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25 Greatest Prog Rock Albums Of All Time

Side-long concept pieces, walls of Mellotrons, keyboardists in capes…such were the glories of the greatest prog rock albums.

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Best Prog Rock Albums
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Side-long concept pieces, walls of Mellotrons, keyboardists in capes…such were the glories of progressive rock. And behind it all were a stack of wildly creative prog-rock albums that still hold a potent thrill of discovery. The reverberations are still there whenever a modern band takes chances with instrumentation or reaches beyond a singles-length track. But here we salute the original 70s heyday of prog rock, with a couple of late-60s and early-80s cornerstones. All of it demonstrates how much of a journey a 40-minute vinyl album could be.

Think we’ve missed one of your favorite prog rock albums? Let us know in the comments section, below.

Listen to the best of Prog Rock on Spotify.

25: Argent: In Deep

Now that The Zombies have been well rediscovered, Rod Argent’s next band deserves some of the same glory. Their proggiest album begins with a fist-waver that Kiss covered (“God Gave Rock & Roll to You”) but goes from there into headier territory, with much grandeur and keyboard wizardry. The nine-minute “Be Glad” could be the prog answer to the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.
Listen to: “Be Glad”

24: Tangerine Dream: Encore

Masters of the cosmic soundscape, the peak-era Tangerine Dream got into an outgoing mood on the largely improvised, double live album Encore. They loosen up, experiment more with rhythm, and compose some lovely tunes on the spot. Leader Edgar Froese even gets in a couple of killer guitar solos.
Listen to: “Cherokee Lane”

23: Magma: Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh

Grand opera meets fusion meets space travel, with some reimagined church music thrown in – all in a language that the eccentric French band made up. This was prog rock at its most abstract, and after all these years, nothing sounds quite like it.
Listen to: “Hortz Fur Dëhn Štekëhn Ẁešt”

22: Steve Hackett: Voyage of the Acolyte

Steve Hackett had a foot out the Genesis door when he made his solo debut, which laid out all the territory he’d explore for the next 30-odd years. Always a bit cosmic in his lyrics, he could be as down to earth as the frantic instrumental “Ace of Wands.” This album especially benefits from a strong supporting cast, with Sally Oldfield doing one gorgeous vocal and Phil Collins taking one of his first turns at the mic.
Listen to: “Ace of Wands”

21: Mike Oldfield: Ommadawn

Mike Oldfield made more famous albums, but he never topped the first half of Ommadawn, a melodic feast that culminates with a thrilling guitar solo and a healing wash of African drums. Side two has its pleasures too, including a gorgeous Paddy Moloney pipe solo. If you love this check out the 2016 sequel, Return to Ommadawn.
Listen to: “Ommadawn Pt. 1”

20: The Moody Blues: In Search of the Lost Chord

You could make a strong case for any of the “classic seven” Moody Blues albums but In Search of the Lost Chord stands out for its theme of mind expansion, offering three possible paths to enlightenment: Acid (via Ray Thomas’ ode to Timothy Leary, “Legend of a Mind”) meditation (keyboardist Mike Pinder’s mystical “Om”) and love (“The Actor,” a vintage Justin Hayward ballad).
Listen to: “Legend of a Mind”

19: U.K.: U.K.

It wouldn’t be right to do a list of the best prog rock albums without including a record that the late John Wetton sang on. The original UK was simply too good to last: Wetton and Eddie Jobson wanted to go further into pop while Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth were drawn to jazz; for this one brilliant moment, the two planets collided.
Listen to: “In the Dead of Night”

18: Camel: Moonmadness

Camel had two terrific soloists in keyboardist Peter Bardens and guitarist Andy Latimer, so the band’s best moments came when both got to cut loose. Moonmadness’ extended tracks showed off their dexterity, from the frantic solo-trading on “Lunar Sea” to the cosmic grandeur of “Song Within a Song.”
Listen to: “Song Within a Song”

17: Strawbs: Hero and Heroine

Prog rock was just one stop on the Strawbs’ long journey from acoustic folk to relatively straightforward rock. But they nailed it on this album, where leader Dave Cousins’ flair for drama infuses every track. The peak is the title song, where a lyric about heroin addiction meets John Hawken’s heavenly chorus of mellotrons.
Listen to: “Hero and Heroine”

