Five years ago when Prog magazine (but certainly not progressive music) was in its infancy, we asked readers to vote for their 50 top prog albums of all time. Now, as we approach our 50th issue, we’ve gone back to see how the landscape has changed, asking readers and musicians to help us compile a list of the 100 greatest prog albums of all time. We were inundated with Top 10s from all over the world and we are proud to present the list for your perusal. Is it still the same, or have old favourites been ousted in place of young upstarts? And who is Number One?
The 100 Greatest Prog Albums Of All Time: 20-1
The fifth block of albums, as voted for by you!
MARILLION (EMI, 1985)
We say: The ultimate triumph of the 80s neo-prog revival in the UK was Marillion hitting the Number One spot in the album charts with this wonderfully flowing conceptual piece that also managed the no-mean-feat of containing two bona fide hit singles as well - a Number Two and Five no less. Pretty much unheard of for any prog band of any era! Without a doubt their commercial peak.
You say: “A brave choice to release a full-blown concept album in the middle of the 80s, yet it was immensely successful both commercially and artistically. Steve Rothery, take a bow.” – Philip Briddon
YES (Atlantic, 1974)
We say: Wakeman was out and Swiss keyboard wizard Patrick Moraz was in. We doubt there was the kind of ‘No Jon, No Yes’ kerfuffle that surrounds the band’s revolving door policy with members today, though. The fact is that on Relayer, the band exercised their jazz chops like never before.
You say: “This record had me believing that Yes were actually aliens as a teenager. There was no way humans conceived this or are playing it live!” – Jeff Wagner
Fear Of A Blank Planet
PORCUPINE TREE (Roadrunner, 2007)
We say: A fittingly high placing for Porcupine Tree, arguably one of the major reasons why progressive music has retained such popularity. With this album, Steven Wilson’s creative surge finally began reaping commercial dividends, propelling himself and the band into the UK Top 40 for the first time.
You say: “This is what happens when a thoughtful and powerful songwriter hits a career peak and he happens to have one of the greatest drummers of all time on board. There’s no stopping this freight train. Arguably the best prog-rock release this century, this album is technical but not flashy, heavy but not overly metal, dark but with light and shade, rhythmic but with melodic content that rewards visit after blissful visit.” – Russell Hanna
Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory
DREAM THEATER (Elektra, 1999)
We say: Back in 2012, Rolling Stone magazine voted this album, the band’s fifth, as the best prog rock album of all time. Our more discerning readers haven’t afforded it such an accolade, but it’s still Dream Theater’s highest-charting album in the only poll that matters!
You say: “To me, this is the peak of classical prog metal: the perfect balance between mind-bending technique, complex composition and melodies that will stick with you. Objectively speaking, perhaps the best prog album after the 70s.” – Markus Wierschem
PINK FLOYD (Harvest, 1979)
We say: Ambitious in scope, slightly overblown and perhaps veering towards the paranoid – all things that help make The Wall one of the greatest double concept albums of all time. A quite stunning realisation of Roger Waters’ vision that works because (most of) the band were still working well together.
You say: “The Wall is an epic musical journey that explores the emotional bonds and barriers of human beings, with the band’s technical prowess and Roger Waters’ venomous lyrics highlighting every nuance of the story.” – Vanessa Risti
RUSH (Mercury, 1976)
We say: This was the album that was most likely to have introduced legions of young heavy rock fans to the appeal of progressive music. The side one-long conceptual piece 2112 remains one of the Canadian trio’s best-loved songs. The shorter material on side two still holds up as well.
You say: “2112 itself is an incredibly well-written and executed composition, a good story and, musically, a masterpiece of dynamics – no band has been able to repeat that since then.” – György Dragon
PINK FLOYD (Harvest, 1977)
We say: The oft-overlooked Floyd album from the 70s earns its spurs in style, finally nestling in the all-time Prog Top 20 (it didn’t even make the Top 50 the last time we did this!). Not bad for what David Gilmour calls the band’s “punk” album, nor for a treatise against capitalism, in which Roger Waters used George Orwell’s Animal Farm as his basis.
You say: “Animals represents the end of an era for Pink Floyd as tensions were definitely rising in the band, but this album doesn’t show it. Every cut here is a thick slab of a rougher-edged Pink Floyd than was ever heard before. The harder edge and the Orwellian lyrics tick all the right boxes for me.” – Alek Nyberg
RUSH (Mercury, 1981)
We say: Rightly considered the jewel in the Rush crown – albeit a crown festooned with sparkling gems from throughout the band’s glittering 30-year career. As with many groups populating our Top 20, it’s difficult to choose between so many great works, but Moving Pictures truly stands out as a unique classic.
