The 100 Greatest Prog Artists Of All Time: 20-1

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Part five of five - the final instalment!

(Image: © Photoshot)

20 Kansas

WE SAY: One of America’s most successful progressive bands, Kansas started in 1970 and had a consistent run of success throughout the subsequent decade. Three multi-platinum albums and four Top 30 singles in the States, though, only tell part of the story. Through combining melody and prog, the band helped to create the pomp rock genre.

YOU SAY: “Vastly underrated, they achieved what many other great bands didn’t: they pulled out four masterpieces from the get-go. They blend hard rock energy with virtuosity and high technicality.” – Rodrigo Salcedo-Cisneros

19 Transatlantic

WE SAY: An occasional band featuring current and ex-members of Marillion, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard and Dream Theater, Transatlantic released debut album SMPT:e in 2000. Since then, they’ve come together whenever schedules permit to record densely startling music, backed up by tours during which they revelled in their connected virtuosity.

YOU SAY: “The prog scene would not be the same without people such as Neil Morse and Roine Stolt. Luckily, they also play in the same band, leading me to more wonderful music from bands such as The Flower Kings, Flying Colors and many more.” – Jostein Chr. Andersen

(Image: © Getty)

18 Frank Zappa

WE SAY: Both prolific and peripatetic, Frank Zappa was always impossible to categorise. From the early 1960s to his death in 1993, his career constantly moved between musical styles. Zappa was comfortable in classical, jazz and rock circles, adding his own brand of articulate humour to a mix of remarkable musical mazes.

YOU SAY: “For me, no artist sums up a progressive approach to music more than Frank. He blazed a trail that
still stands the test of time with his incredibly diverse catalog. Some of the most famous and talented musicians on the planet have played in the many incarnations of his bands and speak humbly about the experience.” – James Moore

MY FAVOURITE PROG ARTIST OF ALL TIME

Dave Sturt (Gong)

Dave Sturt (Gong)
(Image: © Iconix Pics)

Daevid Allen is one of the great originals of psychedelic and progressive music. He combined whimsy with social comment while revelling in music with odd time signatures and sudden turns in direction. Even up to his final performances in 2014 – at the age of 76 – he would put his all into his stage persona. He would put in the same effort for an audience of 50 or 5000.”

17 Peter Gabriel

WE SAY: Inducted as Prog God at the 2014 Progressive Music Awards, Gabriel first made his mark with Genesis, before leaving the band in 1975 to go solo. Since then he has never faltered in pushing musical boundaries, and in the process achieving considerable success with albums like So. He’s still one of music’s most charismatic talents.

YOU SAY: “A giant of the prog world: firstly as the imaginative vocalist with Genesis, before his game-changing solo career. ‘Progressive’ in the truest sense of the word, each album of his is a demonstration of how he was developing as a person. His live performances are the most innovative of any performer in any genre.” – Paul Millington

(Image: © Stuart Wood)

16 Opeth

WE SAY: Celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, Opeth began as a pure death metal band, but soon began to bring in more progressive intonations to their music. Since 2001’s Blackwater Park, the first album on which they worked with Steven Wilson, the band have become an increasing force in progressive circles and are now regarded as a major force.

YOU SAY: “When I was in high school I was really into death metal. As I grew older I began to get bored with death metal, every song and album seemed to bleed into each other. Then I discovered Opeth. I really like their blend of heaviness and the Genesis/King Crimson sound.” – Zachary Martins

15 Porcupine Tree

WE SAY: Porcupine Tree were formed in 1987 by Steven Wilson as essentially a solo project, but they became a full fledged band in 1993, remaining active until 2010, when Wilson elected to pursue a solo career. The Porcupine Tree style often mixed different genres across a single composition, and much of the music was very atmospheric.

YOU SAY: “Atmospheric, emotional and vast, Porcupine Tree are one of the most important prog bands of the last few decades, not only for having intrinsically great music but also for being ‘gateway’ prog that introduces younger listeners to the original 70s greats.” – Regan Fox

MY FAVOURITE PROG ARTIST OF ALL TIME

Pye Hastings (Caravan)

Pye Hastings (Caravan)

“I would have to nominate John Young’s Lifesigns as my current favourite prog band. I have known John for a short while but it wasn’t until I did the Cruise To The Edge that I had heard any of his music. I caught one of their performances and was absolutely delighted by what I saw. The whole band are really gifted and play in a way that suggests that they have been together for 20 years or more.”

