The 100 Greatest Prog Songs Of All Time

60) Ghosts Of Perdition - Opeth

from Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner, 2005)

The zenith of Opeth’s progressive death metal phase, Ghost Reveries’ opening salvo combines the juddering complexity of post-Meshuggah metal with the melodic finesse of prog’s golden age. Simply glorious.

You say: “The perfect blend of death metal, classic prog and psychedelic rock.” Geert van der Plas

59) Visions - Haken

from Visions (Sensory, 2011)

Passing the 20-minute mark for the first time, Haken proved their credentials as modern prog heavyweights with this idiosyncratic sonic sprawl. Both pleasingly authentic and joyously subversive, it’s modern prog done right.

You say: “It moves so quickly, covers so many moods and tones, and rounds out both the song and the album with an incredibly satisfying finale.” Chapel Collins

58) Ancestral - Steven Wilson

from Hand. Cannot. Erase. (Kscope, 2015)

At first, Ancestral twitches and whirrs with post-industrial menace, all rumbling bass and tense, isolated voices shimmering in the foreground. Then it erupts into whole-hog progressive splendour: a master at work.

You say: “Wilson reinvents himself, and to a certain extent the genre, with each new album. This is his masterpiece bar none.” Jonathan Watkiss

57) The Leavers - Marillion

from FEAR (earMusic, 2016)

19 minutes of elegant disquiet and hazy beauty, The Leavers provided last year’s FEAR album with a vivid, densely-layered centrepiece. It also reaffirms that Marillion are undisputed heavyweights of the modern prog era.

You say: “Such an amazing track from FEAR. The last part will take you all the way back to 1985.” Tony Furminger

56) Cassandra Gemini - The Mars Volta

from Frances The Mute (Gold Standard Laboratories, 2005)

On Frances The Mute, Omar, Cedric and the band channel the long-form exploration of Crimson and Miles with this breathless, half-hour explosion of sustained creativity. Whatever ‘A mink handjob in sarcophagus heels’ is, we’re game…

You say: “A blistering maelstrom of 8/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8 and 9/8 assaults your mind within the first 12 seconds!” Harrison Crane

55) Shadowplay - Fish

from Internal Exile (Polydor, 1991)

A grand example of Derek Dick at his fuming, articulate best, Shadowplay is an act of incensed retaliation, blessed with a neatly insistent refrain and a truly spine-tingling mid-song breakdown.

You say: “The big man proves that there was life after Marillion. His solo career never sounded better.” Iain McMillan

54) Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence - Dream Theater

from Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (Elektra, 2002)

Not so much a song as a full-blown 40-minute symphony in eight neatly interlocking parts, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence strikes a sublime balance between melody, bombast and poetic pathos. When Dream Theater go big, they go huge.

You say: “I may be shunned for this, but for me it is Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. It has everything I have ever wanted in a prog epic.” Dave Miller

53) Epitaph - King Crimson

from In The Court Of The Crimson King (Island Records, 1969)

This despairing view from the apocalyptic edge seems as relevant now as when it was first released. Brooding musicality and Greg Lake’s superb vocals lend Peter Sinfield’s pessimistic lyrics an astonishing potency.

You say: “What more can be said. The firstest and the bestest? A masterpiece. That will do. At a meager 8:47, pretty darn short.” Alex De Luca

52) Atom Heart Mother - Pink Floyd

from Atom Heart Mother (Harvest, 1970)

The Atom Heart Mother Suite provides the fulcrum for Pink Floyd’s catalogue, as they left the space rock shadows behind and stood on their own two feet. It created a template for both Echoes and The Dark Side Of The Moon.

You say: “The cow gets more love than the album, but this showed Floyd had more ambition than the competition.” Roy Parsons

51) Arriving Somewhere But Not Here - Porcupine Tree

from Deadwing (Lava, 2005)

Arriving Somewhere… is the brooding, thematic heart of Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing album. A cinematic contemplation of uncertain fate, it’s by turns moody and atmospheric, hooky and heavy, with guest Mikael Åkerfeldt adding a compelling guitar solo.

You say: “Floaty, but menacing as hell… and the lyrics sound like what you think when you are dying.” Andy Thunders

50) Fool’s Overture - Supertramp

from Even In The Quietest Moments (A&M, 1977)

“The art of being an artist is to get out of the way and let something greater than our small little selves take control and run the show,” says Roger Hodgson, the man behind Supertramp classics including The Logical Song, Dreamer, Breakfast In America and Fool’s Overture.

The latter song stands as the most ambitious work in Supertramp and Hodgson’s impressive catalogue. Try Again, from their 1970 debut, might be slightly longer, but Fool’s Overture has a far grander scope and sweep, composed of three movements bound together by William Blake’s hymn Jerusalem and the voice of Winston Churchill.

