I have always been opposed to “lists” of the Top 100 this or Top 10 that, whatever it may be because every band has a different spin on what their Progginess exudes. It’s like comparing apples to tires and oranges to diamonds in a fish’s stomach. It just doesn’t make sense to me, never has, never will. It’s one of many reasons why I stopped reading many other magazines that I will not name as to not slam them but when you list the Top 100 Guitarists at least claim that this is a popularity contest and not a state of the world address as to how Kurt Cobain is a better technical guitarist than Robert Fripp and more melodic than David Gilmour. Please, really? That’s like saying that Rachmaninoff wasn’t as good as the corner band playing a jaw harp and washboard for spare change to down the pub for a pint. You just can’t compare!
However Prog Rock Magazine has given us their list of the Top 100 Artists of All Time here and instead of going through all 100 I have selected the ones I rather like as musicians and music and see how I feel where they have fallen on their scale. Each band regardless of genre is always going to be a different example than the band before it and after it. It’s what separates us from the animal kingdom here! We’re all different in the way we Prog ourselves! I appreciate Prog Rock magazine for their tireless effort to keep us in the loop with new bands and never forgetting the older generations that have painstakingly trudged through the mud and trenches of bad publicity and good albums to bring forth a style of music that has encapsulated a permanent foothold for aeons to come. So hats off to them (and Harper!) for always making sure we are up to speed, seen all good people and comfortable on the dark side of the moon in the court of the crimson king while staying in absentia! Ok, moving on…..
So this list has a few bands and artists that I would disagree with and many I welcome open armed to but it’s not my list, so they put in who they thought was “IT!” and rightfully so depending on how you like your Prog and tea at two o’clock. Some of them I found to be too “pop” and some to be too “metal” and some to be too “weird” but hey, who am I right? Exactly, my opinion and probably some of yours as well. Here we go….
From the Top 100 Artists of All Time, (A Selected View of certain placings…)
#64 Anglagard — A Swedish band of great depth and integrity in their music. Vintage sounds and lengthy solos and vocals that don’t exceed that strained operatic wash-out you get with a lot of Scandinavian bands. Complexity that can be easily followed and not lost in a sea of translations in their sound, vision and direction.
#62 Tangerine Dream — Performances that became one long piece of hypnotic overtones and looping four note melodies that captivated our senses in the seventies. From electronic visions of interstellar planetary journeys to movie soundtracks TD has given us the right to go forth and create music that seems to have no end. Heavily synthed up like Kraftwerk but not as “computerwerk” orientated as their fellow Germans are.
#59 Roger Waters — We all have the right to bitch about something and who better to do this than good ol’ Rog himself. Always found him to be the forthright complainer of the world’s problems and yet we all listen to him, not as a prophet of what’s wrong with the world today and this is how you fix it but as a musician that is the candidate for telling us what else we should be paying attention to.
#56 Mahavishnu Orchestra — A blending melting pot of jazz, fusion, prog and something else all in one band. Often considered to not be full card carrying Proggers but definitley not to be pushed aside either for their contributions to a candle that has a long wick to burn and a lot of bands that burn brightly upon it. MO certainly burns bright regardless of the different incarnations it took on.
#52 Alan Parsons Project — Interesting how a band could release so many great concept albums and never tour until 1994. Loved every album as a new facet of their rightful place in the Halls of Prog from a clandestine gathering of musicians in a studio putting out one conceptual album after another. Some say they got soft and too pop with Eye in the Sky but the same could have been said about King Crimson’s Heartbeat, Two Hands and other 80’s sugar coated ballad types that sneaked their way in to the ears of listeners.
#51 Robert Fripp — Frippertronics and solo shows that were literally solo shows in the late 70’s and 80’s until the renewal and reformation of King Crimson in the wee hours of 1980. As well as collaborations with other Prog troopers like Peter Gabriel and pseudo-punk-pop rocker Andy Summers from The Police to name a few. Fripp has certainly given the world of Prog Rock many anecdotes to fall back on and revere him as not only a brilliant guitarist of tact and tech but a gentleman of class and a certain air of arrogance. Walli Elmlark Robert! Walli Elmlark!