14 Cardiacs

WE SAY: Cardiacs started in 1977, and stood apart from the trends. Cardiacs built a cult following on challenging, complex musical shapes and a live show that was very theatrical. Their frontman Tim Smith describes them himself as a pop band with psychedelic influences.

YOU SAY: “For someone like myself who missed the first wave of prog in the flesh, yet found the rough and tumble of an Inner City Unit or Hawkwind gig somewhat exhilarating, Cardiacs were exactly what I needed. They possessed
a complexity that would make a King Crimson fan gasp yet they also played with the energy of punk. The greatest live experience ever, so good I saw them 101 times.” – Adrian Bell

13 Van der Graaf Generator

WE SAY: Formed in 1967, Manchester-based band Van der Graaf Generator never quite rose to great success. But their complex, often discordant approach has nonetheless had a lasting impact. The likes of John Lydon, Bruce Dickinson and Rush have all cited them as a major influence. The first band that ever signed to record label Charisma, Van der Graaf Generator never followed anyone else’s blueprint and played by their own rules.

YOU SAY: “If you look at their history, they did it all: epic albums, changing line-ups, amazing music, international recognition – everything that fit the bill for your classic 70s progressive rock group. But the one overwhelming characteristic that speaks to their greatness is that Van der Graaf Generator never compromised their music.” – Charles Snider

12 Camel

WE SAY: Formed in 1971, Camel made their impact through charting albums like The Snow Goose and Moonmadness released later that decade. Built around the fluid guitar style of Andy Latimer, the band have certainly enjoyed something of a renaissance in the last few years, as their influence on the likes of Steven Wilson and Marillion has been increasingly acknowledged.

YOU SAY: “Warm, whimsical and genuine progressive music that embodies so many essential elements of what defines the genre for me. The Snow Goose has been in my top three best albums since 1975, though they are by no means defined by this album alone.” – Chris Harland

MY FAVOURITE PROG ARTIST OF ALL TIME

Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief)

Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief)

“For me, it has to be Chris Squire. Let’s face facts: Yes in their heyday were never the most charismatic of bands on stage. It was more about the widdly licks than the scissor kicks. But Chris always looked cool. His bass looked cool, the way he played it was cool, they way he strutted across the stage was cool and the way he engaged with the audience was super cool.”

11 Dream Theater

WE SAY: After their formation in 1985 when they were known as Majesty, in their early days Dream Theater mixed influences from Rush and Metallica. However in the 90s, Dream Theater struck out on a productive and more individual musical direction, in the process becoming one of the biggest bands of the past 25 years. Even the loss of founder drummer Mike Portnoy hasn’t hindered their momentum and they’re releasing their latest album The Astonishing early next year.

YOU SAY: “A modern day Rush? That’s just one of the many terms that could be used to describe Dream Theater, but they stand along as they are so unique. Though they take influence from Metallica, Rush, Slayer and Genesis, they muddle it all into one to create this superb and epic sound that can only be Dream Theater.” – Geraint Bodman

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10 Gentle Giant

WE SAY: Their Lifetime Achievement accolade at this year’s Prog Awards was long overdue acclaim. Formed in 1970, for a decade they recorded complex and sophisticated music, but never got much commercial success. But their impact on successive generations of musicians is now finally becoming clear.

YOU SAY: “Musical virtuosity and versatility, dizzying time signature and tempo changes, varied instrumentation and a glorious melee of influences from medieval to folk to jazz to blues, the Giant were prog, perhaps more so than any other band. The band I would most like to see reformed!” – John

9 ELP

WE SAY: The first prog supergroup, Emerson, Lake & Palmer always took risks, whether on record or on
the road. Occasionally derided for their over-the-top approach, this nonetheless led to some of the most memorable albums and live performances in prog history.

