Top Progressive Rock Albums

By Phipz-97 Phipz-97
updated 8 months ago

These are, in my opinion, the definitve releases in the Progressive Rock genre, the prog "acquis" so to speak.
These were released predominantly in the 1970s with a few exceptions and range from Symphonic Prog, over Prog Folk, Heavy Prog and the criminally underrated Rock Progressivo Italiano subgenres.
This list is in no particular order!

  1. Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick

    Released in 1972 and following the transitional albums Benefit and Aqualung, Thick as a Brick is Jethro Tull's first all-prog album and the first of three concept albums released by the band (the other two being 1973' controversial A Passion Play and 1976's mellow To Old To Rock'n'Roll, Too Young To Die). Containing in essence one long track, it is a perfect gateway into the world of progressive music and concept albums, even though the concept was a spoof of the larger than life prog acts back in the day. Frontman Ian Anderson never took himself too seriously and it shows when reading through the non-sense lyrics, supposetdly written by a 10-year old kid, while in actuality written by Anderson himself (though many didn't get the joke) - sparked my interest in the genre.

  2. Gentle Giant - In A Glass House

    Released in 1973 everywhere, but the US, In A Glass House is perceived with mixed feelings by the band, for being rushed after the sudden departure of founding member Phil Shulman the previous year. Following the hugely successful Octopus, In A Glass House is the first in a series of four albums that feature the signature insanity of Gentle Giant's instrumentation only hinted on the Octopus album. Going into a more harder direction, it features longer, more complex compositions spiced with more pastoral songs like the short "A Reunion" and the weird "An Inmates Lullaby" while featuring arguably their best song "In A Glass House", an 8 minute marathon showcasing what Gentle Giant was all about. That being said, you can't go wrong with either of their albums from their self-titeled 1970 debut, all through to 1976's Inter'view - wonderfully weird.

  3. Kansas (2) - Point Of Know Return

    One thing first and foremost: Kansas has never released a perfect album, but the consistant quality of their first five records has only ever been matched by Gentle Giant. And like said band, it is truly difficult to point out their best offering. From their 1974 more Southern Rock-influenced debut, over the progressive behemoth that is their sophomore effort, their underrated third album and their 1976 commercial breakthrough album "Leftoverture" it is the last of the bunch that I would consider their finest hour, in terms of best complete package. Released in 1977 at the end of the prog-hayday, "Point of Know Return" is most famously known for the title track and the smash-ballad "Dust in the Wind". Never has commercial appeal and complexity been better balanced, than here with both sides being closed on the epic tracks "Closet Chronicles" and "Hopelessly Human" - a statisfying record.

  4. Premiata Forneria Marconi - Per Un Amico

    The second album by this Italian formation to be released in 1972 is a strong contender for best Italian prog album ever released (ProgArchives agrees with me on this one). After the phenomenal debut and just before their more jazzier third offering, "per un amico" is a very pastoral, mellotron- and acoustic-heavy album that is, even though barely longer than half an hour, a creative tour the force with a very distinctive sound, that - when even at all - can be compared to Genesis' Trespass record. Astonishingly good sounding for the time (just compare it to Banco's debut album of the same year.. yikes) it is very similar in structure to their debut album, but with "Appená un po'", the live evergreen "Il banchetto" and the wonderful title track (contender for one of the most beautiful songs ever), it elevates itself above the other of the first three albums, which are nevertheless strongly recommended - a perfect start for getting into RPI.

  5. Yes - Drama

    Okay, crucify me - burn me at the stake. The one an only Yes album without participation of frontman Jon Anderson (at least until 2011) is a perfectly fine package for anyone, who (like me) thinks that Yes fell victim to senseless meandering on some occasion. With the longest track only at the ten minute mark, 1980's underrated Drama is as concise as an album at the end of an era should be. Recorded with pop-duo "The Buggles" as Jon Anderson's and Rick Wakeman's (keys) replacement and released after the underwhelming Tormate, it took a step in the most logical direction an went for a more modern, less keyboard-heavy but alltogether more heavy direction, while also keeping all of the progressive elements, that made Yes famous at the beginning of the previous decade. Characterised by the upfront bass-playing of the late Chris Squire (sans a bass-playing Trevor Horn on "Run Through The Light") and the more aggressive guitar-playing of Steve Howe, "Drama" is the only Yes-Album post "Close to the Edge" that doesn't make me miss Bill Bruford. Bookended by the metallic "Machine Messiah" and the fast joyful "Tempus Fugit", this is an album that needs reconsideration by loads amounts of die-hard Yes-fans - a sign that different people can create wonderful things (something that Yes has since forgotten)

  6. Focus (2) - Focus 3

    Okay, this is the most imperfect perfect album on this list. Released in 1972 an following up the hugely successful Moving Waves, Focus 3 is a double album that only needs to be a one and a half album - hence why getting a vinyl copy is recommended. Containing the hit-single "Sylvia", Focus 3 ist as jazzy as Focus ever got with particular praise going to the opening track, the funny "Carnival Fugue" and the title track which segways into the best track Focus ever recorded, Jan Akkerman's personal showcase of "Questions? Answer! Answer? Questions!", a 14-minute monster of a track with some of the best guitar-playing I have ever heard. The B side of this package is as good as instrumental rock has ever been.
    But of course, there is the elephant in the room, the 27-minute way to long "Anonymus II" with a 5-minute drum solo, that is as terrible as it sounds to someone who doesn't like drum solos to beginn with (me). But, with the vinyl splitting the track up into two parts, the first 20 minutes are pure genius, being way more of a jam-session that the 23-minute "Eruption"-Suite of its predecessor - just don't play the fourth side.