“It was unlike other songs I’ve written, where I have a seed of inspiration that comes to me and then for two or three weeks I’m consumed by it – I have to play it every moment I get and it slowly becomes the completed song,” says Hodgson. “But with Fool’s Overture, I had various pieces of instrumental music for a few years that I didn’t really know what to do with. They weren’t songs within themselves and then one magical day I realised these pieces of music belong together.”

The track reveals the breadth of influences that inform Hodgson’s writing, from being a teenager watching The Beatles conquer the world, to the classical music on the curriculum at school. “You talk about progressive, they were the first progressive band,” says Hodgson about the Fab Four. “Every album was so courageous in its experimentation. They changed my life when I saw what they did for the world.”

On the classical front, Hodgson picks out Debussy and Holst as inspirations. “Holst’s The Planets, I remember listening to that whole thing many, many times thinking, ‘Wow, what a concept!’ There’s a piece stolen from Holst on the introduction of Fool’s Overture,” he says. “The Planets sowed the seeds in me for seeing albums as a whole complete journey, a listening experience.”

The song was written and recorded using an Elka Rhapsody String Machine, an early synthesiser whose distinctive sound was a vital element in Hodgson’s creative alchemy. “I love just letting myself go into the sound of an instrument,” he says. “I just sink into it and before I knew it there was nothing of me there. It was almost like meditating before I even knew what the word meditation meant. That’s when magic happens.”

There’s a distinctly British flavour to Fool’s Overture, although the song and the album it appeared on, Even In The Quietest Moments, were recorded after the band relocated from the UK to California.

“My songwriting was always very personal,” says Hodgson. “I was born in 1950, the aftermath, the after-aura if you like, of the Second World War, so I remember hearing Churchill when I was young. I remember singing Jerusalem at boarding school and loving it, and wondering if Jesus ever set foot on the English shores like the hymn spoke about.”

Hodgson’s lyrics rival William Blake for grandeur, dealing with the decline of humankind in truly Biblical fashion – ‘History recalls how great the fall can be,’ is the cataclysmic opening line.

“Looking at Fool’s Overture, I realised I don’t want to really put a meaning on it,” he says. “It really was a collage of ideas, of different historical events and everyone gets something different out of it. I don’t want to limit it to my interpretation because even my interpretation will change weekly.”

Forty years after he recorded the song, Fool’s Overture remains an integral part of Hodgson’s live sets, whether he’s playing with his own band or backed by a full orchestra as part of Night Of The Proms. “I remember when I wrote it, I dreamed of one day playing it with an orchestra so every time I do it’s electrifying. There’s nothing like it. It sounds just humongous,” he says.

The passing decades have done nothing to diminish Hodgson’s enjoyment in performing his magnum opus. “Music is one of the most powerful forces in the world and you can do anything with it. I witness it every tour. I go out and play these songs, I never get tired of them and they don’t feel old, they feel very current and alive and relevant. They have a quality to them, I can feel the audience really has a relationship with them beyond ‘Oh, that’s a nice song I listened to 30 years ago.’ I love to design a set that’s going to take people from how they feel when they come in the hall and then unify them and take them on a journey. Fool’s Overture is like a journey in itself within the show and it takes me on a journey every time. It still gives me goosebumps to this day.”

You say: “They are forgotten as an excellent prog group before becoming (too) commercial.” Aernout Bok

49) The Baying Of The Hounds - Opeth

from Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner, 2005)

A ferociously devilish cut, summoning hell’s most cantankerous canines via its slavering growl – testament to the prog metallers’ return to breathtaking metallic form after a mid-noughties acoustic diversion.

You say: “The sound of a band on the tipping point of becoming fully-fledged prog heroes.” Illie Vasile

48) Ocean Cloud - Marillion

from Marbles (Intact, 2004)

Steve Hogarth takes the true tale of a transatlantic rower battling nature and man’s own limitations, and injects a sense of escape from romantic travails and male insecurities. And as the sky grows darker towards the end of a suitably ebbing and flowing 17-minuter, you’ll share the satisfying buzz of a misfit’s revenge.

You say: “Like a prog epic out of the mid-to-late 1970s. There’s no denying it would be considered a bonafide masterpiece of prog, had it been released then.” Michael de Socio

47) Cockroach King - Haken

from The Mountain (InsideOut, 2013)

An absolute monster of a track from a band tipped to carry the prog flag for the next generation, Cockroach King is practically a compendium of progressive rock from the 1960s to the present. There are the Queen-style acapella vocals [Surely you mean Gentle Giant? - Ed], a jazzy dialogue between piano and bass, Frank Zappa-style weirdness, and drop-tuned, djent-inflected riff crunching. Cockroach King epitomises the essence of progressive music – the desire to test the limits of players and genre alike.

