The 50 Best Progressive ALbums (#10-#1)
#10. Tago Mago, CAN: Took me a while to get this one, but I eventually did and boy is this ever a fantastically weird and creative album. For a double album released way back in 1971 I’ve gotta say it’s probably the most contemporary sounding recording on this list. Their sound, particularly the drums, has been co-opted by so many bands it’s hard to imagine a time when it was a brand new sound. Halleluwah is the standout, but it’s really hard to just point to one tune and say “that’s the one!” It’s a trip.
#9. Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire), The Kinks: To me this is the great lost Kinks masterpiece, pretty much known for it’s sole chart single Victoria and not much else, but there’s lot’s to love on this ambitious concept album. Yes Sir, No Sir, Drivin’, Australia, Mr Churchill Says and especially the beautiful Shangri-La are all Klassic Kinks. You need this in your collection.
#8. Trans Europe Express, Kraftwerk: The title track is pretty much responsible for hip hop, in my humble opinion, as it inspired and was the basis for the influential Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa, Which inspired legions of others, but the rest of the album, an homage to Europe in general, is the best of their catalogue. Mechanized rhythms and deadpan vocals rule the day but the album, at its core, is all heart.
#7. Breakfast In America, Supertramp: Not many people know this is a concept album. The band, during the mid ‘70’s, moved to LA and although initially taken with its glitz by the time of this album the sheen had turned to rust. The band were disillusioned and missed their homeland (at least most of them did…the drummer was American, and lead singer/songwriter Roger Hodgson still lives here today), and the songs and the lyrics reflected this, particularly with the opener, Gone Hollywood. The hits are great (Logical Song, Goodbye Stranger, Take The Long Way Home and the title track), but the others are pretty damn consistently great too.
#6. Moving Pictures, RUSH: The one album Rush haters and Rush fanatics alike can agree on. It’s a classic hard rock album, pure and simple, with enough prog (the Camera Eye) left to make the old fans happy. Synthesizers were used, sparingly, the band was at its peak musically. They’re stunning here, and tons of humor if you know where to look. YYZ is the airport code for Toronto International and the Morse code they use spells out…you guessed it…YYZ. Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Red Barchetta, Vital Signs…fantastic from start to finish.
#5. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Genesis: Man, I must be thick ‘cause I just can’t follow this convoluted story line. Never been able to, as a matter of fact. But the music is fantastic, and not just the well known title track. Gabriel took over, and much like Roger Waters after The Wall, it spelled the beginning of the end, for Gabriel as front man for Genesis at least. It’s really the first Peter Gabriel solo effort, but the band contribute some wonderful music, especially on songs like Counting Out Time, The Carpet Crawlers, The Lamia and the weird and wonderful Riding The Scree. Truthfully, I could have picked any number of the old Gabriel led Genesis albums (Selling England By The Pound is a fave), but this just happens to be my favorite at the moment, and I’ve alwasy had a weakness for the double album sprawl.
#4. Out Of The Blue, Electric Light Orchestra: I wish more bands would put cool ass space ships on their covers. Out Of The Blue sees ELO at the height of their powers, and Jeff Lynne was on a songwriting roll around this time and had enough quality material for a double album. It sold in the millions thanks to great songs as Turn To Stone and Sweet Talkin’ Woman, but the real treats are in the ‘deep’ album tracks such as the side 3 Concerto For A Rainy Day suite, which includes the independent movie staple Mr Blue Sky.
#3. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, The Flaming Lips: Yes, I believe it’s a concept album, but not about pink robots fighting a Japanese warrior girl. I heard that when Wayne Coyne was writing this a friend of the band was battling cancer, and I think it’s about her fight with the disease (the pink robots being the cancer cells, I guess). I could be waaaay off base here; maybe it is just about robots. Sounds like a downer on paper, but it’s really quite uplifting and quite revolutionary in the production of the album. It sounds amazing, and the songs are the equal, at least, of the ones on The Soft Bulletin.
#2. Giant Steps, The Boo Radleys: Progressive in the truest and most literal sense of the word, this.There are many reasons why this album continues to amaze me, but here’s 3: the songs on display here, especially given the bands past albums, are freakin’ amazingly creative and tuneful; The production is stunning; the whole album, even given its proclivity to genre hop from one song to the next, works as one complete and magnificent artistic statement. It’s poppy without giving up any indie-cred and weird enough to satisfy the already converted. They went totally pop for the next one (Wake Up) and then back to the weirdness and creativity for the underrated C’Mon Kids. But they never came close to matching this one.
#1. Quadrophenia, The WHO: My #1 pick is also my favorite Who album, but only fairly recently so, if I’m honest. I’ve always loved it, but Tommy always trumped it in my best of lists, although The Real Me has always been a favorite of mine from day 1. The concept of a Mod’s inner struggle is more coherent than Tommy’s convoluted story, but once more it’s the songs and the way they work together as a statement that matter. From the synthesized title track to The Punk and The Godfather, from the touching Cut My Hair to the bombastic end game that is Love, Reign O’er Me, there’s not a dud to be found on either disk. The newly remastered edition includes a bunch of demos from this album from Towshend’s private stash, and it shows a different, funkier side, to this all time classic and is worth a listen or two. It’s a perfectly sequenced album, which is now almost completely a lost art. The Who was an important band, and this is their most important album.