#17 Peter Gabriel — From his days in Genesis to his departure and probably more lucrative solo career PG has let us dream through his words, visions, live shows and his persona. Shorter songs and eclectic influences and collaborations has given Peter a stout spot in Prog and Pop but always the mastermind to his destiny in where his music comes from and is going to.
#15 Porcupine Tree— From very Floydian beginnings to full on mixed metal, Prog, power, space stirrings, PT always gave you what you wanted in heavy doses and walked away leaving you there. Dark and foreboding lyrics, passages that took you down dark hallways and under bridges never knowing who or what lived there. Quintessential for the 20th Century mind.
#10 Gentle Giant — If King Arthur had a house band, it would have been Gentle Giant. Far more madrigal than Genesis and Yes and any others the likes of. More crazy time signature changes and musical threads that would make a silkworm jealous. GG has always been kind of ripped off in the world of Prog I find, mostly from their record company that forced them to write more radio friendly songs by the end of the seventies which in turn really killed the band and led them to dissolve in 1980 with none of the other band members pursuing solo careers. With the revival of Three Friends band a couple of years ago including some original members of GG they get their due diligence in finally. Sadly not with the whole band from before but one can only hope that to happen one day, doubtful but still.
#9 ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) — A mix of three guys from other bands of Prog that melted their heads together to become a Prog Power Trio only to also fall under the diseased spell of record companies magic or Greg Lake’s love for ballads and went all sucky-pop-lovey-dovey on their last album, Love Beach, to which the cover alone makes me shirk. What a horrible way to out eh? Same as their German doppelganger Triumvirat, great and triumphant starts and in to the meat grinder by the end of the seventies. Shame. Though ELP tried several times to reignite themselves it didn’t quite have the same edge and strength as it did in 1971.
#8 Steven Wilson — Former Porcupine Tree singer and one of their guitar players, his solo work is equally as dark as his days in PT. Well crafted and story telling his music has brought forth a sound that clearly defines what Prog is and where it’s going in to the 21st century and has that headway that some other bands have fell short of or cut corners. He does things his way and doesn’t care for what the world thinks because the world that he’s in is his own piece of the pie that he only shares with you when he thinks it’s right to. Brilliant.
#7 Jethro Tull — Never found everything they did to be Prog but rather more psychedelic and folk based and more so after 1975’s Minstrel in the Gallery. But they do have many of the Prog elements that give them their mark on the wall as one of the bands who helped shaped the designs and outlines of what we know Prog to be. The ever vibrantly Ian Anderson with his flute and strange facial expressions kept us amused and entertained as we wiped our hands down our clothes like we were Aqualung.
#5 Rush — Good ol’ Canadian boys and from my hometown except Niel but we’ll forgive him for that certainly deserve their place here and have always brought forth a sound that really, was never heard from by any other Canadian band at the time. Their humble start was more rock until John Rutsey left due to his diabetes and touring was too strenuous on him and exit stage left. Enter Niel Peart (Peer-t as he says it’s pronounced) gave the band the mysticism in the lyrics and he helped complete their PROGgness by the mid seventies. Yes Rush, We Have Assumed Control, We Have Assumed Control.
#4 King Crimson — Do we really need to say much more about this band? Aside from their continuous line up changes per album KC has always chosen the darker path to stardom and has had their cult following quickly in tow behind them. From intense improvs live to albums that expanded our minds beyond what we could even comprehend as music or an alien language with no translator, KC has never failed us in delivering the good as it were. Fripp once said, “All (music)fans are vampiric.” Ummmmmmm, can you blame us?
