Whizzy Wallop’s Prog Rock Expert ‘Dr D’ lets rip on his top ten prog rock classics.
Let me take on a journey of some of my favourite progressive rock albums, I know that some of you will be up in arms, no Floyd, Genesis, not even the mighty Tull! In reality the previous mentioned bands all have a place in my prog heart, but alas here are just a snippet of personal gems.
Yes / Close to the Edge 1972
Progressive rock in the past has been accused of being pretentious, overambitious, self-indulgent with obscure lyrics, never-ending songs and endless guitar solos, welcome to the music of 70’s proggers Yes. Close to the Edge encapsulates all of the above and more, with Roger Dean abstract artwork and Jon Andersons esoteric lyrics this is the defining progressive rock album. There are just three songs, the opening bands Magnus Opus of the title track clocking in at 18.41 minutes of pure prog rock, as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t get any better than this, or does it? Side 2 starts with 'And you and I' whisking the listener to new lands and adventures to the grand finale of the third track, 'Siberian Khatru' a pulsating guitar driven song. Close to the Edge is an album of a band at their majestic best from a musical perspective which Yes never reached in their future work again.
Gentle Giant / Acquiring the Taste 1971
This is a real gem of an album; while their later works such as Octopus and the Power and the Glory get more attention 'Acquiring the Taste' is a beast of a work. Maybe there are hints of incidental music from John Pertwee’s Doctor Who rummaging around some of the songs, but this album pushes the boundaries. The first track 'Pantagruel’s Nativity' is just beautifully experimental followed by the ghostly effective 'Edge of Twilight' to more traditional rock orientated 'Wreck' this album delivers the listener a virtuoso musical exploration of the capabilities of progressive rock.
Harmonium / Si On Avait Besoin D'une Cinquième Sainson 1975
This Quebec progressive rock band created a real masterpiece, basing the music on the seasons with a heavy dose of flutes, mellotron and acoustic guitars. But don’t let that distract you from the brilliance of the sheer magnitude of the album as a whole. There are some moments in the album that are breath-taking in terms of the build-up that they create to the crescendos of the songs. This is definitely (like most prog albums) one that you need to listen to in one sitting to really appreciate the complexity and soundscape that the band wanted to create.
Camel / Moonmadness 1976
I’m a real fan of Camel, although this was a tough choice to make looking at their back catalogue with such defining albums like Mirage and The Snow Goose, but for me Moonmadness has everything that Camel were about. 'Song within a Song' creates the mood of the album with its quick cord changers in tempo and structure. Each song takes you on a journey from 'Spirit of the Water' to 'Air Born' the musicality of the band shines through. However the real high point for me is 'Lunar Sea', which I’m convinced in my own mind, was an inspiration for the band Ozric Tentacles. The song forges through on a pulsating bass and expressive guitar licks.
Earth and Fire / Earth and Fire 1970
This debut album from the band Earth and Fire from the Netherlands takes its influences strongly from Jefferson Airplane with added grit to the music. The music is heavily driven by guitars, organs and flutes that veer to more psychedelia rather than prog. But what an album it is, naïve at times with a youthful wit and arrogance that makes it a joy to listen to. Look out for the song 'Ruby is the One', a frenzied rock workout to the more bubble-gum inspired pop of 'What’s Your Name'; this is a delightful album that if nothing makes to feel like your nineteen again.
King Crimson / In the Court of the Crimson King 1969
For me this is the starting point of prog rock, experimental, tight arrangements, tempo changes and at times just plain weird, In the Court of the Crimson King has everything. '21st century Schizoid Man' sets the tone a piece of utter brilliance that literally shook the foundations of music. However we also have the softer 'I Talk to the Wind' and 'Moonchild' to give balance and musical shading to the album. The final track of the albums name ends this masterpiece and essentially changes rock forever.
Jon Anderson / Olias Of Sunhillow 1976
Not everyone’s cup of tea I grant that, the lead singer of 'Yes', Jon Anderson creates a prog rock classic in my eyes, and let me explain why. For me the genre of progressive rock is about pushing the boundaries of the formula of rock music, Olias of Sunhillow certainly does that, you will never hear an album quite like this one in your life. Anderson plays most of the instruments and vocal arrangements in this kooky concept album. The music dances between synth rock to high octave vocal harmonies with harps included. There is something quite magical about this album and at times sounds like a Yes rarity. However the general essence of the piece is with the albums cover art is a story of inspired by the artwork on Yes album cover Fragile of a flying ship in which a young man tries to rescue a dying planet, how very prog!
Comus, First Utterance 1971
This is the first album by folk Prog band Comus, and it makes King Crimson sound like bubblegum pop. However it is an album of pure genius with the odd nod to western occultism, pagan rites and insanity. If you like the experimental Jethro Tull, then your love this album as it swims between acoustic guitars and floating flute sounds that push the boundaries of folk.
Emerson Lake and Palmer, Trilogy 1972
Of all of their albums this is my personal favourite, the opening track 'The Endless Enigma (Part One)' is a terrific start. However it is 'Abaddon's Bolero' that really sums it up for me, over the top and seemly never ending, it captures the confidence of the band that seem to just enjoy what they were playing. Many would argue that their first album and Tarkus are better in their concepts and in one way I would agree, but for me Trilogy takes Prog Rock to another level.
Gryphon - Raindance 
So this next choice is a real indulgence , Gryphon are great musician’s, their most revered album is Red Queen to Gryphon Three, and it is a masterpiece. However there is a general playfulness to Raindance and definitely of its time, however don’t let that put you off, it has some great interplays between the group and veers into folk, synth, electronic prog to medieval minstrels, something for everyone.
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