The Top 10 (or 25 or so) Progressive Rock Albums
Prog seems something of a catch-all, unified only by its decade. I'm going to narrow the field by excluding what tilts more toward art rock or experimental rock or fusion (themselves not particularly well defined categories), so much though I enjoy and esteem Zappa, Beefheart, or Berlin stuff (Bowie included) (just f'rinstance), I shan't consider them here. As to criteria for selection, perhaps only my baroque sensibility can explain, but probably no better than the selection itself:
10. Queen, Queen: Lost in what they later became, Queen started out as a prog band, and their debut was solid (unlike the pallid follow-up, Queen II), before finding their audience and formula with Sheer Heart Attack (my first concert was that tour, sandwiched between Mahogany Rush and Kansas [who you will note are not on my list]). Good enough to bump such stalwarts as ELP, Rush, et al out of the top ten.
9. Spirit, The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus: The band's only fully realized album, but oh my what a splendid dawning.
8. Dixie Dregs, What If: The first band on this list with multiple albums worth consideration, but this is the one where they hit their stride, and it stands out from the others, the title cut particularly. Got to see them live and tight in the Student Union at College Park, Md.
7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung: A more difficult choice, between this and Thick as a Brick, one of the few concept albums to live up to the concept (and conceived because Aqualung was misconceptually marketed as a concept album; the very idea!) (oh and the original cover), but I'll take the diversity on display here (and in Living in the Past for the most part). Saw them from the nosebleed seats on stadium tour, in which they played favorites up through Passion Play, itself oft-cited but a falling off, but not such a plummet as the subsequent albums.
6. Genesis, Selling England by the Pound: Another hard choice, from among more contenders (Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and even Trick of the Tail though a tad too slick, but no, no others), but I seem to be in line with the consensus here.
5. Yes, Fragile: As with the Tull above, narrowly edging out Close to the Edge, and for the same reason (and, as above, head and shoulders above the others). My first vinyl LP purchase.
4. Robert Fripp, Exposure: Now things get complicated. King Crimson has several albums up for grabbing, from the seminal In the Court of the Crimson King, through Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Red, to Discipline (which I got to see live in a small theatre setting in DC). What sets this one apart? Well, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno for one, or two. (I'm excluding his prior collaboration with Eno in (no pussyfooting) and Evening Star on proto-ambient grounds; see below for other cases). And with Fripp, how far he's willing to push it is the virtue (not that he's ever slack), and here he's pushing in many directions at once, without losing force. OK, so I have mentioned this one previously, but in another context.
3. Gentle Giant, In a Glass House: Yet another difficult decision, with Free Hand in the same league (cf Rick Moody or John Covach), and Octopus (and Interview and The Power and the Glory) in the running, all with different virtues but all virtuous and virtuosous [sic]. I had to pick this one up as an import because the distributors didn't think it'd play in America, so I had to pick this one.
2. Pink Floyd, Meddle: Yes, I know, Dark Side of the Moon and all, but still, no contest, certainly not with anything that followed that (and I liked that, very much). Of course even their debut album was proto-proggy (still have to track down tribute band Polka Floyd's rendition of Interstellar Overdrive on accordian), but this is the one where it all came together. (I also have a soft spot for Ummagumma even though the band later disowned it to the man.)
1. Phil Manzanera, Diamond Head: After all these years, in fact through them all, my favorite, the best of what prog has to offer. I'll let him tell you all about it. It shares some material with the best live prog album, 801 Live (so too does Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets would be my selection from among his preambient solo efforts), and some personnel with Roxy Music (again spoilt for choice, anything up to Stranded).
As always, YMMV, but if you're not familiar with some of the above (and in agreement on others), take 'em out for a spin.