Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time

In the latest Rolling Stone there is a piece listing what the magazine thinks are the best 50 Prog albums ever.

Now, I am always wary of anything from Rolling Stone and this list includes things that simply have nothing at all to do with Prog (ELO?), acts that are more like stadium rock (I really hate Rush with a passion) and a fair amount of prog-metal crossover, but it does have some bona fide Prog classics.

I’d argue that Frank Zappa was never Prog and I’m sure that he would have agreed with me, and Mike Oldfield? Only by default, I think. I am also certain that Pink Floyd would never describe their music as Prog either, but if they did, would Animals qualify as a top Prog album? I doubt it.

There is too much real Prog missing from this list. I mean, where are Hatfield And The North, Nektar or Aphrodite’s Child? And what about Steve Hillage or, stretching the definition of Prog slightly, Hawkwind? You could make a case for Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime instead of yet another Rush album and why ignore Opeth’s genuinely prog Heritage?

Personally, I’ve like to have seen Steve Hackett on the list as a solo artist, ideally with Voyage of the Acolyte, which is utterly Prog from start to finish and I am confused as to why Van der Graaf Generator only have one album on the list. Seriously? What about Godbluff?

27 thoughts on “Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time

  1. I’m not really one to argue the toss on this – Kalyr and maybe Alfie and Blue Peter would be you men for that job. But there were a couple that surprised me on there too, like Kansas and Supertramp. Along with Rush (who i don’t like either, mainly because i can’t stand Geddy Lee’s voice) i basically considered them (boring) stadium rockers. I see lots of familiar band names on there who i couldn’t name a tune from – i never really got into Tangerine Dream or Marillion or Opeth. From my limited knowledge i don’t have a problem with Pink Floyd labelled as prog. What else would you call them, just basic classic rock? I don’t know. I’d agree with you on Zappa though. I never thought of Juthro Tull as prog, but i suppose you could make the case for it.

    It seems that the small handful of prog rockers that i know and should be at the top are – Yes, ELP, Genesis, the Crim. And maybe add a few more albums of their albums or nitpick the album choices or the rankings. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Strawbs on there, even if near the bottom of the list.

    • I always thought, at the time, that Pink Floyd were an underground band, a psychedelic one in the early days, but never really prog, in the way that Genesis, Crimson and Yes were prog. They certainly had a huge underground following in the UK, and people who liked them generally liked prog bands too, so they were going in the same direction, up to a point, and some of their stuff is definitely proggy, but after DSOTM, they became something else, something that is difficult to classify.

      Roger Waters apparently hated the way that Floyd got labelled as “space rock” and he consciously tried to move Echoes away from being a space rock epic by changing the words. The piece was known as The Return of the Son of Nothing and the words were much more spacey than the finished version;

      Planets meeting face to face,
      Bound to the air of light, how sweet!
      If painlessly we might embrace,
      The perfect union deep in space.

      Ever might this once relent,
      And give us leave to shine as one,
      Our two lights here forever,

      And in that longing to be one,
      The parting summers sound is gone,
      I see you’ve got to travel on,
      And on and on, around the sun.

  2. You have to take Rolling Stone lists with a huge pinch of salt, imho. Their view of what was, essentially, a British phenomenon is bound to be skewed.

    fwiw, the RS edition currently available here in physical from (June 4) is the Dead’s 50th. I’m just off to collect it …

    • The only reason i even bother with RS now is, oddly enough, for politics. They have the hands down best US political journalist going in Matt Taibbi. Liberal but non-partisan – calls bullshit on both and all. And a prodigious research monster. If you want an idea of what really goes on in US politics without spin, bs, or agendas, Taibbi is the man to read.

      • I never read RS much back in the past because it rarely wrote about bands that I listened to, not really surprising seeing as it was more focused on American acts. Also, it was a lot more expensive than Melody maker or the NME. I occasionally used to buy it in the 1980s but I think that it was pretty much sold out to corporate rock by the middle of that decade.

      • When i was checking out year’s best lists for the Festive Spill, i was surprised how different the RS top 100 was from the others. Still skewed toward the classic rock and spawn. Which i suppose isn’t a bad thing – it’s good for people still interested in that to have a place for them. But it’s definitely of an era.

        It probably has always been skewed towards American acts, i never noticed as i’m here. Like UK mags are probably skewed towards British acts, a very solid chunk of which never made it over here.

      • I knew about the event but hadn’t seen that article. Great stuff – and some extra Hunter-info – but you’d expect that from their publicist!
        I wonder if Hunter will take the cardboard cut-out of himself Garcia sent to the Rock’n’Roll HoF Induction tonight. That would be sweet.

      • The Dead seem to be getting shout outs on all of our major papers these days, if i see anything interesting i’ll pass it along.

      • Ta, amy, but I’m checking the interweb regularly. Even the Daily Mail site had some fairly positive coverage yesterday, with no filthy drug-addled hippies.
        Did you see Tim Jonze’s piece in Graun Music on the 30 Trips box set? An utter disgrace for someone with the job title Music Editor, peddling cliches that even the DM seems to have moved past.

      • No, i didn’t see it, i don’t even bother with the Graun anymore. Cliches seem to be what they deal in these days, across the board. I have enough problems calling bs on American papers, without even bothering with British cliches of American cliches.