You say: “It’s the absolute best Rush album and the ultimate bridge between the 70s ambitious prog and the 80s new-wave prog.” – Diogo Salles
KING CRIMSON (Island, 1974)
We say: The last truly legendary King Crimson album? Some, of course, will argue with that statement. But Red remains so often the album this truly wonderful band created that people cite as being pretty much up there with Crimson’s brilliant debut. And so it proves in our poll.
You say: “With this band there have been so many line-up changes, so much diversity, but with Red, King Crimson’s best line-up went out with a bang with this dark, metallic, complex album that can be best summed up with two words: Bruford and Wetton!” – Joshua Creasey
Brain Salad Surgery
ELP (Manticore, 1973)
We say: We defer to Ian Fortnam’s pinpoint review back in Prog 45: “On paper it seems as insane as it ever did... It shouldn’t work, but it does. Brilliantly.” Without a doubt Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s crowning glory, one can only wonder where the band might have gone had they not ended up on that three-year hiatus after the gargantuan Brain Salad Surgery world tour.
You say: “ELP were the band that first got me into prog rock. This album shows them at their peak, all of the members creating a synthesis of each of their musical ideas. From the Emerson-driven hymn at the beginning, to the epic and high-energy Karn Evil 9 to Greg Lake’s mellifluous vocals on Still... You Turn Me On, this album displays classic progressive rock in all its glory.” – Matthew Zucker
YES (Atlantic, 1971)
We say: The album that made Yes a truly international act rather than a cult British prog curio, thanks in no small part to the album’s Top 4 placing in the Billboard chart and the massive US radio success of Roundabout as a single. Stadiums beckoned with open arms.
You say: “This album is absolutely amazing on so many levels. The writing was never really bettered, even on Close To The Edge. They had so many ideas and so little space, they wasted no time and it’s concise to a fault. Maybe there’s a little bit of filler, but even that’s good. Yes were never the same without Bruford, and they made use of him here and on the next album.” – Tony Meador
The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
STEVEN WILSON (Kscope, 2013)
We say: The highest chart entry for one of the new breed of progressive artists who continue to spread the message of intelligently crafted rock music throughout the world. Steven Wilson’s third solo album is easily his best thus far, a compact modern-day imagining of where the likes of King Crimson, Caravan, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and their ilk may have gone creatively in today’s musical age, but with Wilson’s own added imagination and talent driving it ever onwards.
You say: “An agonisingly beautiful album, with each song a masterclass in storytelling, told by virtuoso musicians at the top of their game. Out there on its own.”** – David Cable**
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
GENESIS (Charisma, 1974)
We say: The last Genesis album to feature singer Peter Gabriel, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is built around his ambitious concept, featuring young Puerto Rican Rael and his oddball adventures in a subterranean New York city with all manner of bizarre characters and creatures. On paper, it’s not the easiest of concepts from Genesis for the listener to digest, but it’s made easier by the wonderfully strident and majestic music they made to back it all up. One can only wonder at what delights the band might’ve have come up with if the oft-mooted film project had ever really gotten off the ground!
You say: “This is my favourite progressive rock album of all time. It was a bit of a shock to the system: the story, the music and the chord progressions were unreal when I first listened to it. It was dense and overpowering at first, but once I got it and absorbed it, it really was an absolute joy and privilege to be able to listen to music of such stunning complexity and originality. There will probably never be another album like this ever again.” – Ross Brooks
Wish You Were Here
PINK FLOYD (Harvest, 1975)
We say: Pink Floyd’s emotive farewell to original singer Syd Barrett (among its other themes of absence and the rigours of the music business) was made all the more poignant when the reclusive Barrett actually turned up at Abbey Road during the recording session. Maybe that’s why the Barrett ode Shine On You Crazy Diamond’s strident guitar chords continue to resound so emphatically to this very day.
You say: “A perfect record. Probably the most played CD, record and tape in my collection. The tragic story of Syd Barrett played against the excesses of the record industry – a metaphor for commercialism and madness.” – Drew Sidener
GENESIS (Charisma, 1972)
We say: It would be easy just to say Supper’s Ready. The near 23-minute Biblically apocalyptic epic that takes up almost all of side two is now synonymous not just with Genesis but with progressive rock at its finest. Fortunately, the likes of Watcher Of The Skies and Get ’Em Out By Friday proved there was far more to the band than extensive, though truly wonderful, workouts.