16: Peter Gabriel: Security

Peter Gabriel had disowned the “progressive rock” tag by 1983, yet his work continued getting more exploratory. This one broke new ground both sonically (he’d just discovered African music and gotten his hands on the Fairlight) and lyrically. He also brings some prog friends along: “Shock the Monkey” is the only Top 40 single Peter Hammill ever sang on.
Listen to: “Shock the Monkey

15: Kansas: Leftoverture

Nearly all of the best prog rock albums were by English or European artists, but Kansas was one of the few who was both undeniably proggy and heartland American. Their fourth album was actually recorded deep in the Louisiana swamp and though it was partly radio-friendly, it also housed the Native American-inspired epic “Cheyenne Anthem” and the instrumental “Magnum Opus,” with some downright Zappa-esque moments. And how many hit singles (“Carry On Wayward Son”) ever begin with a full chorus sung a cappella?
Listen to: “Magnum Opus”

14: Renaissance: Ashes are Burning

Because Annie Haslam had one of the loveliest voices in prog rock (or anywhere else), and because there was no electric guitar, Renaissance sometimes get written up as too sweet. But their finest album adds a lot of emotional weight to the mix, courtesy of the epic title track, and the shimmering “Carpet of the Sun.”
Listen to: “Carpet of the Sun”

13: Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink

This edition of Caravan had the same jazz leanings as their Canterbury mates the Soft Machine, but singer/writers Pye Hastings and Richard Sinclair also brought in some pop mastery to In the Land of Grey and Pink. The side-long “Nine Feet Underground” is a seamless mix of stretched-out playing and sublime melodies. And if you also want some quirky British humor, “Golf Girl” adds that to the mix.
Listen to: “In The Land of Grey & Pink”

12: Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Tarkus

ELP’s masterpiece actually leaves out some of their trademarks: There isn’t that much Moog (Keith Emerson was still into piano and organ), and Greg Lake never gets an acoustic-guitar ballad. But the side-long concept suite is a landmark, exploring war, peace, and tricky time signatures. Don’t overlook Side Two’s short pieces either; “The Only Way” attacks organized religion in a way that later punk rockers would appreciate.
Listen to: “Tarkus”

11: Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die

Unlike most bands in the progressive rock movement, Traffic (or at least its leader Steve Winwood) was always solidly grounded in R&B. Started as a Winwood solo project, John Barleycorn Must Die has plenty of soul but also covers joyful jazz on “Glad” and mournful English folk on the title track, which used to be a jolly drinking song.
“Glad”

10: Van der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts

Take everything fiddly and pretty out of the best prog rock albums, ramp up the intensity, and you have Van der Graaf Generator’s classic, Pawn Hearts. Fueled by Peter Hamill’s existential lyrics and wildly dramatic singing, the power here never lets up. It’s no wonder they were the one prog rock band that English punks (famously John Lydon) admitted to liking.
Listen to: “Theme One”

9: Jethro Tull: Thick As a Brick

An album-length piece wrapped in a Monty Python-esque newspaper, Thick As a Brick was at once a musical masterstroke and a grand joke. Ian Anderson clearly identified with the angry misfit lyrics, but sent up his own pretensions at every turn.
Listen to: “Thick as a Brick Pt. 1”

8: Todd Rundgren: Utopia #1

The guys in the first Utopia (not to be confused with the later quartet) were jazz-informed musos who could solo at length, so on paper, it makes no sense to throw in a pop songwriter of Rundgren’s caliber. But on disc, it works perfectly, with Rundgren’s catchy moments setting up and amplifying all the instrumental fireworks (plenty of which came from his own lead guitar). “The Ikon” was at the time the longest album side ever (30:22), but it’s anything but a slog; the opening riff takes about five seconds to hook you in.
Listen to: “The Ikon”

7: Gong: You

Gong’s Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy saved the best for last. Their trademark “pothead pixie” whimsy is here, but so is some deep spirituality and powerful jams, with the dueling virtuosity of guitarist Steve Hillage and saxophonist Didier Malherbe. You boasts all this, plus a finale that will leave you floating.
Listen to: “Master Builder”

6: Rush: Moving Pictures

Rush was progressing like mad in 1982, writing arena-ready anthems (“Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight”) alongside high-wattage thrill rides (“Red Barchetta”). But there’s also signs of a more sophisticated touch on Moving Pictures, with the synth-driven “Camera Eye,” harking to the next decade. No surprise that this was the only album they ever performed fully in order.
Listen to: “Tom Sawyer”

