Jeff's Favorite Progressive Rock Music
Progressive Rock is a more 'symphonic' child of rock-and-roll. It's performed using the same instruments as rock-and-roll, with rock-and-roll style singing, but the tracks are generally longer than the 3- or 4-minute tracks played on the radio, often more like 10 minutes, sometimes 20 or 30 minutes. It's usually a more experimental sound than classic rock-and-roll, with lots of time changes, unusual chord progressions, and often eclectic lyrics. It is to classic rock-and-roll as Fusion Jazz is to Progressive Rock.
I've listed my 25-or-so favorite albums, most with a YouTube link so you can listen to a sample for free, and an Amazon link so you can buy the album if you'd like to. I make no money on this; I don't care where you like to buy your music. I just hope that if you do enjoy some album or another, you support the artist and enjoy the better sound quality by buying it.
If you find any broken links or items that are no longer available to buy, please email me so I can fix or update the link.
My Favorite Progressive Rock Music, in chronological order
- 1969 King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King [Amazon]
I was only 13 when this album came out, and I don't think I even heard it until maybe 1990. That's when Emerson Lake & Palmer's lyric "Confusion will be my epitaph" finally made sense to me. My favorite tracks are '21st Century Schizoid Man', 'Epitaph' and 'The Court of the Crimson King'.
- 1970 Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer [YouTube] [Amazon]
This was the first Progressive Rock album I ever owned, from a brand-new supergroup. I didn't even know what 'supergroup' meant back then, having never heard of any of these 3 guys, but wow did I find out in a hurry. Every track is a masterpiece. I guess this album might have been one of the origins of 'heavy metal', with the super heavily-distorted bass of Greg Lake and the doomsday church organ of Keith Emerson. I remember being a 14-year-old playing it quite loud, over and over again in amazement, on the DIY headphones I made from walkie-talkie speakers, a coat hanger, some foam rubber, and wire. I can even remember some of the skips on that original record when I listen to my digital copy nowadays.
- 1971 Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Tarkus [YouTube] [Amazon]
'Tarkus' was Emerson, Lake & Palmer's first epic full-side-long track, and the second side of the album consisted of 6 short tracks. 'Tarkus' is still an incredible track, and what can beat that cover photo of the combined armadillo/tank, which I assumed was this alien Tarkus thing that took over the Earth? Side 2 begins and ends with the shortest and weakest tracks on the album 'Jeremy Bender' and 'Are You Ready Eddy'. If you just skip those two and listen to the middle four tracks you'll be fine. 'A Time and A Place' was like a continuation of their first album; the others on side 2 were more eclectic offerings, still excellent. So Tarkus had 5 great tracks and 4 minutes of skip-overs.
- 1971 Yes: The Yes Album [YouTube] [Amazon]
Though Yes had a couple albums before this one, their signature sound and science-fiction themes came together with this album. Though it was released in 1971, I don't know of anyone who heard it until after 1972's Fragile album brought Yes into popular attention. After hearing Fragile, a lot of us wanted to hear more from this group and searched out their earlier album. Incredible music on this album includes 'Yours Is No Disgrace', 'Starship Trooper', 'I've Seen All Good People' and 'Perpetual Change'.
- 1971 Traffic: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys [YouTube] [Amazon]
I probably heard the title track first on WMMS, 'the Home of Rock & Roll', since only they would have played a 12-minute track on the radio. Or maybe it was Marc, I can't remember. Anyhow, that track is still a favorite of mine, and 'Rock & Roll Stew' and 'Many a Mile to Freedom' are also good.
- 1971 Jethro Tull: Aqualung [YouTube] [Amazon]
I don't know why I didn't really like Jethro Tull back in the '70s or '80s, but I didn't appreciate them until I revisted them somewhere around 2008, at the prodding of a co-worker in the Czech Republic named Premek Truksa. Thanks, Premek. Several Jethro Tull albums are quite good, but this 1971 album is the best, in my opinion.
