19) Cygnus X-I Book II: Hemispheres - Rush
from Hemispheres (Mercury, 1978)
This six-part 18-minute suite was a continuation of Book I: The Voyage on previous album A Farewell To Kings. The second season didn’t disappoint. Our explorer emerges from a black hole into Olympus, witnessing conflicts between Apollo and Dionysus. After fleet-footed power trio dynamics and what might briefly be a 19⁄8 time signature, he winds up as Cygnus, the God of Balance. A prog watershed: after this, Rush went radio-friendly.
You say: “The ‘rock-out’ at the end with the two off-beat China Cymbal smashes and the final flails around the kit is simply air-drummer heaven.” Jon Dahms
18) Karn Evil 9 - ELP
from Brain Salad Surgery (Manticore, 1973)
Arguably ELP’s pivotal composition, this is close to 30 minutes long. The title is a variation on ‘Carnival’, and is divided into three parts. The first is about a futuristic world, where evil has been eradicated, but its memory is preserved in a travelling carnival. The second is virtually an instrumental section, leading to the final passage which tells of a war between humans and computers. It is remarkably verbose and charismatic.
You say: “A song that managed to have a FM classic extracted from it that works on its own.” Garrett Lechowski
17) This Strange Engine - Marillion
from This Strange Engine (Castle Communications, 1997)
It’s ironic that while Marillion largely steered away from the traditional double-digit prog epic during the Fish years (Grendel aside, of course), the Hogarth-era has brought a whole clutch of them. Sitting at the top of the pile is This Strange Engine, which marries slowburning musical shifts to Steve Hogarth’s emotional autobiographical narrative. At 15 minutes and 41 seconds, it’s not a second too long or too short – and ‘H’ has never bared his soul quite so much.
For an extended Q&A with Marillion’s Steve Rothery, click here.
You say: “It has it all: narrative, key changes, tempo shifts… This is the song that cheers me up, that makes me cry with musical excitement and belief in humanity whenever I hear it.” Silje Haarr
16) Heart Of The Sunrise - Yes
from Fragile (Atlantic, 1971)
Arguably the point where Yes became more ambitious than “just” a rock band, with Wakeman introducing structural techniques like recapitulation (Close To The Edge came next). The climax of the vibrantly varied Fragile is almost 12 minutes of mercurial invention and intensity. From Chris Squire’s beefy riffing to Jon Anderson’s angelic sighing, it collates every emotion until it gets so heavy it levitates. The most muscular moment of Yes magic.
You say: “Organised chaos contains the seeds of everything that followed; superb, dangerous, brilliant live.” Sam Spencer
15) Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield
from Tubular Bells (Virgin, 1973)
Partly inspired by witnessing the spectacle of Keith Tippett’s 50-piece band, Centipede, in action in 1970, and absorbing the cyclical patterns emanating from within Terry Riley’s music, Oldfield’s debut opus immediately draws the listener in with the intriguing, slightly sinister 15⁄8 piano motif. It’s an unlikely but nevertheless powerful hook that stays in the head long after the piece reaches its sustained and somewhat whimsical climax. Given the extent to which the album inculcates itself into the DNA of 1970s pop culture and beyond, it’s all the more amazing when you consider that Oldfield was just 19 years when he recorded it.
You say: “A complex prog rock symphony that immerses the listener into a meditative atmosphere, built with every addition of a new instrument as the time passes.” Rodrigo Bravo
14) Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
from The Wall (Harvest, 1979)
If most of The Wall is Roger Waters making a massive stretch to channel a tortured, isolated, embittered rock star, this is where David Gilmour brings the more mellifluous side of Floyd’s music to the fore. Its forlorn chords and epochal guitar soloing – both blistering and blissed-out – give the astonishingly popular album its heart amid the cerebral and jagged, jittery musings of Waters’ self-therapy. Few are numb to its charms.
You say: “To me, this song is the reason music was invented.” Tassos Kollintzas
13) The Cinema Show - Genesis
from Selling England By The Pound (Charisma, 1973)
A grandiose yet tender love song, trickling with Steve Hackett’s ravishing runs, there’s a moment between choruses that harks back to the bucolic idyls within Supper’s Ready. However, with a newly acquired synthesiser amidst the array of keyboards, change is in the air and Genesis’ aural palette enters a new phase. Showcasing Tony Banks’ yearning, melodic soloing, classic status is effortlessly achieved via bass pedal heaven and exultant Mellotronic choirs.
You say: “The song that takes Selling England… to another level. As it winds down into Aisle Of Plenty, the ‘end of prog album satisfaction score’ is mighty high.” Ron Chakraborty
12) The Court Of The Crimson King - King Crimson
from In The Court Of The Crimson King (Island, 1969)
Originally set in a sub-Donovan folkish strum, Peter Sinfield’s baroque lyrics were rescued after meeting multi-instrumentalist, Ian McDonald, who elevated the words into one of progressive music’s most enduring anthems. Decorated with twinkling acoustic guitar harmonics and sparkling flute in the cloister-like verses, when the piece opens out into the full chorus it’s akin to stepping into a grandly appointed choir-filled cathedral. A foundation cornerstone for the church of prog.
You say: “A monumental masterpiece. A game changer.” Doug Schober
11) The Gates Of Delirium - Yes
from Relayer (Atlantic, 1974)
Like the Drama album, 1974’s Relayer was a one-off outing for a Yes line-up which, given time, might have laid more golden eggs. Still the high watermark of Swiss keyboard player Patrick Moraz’s short tenure, The Gates Of Delirium is a side-long suite based on War And Peace. To begin with, it sounds like Close To The Edge’s lost sibling. Then Moraz’s manic synth arpeggios lead it into a musical black hole, climaxing with Jon Anderson and drummer Alan White banging pieces of scrap metal together to recreate the cacophonous din of battle. Seventies Yes at their most outlandish.
You say: “A tremendous song off a tremendous album. And the closing ‘Soon’ section, especially Steve Howe’s guitar, is incredibly moving.” Nick Bohensky