Look into one of the best songs of the prog rock canon, and also you’ll discover tunes about all the things in life that basically issues: Religious journeys, everlasting love, quick racing vehicles, and the necessity to keep away from yellow snow. To not point out deathless guitar and synthesizer solos, and sufficient tough time signatures to hold your sequined cape on. It’s not simple to whittle the style’s music all the way down to 30 songs, however at the very least we’ve included a number of fairly prolonged tracks – plus a number of 4 and five-minute numbers which might be simply as epic. This playlist hits on prog rock’s grandest songs over time; for range’s sake, we didn’t embrace any band twice. So crank up your headphones and into the cosmos we go.
30: Smooth Machine – Nettle Mattress
The phrases “ridiculously catchy” are seldom utilized to Smooth Machine, a band vulnerable to complicated and difficult jazz compositions. However the opener of their Seven album is, nicely, a ridiculously catchy progressive rock tune: Composer Karl Jenkins anchors it with a sprightly riff on electrical piano, which keyboardist Mike Ratledge (by now the one unique member) decorates with leads on his newly acquired synthesizer. Underrated drummer John Marshall follows in sizzling pursuit.
29: Focus – Hocus Pocus
Focus was (and is) primarily a progressive rock band of great gamers with classical and jazz leanings. However additionally they had an eccentric humorousness, which frequently received aired on their uncommon vocal tracks. “Hocus Pocus” began as a rehearsal joke, with Jan Akkerman enjoying a crunching enviornment riff and organist Thijs van Leer responding along with his greatest yodels; drummer Pierre van der Linden solos wherever potential. It turned a left-field hit and nonetheless a beloved monitor, even when everybody who purchased Transferring Waves due to the only was possible shocked by how completely different the remaining was.
28: Barclay James Harvest – Poor Man’s Moody Blues
This started as singer/guitarist John Lees’ revenge on a journalist who’d known as his band the “poor man’s Moody Blues”: He was miffed sufficient to go residence and rewrite “Nights in White Satin,” utilizing the identical rhyme scheme and the identical tempo, plus a refrain constructed round “I really like you.” Towards all odds, he got here up with an attractive tune in its personal proper, so this one doubles as a romantic outpouring and a grand joke.
27: Dream Theater – Octavarium
Dream Theater are the kings of prog metallic, however this 24-minute opus lands solidly on the prog aspect: Should you thought they had been all the time into shredding, you want to hear the tasteful, melodic contact of this prog rock tune’s first twelve minutes. (Concern not, the shredding comes on the second twelve, and it’s completely thrilling.) You might spend weeks decoding all of the references on this opus – for starters, it’s absolutely the one prog tune whose lyrics reference each Pink Floyd and the Ramones.
26: Nektar – Keep in mind the Future
Nektar was among the many most melodic prog bands, with clearer Beatles roots than most. The title monitor and centerpiece of their best-known idea album, this borrows a little bit of its spacey groove from “Solar King” – which in flip borrowed from Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross.” Nektar’s tune can stand proud apart from these two classics, with its anthemic refrain and pulsing single-note riff.
25: Gong – You By no means Blow Yr Journey Perpetually
Gong’s merry prankster Daevid Allen ends the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy the very best manner, with an eleven-minute prog rock tune that throws completely all the things into the combination: Infinite tempo modifications, dazzling solos (take a bow, Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe), out-of-nowhere pop hooks and boundless optimism. Absurd and fantastic.
24: The Tangent – Jinxed in Jersey
The Tangent’s chief Andy Tillison is among the sharpest writers in trendy prog, and he’s at his wittiest on this sung/spoken 16-minute monitor. The lyrics element all the things that went incorrect when he tried to go to the Statue of Liberty on a US tour, together with assembly a cop who thought he was in Rush. Musically it references early Genesis and classic Steely Dan, with out sounding all that very like both.
23: Kansas – Miracles Out of Nowhere
Aspect one in all Leftoverture opened with the breakthrough hit “Carry On Wayward Son,” however its finale could be the definitive Kansas monitor. “Miracles” glides seamlessly from its pastoral verses to its complicated instrumental exercise, like most Kansas songs it’s all about religious looking out and the rewards that may be uncovered. Additionally makes nice use of Kansas’ secret weapon, the vocal tradeoffs between frontman Steve Walsh and the late violinist Robbie Steinhardt.
22: Can – Yoo Doo Proper
We’ll allow you to resolve if Krautrock is a part of prog, or one thing else altogether. However that is one in all its definitive tracks, as Can subvert pop by writing a bubble-gummy love tune, stripping it all the way down to its core, and enjoying it for 21 hypnotic minutes. It’s downright perverse – and improbably sufficient, it’s additionally a whole lot of enjoyable.