- 1972 Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Pictures at an Exhibition [YouTube] [Amazon]
I was probably the only person at school who liked Pictures at an Exhibition. This is an adaptation of Mussorgsky's classical work of the same name. As I remember my friends didn't think much of this album, but I liked it, especially side 2.
- 1972 Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Trilogy [YouTube] [Amazon]
The evolution of Emerson, Lake & Palmer continued with 'Trilogy'. The sound was, in general, lower-energy and more thoughtful. Every track is strong, except for the throw-away 'The Sheriff', but the really strong tracks are 'The Endless Enigma', 'From the Beginning' and 'Trilogy'. 'Hoedown' is an adaptation of a classical work by Aaron Copland, and 'Abaddon's Bolero' has structure similar to Maurice Ravel's Bolero.
- 1972 Yes: Fragile [YouTube] [Amazon]
There have been a lot of albums on this list between Tarkus and here, but there was actually very little time between them. Fragile is the album which brought Yes into super-stardom and gave me an alternative to Emerson Lake & Palmer to listen to. 'Roundabout', 'South Side of the Sky', 'Long Distance Runaround' and 'Heart of the Sunrise' are my favorites from this incredible and wildly-popular album.
- 1972 Flash: Flash [YouTube] [Amazon]
Yes, they imitated the sound of the much more successful group 'Yes', but still, this album is a great Progressive Rock album. 'Small Beginnings', 'Children of the Universe' and 'Dreams of Heaven' are 31 minutes of great music, while 'Morning Haze' and 'The Time It Takes' are 10 minutes of failure which you should delete so you can enjoy the good stuff I mentioned. Perhaps they were a knock-off group, but this album was a good one.
- 1972 Yes: Close To The Edge [YouTube] [Amazon]
This one came out only 8 months after 'Fragile' and it changed everything. Considered by most people (including me) to be the best Progressive Rock album of all time, the three tracks on this album are all superb. 'Close to the Edge' takes up all of side 1 and is filled with imaginative composition, varied moods, superb musicianship, and plenty of interesting climaxes. Side 2 contains 'And You and I', which was equally imaginative and eclectic, followed by a complete turn-of-events with 'Siberian Khatru', which rocks intensely for its 9-minute duration. I'm linking to the 2013 remastering of this album, which includes a gorgeous-sounding CD with details I never heard before, along with a blu-ray which I understand has even better sound though I can't verify that with the playback equipment I own. The plain-old non-remastered CD is a great choice, but this remastered version, though pricey, is even better.
- 1973 Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery [YouTube] [Amazon]
Oh my gosh, when I first heard this album I thought I was gonna die, it was that good. OK, I wondered what the heck they were thinking with 'Jerusalem' (I now really appreciate it after listening to several last nights of the PROMS), 'Toccata' brought me back to the first album, 'Still, You Turn Me On' was a gorgeous Greg Lake ballad, and 'Benny The Bouncer' was the 2-minute throwaway of this album. Then the last track of side 1 was the first part of 'Karn Evil No. 9' and side 2 of the album continued this epic 30-minute masterpiece, ELP's best track of all time. Unfortunately the album also marked the beginning of the demise of ELP, since there really was nowhere else to go after Karn Evil No. 9.
- 1973 Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon [YouTube] [Amazon]
We just listened to this one over and over and over again, and if you're reading this page, so did you. This is the lowest-energy album by far on my list, but it works beautifully and is listenable again and again and again.... My favorite, as if it matters, is 'The Great Gig in the Sky', but the entire album is fantastic.
- 1973Curved Air: Air Cut [YouTube] [Amazon]
Led by a lead singer with bit of an odd voice to my ears, this album is still a classic of Progressive Rock. I can't remember the name of the record shop where I first heard this in the Coventry neighborhood of the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, but the album made quite an impression on me. Try 'The Purple Speed Queen', the incredible 'Metamorphosis', 'Armin' and 'Easy'.