You say: “Haken take prog metal on a complete different journey to that of Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Opeth, etc…” Phil Hindle

46) Stranger In Your Soul - Transatlantic

from Bridge Across Forever (Metal Blade, 2001)

From their second (and, for many, best) album Bridge Across Forever comes this typically understated 30-minute, six-part prog tour de force from Morse, Portnoy, Stolt and Trewavas. Rich harmonies, odd time signatures, dazzling instrumental passages, Mini Moogs and mandolins bring colour, as Morse enjoins you to achieve spiritual fulfilment through knowing thyself.

You say: “It has the build-up, the breakdown, the instrumental madness that all prog epics should have, but it’s far from a painting-by-numbers job.” Joost Niekus

45) East Coast Racer - Big Big Train

from English Electric Part Two (English Electric/GEP, 2013)

Don’t try to explain Big Big Train’s unique appeal – just drop the needle on the 15-plus minute epic that opens English Electric Part Two. Here they take the story of the Mallard – the steam train that set the world record speed in 1938 – and from it engineer an exhilarating, wistful, lovingly detailed masterpiece.

You say: “Big, big sound with brass and strings. English storytelling at its best with an amazing climax.” Tim D 44

44) Routine - Steven Wilson

from Hand. Cannot. Erase. (Kscope, 2015)

Wilson chooses a softly Floydian lament to reflect the way we cling to daily habits to fend off deeper fears and anxieties. After a wistful opening, an understated yet still sublime Guthrie Govan guitar solo somehow makes ennui sound beautiful before guest vocalist Ninet Tayeb raises the emotional pitch with a vocal crackling with disquiet.

You say: “Amazing vocals added to beautiful lyrics.” Lori Hull

43) Neverland - Marillion

from Marbles (Intact, 2004)

Amid an album full of angst, this track from Marbles is a rare beast – an unashamed love song. Then, slowly but surely, the guilt and self-doubt creep back in. Thankfully, we have a gorgeously drifting soundtrack to accompany it, sweetened by some gobsmacking instrumental cloud-surfing from Steve Rothery.

You say: “That big crash at about 4:30 is the most incredible thing live. Deep, real emotion and Steve Hogarth really lives this song.” David Dyte

42) Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One - King Crimson

from Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Island, 1973)

The first of a four-part work, this instrumental is heavily inspired by Vaughan Williams’ classical masterpiece The Lark Ascending. From the lengthy percussive intro to Robert Fripp’s prominent guitar passion bordering on metal, and David Cross’ violin virtuosity, it encapsulates Crimson’s early 70s imagination. Typical of the band’s educated fire.

The song initially came about from various group improvisations and ideas. “When that [line-up] kicked off it was very much about doing something new," says violinist Dave Cross. "It was only as the first date was imminent that everybody started thinking about what the audience might think of it, but by then, it was too late to worry.”

The track itself, says Cross, was "grown" rather than written. "I remember it being constructed in short bursts," he says. "In all sorts of ways I think that was quite difficult. Could something that worked on stage be sustained on record? Those long intricate guitar passages are quite complex and quite hard… it’s challenging stuff to listen to.

“It has a kind of thinness in some senses – things like Fripp not wanting to put too much reverb on. He was fairly insistent on doing that with the violin, for instance. I fought against that but he kept trying to persuade me how much better it was without reverb. I guess he felt that it sounded more in your face and more powerful, more direct.”

You say: “The template for prog metal, djent and experimental rock. As vital as ever.” Marc Malitz

41) Time - Pink Floyd

from The Dark Side Of The Moon (Harvest, 1973)

An opening cacophony of horological chiming reminds us that Floyd weren’t afraid of being literal with their sound effects. A drum machine, Nick Mason’s octobans and tolling chords mark out the tempo, before it gearshifts into one of their most impassioned songs.

You say: “The chiming clocks are guaranteed to interrupt anybody’s mellow moment. Typical Floyd.” Faris M

40) The Raven That Refused To Sing - Steven Wilson

from The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (Kscope, 2013)

The album which established Wilson as prog’s current leading light, with Porcupine Tree paused, explored dark, supernatural themes. Engineered by Alan Parsons, its diverse art rock nuances culminate in this finale: a soulful piano ballad which deepens with strings and guitars until the atmosphere feels like Lennon singing for Spiritualized. Poe-tent.

You say: “Mr Wilson’s singing is the best it has ever been (so far). Almost Frank Sinatra-like.” ‘demondebs’