Progressive Rock. It’s a divisive genre for sure, with some feeling that it’s simply an excuse for musicians to indulge in pet projects that nobody else actually enjoys listening to. On the other side of the fence, Prog rock has given us some of the most interesting developments in music in recent years, with the invention of the ‘concept album’ being a shining achievement of the genre in particular.
Beyond that, while others were getting into mainstream rock and punk, prog rock was going about creating its own style. It’s a style that has been able to adapt, assimilate and integrate with changing musical fashions and methods of production. One only has to look at a band such as Rush to see how one band can possess enough skill to stick together for decades and not be stuck doing the same old thing as when they started to see how this is a remarkable feat that’s worthy of praise just by itself.
But with such a confusing sprawl of a genre, it can be hard to know where to start - especially when figuring out if something actually is prog rock or not.
Fear not! We’ve put together a list of the 7 best progressive rock albums to own on vinyl, ranging from absolute classics from Rush, Genesis and Yes to the genre spanning Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. We couldn’t include absolutely everyone who ever made a great prog rock album, so if you don’t see your favourite here, have your say in the comments!
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 7 Best Progressive Rock Albums On Vinyl
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7 Best Progressive Rock Albums To Own On Vinyl
1. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Although Pink Floyd are also well known for their psychedelic vibes, The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best introductions to the progressive rock you can get. It’s less of an album and more of a cultural phenomenon - it’s still selling in the thousands every single week.
There’s no way any music collection can be complete without this album. It’s the most successful album of all time for a reason! If you still need any more persuasion to get your own copy of this on vinyl, you should probably see a doctor. It’s just that good.
2. 2112 by Rush
Rush are well known for experimenting on every album with a slightly different sound. 2112 is one of their 80’s synth heavy recordings, but the elements of progressive rock are undeniably there under the sci-fi themes. Neil Peart, as always, demonstrate his remarkable aptitude as a drummer, with plenty of the interesting time signatures he’s known for being present.
The only criticism is that sometimes their use of the more ‘out there’ time signatures seems a little forced and robotic - as if you can clearly hear the members of Rush robotically counting them out in their heads, which detracts from the organic rhythm that should be present.
3. Foxtrot by Genesis
This album was Genesis’ magnum opus and is considered one of the top prog rock albums as well. It’s notable for the 23 minute long track on the B-side.
The album as we know it very nearly didn’t happen due to burnout from the extensive touring Genesis underwent as part of the promotion for their previous album, but thankfully the band were able to rally together to pull out this masterpiece.
4. The Yes Album by Yes
Yes have been slammed for trying too hard at the whole prog rock thing - making albums that are essentially a chore to listen to. Thankfully, The Yes Album isn’t marred by this, and is an earnest (and successful!) attempt to create a fantastic album without being constrained by genre cliches and tropes.
5. In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson
Choosing the best prog rock album to own on vinyl by King Crimson was difficult. It was either going to be this, or Red. We definitely recommend listening to both, but if you have to pick one, In the Court of the Crimson King represents their crowning moment of awesome.
It predates the peak of the prog rock genre by a while, but it’s still making a noticeable impact today, with the first track, 21st Century Schizoid Man, being sampled by Kanye West of all people. True to the name of the opening track, the album is somewhat chaotic, featuring plenty of competing instrumentation from horns to guitars and lengthy tracks by today’s conventions.
6. Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull
Possibly the greatest example of a concept album ever. Both sides of the album are simply a single piece of music.
Despite this, Thick as a Brick doesn’t take itself completely seriously. In fact, it’s an out and out parody of other similar albums. Although Jethro Tull aren’t predominantly known as a comedy band, they are up there with the best of them without losing the prog rock soul at the heart of it to self deprecation. In this way, it’s a breath of fresh air compared to a great many of the prog rock bands out there that completely lose sight of the ground
7. Emerson, Lake & Palmer by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
If you like classical and jazz with your prog rock, then this is the album for you. A number of tracks are very clever and enjoyable arrangements of much older pieces of music performed in a way that meshes the low brow of rock with the more high brow origins.
The album is a great example of how tracks longer than two or three minutes don’t have to be filled with pointlessly over the top guitar solos and the like. In fact, it does an excellent job of reminding us that shorter songs has only been the norm for a very small amount of time.
Thankfully, the tracks (both originals and arrangements) on the album are pretty damn good too. The production values are equally high thanks to Lake’s skill as a producer.
So there you have it, our seven best progressive rock albums. Buy hey, they're our favourites, don't have to be yours. Which do you think should be on the list?
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.