- 1973 Yes: Yessongs [YouTube] [Amazon]
A great high-energy live album with all of the best songs by Yes, including stupendous versions of 'Siberian Khatru', 'Heart of the Sunrise', 'Perpetual Change', 'Yours is No Disgrace' and 'Starship Trooper'. Too bad the sound quality is so poor; I wish they'd remaster it from original tapes sometime, though knowing me (as I do) I'd probably just complain about lack of 'original sound' anyhow.
- 1973 Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, A True Star [YouTube] [Amazon]
After his Something/Anything album of pop-friendly songs, Todd Rundgren unleashed his creativity with a fury in A Wizard, A True Star. Part (perhaps mainly) psychadelic rock, part nostalgia, part experimental progressive rock, you can sense that Todd Rundgren threw everything he had into this album. The album overflows with fresh ideas and unconstrained creativity. The normal 40-minute time restrictions of a vinyl album weren't even sufficient for him on this album: both sides were nearly 30 minutes, causing a lowered sound quality which has reportedly been fixed in recent remastered releases (I haven't yet tried one: the gritty, scratchy treble sound of this album is a part of the music ingrained into me; will it be lacking something if the sound is improved?). Anyhow, side 1 is the real progressive rock here. It's a single track of ideas flowing one to the next. It's bookended by International Feel and Le Feel Internacionale, and right after the intro is Never Never Land, which was able to pull at my heartstrings when I was 20, and still now, at 60. A bunch of short fun tracks lead into Zen Archer, which foreshadows the psychadelic mastery of the Todd album to follow. When The Shit Hits The Fan (I think I'll have to make my way back to Sunset Boulevard) has popped into my head many many times during these 40 years. The second side of the album features a few Rundgren original songs, and an incredible medly of old-time hits which apparently influenced Rundgren. Not really progressive rock on side 2, but some gorgeous songs (I Don't Want To Tie You Down is one of the best Rundgren ballads of all time, IMHO).
- 1974 Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends: Ladies & Gentlemen, Emerson Lake & Palmer [YouTube] [Amazon]
It was 1974, I was 18 years old, and this live 3-record album of much of the best of ELP was released. I still didn't understand the significance of Jerusalem (I wouldn't listen to the PROMS for 30 more years), but the versions of 'Tarkus', 'Take a Pebble' and 'Karn Evil No 9' on this album are all fantastic, and reminiscent of the August 4th, 1974 World Series of Rock concert I attended with my best friend, Marc. When the computer sang 'What Else... Could You Do' and Emerson's coda started swirling around the cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, well... it was a hell of a concert. We stood within 20 feet of the 15-foot-tall speakers on the left edge of the stage and lost quite a bit of our hearing that day.
- 1974 King Crimson: Red [Amazon]
I don't know quite how I missed out on King Crimson during my teenage years, but I finally did discover this one around 1990. I actually think this is their best album, believing 'Red' and 'Starless' to be masterpieces, with 'Fallen Angel' and 'One More Red Nightmare' not far behind.
- 2000 Pain of Salvation: The Perfect Element I [YouTube] [Amazon]
is a spectacular album. I was put off at first by the vocals, which sounded like over the top heavy-metal growl vocals, but if you listen to the entire album you'll hear the varied styles of this group's music and the
tremendous creativity they demonstrate throughout the album. Their music turns on a dime into some of the most beautiful passages I know in Progressive Rock. This is an absolute must-have Progressive Rock album in my opinion. I thought Progressive Rock was dead in 1980; I was wrong! BTW, I'm sorry to report that based on this album I bought or downloaded 9 other Pain of Salvation albums, but none of them approached the perfection of The Perfect Element. Perhaps 'Remedy Lane' comes closest. My favorite tracks from 'The Perfect Element' are.... well... all of them, but man, from 'King of Loss' to the end of the album is an absolutely spectacular 29 minutes of music. Listen LOUD!
- 2000 Transatlantic: SMPTe [YouTube] [Amazon]
Jeez I was really really wrong. Progressive Rock really made a comeback in the 2000's. Transatlantic is another supergroup, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer was. And they're even better. SMTPe is my second-favorite of their albums, with the superb tracks 'All of the Above' and 'Mystery Train', the great tracks 'We All Need Some Light' and 'My New World', and the loser track at the end of the album named 'In Held (Twas) In'. Start with their 'Bridge Across Forever' album, though, which I think is more consistently strong throughout.