  7. Rush - Permanent Waves

    Recorded throughout 1979 and released on January, 1st 1980 Permanent Waves was a transitional album for the Canadian Power-Trio and truly a child of its time in the best way possible. Being heavily influenced by their 1970s song structure and the conciseness of the beginning decade, it is short in lengh, but rich in content. From the reggae-influenced (Rush being big Police-fans at the time) "Spirit of Radio" to the mostly instrumental longtrack "Jacob's Ladder" it contains Rush's best ballad with "Different Strings" and one of their last long epics with the three-part "Natural Science" bringing the album to a more than statisfying end. Next years Moving Pictures may have been more influencal and more hit-heavy, but as far as albums go, Rush has never surpassed this little gem.

  8. U.K.* - U.K.

    1978 wasn't excactly the most graceful year for progressive rock. Yes had their first dud with Tormato, Genesis went pseudo-proggy-pop without their guitarist on ...And Then There Were Three, Gentle Giant shit itself with the poppy shit-fest of Giant For A Day!, and the less I talk about ELP's Love Beach, the better.
    While everything went downhill (Rush and Jethro Tull being notable exceptions) big names of prog and jazz formed a supergroup and released this gem which sounds surprisingly original and fresh with a symbiosis of prog and fusion only matched by Return To Forever's Romantic Warrior. Keyboardist Eddie Jobson (Frank Zappa), singer/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson, Uriah Heep), fusion-guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Jean-Luc Ponty) and jazz-drummer Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson) created this modern sounding masterpiece with the star being the playing of the latter two on such highlights as the "In The Dead Of Night"-Suite, the jazzy "Mental Medication", the melodic "Nevermore" and the heavy instrumental "Alaska" - their second album, albeit without the two I just praised, comes highly recommended as well, with Zappa-drummer Terry Bozzio filling huge shoes rather well.

  9. Genesis - Foxtrot

    This was hard. Like Kansas, i feel Genesis has never released an album, that is statisfying from beginning to end. Trespass overall feels a little bit to samey, Nursery Cryme has shorter songs that aren't all that special, Selling England by the Pound is simply to long with the awful "More Fool Me" between brilliant songs, so 1972's Foxtrot takes the cake as the closest one reaching the pinnacle.
    At more that 50 minutes in lengh it would overstay its welcome (Get 'Em Out by Friday kinda does), would it not be for the 23-minute absolute prog-masterpiece of "Supper's Ready" which has grown on me exponentially with its constant changing instrumentation and time signatures. Apart from that, it has the marching "Watcher of the Skies" and the wonderful coda of "Can-Utily And the Coastliners" - Genesis at their best!

  10. Starcastle - Fountains Of Light

    Another one for the stake - the second Yes, long before there were an actual second Yes, Starcastle was often accused of being a slightly more simple and less indulgent clone of the British prog-kings with an Amercian attitude, meaning more vocal harmonies and more of a rock'n'roll drumming. The comparisons are quite legitimate. Late bassist Gary Strater mirrors the Rickenbacker sound of late Chris Squire almost too well and the voice of Terry Lutrell (formerly of REO Speedwagon) is a slightly less operatic Jon Anderson. The guitar-playing sounds like Steve Howe's, the keyboard player is a less-sophisticated Rick Wakeman and the drummer runs circles around Alan White, like most prog-drummers do nowadays. But as a standalone album, 1977's Fountains Of Light is a little gem which its 10-minute title track and the closing track of "Diamong Song" as highlights - for non-die-hard-Yes-fans recommended.

  11. Apoteosi - Apoteosi

    One of Italy's best kept secrets is this album by a then blood-young south Italian band (Calabria), which is in of itself special, because almost all of the Italian prog-bands came from the far richer north of the country. Released in 1975 when the youngest of the Idá siblings was only fourteen years old, this family project (being produced by their father) is a forgotten classic of symphonic music with the highlights being Silvana Idá's gentle vocals and young Massimo Idá's astounding keyboard playing. Typically short for the genre, the first side is in essence on long song with constant mood and time changes and stellar production (keep in mind that the south of Italy is still rather poor by todays standards). Finally reissued on vinyl in 2015, there is no reason not to own this hidden gem.

  12. Maxophone - Maxophone

    Another rather late Italian release, published in 1975 when most of the prominent acts were already past their prime. Maxophone is probably the most accessible Italian prog-album (probably tied with PFM's Per un amico) while never being to mainstream. The frequent vocal harmonies are rather unique and the instrumentation is rich and complex, while never straying too far from being melodic. The opening track "C'é un paese al mondo" is probably the strongest track with its fast beginning, jazzy middle section and hymnal ending. "Fase" is a bluesy instrumental with great guitar playing while the closing track "Antiche Conclusioni Negre" sends the album of in a very statisfying way - A perfect introduction