5: Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd were kings of the thematic album between 1973-80, releasing four conceptual classics albums in a row. This one gets special resonance from the spiritual presence of group founder Syd Barrett, who turned up in the flesh during the sessions. They even get funky, and funny, on “Have a Cigar.”
Listen to: “Have a Cigar”

4: Gentle Giant: The Power and the Glory

Gentle Giant’s earliest albums were fiendishly difficult, while their final ones were AOR crossover. The Power and the Glory lands in the sweet spot directly in the middle. “Aspirations” is one of the most beautiful tunes prog rock has ever produced. And the still-timely theme of political power and its abuse proves you can do a concept album without leaving the real world.
Listen to: “Aspirations”

3: Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Perhaps the most outlandish concept album ever, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway takes you on a surreal ride with Rael, a New York graffiti artist who wakes up in a netherworld. The narrative came mainly from Peter Gabriel, but everyone in Genesis was by now a first-rate songwriter, and you could feel their later pop success coming.
Listen: “The Lamb Lies Dies on Broadway”

2: King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King
It’s hard to settle on one King Crimson album, since each incarnation (including the current one) was jaw-dropping in its own way. But their debut really pushed the limits, with the band’s avant-jazz leanings somehow meshing with Greg Lake’s choirboy vocals. It makes perfect sense that “21st Century Schizoid Man” sounds even more necessary in the 21st century.
Listen to: “21st Century Schizoid Man”

1: Yes: Close to the Edge

The most glorious moment among all of the best prog rock albums has to be the climax of the “Close to the Edge”, where Rick Wakeman’s Hammond organ solo ascends into the heavens, and then the song’s majestic closing chorus takes you along. The two shorter pieces are no slouches either: Prog rock never got more soaringly romantic than “And You & I,” or more joyful than “Siberian Khatru.” And did we mention Steve Howe’s amazing guitar tone?

Listen to: “Siberian Khatru”

 

Looking for more? Discover How Steven Wilson Made Prog Rock Cool Again.

54 Comments

54 Comments

  1. David Chave

    September 18, 2020 at 11:44 am

    It’s meant to be the best of ALL TIME but covers pretty much the late 60s 70s and early 80s. Which makes it appear as though it was compiled by some grey haired hippy who stopped listening to anything else past that era. So it excludes from any consideration Marillion; IQ; Dream Theater; Porcupine Tree; Steven Wilson; Haken; Transatlantic; Von Hertzen Brothers… to name a few who have all produced excellent albums in the last 35 years.

    • Zlatko

      September 18, 2020 at 2:19 pm

      Rare Bird-As your mind flow, Ramses- II, Frumpy- Frumpy…

      • Jan overmars

        September 18, 2020 at 6:24 pm

        Nice list, but I’m missing
        Colosseum II. Great prog with Gary Moore and Don Airey!!

      • Jose maria fraga

        September 19, 2020 at 1:24 am

        Why most reviewers lists ignore such an outstanding band as Styx,as well as keyboardist Dennis DeYoung works? Just listen to “fooling yourself”for instance…

      • RICARDO RIGHI FILHO

        September 22, 2020 at 12:32 am

        Obvious and more often ridiculous? Just by seeing Argent and Strawbs on such list, you can laugh or have shame for the writers…

    • Slamazzar

      September 19, 2020 at 12:08 am

      And whoever hears Phideaux’s “Doomsday Afternoon” from 2007 will agree that it deserves a place as well.

      • Scott

        September 19, 2020 at 4:09 am

        One of the greatest prog albums of all time will be released on October 23rd of this year. Wobbler Dwellers of the Deep. The Norwegian Prog masters have finally created their masterpiece.

        • Jeje

          September 23, 2020 at 9:16 am

          Best rock albums 25 of all time classic rock? Not all Rock I can’t agree except Pink Floyd n genesis guess I too young what about all the other rock bands ????

      • Peter Rombaut

        September 19, 2020 at 8:41 am

        It s a great album, but only a real prog fan will know this one. And what about ” Song of the marching childrens”, the epic album from Earth and Fire, released in early 70, before all the others, a real masterpiece.

    • Marc

      September 19, 2020 at 10:51 pm

      Absolutly. Listen to Motorpsycho. Just released a nee album. Different sound, but very prog

    • Ken Engen

      September 19, 2020 at 11:59 pm

      I totally agree with you

    • René

      September 22, 2020 at 5:56 am

      Totally agree

  2. Ian Latimer

    September 18, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    I hardly think these are all prog rock albums with heavy metal and even pop in there !!!!!

