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The 100 Greatest Prog Songs Of All Time

79) A Passion Play - Jethro Tull

from A Passion Play (Chrysalis, 1973)

If Thick As A Brick is the ‘mother of all concept albums’, A Passion Play is the daddy, a fantastical account of a soul after death, crammed full of baroque instrumental ornamentation.

You say: “Oh, Mr Anderson, you spoil us with yet another album-length epic.” Joseph Standing

78) Starship Trooper - Yes

from The Yes Album (Atlantic, 1971)

As the band hit their stride and save their career on The Yes Album, this nine-minute three-parter changes moods repeatedly, climaxing in fantastic flanged Steve Howe guitars which never stop astral-travelling.

You say: “It shows off the virtuosity of all the band members, especially in the lengthy instrumental sections.” ‘jmperkins’

77) A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers - Van Der Graaf Generator

from Pawn Hearts (Charisma, 1971)

Shining a piercing light into the existential dark, Peter Hammill and company explore the essence of being human; looking for meaning and hoping for connection. It’s manic, malevolent and majestic.

You say: “Majestic, dissonant, and intense. Also, playing it drives roughly 94% of the people I know out of the room.” Richard Dansky

76) Ice - Camel

from I Can See Your House From Here (1979, Decca)

Camel’s seventh album may have been a showcase for a rejuvenated line-up, but its closing track reaffirmed that guitarist Andy Latimer was the true star of the show. Ten minutes of heart-breaking melodic genius (with added Moog).

You say: “Andy Latimer at his finest. Why more people don’t sing his praises is beyond me.” Keith Winston

75) Concealing Fate - TesseracT

EP (Century Media, 2010)

The monumental six-part epic that saw the Milton Keynesians mainline their way into the heart of metal’s progressively-minded djent set. Tough, relentless, melodic, funky, and not for the faint of heart.

You say: “It showed that djent isn’t just another ‘hand/mind-wanking’ genre, but a deep new universe of songs.” Luka Martino

74) When The Water Breaks - Liquid Tension Experiment

from Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (1999, Magna Carta)

The sprawling centrepiece of the second self-titled LTE album, When The Water Breaks is every bit as mind-boggling as you’d expect a collaboration between three members of Dream Theater and legendary bassist Tony Levin to be.

You say: “The finest thing that Mike Portnoy has been involved in (that isn’t Dream Theater)…” Gabe Rambo

73) Gaza - Marillion

from Sounds That Can’t Be Made (Ear Music, 2012)

Veteran prog band in edgy political statement shocker! Gaza’s riveting reflection of young lives ruined by war and hatred is a stunning but unsettling musical journey with furious humanity in its big, big heart.

You say: “Seventeen minutes of barely suppressed anger.” Syd Bentham

72) The Count Of Tuscany - Dream Theater

from Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Roadrunner, 2009)

Based on a day trip to a vineyard but retold through a gothic prism, thundering drums and flashes of lightning-fast guitar illuminate an extended rumination upon mortality.

You say: “For being able to keep creativity during a full, 18-minute instrumental song.” Kilian Beyly

71) The Knife - Genesis

from Trespass (Charisma, 1970)

With its jaunty, irresistible folk prog swagger, The Knife was one of the highlights from Genesis’ writing sojourn at Christmas Cottage in 1969. It became their first show-stopper.

You say: “One of the earliest, best prog rock tunes that doesn’t forget the ‘rock’ part.” Ramin Meshginpoosh

70) Deliverance - Opeth

from Deliverance (Music For Nations, 2002)

There’s a reason why Opeth often close their live sets with this lithe, marauding epic: that closing riff is an absolute beast. Remarkably, the preceding 12 minutes are every bit as good. An undeniable anthem.

You say: “The prog ending is absolutely sublime.” Yves Chauvel

69) The Advent Of Panurge - Gentle Giant

from Octopus (Vertigo, 1972)

Inspired by Gargantua And Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais (a tale of two giants, geddit?), The Advent Of Panurge offers a concise breeze through all of the much-loved group’s talented-genre hopping.

“At our best, we didn’t stray too much into any of the self-indulgent tendencies that gave prog a bad rep," says Gentle Giant’s Ray Shulman. "Instead, we tried to concentrate on unique instrumental and vocal arrangements.

“Our drummer at the time, Malcolm Mortimore, was in a motorcycle accident (or perhaps he just exploded!). So we were forced to recruit. We’d known John Weathers from his Eyes Of Blue days and heard he’d left the Grease Band, so we invited him down to Portsmouth. As soon as we heard his heavy, straightforward style, we knew it would work. 

"It definitely influenced our writing style and that can be heard clearly in the ‘funky’ bits of Panurge. It’s very much musically a Kerry [Minnear] composition. He’d bring in tightly arranged parts that we’d rehearse individually, yet leave room for studio improvisation. The basic track was usually bass and drums with the others just playing guides. We then overdubbed the fixed arrangement parts and, eventually, the more experimental bits. I’d say the acoustic piano parts were studio creations.”