YOU SAY: “My older brother left home when I was 1011 in 197475 and as a farewell gift he left me the ELP album Pictures At An Exhibition. From the epic opening of Promenade to the craziness of The Great Gates Of Kiev, I absolutely loved this album, and played and played it. I carried on with ELP in my teens, and got all the albums.” – Andrew Brown

MY FAVOURITE PROG ARTIST OF ALL TIME

John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin

“For years my favourite prog rock musician has Jeff Beck, and it’s still the same today. I know a lot of prog fans might be surprised that I would even put him in this category, because they won’t consider him to be a prog musician. But perhaps that’s why I see him in this light. Jeff Beck has always been his own man, and followed his own path, and isn’t that the best definition of a true prog giant?”

8 Steven Wilson

WE SAY: First acknowledged through his work with Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson has gone on to become one of the definitive prog artists of the 21st century. As an ambitious solo performer, he has released a number of significant albums, and has also made his made his mark through collaborations in No-Man, Blackfield and Storm Corrosion. His most recent album Hand. Cannot. Erase., which was released earlier this year, was a strong favourite with Prog magazine critics.

YOU SAY: “I think it goes without saying that Steven Wilson has influenced the progressive music scene immensely over the past 30 years. Starting with Porcupine Tree and going all the way to his solo project, Steven Wilson has also mixed, mastered and produced many great albums for other prog rock bands such as Opeth, Anathema, Caravan, King Crimson, to name but a few.” – Manas Sharma

7 Jethro Tull

WE SAY: Since forming in 1967, Jethro Tull became of the most successful of all British bands in the United States. Their quintessentially English sound resonated with international audiences, as did their idiosyncratic humour. And, of course, mainman Ian Anderson made the flute acceptable, especially when played while standing on one leg!

YOU SAY: “I can’t imagine living in a world without Ian Anderson’s flute playing – especially the early bluesy stuff. Who could stand living on a planet without This Was, Stand Up, Benefit, Aqualung, Living In The Past, Thick As A Brick, Minstrel In The Gallery, Songs From The Wood or Roots To Branches?” – Heather Atwell

6 Marillion

WE SAY: The band who led the prog revival in the early 80s and have been one of the top prog bands ever since. Whether led by Fish in those heady years from 1981 to 1988, or Steve Hogarth since, they have constantly released fascinating music. They were also pioneers of bands asking fans to finance the recording of albums, known as Crowdfunding, which is something they’ve returned to with their forthcoming new album, due out next year.

YOU SAY: “Marillion are a stand-out band for me. They are not afraid to marry a huge range of experimental styles and musical innovation with humour, sensitivity and inordinate musical skill. Their groundbreaking pioneering of Crowdfunding has given them enduring independence from any record label – and the vital creative freedom to take risks. They do this admirably, pushing boundaries with each new offering – without alienating their fans.” – Rachel Morris

MY FAVOURITE PROG ARTIST OF ALL TIME

Jakko Jakszyk

Jakko Jakszyk

“The people I’ve gone for are Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Frank Zappa. Because they sound like nobody else you can mention. You get so many prog bands who are constantly rehashing what they’ve already done. Or else, you get those who are too reverential to their influences, and end up sounding too close to these. With Gabriel and Bush, you never know what to expect.”

5 Rush

WE SAY: The Canadians have embraced state of the art technology and a diverse variety of musical techniques and genres during their near 50 year career. Their line-up has remained unaltered since 1974, and since then the trio have stayed ahead of any trends by being artistically flexible and creatively inquisitive.

YOU SAY: “Their longevity speaks for itself. Simply put, not many artists have as many great albums, successful tours, as much band chemistry and as respectable and a large a fan base as Rush. With Dirk’s ferocious bass lines, Lerxst’s magnificent riffs and underrated leads, and Pratt’s pulsating and always tasteful drumming, Rush have been such an influence on me as a musician and person.” – Alec Lee

(Image: © Rex)

4 King Crimson

WE SAY: Despite numerous line-up changes, and various bouts on hiatus, nobody can doubt the impact King Crimson have made on the music world. Always prepared to go out on a limb artistically, their fluent, creative challenges have given us some remarkable music since their inception in 1968. Their unpredictability has inspired many modern bands.