You say: “From the foreboding opening mellotron chords of Watcher Of The Skies to the quirky and apocalyptic masterpiece that is Supper’s Ready (a candidate for top prog song), this album keeps you hooked until the final note fades away – and then you want to play it again.” - Martin Reijman
Thick As A Brick
JETHRO TULL (Chrysalis, 1972)
We say: Aqualung wasn’t a concept album, but in retaliation to those who thought it was, Ian Anderson’s mercurial brain whirred into action and created the character of then eight-year old Gerald Bostock and Thick As A Brick, thus creating a whole new fantasy world to populate. The album’s endurance is proven by the fact that Anderson has resurrected Bostock for his most recent works. A fitting muse indeed, one might say.
You say: “A parody of concept albums that’s actually one of the best concept albums ever? Yeah, that’s something only Jethro Tull can do.” – Teemu Vaskiluoto
The Dark Side Of The Moon
PINK FLOYD (Harvest, 1973)
We say: The most recognisable album sleeve of all time. And quite possibly the most easily identifiable Pink Floyd-sounding album of all time, too? Either way, it was the record that catapulted the band from Cambridge into the rock hierarchy. Not bad for an album that didn’t even have the band’s name on the sleeve. The album topped the US charts and remained on the Billboard chart for 741 weeks, but could only reach No.2 here in the UK.
You say: “This is a record that just grabs hold of all of your senses when you listen to it. It scores off the charts in all categories: musicality, innovation, lyrical content, atmosphere and cohesion. The music is very accessible, but does not lack for depth or complexity – and that, to me, is what makes this a truly great album.” – Arvid Rensfeldt
Selling England By The Pound
GENESIS (Charisma, 1973)
We say: It’s certainly no mean feat to get three albums in our Top 10, but Genesis have managed just that. Selling England By The Pound topped a similar poll five years ago. Here it resides at No.3. Who’s to say it won’t be back in the top position in another five years’ time?
You say: “Every track on this album, and also the album as a whole, has an incredible balance between art and entertainment. I believe that this is an album that both proggers and pop fans can enjoy as equals, and consider it a masterpiece from two opposite points of view. This kind of album would not disappoint the most perfectionist artist imaginable.”** – Yuval Dolev**
In The Court Of The Crimson King
KING CRIMSON (Island, 1969)
We say: For many, the album that kick-started the entire progressive genre, and certainly the finest prog album from those heady early days back in the 60s when inventiveness was at its peak and the musicians knew no boundaries. A time when, as Robert Fripp puts it, “The creative impulse came from young men who didn’t know what they were doing, yet were able to do it.”
You say: “This must have been by far the most experimental and progressive album of its time. It revolutionised rock music the same way that Bach revolutionised classical music. Simply a masterpiece of progress and magic (the mellotron works miracles).”** – Constantin Tsagaris**
AND NOW FOR YOUR NUMBER ONE ALBUM...
Close To The Edge
YES (Atlantic, 1972)
We say: With seven albums in the Top 100 (that’s one more than Genesis, Floyd and Marillion), it’s perhaps fitting that Yes top the poll with their 1972 classic. We based a magazine cover on this album last year and, needless to say, it sold by the bucketload – a testament to the longevity of the record you’ve called the greatest prog album of all time. Behold, Yes and Close To The Edge.
You say: “A perfect modern symphony with three movements. I remember listening to the opening of Close To The Edge when I was 12 years old in 1972. My musical taste changed forever. Howe’s blazing guitar intro made me look into bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I had heard through my older brothers but never really paid attention to. Anderson’s lyrics and vocals were the perfect pairing to the intro. I was already a Yes fan, but Close To The Edge made Yes my favourite band forever.” – Jorge J. Murillo
A WORD FROM CHRIS SQUIRE
"First of all, I would like to thank all the Yes fans out there in 'prog land' who have voted for Close To The Edge and six other Yes albums in this poll.
"As far as Close To The Edge is concerned, this album has obviously struck a chord in the hearts of our audience, that has endured through the years following its 1972 release and I can only surmise that the fans were attracted to the brave approach and our voyage into the realms of the long form arrangements embodied in this album."