The 50 Best Progressive Albums (#40-#31)

#40. The Village Green Preservation Society, The Kinks: Everyone knows this is Ray Davies ode to England’s naïve and pastoral past, held together with clever character sketches. Everyone also knows that it was released at the height of psychedelia in the late ‘60’s and was ignored by everyone. It was reclaimed by discerning music fans over the years and hailed as the lost masterpiece it always was, eventually. Not my favorite Kinks album, but damn close.

#39. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Elton John: John and Taupin’s biography, this. Guess who Captain Fantastic is? The story follows the early career of these two and contains some of the best songs they would ever pen, although it contained no real hits (only Someone Saved My Life Tonight came close). Proggy keyboards are all over this album as one listen to Bitter Fingers will attest. This is John’s most cohesive and complete statement.

#38. Night and Day, Joe Jackson: Jackson’s homage to his beloved New York city. No other album that I’ve heard sums up the mood of early ‘80’s NYC than this. Even the cover screams sophistication and artiness. Chinatown, Steppin’ Out, Breaking Us In Two, opener Another World and Cancer are a few standouts.

#37. The Turn Of A Friendly Card, The Alan Parsons Project: Most APP ‘concepts’ are pretty weak, actually, but this is one of 3 that really works. It’s about gambling and the terrible effects and hold it can have on one’s life if one succumbs to its evil siren song. Games People Play and Time (sung by Parson’s partner Eric Wolfson) were the hits, but the “Turn Of A Friendly Card” suite at the end of the album marks the last time Parsons would dip his toes into actual, textbook prog.

#36. “Melt” (3), Peter Gabriel: This is about as far away as you can get to Gabriel’s later solo efforts like So and beyond. It’s creepy, man, there’s no other way to put it. A song cycle about madness, home invasions and…Biko? Special guests are all over the place, too, like Fripp, Kate Bush and even a very young Paul Weller, who was still with the Jam at this point. Games Without Fronties, Intruder and I Can’t Remember are the highlights, but the overall album is just fantastic.

#35. The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie: The album that made Bowie. Who cares about the story (other than he named it after his pal Iggy Pop, that’s kind of interesting), the songs are all stellar and hold up pretty darn well even today. 5 Years sets the stage and Rock and Roll Suicide ends it. Still perfect.

#34. The Sophtware Slump, Grandaddy: Opening with the almost 9 minute He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot, space poppers Grandaddy craft a conceptual masterpiece that sits comfortably beside OK Computer, even bettering it in my opinion. It’s got pop songs (Hewlet’s Daughter, The Crystal Lake), interludes (E Knievel Interlude, Underneath the Weeping Willow), and songs about robots (Jed’s Other Poem, Jed The Humanoid) that hold it all together. They never bettered this, before or after.

#33. Joe’s Garage, Frank Zappa: This is a concept of the evils of the music biz, and was originally a triple album set. It is held together by a creepy, whispered narrative between songs (by “The Central Scrutinizer), which just happen to be some of the best of Zappa’s long and prolific career. The title track, Catholic Girls and Crew Slut are the highlights of the first disk, but the real standout is the 9 minute guitar workout Watermelon In Easter Hay, a song so sacred to Zappa that he forbid anyone but his son to perform it in his will.

#32. El Dorado, Electric Light Orchestra: Love the cover! Allmusic says this album is strongly reminiscent of Sgt. Peppers, but I really don’t hear it. The fact that it has an overture, and a Finale is where the similarities end for me. I hear a well sequenced set of some of the finest songs of Lynne’s career here. There’s pop, of course (Can’t Get It Out Of My Head) mixed together with grander statements such as Laredo Tornado, El Dorado and Mister Kingdom. They would become more popular, but they were never artier than here.

#31. Kaputt, Destroyer: Why the hell is this on here, you ask? 3 reasons: #1. It’s one of the most cohesive, sonically speaking, album ‘statements’ I’ve heard in some time; #2. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series of posts the best prog albums take me away to a different time and place, and this time warps me right back to the early 1980’s; #3. It contains the 11 minute masterpiece Bay Of Pigs (Detail) at the end. No lyrical concept, just an artful album full of great songs that will transport you. One of my favorite albums of the last 10 years, no question.