the late ’70s.
591-594. Fermáta: Huascaran (1978)
595. Manset: “2870” from 2870 (1978)
An arty chanson singer goes vaguely proggy.
596. Frank Zappa: “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” from Joe’s Garage Act I (September, 1979)
Joe’s Garage is not really prog rock in the sense that some other rock operas are, as it is basically just a rock opera version of Zappa’s ’70s art rock and jazz rock. But this parody of prog rock is pretty spot on, musically.
597-622. Pink Floyd: The Wall (November, 1979)
The most successful rock opera of all time and the most successful progressive rock album of all time needs to be on this list even if it marks a giant change from Pink Floyd’s earlier music.
623-624. Rush: “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science” from Permanent Waves (January, 1980)
Rush was moving towards a more commercial sound but they were still recording some proggy epics.
625. Peter Hammill: “Flight” from A Black Box (August, 1980)
As usual, Hammill puts some prog rock on one of his singer-songwriter albums.
626-633. Saga: Silent Knight (August, 1980)
A Canadian prog rock band that isn’t Rush.
634. Spinetta Jade: Alma de Diamante (1980)
The proggiest track from this Spanish jazz rock album.
635-637. Rush: “Red Barchetta,” “YYZ” and “The Camera Eye” from Moving Pictures (February, 1981)
Rush moved more to the mainstream with this record in particular, but these three tracks are the proggiest from their biggest album. “YYZ” is the classic, obviously. (“Wait, no “Tomsawyer”?” you say.)
638-644. King Crimson: Discipline (September, 1981)
King Crimson reunited as a different band; essentially “progressive new wave” but you could also say that this is the birth of math rock (if the earlier King Crimson track “Fracture” wasn’t).
645. Eskaton: 4 Visions (1981)
I didn’t know about this. It’s great. Yeah, they’re ripping off Magma. So what?
646-653. Los Jaivas: Alturas de Macchu Pichu (1981)
An interesting mix of prog with some folk music that isn’t British or American. Shocking!
654-659. Marillion: Script for a Jester’s Tear (March, 1983)
It’s funny, I sort of think of these guys as prog revival but I guess prog wasn’t as dead as I thought in the ’80s. Anyway, they owe way too much to Genesis but they are good at what they do.
660. Miriodor: “Échec et mat” from Recontres (1986)
The proggriest track from this Quebecois jazz rock band.
661-676: Stromboli (1987)
A live debut from a Czech band.
677. Queen: “Innuendo” from Innuendo (February, 1991)
The proggiest track
from the last Queen record the last Freddie Mercury Queen record.
678. Änglagård: Hybris (September, 1992)
This really surprised me. A Swedish band.
679. Koenji Hyakkei: Hundred Sights of Koenji (August, 1994)
I had never heard zeuhl when I first heard this album. And I was just stunned. Now I know they copied Magma a fair amount. But also, their sound is more modern, which is appreciated.
680-701. Cardiacs: Sing to God (June, 1996)
So this was a real surprise, not only had I never heard of them I had never really heard anyone mix punk and prog like this. I’m not sure the whole album belongs here but I’m also not sure if more of their discography should be here.
702-717. Mike Keneally & Beer for Dolphins: Sluggo (1997)
Another album where I really don’t think the whole record belongs but I haven’t had the time to pick and choose. Another nice surprise, even if they’re way too influenced by Zappa.
718-723. D.F.A.: Duty Free Area (October, 1999)
Jazzy Italian prog rock.
724-725. Porcupine Tree: “Hatesong” and “Russia on Ice” from Lightbulb Sun (May, 2000)
This mildly proggy band is all over RYM’s Top Progressive Rock albums for some reason. I was able to find only a couple tracks that I thought qualified as sufficiently proggy to make this list.
726-727. Mike Keneally & Beer for Dolphins: “Pretty Enough for Girls” and “We’ll Be Right Back” from Dancing (2000)
Apparently I did a little more picking and choosing for this one.
728-729. Uzva: “Afrodite” and “Drontti” from Niittoaika (2000)
Two tracks (really 5) from a Finnish jazz rock band with proggy elements.
730. Opeth: “Closure” from Damnation (April, 2003)
Despite its reputation, I only found one track on this album proggy enough to qualify for this list, to my mind.
731. Steve Hackett: “Mechanical Bride” from To Watch the Storms (June 2003)
The former Genesis guitarist’s music doesn’t always qualify as prog in my mind. This is the proggiest track from this album.
732-741. The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium (June, 2003)
For me it’s the Mars Volta who really brought prog back, not some alternative rock or metal bands that flirted occasionally with prog. Not only are they fully prog, but they incorporate musical influences that are more recent.
742-750. Cheer-Accident: Introducing Lemon (2003)
This is fun.
751-752. Marillion: “Ocean Cloud” and “Drilling Holes” from Marbles (April, 2004)
Two pretty decent songs from a late era album (without the band’s original, famous singer).
753-755. Magma: K.A (November, 2004)
Mostly written thirty years earlier, this is some classic zeuhl.
756-780. The Mars Volta: Frances the Mute (February, 2005)
I don’t like it quite as much as their debut but it’s still about as good as it gets for 21st century prog rock.
781. Porcupine Tree: “Deadwing” from Deadwing (March, 2005)
The title track was the only thing that really stood out to me.
782-797. Mats/Morgan Band: Thanks for Flying With Us (September, 2005)
A Swedish prog rock/jazz rock band.
798-801. Riverside: four tracks from Second Life Syndrome (October, 2005)
At the moment I don’t remember these but I think they were proggier than a lot of prog metal.
802-807. Accordo dei Contrari: Kinesis (2007)
808-816. Electric Outlet: On! (July, 2006)
German prog. I like the name.
817-828. The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath (January, 2008)
This was my first Mars Volta album and I sort of love it unconditionally. I get that not everybody does.
829-838. Steven Wilson: Insurgentes (November, 2008)
The lead singer and songwriter of Porcupine Tree makes more interesting music on his own.
839-842. Gazpacho: Tick Tock (March, 2009)
Norwegian prog rock.
843-847. maudlin of the Well: Part the Second (March, 2009)
A prog metal band going more prog rock.
848-853. Magma: Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (October, 2009)
Another Magma album of old material recorded in the 21st century.
854. Present: Barbaro (ma non troppo) (September, 2009)
Pretty great stuff. Couldn’t find the individual tracks.
516-523. Black Midi: Cavalcade (May, 2021)
A little more avant than some of the music here.