  3. Ian Latham

    September 18, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Uh, what about Moody Blues ‘Days of Future Past’ or even The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’? I’m they could knock a couple of these off the shelf. And, ‘Dark side of the Moon’ deserves a spot as well. However, you got the no. 1 spot just right!

  4. sanjin stiglic

    September 18, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Kansas is a pop album however good it might be. Nothing much progressive about it.

  5. Prairie Hawker

    September 18, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    No Hawkwind? LOL I doubt you really know much about Prog

    • Andy

      October 15, 2020 at 12:54 am

      Absolutely. No prog chart could possibly be complete without Hawkwind. They invented their own genre and were a major influence on everything from punk to trance to rave to techno. And they have a new album out next week!

      Also no Krautrock? Leaving out Can is a major omission.

  6. Rick Karbowski

    September 18, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    I agree about having nothing since 1983 is a good point. But just about any list like this tends to go that way. Sirius XM did a top 20 prog albums recently and the most recent was the Asia debut, and they had 8 bands with 2 albums. Another point is no bands with non-English lyrics (other than Magma). Might I suggest PFM-Per Un Amico, Banco-Darwin! Or Ange-Au-dela Du Delire, or one of their many excellent albums from the last couple decades?

  7. Douglass Parker

    September 18, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    Pretty good list. A good cross-section of prog. Obviously everyone has their own opinions. Selling England by the Pound was Genesis’ finest album. I would have included it over Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Likewise ELP would be better represented by Pictures at an Exhibition and and Renaissance by Song for All Seasons. Rick Wakeman’s Six Wives of Henry VII should have been included. Close to the Edge at #1 is spot on.

    • Brx

      September 21, 2020 at 3:31 pm

      Interesting opinions. I think Tarkus is clearly the best choice for ELP, not Pictures – and Novella would have been a better selection for Renaissance.

  8. Wayne S

    September 18, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    Missed Mahavishnu Orchestra

  9. W woudstra

    September 18, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Cant agree more that Yes is best progrock band. And close to the edge there best album. However Camel should be some spots higher.

    • Easy

      October 9, 2020 at 8:52 am

      Dará side and close to the edge most be thigth at first place

  10. Stuart perry

    September 18, 2020 at 11:33 pm

    Air conditioning the debut album from curved air deserves a mention

  11. Douglass Parker

    September 18, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    Typo: That’s Six wives of Henry VIII, not VII.

  12. Slamazzar

    September 19, 2020 at 12:25 am

    Hmm, so I guess I finally need to get over this annoying, anti-rock falsetto of Ian Anderson and give Yes a listen…

    Never heard most of the albums but I’m delighted to see Magma’s MDK here (altough the title track is the highlight) and of course Schizoid Man is a must.

    But Ommadawn (part I and the last minutes of part II) is the single most beautiful thing ever composed by an Earthman. If aliens ever come to hear our music, they should be handed this album…

    • Bill

      September 19, 2020 at 6:16 pm

      Hi. It’s Jon Anderson of YES

    • Arty Farty

      September 20, 2020 at 3:21 am

      Good to see Steve Hackett’s Voyage of the Acolyte. I’d personally raise it a little higher though. This album is really *true*, sincere Art Rock — i.e., not a ‘wannabe’ like several of the bands you’ve got glorified here.

      It’s also called:The Best Genesis Album That Wasn’t. Frankly, Voyage of the Acolyte beats many Genesis and King Crimson albums.

  13. Larry

    September 19, 2020 at 2:02 am

    Deep Purple: Mother Focus.

  14. Luuk Upuuk

    September 19, 2020 at 2:37 am

    A proglist without Barclay James Harvest is incomplete. “Once Again” or “And other Short Stories” defenitely belomg on the list.

  15. Fra Wo

    September 19, 2020 at 6:20 am

    Loved to see the Strawbs on list.

  16. john pilcher

    September 19, 2020 at 6:28 am

    Selling England by the pound over Lamb lies down.You should put release dates in.

  17. Lex Bos

    September 19, 2020 at 8:13 am

    And what about prog in other thans the English speaking countries? Look and hear beyond your horizon. Sweden, Norway,Holland, Germany and above all Italy. Many fantastic progbands coming from these countries.

  18. Peter Rombaut

    September 19, 2020 at 8:44 am

    It s a great album, but only a real prog fan will know this one. And what about ” Song of the marching childrens”, the epic album from Earth and Fire, released in early 70, before all the others, a real masterpiece.