YOU SAY: “Between 1969 and 1974, the various incarnations of King Crimson defined and redefined
exactly what sort of music might be considered as progressive. Every album the band released in this period explored new ground and new ways of taking existing musical forms and turning them into fascinating and potent explorations of sonic combinations, textures and rhythms, while still remaining recognisably ‘Crimson.” – Carole Flint

(Image: © Getty Images)

3 Pink Floyd

WE SAY: Not just one of the great prog bands, but among the finest bands of all time in any genre, Pink Floyd, who began their music journey in 1968, enjoyed three different eras. First of all, there were the early days, when they were led by Syd Barrett. Then came the wildly successful epoch with Roger Waters at the helm, followed by the final period with David Gilmour guiding the charge. Throughout, they always had an ability to conjure up music that not only sold millions of copies, but has also been massively influential on proggers. Albums like _The Dark Side _Of The Moon and The Wall are undeniably iconic, while the accompanying stage shows set memorable standards.

YOU SAY: “Pink Floyd are the band that introduced me to the world of progressive music. What began as the discovery of the band’s roots in playful 60s psychedelia quickly evolved into uncovering dense, sometimes harrowing bouts of political commentary and, in an impressive turn of events, lush and atmospheric soundscapes that embody the band’s resurrection after Roger Waters left to pursue his own musical interests. The band have not only proven their expertise in crafting both experimental and down-to-earth musical epics, but they also gained such widespread appeal that they are now considered among the pantheon of rock legends, something that is quite rare within the progressive rock scene.” – Vanessa Risti

(Image: © Richard Haines Forever Photos)

2 Genesis

WE SAY: From their early days, when Peter Gabriel’s theatricality made them both unique and applauded, to the latter times when, with Phil Collins taking over as the frontman, the band became archetypal stadium rockers, Genesis have always been at the forefront of prog. Formed in 1967 at Charterhouse public school, the band helped to define the 1970s with a style that was quirky and very English but also appealed to an international audience. The loss of Gabriel in 1975 led to Genesis reinventing themselves, having unprecedented chart success and yet still proving themselves capable of recording more exhaustive compositions. The band last performed in 2007.

YOU SAY: “Initially, their image seemed odd to me – why did they dress up!? – before I actually heard them. Then my mate bought Genesis Live. Wow, Watcher Of The Skies; what a track! My love of Genesis was finally confirmed when my mates and I saw them perform at Drury Lane in 1974. Good grief, they were so good live. A bit of a bonus on that last night, as they added Harold The Barrel to the set. Supper’s Ready, which is possibly the best prog song, was amazing live, with Peter dangling above the stage to sing the final verses of the song. It was rock theatre at its finest. I’ve now seen Genesis live more than any other band, and they were always good on stage.” – Ian Nicholson

MY FAVOURITE PROG ARTIST OF ALL TIME

Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson

“Apart from myself (!) I would go for Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. He’s an all-rounder. When you listen to what he’s done in his career it takes in jazz, classical, rock, folk – he’s always been prepared to embrace every musical style. For me, that represents the true value of progressive music. That’s why I admire the man and what he’s achieved.”

1 YES

WE SAY: Pre-eminent in the way prog has developed and grown since their inception in 1968, Yes have always been prepared to modify and alter their approach to suit the times, without sacrificing their overall style. From the epics of the 70s through to the sleeker, more commercial releases in the 80s, the band have come up with a string of timeless albums, some of which are rightly regarded as being classics. They’ve also had a long list of great musicians going through their ranks. Even the sad death of founder Chris Squire early in 2015 hasn’t derailed a band who are fast approaching their 50th anniversary.

YOU SAY: “The band that influenced just about every other prog band. Sprawling, complex tunes that were more like mini-symphonies than mere songs. The quality and range of their musicianship meant they could take loads of chances with their music, exploring new forms of music and mixing in jazz, rock, acoustic, ambient and newer sounds. Each live show was a different experience and each album a different journey. Close To The Edge broke new ground, as did Fragile and Relayer and Tales From Topographic Oceans and, well, they are just awesome.” – David Lusher

(Image: © Getty Images)

“It is a great honour for YES to be selected as the number one progressive artist of all time by Prog readers. We’re just doing what we love, venturing into new territory, dedicating our time to the creation of music we enjoy playing and performing. I am grateful that audiences and other artists find the band to be worthy of that title. Sincere thanks and all the best.“ Alan White