      • As you’re in the UK though, your searches would probably prioritize UK media, while ours priotitize US publications. I haven’t seen much that your basic regular wouldn’t know, but that Beast article seemed to have a bit more.

  3. I can’t think of a label for pre-DarkSide of the Moon Pink Floyd than “progressive”. Of course “prog” (which was originally just an abbreviation) may now carry a different connotation.
    This is assuming we need to have any labels, I suppose, which is another kettle of worms altogether.

    • Yes, I think that “progressive” and “prog” have different meanings. Back when it was all new music, most of the people I knew just talked about underground music, which covered everything from The Groundhogs and Edgar Broughton Band to Pink Floyd and Soft Machine.

      The whole genre and labelling thing came along much later, to give music journalists something to do, I suppose.

      • Well, i think generalized labelling is kind of helpful in a way. It’s when it gets to splitting hairs that i get lost. And if i were inclined to try to make a case, i’d tie myself up in knots, as i imagine most people would.

        These days when i look for new music, “indie” seems to be a pretty good blanket umbrella for my kind of taste. But the Festie Spill shows me how much good stuff escapes that label that i miss.

  4. Some of the positioning of albums and the inclusion of some artists, Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream, make this list a bit of a mess. I certainly wouldn’t have “Dark Side of the Moon” as number one. I don’t even think it falls into this category. And to only have KC’s “Red” at number 15 is totally ignorant. Genesis have 3, yes three, albums in there yet there isn’t a mention of Omega, Sigur Ros, Curved Air or The Enid for example. Porcupine Tree only have one entry at 39 and even so, “In Absentia” is a much better album than the one selected. Having said all that, I am not in favour of categories as such and I’m certainly not convinced that Rolling Stone should be taken seriously as the arbiter.

    • Why i’m not totally against generalized categories – most people have tastes that fall in with one or more genres. So if i’m, say, an Americana music fan, i’d find it pretty helpful to have sites or lists or what have you that focus on Americana / country / folk / bluegrass music. I’d probably find it unhelpful to split hairs between them – what song specifically slots into what genre.

      If i’m an old school prog fan, i might be able to get kinda huffy about a list like this. But if i’m interested or just getting interested in prog, than i might find a list like this helpful as a starting off point.

  5. btw, the coffin nail in RS for me was when Prince wasn’t even included in the top 100 guitarists. That seems to have been rectified at some point after his While My Guitar Gently Weeps solo, but at the time, he more that deserved to be on that list, and not near the bottom either.

    • No, I was thinking about that when I first looked at it, but I don’t really think of Focus as a prog band, except for maybe Eruption on Moving Waves, much as I never think of the Mahavishnu Orchestra as prog either.

  6. British Prog is pretty easy to categorise; if Roger Dean designed the sleeve: It’s Prog. If he didn’t the band wasn’t trying hard enough to be put in the right department of the record store.

  7. The joys of “definitive” lists of your favourite genres! I remember Amylee posting a goth list she’d found a couple of years ago that included several tracks by The Chameleons! And then there was Goth At The Beeb that included PJ Harvey and Shakespear’s Sister! To be fair in that case it was quite a long programme and I think they’d exhausted pretty much every goth act who’d appeared on the BBC (hint though – Theatre Of Hate appeared on TOTP and were certainly more goth than Shakespear’s Sister)

    • I remember posting that list from a local paper – as i’m not really a goth i was curious as to what the real deals (Hi Beth, and you, sort of) thought of it. I seem to like the poppier incarnations of the goth bands. I’m not really a huge prog fan either, although i will admit to being a huge Yes fan, and i like me some old Genesis too. I can imagine the fun unfolding at any given list of the best punk albums.

      Look at the spats over something as relatively simple as the Guardian’s 10 best (any given artist) songs lists. Again, i figure the point of them really is to give a good starting point for anyone who may be interested in checking them out to see what all the fuss is about.

      • I seem to remember I enjoyed arguing the toss over that list though. Getting annoyed about these lists is fun.
        Don’t get me started on punk lists in magazines though. Basically any list that includes Patti Smith and Talking Heads but doesn’t include at least UK Subs, Ruts, Cock Sparrer, Exploited or Discharge (or at least a couple of these) is wrong. Fact!
        I don’t even like Discharge, but they need to be there or the list isn’t definitive.

  8. fairly odd list from a mag i’ve never enjoyed, but it was still nice that they bothered at all and good to see Camel PFM VDDG & Strawbs get a mention .. Focus Aphrodite’s Child Tull and Mannfred Mann’s Earthband would make my list .. Fripp has lots of liner notes on his re-released Crimson stuff , one a long piece that says Crimson weren’t prog for the simple reason that prog was only ELP & Yes .. not in scale/success but in intention and also in deserving the scorn that prog got .. (we forgive him tho’)
    Nowadays it does define the sound so many new bands aim for .. and that sound would include DSOTM ..but Floyd would never have called themselves prog so that as number 1 is hard to explain ..
    However the first time i ever posted on a blog was the Guardian doing a list of a 100 great rock records .. it had 3 tracks apiece from Coldplay & U2, one from the Floyd – no Purple or Sabs and zero prog was dreadful .. so i think these lists are there to annoy
    My favourite list was the first ever John Peel festive fifty .. because he hated almost every band on it and couldn’t work out why anyone who would vote Zep, Tull, Yes etc had been listening to his show as he refused point blank to play them .. the final 10 lasted a full two hour show

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