  19. Jesús Morillo

    September 19, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Excellent the Masters of Prog un that list. I’d change Todd R. For Eloy, but great selection.

  20. Eyal Leon

    September 19, 2020 at 10:17 am

    Yes as no. 1 is correct. However, the album Crime of the Century by Supertramp must be high on the list. Also an album called Nightingale & Bomberes by Manfred Man is a masterpiece that should be included. Another must is the album O.K Computer by Redio Head.

    • Dadeaux

      October 11, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      Love Supertramp. Sadly, they’re mostly known for their tunier tracks, especially from Breakfast in America, which is not at all bad. But Crime of the Century has moments (especially in the title track)that will leave you breathless. And my personal favorite is Brother Where You Bound. The title song is perhaps the last true prog-rock daring adventure. Long, political, theatrical, with a mind-blowing solo by David Gilmour. What’s not to like?

  21. Kjell Hedberg

    September 19, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Where is the greatest of them all? Be Bop Deluxe’s Sunburn Finish and Modern Music. Bill Nelsons masterpices and 2 of 70ths best records!

  22. Patrick Mauck

    September 19, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Dixie Dregs, What If. Jeff Beck, Wired. Weather Report, Black Market. 1976 was a great year!

  23. Kim Armitage

    September 20, 2020 at 12:39 am

    I wonder how they come up with that list? Just to mention a few like Dark side of the moon. Pink Floyd. Tubular bells. Mike Oldfield. Physical Graffiti LED Zeppelin i think the list was way out.

  24. Destiny Richardson

    September 20, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Ah, mainstream prog! No Zappa, who was a major influence on the movement and wrote some of its most challenging music; none of the Dave Stewart bands like Egg, Hatfield and the North, or National Health, no Soft Machine, no Henry Cow, no Beefheart, none of the newer prog or prog-related bands. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

  25. Jan Den brok

    September 20, 2020 at 8:41 pm

    Frank Zappa.

  26. Andrei Murillo

    September 22, 2020 at 2:30 am

    Maybe for me,Dark side of the Moon,by Pink Floyd;In a glass house by Gentle Giant,Selling England by the pound by Genesis ,this are my comenta.

  27. ljubous

    September 22, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    No Happy the man everytime. No Kit Watkins…

  28. Who D. Who

    September 22, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    A lot of stuff missing here, and the worthy groups cited are mostly misrepresented by the albums chosen. Crimson’s 3rd and 4th albums are much more successfully “prog” than the first, for example. Floyd’s “Meddle” or “Dark Side” are more ambitious than “Wish You Were Here.” And Zappa practically invented prog rock. Later and more contemporary prog, such as Claypool’s group Primus, or the Claypool-Lennon Delirium, also deserve mention, especially the latter, which covers some of the early 60s and 70s prog as part of its repertoire.

  29. Jimmy Bennett

    September 23, 2020 at 10:20 am

    So much missing here – what about the Wanky Doodles and where is Goopshine?!

  30. Edy X

    September 23, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Me parece que omitir “Dark Side of The Moon” es un error imperdonable.❎

  31. GAS

    September 26, 2020 at 6:50 am

    NO URIAH HEEP???

  32. Iván Melgar

    September 26, 2020 at 11:31 pm

    Not a bad list…But no Hybris (Anglagard) and no Foxtrot by Genesis?

    Anglagard and Par Lindh Project saved Prog in the 90’s and Foxtrot is by far the most solid Genesis album.

  33. pete

    September 28, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Ive got seven of those and Im63 and a prog fan since 67. Im amazed so many are missing.

  34. Iván Vera

    October 9, 2020 at 8:16 am

    No italians? They are the best. For example: Ys by Ill Balletto di Bronzo. Or any album from Garybaldi, any from J. E. T. Magma in #23? Are you kidding? And the germans? Can, for example

  35. David Mexia

    October 12, 2020 at 11:06 pm

    And what about Popol Vuh, Il balletto di Bronzo, Premiata Forneria Marconi and other great European progressive rock groups of the late 70s?

  36. Mick

    October 16, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    This is the dumbest bunch of crap I have ever seen in my life. You have to be be totally ignorant or retarded to make this kind of list.

  37. Craig McArthur

    October 24, 2020 at 7:18 am

    What! Nothing from the Alan Parsons Project? “I Robot” and “Gaudi” are glaring omissions.

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