21: Caravan – 9 Toes Underground
The unique, four-piece Caravan’s best second. For a side-long piece that is remarkably tight and accessible, because of the easy-rolling groove of the instrumental sections and the chic melodies of the 2 vocal components. The second vocal bit, sung by bassist Richard Sinclair, makes particularly pretty use of an English folks affect.
20: Mild Big – Free Hand
For all their ambition and complexity, Mild Big is also one hard-charging rock band. The title monitor of their arguably greatest album places all of it collectively; keyboardist Kerry Minnear supplies a soothing intro earlier than unleashing the principle riff. The lyrics are apparently addressed to a former enterprise affiliate, and Derek Shulman delivers an arena-shaking lead vocal. No coincidence that he’d uncover Bon Jovi in his subsequent profession as a label exec.
19: Asia – Sole Survivor
True sufficient that Asia had a whole lot of pop of their bloodstream, and MTV liked them for it. However on this tune, they’re each bit the supergroup that followers had been hoping for. Steve Howe and Carl Palmer make their presence felt, and John Wetton tears into the story of beating the chances. It’s a monitor that makes their accessibility a advantage.
18: Peter Gabriel – Lay Your Arms On Me
Safety has to rank as Peter Gabriel’s proggiest album, increasing the musical potentialities along with his newly acquired Fairlight whereas the lyrics dare to discover some emotionally messy territory. The album’s centerpiece is concerning the want for on a regular basis bodily contact – no doubt a tune that gained resonance within the covid period. Anybody who noticed that tour will bear in mind Gabriel’s belief fall into the viewers over the last refrain.
17: Procol Harum – A Salty Canine
Certainly one of Procol’s grandest prog rock songs, and one they performed all through their profession, this was an ideal automobile for Gary Dealer’s regal voice and B.J. Wilson’s majestic drumming. Lyricist Keith Reid characteristically leaves the story open to interpretation; to those ears, it sounds just like the narrator’s confession of his exploits as a pirate.
16: Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses
In search of “Thick as a Brick”? We’re going with a private favourite as an alternative. Ian Anderson has an on/off relationship with prog, however he was clearly on for this one, the title monitor of an album that was in any other case closely folk-tinged. The power of the English working steed, and the lifestyle it represents, set Anderson’s creativeness rolling on a nine-minute prog rock tune that opens with a basic Martin Barre riff, and will get some lightness from visitor violinist Daryl Means of Curved Air fame. Drummer Barriemore Barlow supplies the galloping hooves.
15: Mike Oldfield – Ommadawn, Half 1
The side-long monitor was all the time Mike Oldfield’s specialty, however – with apologies to “Tubular Bells” – that is his most good one, creating two principal themes over the course of 19 minutes. The multi-textured piece hits one peak after one other, the best ones being the African drumming/chanting part (kudos there to his vocalist sister Sally) and the savage guitar solo that follows. The ultimate reprise of the opening theme takes your breath away.
14: Renaissance – Mom Russia
Symphonic grandeur got here naturally to Renaissance, they usually’re at their most dramatic on this stately prog rock tune, concerning the heroism of the dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Annie Haslam’s vocal strikes precisely the correct chord, expressing each sympathy and humanitarian outrage; and the band conjures the darkish and icy Russian panorama.
13: Marillion – Kayleigh
This four-minute single was excerpted from the idea album Misplaced Childhood, but it surely stands by itself as one in all prog’s nice expressions of misplaced love. Marillion’s unique lead singer Fish retains his lyrics direct and emotional, recounting the small print of their affair – when the tune ends, you recognize she’s gone. The prog rock tune was a UK hit in 1985, so simply think about the variety of ladies named Kayleigh who had been born in that 12 months.
12: The Moody Blues – Legend of a Thoughts
You didn’t want acid to like the Moody Blues’ salute to Timothy Leary; this six-minute prog rock tune was a visit in itself. Written and sung by flautist Ray Thomas, this was a key monitor on In Search of the Misplaced Chord, an album that contemplated completely different paths to enlightenment, additionally together with meditation and romantic love. Thomas will get a memorable flute solo but it surely’s Mike Pinder’s unearthly mellotron that takes this to the cosmos – and the Moodies are soaringly melodic even once they’re tripping out.
11: Transatlantic – Stranger in Your Soul
The trendy supergroup Transatlantic loves their classic prog, however they make all the things larger, grander, and longer: “Stranger in Your Soul” runs half-hour, but it surely’s so filled with melodic peaks that it doesn’t really feel overstretched. Religious rebirth is their favourite lyrical theme, and this monitor has their most inspiring refrain: “Arise, trigger that is your time!”
10: Utopia – The Seven Rays
At their greatest, the unique Utopia managed to bridge the band’s prodigious chops with Todd Rundgren’s pop wizardry. “Seven Rays” is cosmic however robust, with the rhythm part hinting at funk and Rundgren’s lyrics evincing a form of streetwise spirituality. There’s a contact of gospel in there too, with none aside from a then-unknown Luther Vandross main the backup refrain.