- 2001 Transatlantic: Bridge Across Forever [YouTube] [Amazon]
This is an astonishingly great Progressive Rock album from the supergroup Transatlantic, formed from the lead members of several prior successful groups, like Spock's Beard, Dream Theater, and the Flower Kings. This group melds Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, and has lots of references to the Beatles music. On this particular album, my favorites are 'Duel With the Devil', 'Suite Charlotte Pike' and 'Stranger in Your Soul', which accounts for 71 minutes of incredible Progressive Rock music. The 5-minute 'Bridge Across Forever' is OK-ish. This is definitely the Transatlantic album you should start with. If you like it, get SMPTe, followed by 'Live in Europe', then 'Whirlwind'.
- 2003 Neal Morse: Testimony [YouTube] [Amazon]
Neal Morse is one of the members of Transatlantic, and Testimony is one heck of an album. This album is Christian Rock, which I'm not a fan of, but the music is really very good Progressive Rock, so if the lyrics bother you, just block them out and listen to the superb music. If you like Christian Rock and Progressive Rock, you're really gonna like this album.
- 2005 Neal Morse: ? [YouTube] [Amazon]
Neal Morse is one of the members of Transatlantic, and ? (sometimes called Question Mark) is what I believe to be his best album to date. This album is Christian Rock, which I'm not a fan of, but the music is really very good Progressive Rock, so if the lyrics bother you, just block them out and listen to the superb music. If you like Christian Rock and Progressive Rock, you're really gonna like this album.
- 2008 Karmakanic: Who's the Boss in the Factory? [YouTube] [Amazon]
Here's a really good relatively-unknown Progressive Rock album. My favorites are the first four tracks: 'Send a Message from the Heart', 'Let In Hollywood', 'Who's the Boss in the Factory' and 'Two Blocks From the Edge'. The remaining two-track 'Eternally' is a failure, but pretty short. Good album.
- 2009 The Tangent: Down and Out in Paris and London [Amazon]
I couldn't find a YouTube link for the entire album, but you can search for the album and come up with a couple sample tracks. I quite like 'Where Are They Now' and especially 'Perdu Dans Paris', which account for 30 minutes of this 60-minute album.
- 2014 Flying Colors: Second Nature [YouTube] [Amazon]
This is a quite good (but not great) recent Progressive Rock album. 'Open Up Your Eyes' and 'Cosmic Symphony' are really very good, the 7 tracks between them are not bad at all. This is not 'Yes' or 'Emerson Lake & Palmer' or 'Transatlantic', but it's a pretty darn good album that you should listen to the sample of.
- So that leaves Led Zeppelin. What to do about them? They're not really Progressive Rock since they didn't play 10-minute epics, but they didn't exactly play 3-minute tracks on AM radio either. How can 'When the Levee Breaks', 'Misty Mountain Hop' not be Progressive Rock, let alone 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You', 'Dazed and Confused' and 'How Many More Times'? Yes, I know the last three are Blues, but they're also great Progressive Rock. And in any case, this is my page and I just can't leave Led Zeppelin off a page I've written about any form of Rock, so I'll just conclude with recommendations for
- Led Zeppelin I: The greatest Blues-Rock album of all time
- Led Zeppelin II: The greatest Led Zeppelin album of all time
- Led Zeppelin III: For completists only, though 'Since I've Been Loving You' and 'That's The Way' are great tracks
- Led Zeppelin IV: Just one or two pubic hairs behind Led Zeppelin II as the greatest Led Zeppelin album of all time
- Led Zeppelin V (Houses of the Holy): I just love 'The Song Remains the Same', 'The Rain Song' and 'Dancing Days'
- Led Zeppelin VI (Physical Graffiti), and so forth: They changed. Still a few great songs, but too many mediocre songs mixed in
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