The song's title comes from Rabelais. “This is [elder brother] Phil’s influence," says Shulman. "He is very well-read. As soon as we adopted our name, he thought of incorporating the mythology of giants into the lyrics; Giant on the first album, Pantagruel’s Nativity on the second and this. Tolkien had his resurgence of popularity during the hippy period, but we liked the perverse, humorous bawdiness of Rabelais.”

You say: “Wonderful multi-voice parts combined with the more powerful aspects of GG in one song.” Stefan Kamphausen

68) The Architect - Haken

from Affinity (InsideOut, 2016)

80s synths meet crushing djent riffs in Haken’s lament about isolation in the digital age, with guest growls from Leprous’ Einar Solberg making this the heaviest cut from 2016’s Affinity.

Was it their intention to craft a proper prog epic? “It wasn’t really the initial goal," says guitarist and keyboardist Richard Henshall. "Other songs on the album are more traditional intro-verse-chorus-middle-eight, so with this one we gave ourselves free rein to go wherever the music wanted to go without any preconceived ideas. 

"The very first thing you hear in the song is this keyboard riff. I remember writing that riff not on the guitar, but on a laptop in Logic. Weirdly enough I was sitting on the sofa and Antiques Roadshow was on TV – Fiona Bruce probably inspired that riff! When I presented it to the guys, Diego on keyboards added these lush soundscapes, and Connor and Ray in the rhythm section did these glitchy, trip-hop rhythms that don’t really repeat themselves. From my initial idea, I could never have guessed where it would have gone. That’s the fun of working in a band, these guys have great ideas you’d never have thought of.”

Who influenced their songwriting approach? “For this album, we were looking at the 80s albums from King Crimson, and we listened to Toto a lot. We’ll always have that 70s Gentle Giant influence but also film score composers like Hans Zimmer and John Williams, we take a lot from them in terms of the epic scale they create with just a couple of chords and a well-chosen melody. We love Vince DiCola, he wrote the Rocky IV soundtrack and his other claim to fame is The Transformers: The Movie, the cartoon version in the 80s. That has one of the most amazing soundtracks ever. I rewatched it again recently and the actual movie was not as good as I remember but the music is still phenomenal. We’ve messed around with it in the past just for fun, we say to Diego, ‘Do the Optimus Prime theme.’ It’s so prog, it’s just amazing.”

You say: “The last 45 seconds is the best moment in the history of music.” Neil Ballas

67) Once Around The World - It Bites

from Once Around The World (Virgin, 1988)

This 14-minute, day-in- the-life opus puts these Cumbrian prog pups’ earlier pop flirtations to bed on their all-grown-up second album, but it’s still pinned together by a cracking riff hook and swoonsomely melodic climax.

You say: “If you love prog you should love It Bites, who showed with this that beneath their pop leanings were a true prog band.” Dave Wallace

66) Milliontown - Frost*

from Milliontown (InsideOut, 2006)

The moment when these fervent prog modernists set out their stall in no uncertain terms, Milliontown is 26 minutes of densely-layered musical ideas and deftly expressed disquiet. The last eight minutes are simply spectacular.

You say: “It’s melodic, it’s upbeat, it’s thoughtful, it’s energetic, it’s complex, and most importantly, it’s fun.” Chapel Collins

65) Stardust We Are - The Flower Kings

from Stardust We Are (InsideOut, 1997)

The Flower Kings have never bettered this dazzling 25-minute explosion of razor-sharp melody and electrifying ensemble bravado. Roine Stolt sings of ‘The cry of love, the spark of life…’ and existential angst never felt so good.

You say: “Who said the 70s had all the biggest and best tunes? Roine Stolt was keeping the flag flying throughout the dark times of the 90s.” Cal Collinwood

64) Blind Curve - Marillion

from Misplaced Childhood (EMI, 1985)

Misplaced Childhood’s intimate confessions reach white heat on the five-song suite which anchors its second half. Fish covers death, drunkenness, journalists and other horrors of existence on neo-prog’s lush yet fiery masterpiece.

You say: “I’d rather nominate the whole of Misplaced Childhood, but if I have to pick one track alone, Blind Curve it is.” Stefan Kamphausen

63) Yours Is No Disgrace - Yes

from The Yes Album (Atlantic, 1971)

From the opening ‘Big Country’ chords, this song left behind the group’s cover versions and post-psychedelic vamps, and with its juggernaut bass and elongated intricate melodic structure, introduced the real Yes.

You say: “The very first prog rock track I heard and it stopped me in my tracks and blew my mind.” Ken Lamb

62) Natural Science - Rush

from Permanent Waves (Anthem, 1980)

The imperious climax to 1980’s Permanent Waves, this elaborate study of mankind’s deathless pursuit of progress bridges the gap between Rush’s wizard-friendly prog rock past and their streamlined radio rock future.

You say: “Probably one of the prettiest openings for a Rush song. The musicianship and writing in this are absolutely top-notch.” John Speicher

61) Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd

from Wish You Were Here (Harvest, 1975)

The whistling AM radio, the laconic 12-string guitar, Gilmour plaintively delivering Waters’ devastating lament for their lost friend Syd. Everything that made this partnership work in five-and-a-half perfect minutes.

You say: “A bittersweet track, lamenting for the good times had with Syd Barrett while he was still in the band. Very beautiful…” Jeff Haas