9: Frank Zappa – Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow (suite)
We actually thought-about “Inca Roads,” however this prog rock tune made a bit extra sense as a result of it gives an opportunity to spotlight simply how humorous the style might be, given the prospect. This Apostrophe mini-suite proved has Frank Zappa hanging a shaggy-dog Eskimo story on a bass riff in 7/4. Each the story and the music get extra outlandish because the suite rolls alongside. Regardless that “Yellow Snow” was improbably launched as a single, you want to hear the album aspect in all its steady glory.
8: Genesis – Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers….In That Quiet Earth/Afterglow
No, the prog didn’t exit of Genesis after Peter Gabriel’s departure and the The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway/”Supper’s Prepared” period. The evocative instrumental on this medley is one in all guitarist Steve Hackett’s masterstrokes, taking its spectral temper from the Emily Bronte line quoted within the title. There are many dramatic turns and jagged riffs, and all of it resolves with probably the most intense love tune within the Genesis catalogue – one of many first tracks to actually present the heights Phil Collins may attain as a singer.
7: Van der Graaf Generator – Man-Erg
No person may put an existential treatise right into a tune lyric like Peter Hammill. On this key Pawn Hearts monitor, he confronts the killer, the angel, the refugee, and the atypical man who all stay inside his pores and skin, because the music builds from misleading calm to utter chaos. Hammill’s throat-tearing vocal finds its match in saxophonist David Jackson, who made lead guitar on this band largely pointless.
6: Kate Bush – Suspended in Gaffa
Kate Bush goes full-on theatrical on this spotlight from her twisted masterpiece, The Dreaming. She’d by no means sung fairly like this earlier than, and neither had anyone else: These shouts of “I would like all of it!” on the refrain nonetheless convey shivers. And there’s no one else on the earth who would equate an existential disaster with being certain up in gaffer’s tape.
5: Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Karn Evil 9: First Impression
Regardless of the unwieldy title, this piece is as heavy and direct as ELP ever received, its two components initially linking the 2 sides of Mind Salad Surgical procedure. It begins as a darkish imaginative and prescient of the long run, pushed by Keith Emerson’s heavy organ riffing and Greg Lake’s forceful singing; half two takes you to the surreal circus within the well-known “welcome again, my pals” part. The underlying theme is a world the place mass leisure distracts individuals from the disappearance of nature and human rights. Under no circumstances prophetic, was it?
4: Pink Floyd – Shine On You Loopy Diamond
Pink Floyd’s arguably best single monitor is a haunting and in the end loving tribute to their founder Syd Barrett. From David Gilmour’s crystalline intro solo to Roger Waters’ hovering refrain, all the things about this monitor is emotive– and it seems like a unified tune though its two components are separated to start and finish Want You Had been Right here. A final glimpse of the outdated Floyd that created classics like Darkish Aspect of the Moon earlier than they turned full-time to scathing social commentary.
3: Rush – Crimson Barchetta
“Cygnus X-1 E-book II: Hemispheres” is likely to be a preferred choose, however we went with a Rush tune about that almost all rock ‘n roll of subjects, a thrill journey in a quick automotive. After all Neil Peart’s lyrics make it a metaphor for the lure of hazard and freedom; and the band responds in sort. Alex Lifeson shifts gears with ease, arising with a brand new riff for every stage of the story. Geddy Lee was actually stretching his vocal talents at this level, and right here he’s nonetheless younger sufficient to attach with the adolescent narrator.
2: King Crimson – twenty first Century Schizoid Man
It’s a basic now, however you’ve received to think about simply how jarring this prog rock tune sounded in 1969. Nobody except for Robert Fripp and firm had been delivering this type of future shock, nor the form of clatter heard within the guitar/sax break. Greg Lake’s distorted vocal was so menacing that you just’d by no means guess that choirboy-type vocals would quickly turn into his trademark. Each incarnation of Crimson has performed this basic from Within the Courtroom of the Crimson King, and it’s an plain kick to nonetheless hear it carried out within the twenty first century.
1: Sure – Near the Edge
Should you’ve examine Sure’ strategies within the studio, you recognize that they threw a great deal of concepts round after which stitched all of them collectively. So it’s a miracle that they got here up with one thing as fantastically seamless as this. Coping with nothing lower than a go to to Heaven, the surprise of “Near the Edge” is that it’s structured like a pop tune: Three verses, center eight, keyboard solo, and refrain finale. However these Sure harmonies get positively celestial, Invoice Bruford’s drumming is a stable anchor, and Rick Wakeman’s Hammond organ solo could be the most jubilant second in all of prog.