The 50 Best Progressive Albums (#30-#21)

#30. Skylarking, XTC: A song cycle about life and death, it kind of sounds like the aural version of Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life, doesn’t it? The production is some of the lushest up to that point, and only equaled when they released Apple Venue Vol 1 almost a decade later. Season Cycle, Earn Enough For Us, Grass and Dear God are definite highlights in an album filled to the brim with ‘em.

#29. Band On The Run, Wings: McCartney’s masterpiece and his most consistent. Any real concept here? No, afraid not, but it is a massive piece of art and, in my opinion, the best solo Beatle effort. Mini suites, excellent production values, and some of the finest songs of his career (Beatles included) are right here.

#28. Tommy, The Who: Silly story aside what makes this such a great piece of progressive music is the musicianship of the four folks that make up the Who. Listen to Overture, or Underture, and be amazed that NO ORCHESTRA was used. It’s Entwhistle supplying the brass and the others sound absolutely gigantic on this record. Pinball Wizard, originally a toss off to impress a critic, is the well known hit here, but Sally Simpson, The Acid Queen, The Amazing Journey and the amazing Sparks are worth the price of admission alone.

#27. Crime Of The Century, Supertramp: Supertramp were third rate proggers with a penchant for wispy blues ruminations and were broke at the time of this recording. They needed a hit, and boy did they get one with Crime Of The Century. This was the album that audiophiles would use as a test for high end stereo systems back in the day and it still sounds amazing. Very Beatle-esque, this one.

#26. Rings Around The World, Super Furry Animals: Hey, this is the one where SFA got Sir Paul McCartney to chew a carrot for the sound affect for one of their songs! Remind you of anything? Pet Sounds, or even Vegetables from Smile, perhaps? This should give you an indication of the direction this album took. It may not be their best, but it is certainly their most ambitious, and at times their most progressive.

#25. Oxygene, Jean Michel Jarre: The only fully instrumental album on this list, Oxygene has stood the test of time, which is absolutely remarkable for an electronic album from the ‘70’s. Only Kraftwerk (and maybe a Tangerine Dream album or 2) have been able to remain current with all of the technological advances since. It is made up of 6 ‘movements’, each a part of the other. The only song you can take out of context is Oxygene, Part 4, but you need to play the album in its entirety to get the full effect of it’s brilliance.

#24. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, Spiritualized: The best album Spiritualized ever made and they’ve been trying to match it ever since. It’s a break up album, but overall the album sounds like you’d think it would sound given a title like that. Dr John even guests on Cop Shoot Cop, a 17 minute mammoth recording that ends the album in a squall of feedback. Brilliant.

#23. A Night At The Opera, Queen: An obvious choice, maybe, but absolutely warranted. This is Queen’s proggiest record, with The Prophet Song, ’39 and, of course, Bo-Rhap. In between you have succinct pop (You’re My Best Friend), bitter hard rock (Death On Two Legs) and a song about how drummer Roger Taylor loves his car (“Told my girl I’d have to forget her/Rather buy me a new carburetor”).

#22. The Wall, Pink Floyd: Pretentious, you bet your ass! This is a self indulgent mess of a record, but the music, overall, is great. Listen between the lines and you’ll hear Pink Floyd becoming relevant with the MTV crowd, a task many of their peers did not accomplish. Another Brick In The Wall (Pt4), Comfortably Numb (which the Scissor Sisters covered), Is There Anybody Out There and The Thin Ice and, oh yes, Mother are at once classic Floyd but also sounded like nothing they’d recorded up to that point. The story is nonsense, but the music remains fantastic.

#21. I Robot, The Alan Parsons Project: The 2nd and last APP record on this list. It is, without a doubt, the best, most consistently excellent piece of work the APP ever released, and if you listen closely you’ll hear the future of dance music in there. There was a problem getting Asimov to release the rights to I, Robot, so Parson’s simply changed some of the lyrics around and removed the comma! Copyright lawsuit avoided! It was also fortuitous that this album, released within days of the first Star Wars being released, was the only one with a cover featuring a robot. It sold like crazy, of course. Lucky, lucky man.

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