Readers' Poll: Your Favorite Prog Rock Albums of All Time - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: Your Favorite Prog Rock Albums of All Time

Selections include ‘Close to the Edge,’ ‘2112’ and ‘Selling England By the Pound’

Peter Gabriel

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

We knew there would be a huge response this week when we asked readers to vote for their favorite prog rock album of all time (as there was when we asked for your favorite prog band a while back), but we didn't think it would be quite this big. We received thousands of votes, partially fueled by the fact that one band encouraged fans to vote by posting the link on their homepage. We won't name names, so let's just call them D. Theater. No, that's too obvious. Let's go with Dream T. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with the actions of Dream T. – but it did skew the results. Faced with the difficult decision of scrubbing out all their votes or having six of the 10 spots taken up by Dream T, we opted to lump them all in at number one (though one particular album the group released in 1999 did get the vast majority of their votes). We'll explain more in the entry, but without further ado, here are your picks for the top 10 prog rock albums of all time. To put it another way, prepare to enter the court of the Crimson King. 

By Andy Greene

8. Rush, "Hemispheres"


8. Rush – ‘Hemispheres’

In many ways, Hemispheres was the final album in a major chapter of Rush's career. It was their last release of the Seventies, and their last LP that's unambiguously prog. Amazingly brilliant and complex works like "La Villa Strangiato" showed they had really mastered their craft, and they felt it was time to move on. The band made a big stylistic shift on their next LP, 1980's Permanent Waves, which made them many new fans, but there's a certain contingent who see Hemispheres as Rush at their absolute peak. Still, the fact that the subtitle of "La Villa Strangiato" is "an exercise in self-indulgence" shows that Rush had grown a bit weary of the formula by this point and was ready for something new. 

7. Genesis, "Selling England by the Pound"


7. Genesis – ‘Selling England By the Pound’

Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was a really, really British band. It's hard to hear any hint of American musical influences anywhere in their work, and they even called their 1973 disc Selling England By the Pound. To put a capper on it, Gabriel dressed up like a British knight named Britannia during the shows, complete with a British flag shield. None of this is to say they were anything but an amazing band. The music they produced with Peter Gabriel is, without a doubt, some of the finest prog rock ever recorded. Selling England By the Pound was Gabriel's second-to-last work with the group, and it was the last time they really worked together as a full creative unit. There's hardly a stinker on the whole thing, but if you just hear one song, put on "Firth of Fifth." Steve Hackett's guitar solo is out of this world. 

6. King Crimson, "In the Court of the Crimson King"


6. King Crimson – ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’

It's impossible to definitively say what the first true prog album was, but nobody disputes that King Crimson's 1969 debut LP, In the Court of the Crimson King, was a monumental step forward for the genre. It's hard to imagine how groups like Yes and Genesis would have evolved without this album as an influence. The lineup didn't last beyond this one LP, but songs like "In the Court of the Crimson King" and "21st Century Schizoid Man" remain the group's most famous works. The latter was even sampled by Kanye West on his last solo album. Both songs are sung by Greg Lake, who formed Emerson, Lake and Palmer a year after this album hit shelves. Robert Fripp has lost interest in King Crimson and the group is on hiatus, but it would a very fitting end if the original lineup would get together for one final concert. Sadly, this is extremely unlikely. 

5. Genesis, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"


5. Genesis, ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’

By the time Genesis recorded The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, it had become clear that Peter Gabriel could no longer function in a democratic band. He had an extremely clear vision for the story of a New York Puerto Rican guy named Rael who gets sucked into another universe, and he wrote almost all the lyrics by himself. During a Cleveland stop on the supporting tour, Gabriel told the band he was quitting. Thankfully, the group managed to execute Gabriel's vision and complete this double LP before he left. The story may be hard to follow, but Genesis have never sounded quite as powerful as they do on "In the Cage," "Back in New York City" or other stand-out tracks on the album. The group hasn't performed with Gabriel since a one-off show in 1982, though they did meet in 2005 to discuss a possible Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. Gabriel ultimately decided against it. (Last year, I interrogated him on the topic.)

4. Pink Floyd, "Dark Side of the Moon"


4. Pink Floyd – ‘Dark Side of the Moon’

Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is one of the few prog albums loved by rock fans outside of the prog community. Songs like "Time" and "Money" stand on their own as more traditional rock songs, though they're really part of a longer opus about greed, death and insanity. The album continues to speak to teenagers all across the world, pretty much making sure that David Gilmour's great-great-great-great grandchildren won't have to work a day in their lives. Note: no matter what you heard on the playground in the seventh grade, the band didn't record the album to line up with scenes from The Wizard of Oz. The few scenes that do line up are just a coincidence, and proof that if you look hard enough for something, you tend to find it. 

3. Yes, "Close to the Edge"


3. Yes – ‘Close to the Edge’

The songs on Yes' 1972 LP are so long they only managed to squeeze three of them onto the thing. Thankfully, they are three of the very best Yes songs. The title track is an 18:43 album-length song divided into four parts. "And You and I" clocks in at a mere 10:08, while the closer, "Siberian Khatru," is one of the proggiest songs ever, both in name and musical content. This masterpiece marked the end of Bill Bruford's initial tenure in Yes, and despite the great work that followed, they never quite recaptured the magic of this period. The band is now going through a pretty bad period, changing lead singers and keyboardists with alarming regularity. 

2. Rush, "2112"


2. Rush – ‘2112’

It may not seem like it now, but Rush's 1976 LP 2112 was an extremely brave move for the band. Two years earlier the group got the attention of Mercury Records with their Led Zeppelin-esque song "Working Man," but once they got signed they shifted gears with new drummer Neil Peart into proggier territory. The resulting albums, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel, didn't exactly set the world on fire, and the label wanted more commercial material for their next disc. The band took things in a different direction, risking it all on a grandiose concept record about a dystopian future in the year 2112. Radio didn't touch it, but the album found a rabid fan base that's never let go of the music. Some of the big rock groups of the day now play county fairs, while Rush are still packing arenas worldwide. 

1. Dream Theater, "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory"


1. Dream Theater – ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory’

Dream Theater posted this poll on their website (again, a totally kosher move), but it resulted in a ridiculous amount of votes for Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. If we had kept in all the Dream Theater albums, Images and Words would be number two, and Awake, Octavarium and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence would also be listed here. Lumping them all into this top spot was the only way to handle the flood of Dream Theater votes; feel free to label it whatever you want in the comments section. Dream Theater are one of the few prog groups to start after the Seventies and gain a massive global following. Unlike the rest of the groups here, they are a progressive metal group. Like most great prog albums, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory is a concept album. It's about a guy named Nicholas and his discovery that he lived a past life. The whole album is actually a sequel to a song from the group's 1992 disc Images and Words, which in and of itself is a wonderfully proggy move. Dream Theater continue to tour and record at a relentless pace, though beloved drummer Mike Portnoy left the band in 2010. 

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