#3 Pink Floyd — How English can you get? Well…. Very! From their psychedelic inception with Syd Barrett to the emergence of their Progabilities by the time Syd untimely did a kamikaze dive in to the deck of the musical aircraft carrier. PF have become the voice of cultural Prog and the cup of tea you sneakily slipped a “special” sugar cube in to, (wink wink nudge nudge know what I mean know what I mean?!). From concepts albums on staus quo of the mind to insanity and isolation, PF never bothered to check the bar, they made it.
These are the placings that Prog Rock magazine gave these bands. Would I have placed them differently? I’ll never know because like I said I’m opposed to lists like this but they justified their ratings and didn’t slam one band over another so I’m chuffed about that and two, I’ll never make a list! There were a couple of bands that never even made the Top 100 list that I feel should be mentioned even if they didn’t make the cut;
- Triumvirat — yeah they’re considered to be ELP’s doppelganger but they were very different musically and for Germans to sing with pronouced English accents made it an interesting trio to listen to! Great first two albums, Mediterranean Tales and Illusions on a Double Dimple (hailed as their masterpiece in my opinion) but fell by the wayside with every release afterwards trailing away from Prog and sinking in to the “Pop” quagmire. Only one US tour in ’74 as the opener to Fleetwood Mac they didn’t make their mark in North America as how I think they wanted to.
- David Gilmour — As awesome as he was with The Floyd his solo contributions are not really Prog in the sense of what the Prog recipe entails. Nothing really conceptual but rather albums of really great music and guitar showmanship as always only further complimented by his voice. Choosing to tone it down post Floyd era his shows were a shining example of what we should be doing at a concert, listening!
- Egg — as a band that came through from that Caterbury sound of Prog like; Camel, Hatfield and the North, Caravan, Matching Mole et al, Egg was dismissed here probably due to the fact that more people are familiar with its guitar player at one time Steve Hilliage (also not listed in the top 100). But Egg gave us a couple of premiere albums of quirky Prog bits, (i.e. Bulb, a lightbulb smashing run through an oscillator and reverb effect) and longer pieces like A Visit to Newport Hospital that said, “We’re Prog, yeah, sure but we’re going to go have a sandwich over here instead.”, and got forgotten in the piles of album jackets, cigarette ashes and joint roaches on the floor.
- Airbag — Currently on the “Cruise to the Edge Tour” on some giant ocean liner with other Prog bands. This band albeit still somewhat new to the scene should be honoured here as a new breakthrough band. Originally The Pink Floyd Experience in Norway they found their footing and began writing their own music over ten years ago now. Several albums and sweat poured out of countless hours of rehearsing they’re truly a great band with a definitive Prog sound. Kudos to them.
- Kraan — Krautrock, often disputed as being its own identity or Prog Rock. I say both, German Prog Rock, if Tangerine Dream, Triumvirat, Kraftwerk etc can be considered Prog then why not these guys? Barely travelled outside of their native Germany this band toured relentlessly and are definitely a live band over an albums band. They played NEARfest in New Jersey, USA back in 2003 and I think that’s the farthest they ever got outside Deutschland! Still playing to this day despite the “end” of the band in 2014, they changed their mind and just can’t give up the ghost. Good for them!
So there you have it, a few of my favs and some honourable mentions. A lot of the bands in that list I either don’t like, don’t consider to be Prog or never even heard of or heard the name but not their music. To each their own and enjoy what you have sown in your collection of albums over the years, it’s what makes us unique. My advice is, never argue with someone over music as to who is better, more madrigal, lengthy, deep, dark, light, pop, lame, great whatever it may be. You like who you like and others will do the same as what works for you may not work for someone else but one thing you will agree upon is that Progressive Rock is pretty damn awesome stuff!
Thanks to Prog Rock Magazine for doing what they do best, putting out a monthly magazine that details all that is Prog and Tea.
Here’s their webby, check it out for all your Prog rock needs that I haven’t provided for you yet!