Virgin Records: Essential Prog Listening

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Losing Our Virginity

The First 4 Years ’73-’77
(Virgin Records, 2013):
One of a series of five three-CD sets released in 2013 to celebrate the label’s 40th anniversary, the first collection is exactly what you would expect on such a compilation of Virgin’s early days: boundary‑pushing progressive rock, symphonic suites, Krautrock and strangely queer pop episodes. All your favourites and more.

Tubular Bells Parts I & II
Mike Oldfield
(from Tubular Bells, 1973)

“Two slightly distorted guitars.” An album that manages to sound innovative no matter how many times you hear it. Two mesmerising suites, glued together on tape, held together by screwdrivers and made on less technology that can be found on a mobile telephone these days. Its iconic status grows as the years pass, and its importance was underlined when it was performed by Oldfield at the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Phaedra
Tangerine Dream
(from Phaedra, 1974)

Possibly the purest distillation of Tangerine Dream’s work at Virgin, the pulse-oriented synthesizer of Phaedra can certainly lay claim to influencing later electronic movements, especially trance. After seven minutes, the sequencers truly get inside your head and a brilliantly uneasy skirmish between comfort and disquiet ensues.

Let’s Eat (Real Soon)
Hatfield & The North
(single, 1974)

Premium plummy prog; a veritable feast of food-related lyrics over what could be called a pop song. ‘You’ll want to slip me in your kitchen/ How’d you like to mother me?’ A super-rare one-off single, it remains a much‑loved artefact of one of the touchstone acts in prog.

Love Is How U Make It
Gong
(from Angel’s Egg, 1974)

The beauty of Gong remains their inherent strangeness – they leap from mellow jazz to complex time structures to perfect pop, all often in the space of several minutes. One of the groups that personified the early incarnation of Virgin, Love Is How U Make It is a spiritual ballad that then trips off into drum-heavy mayhem, before disappearing before our very ears.

The Light Pours Out Of Me
Magazine
(from Real Life, 1978)

In the wake of the Sex Pistols, Virgin had an astute ear for what would later become known as post-punk, and Magazine were one of the key outfits of the movement. The coda to this could have graced any prog record.

Her Story
The Flying Lizards
(from The Flying Lizards, 1979)

Although seen purely as a novelty act for their version of Money (That’s What I Want), which reached the UK Top 5 in 1979, The Flying Lizards were an amalgam of leading UK improvisational musicians David Toop, Steve Beresford and David Cunningham. Described as feminist dub disco, Her Story, sung by former Sounds journalist Vivien Goldman, is a strangely off-kilter capture of the spirit of the age.