Progressive rock is a genre that emerged in the late 1960s. It was an attempt to elevate rock music by merging it with classical music, often incorporating jazz, folk, and electronic music elements. Prog started as a movement, but some artists have developed it into a style that has attracted fans from other genres while still retaining its identity.
The term “progressive” refers to how these artists tried to push forward a musical style. They were not content with simply playing three-chord rock and roll tunes but wanted to take things further by experimenting with new sounds and exploring different formats. The best progressive groups have appealed to fans of other styles while retaining their own identity, becoming one of the defining genres in music history.
The Mars Volta – Are You In? (2003)
The Mars Volta was formed when Omar Rodríguez-López played with Cedric Bixler Zavala, both of whom were in the post-hardcore band At The Drive In. After ATDI split up, they decided to form a new group together. Omar’s brother Marcel Rodríguez-López joined them on guitar. For their first album, De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003), John Frusciante from Red Hot Chili Peppers also participated as a session musician. Their sound is quite hard to define; although many critics have described it as progressive rock, some listeners say it falls into other genres like math rock or post-punk. Either way, Are You In? Is an excellent record that helps you get acquainted with this great band.
Porcupine Tree – The Incident (2009)
Steven Wilson is the only permanent member in the band that goes by Porcupine Tree. He writes and records music that combines heavy metal with psychedelic, progressive, ambient music, and space rock. It has been described as “a thinking man’s Pink Floyd,” which is an apt description for this group of seasoned musicians who are not afraid to experiment or try something new. Their albums take you on a journey; they get your full attention, make you think about what you’re hearing while at the same time making sure that you groove along to their great riffs and melodies. They’ve had many lineup changes over the years, but their latest album shows them reaching new heights. While the previous record, Fear of a Blank Planet (2007), was more doom-laden and aggressive, The Incident is a return to the group’s psychedelic roots.
Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage (1979)
Perhaps the most famous artist to have been labeled as progressive rock is Frank Zappa. He became known for his wacky lyrics and compositions that were often satirical or just plain weird. Even though he has been hailed by many critics as one of the best composers in music history, his complex works have limited his appeal among mainstream audiences. That said, if you’re willing to take a few steps towards being open-minded about music, then you’re going to find yourself appreciating what this man has done for rock and roll music in general; his influence on the genre has been immense. Zappa’s 1979 album, Joe’s Garage, is a great starting point to see what he can do; it was voted best album of 1979 by readers of NME.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
When you think about progressive rock, Pink Floyd often comes to mind. Their sound is characterized by long instrumental passages and songs that are divided into several sections with different moods and themes; this gives their records an epic feel which makes them easily identifiable among other albums out there. The band got together in 1965 but didn’t start recording until 1967 when they released their first single, Arnold Layne/See Emily Play on London Records. They were not considered true prog artists at the time; they were labeled as psychedelic rock because of their sound effects. The group’s first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), was an instant hit, leading to them signing with EMI Records. From 1967-1979 Pink Floyd produced some fantastic albums like A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) which is one of their best works, or even Meddle (1971). Their most famous work, however, is Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), a record that has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, making it the third best-selling studio album in history.
Yes – Fragile (1971)
Together for almost fifty years now, this British band is still going strong despite numerous lineup changes over the years. Yes started as a progressive rock band, but the inclusion of other styles like jazz and folk has given their music an epic length and scope, making them one of prog’s most influential groups. Their first album was described by AllMusic as “a cosmic concept album about how music benefits mankind” and it was released in 1969 under the name Yes; they changed their name to just ‘Yes’ later on because it sounded more commercial. The group’s best work remains Tormato (1978), although Fragile (1971), Close To The Edge (1972), or even Relayer (1974) are excellent albums that you shouldn’t miss if you’re into this genre.
Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
Formed in 1985, Radiohead didn’t start making waves until 1995 when they released their third album, The Bends. Their sound was described as alternative rock, but the band’s music has evolved to include progressive rock and techno/electronica genres. While it is true that Radiohead has always had a few experimental things going on in their records, this fact becomes more evident in albums like Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001), or even The King of Limbs (2011). Their latest album features some very cool electronic elements; while some other prog bands are taking the genre back to its roots, Radiohead is trying something new which sets them apart from many other groups out there today.
Porcupine Tree – Deadwing (2005)
Porcupine Tree was formed by Steven Wilson in 1987 with the help of Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin, and Chris Maitland. They recorded their first album, On The Sunday of Life…, in 1991, but they didn’t become popular until 1995 when they released Stupid Dream. Their music is characterized by lengthy instrumental sections mixed with ambient sounds; this combination makes for an atmospheric sound described as “spacerock.” Deadwing (2005) is a good example of what this band can do; if you’re into space rock, then it’s safe to say that you might end up loving them.
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Robert Fripp and Michael Giles were members of Yes before forming King Crimson in 1969. Their sound was a mix of progressive rock and psychedelic music which won them a lot of fans, but their first album, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), was hailed as brilliant by critics all over the world. The record is one of prog’s best works; it has been ranked as an influence on many bands after it, including Marillion, who even referenced this album in their 1995 song Pictures On My Wall from Brave.
Yes – Close to the Edge (1972)
Holding down second place is another album from Yes called Close To The Edge (1972). It features some great musicianship courtesy of Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, and Rick Wakeman whose sounds combined with lyrics written by Chris Squire make for a very inspiring record. They’re able to mix musical elements from jazz, rock, and classical music into a single album which is something the band has been known for doing over the years. Although this work doesn’t have as many lyrics as its predecessor, Fragile (1971), it manages to communicate an epic mood that makes you feel like you’re floating in space while listening to it; yes, prog can make you do that sometimes.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
We couldn’t talk about progressive rock without mentioning Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). This landmark release was one of their best works, and even though they’ve gone through a few lineup changes since then, they’ve managed not to lose any of their originality. The band is most known for creating concept albums that tell a story, with each song being an important part of the whole; this approach has become one of prog’s trademarks and has inspired many bands out there to do the same thing. This album was voted best album in history by readers of NME; it even topped Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time” list.
Accordo dei Contrari is a music blog created to promote music that doesn't fit into any established genre, but rather is a mixture of different styles. The blog currently features reviews for albums, singles, and EPs by artists from all over the world.