The 10 best prog rock songs, by Steve Davis
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Snooker star Steve Davis plunders his collection of 40 years of prog perfection to recommend the best of the experimental set, both long established and newer releases...
GONG – Oily Way (1973)
Gong’s predilection for ‘tea’ and the flying teapots was a ruse. And me and my mates looked like we dabbled, going to their gigs in our Afghan coats. But I was a pint-of-mild chap – it went more with the snooker and the working men’s clubs I attended. However, you don’t need anything extra to enjoy this lovely, lilting psych tune. It takes you to a happy place regardless of what you’re doing.
SLAPP HAPPY/ HENRY COW – In The Sick Bay (1974)
This one will creep up on you. It’s only two minutes long and has the Marmite factor of vocals by [prog vocalist-turned-torch-singer] Dagmar Krause. Not many people start off loving it, but something clicks. Slapp Happy and Henry Cow have a subtle ferocity and are totally out-there. But this defies that with its sweet melody, lightness of touch and clever wordplay. Genuinely liking this will be your badge of honour.
ROBERT WYATT – Sea Song (1974)
The Canterbury bands made a big noise, and Wyatt was a huge part. But he had left the main fold and had his terrible accident [breaking his back after a fall at a party, leaving him using a wheelchair]. This is from the album he made afterwards, probably a very painful album. This song reverberates with that feeling. His vocal is terrific, and his take on a love song is unusual, beautiful and gratifyingly strange.
GENTLE GIANT – No God's A Man (1974)
This band were very close to my heart in the 70s, and the opposite of the popular prog bands like Yes and Genesis. Apart from the level of musicianship and the intricacy of the songs, every album has tremendous melodic quality. Part of their superb vocal blend may be because they are brothers. No God’s A Man is the song I pick to showcase Gentle Giant.
MAGMA – Hhaï (Live) (1975)
This band changed my world. The first time I heard them, I thought: “I don’t think much of this.” Months later, Isotope played the Roundhouse, supporting Magma, and nothing was the same again. For a song apparently about facing death – it’s in their own made-up language of Kobaïan, so who knows? – it’s remarkably joyous.
CAMBERWELL NOW – Daddy Needs A Throne (1985)
This track came out on a compilation album. It’s a great way to experience the work of experimental drummer Charles Hayward. Charles writes about normal, banal things but he gets a groove going that makes things catchy, but with a punk feel. He never lost his edge, and his influence can be heard in the new Brit bands today.
**SKELETONS – The Things **(2008)
The co-presenter on my radio show, Kavus Torabi from Knifeworld, played them and I was hooked. They get you with their Afro-beat rhythm, but their New York avant-jazz attitude comes through. It’s addictive, a riot.
TROJAN HORSE – Disciplining The Reserve Army (2011)
I ended up listening to this on a coach journey from Manchester to Stansted after trains were cancelled. On this trip with a bunch of sad passengers it was a revelation. It just sparkled. They have the prog sensibility of bands like Tull and Crimson mixed with the edge of contemporary rock bands, and that special quirk that sets them apart.
THUMPERMONKEY – Direct (2012)
Every time I listen to this I punch the air with euphoria. It’s complex but accessible, noisy but melodic, and they bring out the Gentle Giant intricacy with riffs that make you want to jump up and down.
DORA BRILLIANT – Talk It Up (2012)
When people think of progressive music they think it has all come from the past. Not true. And as fans, DJs, critics, whatever, we should champion and support new acts. There’s plenty.
Photo: DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.05
This originally appeared in Classic Rock 182.